Lost in a Maze

Vivian Cook 
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Unpublished, I think, ca 1982

Lost in a Maze is a game that I have used successfully with intermediate adult students. Briefly, it requires the students to find their way out of a maze.


The teacher needs to prepare a large maze on several sheets of paper. Each sheet shows one portion of the maze with two or more exits; some of these apparent exits are in fact dead ends on the next sheet. There has to be an entrance to the whole maze on one sheet and an exit from it on another. One way is to draw the maze on 16 sheets of A4 paper arranged in a square; the paths have to be made big enough and simple enough to be visible to the whole class when they are held up. The illustration gives a sample sheet, front and back from such a maze. While the teacher may allow more than one way of solving the maze, the maze should not in itself be very difficult. On the back of each sheet the teacher should write on each edge the number of the adjacent sheet, as in the illustration.


The teacher holds up the first sheet with the entrance to the maze, explains to the students that they have to find their way to the exit and gets them to decide together which of the possible exits from the sheet they wish to travel. Then the teacher looks at the number of the adjacent sheet on the edge, picks it up and shows it to the students, while putting down the first one so that they cannot see it. Again the students decide which way they want to go, the teacher picks up the appropriate new sheet and conceals the old one. And so on until the students solve the maze. There is a certain knack in handling the sheets in this way but the teacher will soon acquire it.


In terms of language structure the basic exercise is practising stating location and direction. However, the point of the game is the fact that a group consensus must be obtained before a move can be made. The students have to decide among themselves how they will solve each part of the maze. Though the activity often starts with casual decisions by one or two students, they are soon involved in fierce argument about the possibilities; they have to come to a group decision. One important factor in this is that they never see the maze as a whole; they have to remember each part of it and the decisions they took: they have to construct a mental map of the maze if they are to solve it. In this case this is like the real-life activity involved in walking through a hedge maze like the one at Hampton Court.


The two important requirements are that the students never see all the maze at a time and that they have to reach a group decision. There are several variations on the game.

-  a map of a building or a town may be used instead of the abstract maze. Because of the memory task involved this should not be too detailed.

-  a sequence of photos of scenes can be used, say postcards of London. The first one might be Piccadilly Circus; students choose which street to go down; then they see a postcard of that and decide where to go next and so on. They may either have no destination in mind or may be asked to find their way to Trafalgar Square or some other point. A teacher with a camera could take a series of shots of the interior of some building as the different parts of the maze.

- some task or penalty may be attached to particular points in the maze. It might be a toll that the students have to pay each time they pass a particular point; they have a purse with so much money issued to them at the beginning of the game. Or the teacher who knows the techniques of fantasy role playing can elaborate 'encounters' with various dangerous denizens of the maze.


This game is derived from some of the ideas that have been developed in the past few years in fantasy role playing (FRF). The maze idea is for instance used in a game called Mystic Wood that may be adapted to the classroom; the photo sequence maze is utilised in a book called Three Men in a Maze that allows the reader to solve the Hampton Court Maze while following the adventures of the characters from Three Men in a Boat. The FRP ideas on which it is based are firstly the creation of an imaginary world in the minds of the players;   secondly the importance of group decision to the way the game progresses; thirdly the important controlling role of the teacher or ‘Mazemaster’. All of these add up to a game that is rather different from those that have been customary in language teaching; it is hoped to develop these points further in reports on other games devised using these principles.


T. Donnelly, The Mystic Wood, Ariel, 1980

S. Leslie, Three Men in a Maze, Tracker Books, Transworld Publishers, 1977

Sheet 6 of a sample maze; front on left; back on right