Grammar Quizzes: Comprehensive Resource for ESL

 

Don’t let the name fool you. Grammar-Quizzes.com offers more than just quizzes.

Starting in 1998 Julie Sevastopoulos started compiling ESL resources and posting them on the web under the name “Grammar Check”,  and to this day she’s still at it, updating and adding new English Grammar material under a new domain, “Grammar Quizzes”.

The layout of the  is free of bells and bullhorns. Its strength lies not in cutesy characters or flash-based animations, but in the huge breadth of the material she covers, giving the user hours of systematic language practice with feedback.

The content is tailored to intermediate students, and although it seems that it was made with adults in mind, it does not seem inappropriate for younger audiences.  I found the content to be useful to both non-native speakers of English, as well as native students trying to get a grip on some of the more nuanced verb patterns, or for anyone trying to improve their writing skills.

Some of the areas covered include:

adjectives, adjective clauses, noun clauses, modals, gerunds, infinitives, participles, adverbs, sentence agreement, articles, connectors, present, past, present perfect, conditional and passive tenses, and writing introductions and creating thesis sentences.

Each area is broken down into a thorough lesson, with various examples, links and technical language for the instructor, and practices to self-evaluate.

Some lessons even begin with a diagnostic, which can be very useful for a teacher to introduce the topic. In fact this site lends itself well to both individual practice, say in a computer lab setting, or for direct instruction with the use of a Smartboard and/or projector. The site also lends itself well to note taking and scaffolds the information in a way that is easy to follow.

Overall, Grammar-Quizzes.com The provide an excellent resource for the ESL/ELD educator implementing a blended learning model.

Breathe Some Humor into Your Drab Routine with Pixton Comics for Education

Pixton comics has been around for only a few years now and it’s no surprise that they have won many ed-techy awards in their short lifespan. But it took just a half an hour before I  became instantly hooked.

Pixton allows students and teachers can create their own highly-customizable comic strips with unlimited options, scenes, characters, poses, props, and backgrounds. The uses for these strips are manifold, but Pixton does a great job of making them user-friendly and purposeful. They provide a community where users can submit their comics to showcase learning, comment on , and remix other strips.

Teachers can make their own (as seen below) and assign students projects based on the strip. Students can remix them, or make their own. They can add panels, re-edit an already published strip, work collaboratively, and get approval from their teacher once their project is complete.  Teachers can also monitor student progress and manage their classes, assignments and grades.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Pixton also allows users to print, download and (thankfully) embed their creations. For ELL’s the potential here is truly exciting. Students in groups or individually can add appropriate dialogue, even record their own audio tracks to correspond to each panel, or type content into speech bubbles to illustrate real-life scenarios, for example.  Ideas like these keep bubbling  like effervescent bursts of inspiration when one plays with Pixton.  Give it a shot here for a trial period.

Yeah, the downside is that it costs money. But It’s not out of this world, and one teacher could afford to make one account that allows up to four users. These could be set up as teams of students. The above strip will be part of a CELDT practice module that will soon be available for download.

 

Digital Dialects Helps Students Learn Oromo, Kurdish and Czech (and Also English) For Free

Digital Dialects is a free way to learn over 60 languages for the cost of a breath of air. You can learn Malay, Cebuano, and Maltese, but I suspect most people will use it to learn the more plain vanilla languages like English and Spanish.

It has been around for about 5 years now, but it still retains its shelf life as the activities and games cover basic English Language vocabulary like food, clothing, numbers, colors without looking like a preschool site.

Most of the animations were produced by Craig Gibson, who developed the idea after working on a dissertation about online English language study. By now the project has grown and continues to expand, with many games featuring audio files to help the student with the proper pronunciation. Again, it is designed for true neophytes, so don’t expect much in terms of extensive language lessons.

I put my newcomer students on Digital Dialects and they spent the better part of the morning fully engaged. According to them, (5th and 6th grades) the games were “easy” to “so-so”.  We’re recommending it here because it is free, and visually engaging enough to supply the brain with enough dopamine to sustain learning. Plus, it helps out your students who just walked in the door from El Salvador, without having to deal with logins and passwords.

Here is an example of some of the artwork.

 

iBooks and English Language Learners

Apple’s recent announcement of a “gamechanger” in education arrived with much fanfare and generated mega decibels of buzz around the world because the Cupertino, CA tech giant was again attempting, to either  A) help revolutionize how we consume and create content, or B)  to gobble up yet another industry.

The past few days have produced many posts and tweets, many critical, many outraged, some cynical and  others truly awed and excited about the possibilites iBook Author offers. With all the questions regarding content ownership, portability, collusion with mega publishers aside, we at Zacatechista wanted to drop our own thought droppings on eTextbooks and iBook Author specifically.

 

Here is a screenshot of our current project–and the reason for this post:

We should disclose that we have been working for more than a year now on a set of English Language Development games and apps for the iPad called elDcoder, and while the project is still under construction, the prospects of being able to extend its boundaries  into the textbook realm offers new possibilities.

First, as content creators we look forward to adapting and extending the content of elDcoder,  which is currently much more geared to gaming and testing English listening, reading, writing skills, and porting some of that over onto a sequential textbook series that can accompany the app, or vice versa. And its clear after only one weekend of playing with iBook Author really makes this process easy. This should come as no surprise, coming from the same company that puts out Garage Band and iMovie, both of which were used to build the content for the first chapter of elDcoder’s (Beginner level).

Getting the hang of it was no problem. Knowing how to best take advantage of the features and to better streamline your job will require more tinkering. Discovering the versatility of working with Dashcode also contributed to the prolonged sense of tech-arousal inherent in these interactions. Now a textbook can be embedded with anything we can dream of, as long as it is not Flash.

As for what this means for English Language Learners? Well, anyone that teaches ELL students knows that ELD curriculum is not always the top priority of most schools or districts. The requirements are there, but ELD, at least as it is practiced in California is a reality often found on paper, but with so many curricular and other constraints, it often goes untaught or folded into the traditional English Language Arts, leaving many students with profound language gaps in both the forms and functions of English which prevent them from every reaching Fluent English Proficient Status, permanently relegating them to a secondary LEP  status, thereby  not graduating, or amounting to anything, and dying a cold and lonely death.

OK, hyperbole aside, It should also be noted that while explicit English Language Development is very important, not just for newcomers, but for those students with years in the system, there often is very little invested in terms of materials for its instructions, leaving many teachers to make up their own curriculum.  This is where iBooks author comes in. All of us who are in the trade of educating English Language Learners in all of their manifestations and who have been for years developing our own curriculum where there was none now can come together and start building the next generation of textbooks, as open and free in many cases, and under Apples restrictive ownership agreements in others.

The goal for us ESL teachers, authors and content providers  should not be whether can get rich making textbooks, as the mega-conglomerates are happy to do, but to offer schools the most authentic, constantly updated, classroom-tested textbooks at the lowest possible price in the name of education. If we must partner with the Giant Apple that is now doing the gobbling in order to do so, then we must deal with them with the best interest of our students constantly in our mind.

If you are interested in contacting us about possible collaborations or if you have further questions, please leave a comment below. We will be launching a more formal collaborative effort with the aims of producing a collaborative eTextbook series for English Language Learners in the coming months and asking other interested educators to share their lessons, materials and other resources for inclusion into the elDecoder series.

 

 

 

 

 

Link Your Mexican-American Students to Their History Online!

Many Mexican American students who come to the United States quickly lose the historical knowledge needed to build a strong self-identity.  Those who were born on this side of the “tortilla curtain” have few, if any opportunities to learn about the history of their parent’s country of origin.  Their chances to learn and reconnect with their history will often times be reduced to taco shop murals and Cinco de Mayo celebrations.

Luckily, the Mexican government released a web portal last year  full of engaging educational material relating to the Mexican War of Independence and the Mexican Revolution, both of which were celebrated in a bicentennial and a “one-centennial,” respectively.

Niños 2010, as the  site is titled,  features “audiolibros” (audiobooks), animations, interactive games and activities and printable material. The age group is elementary, but much of the material could also apply in the middle school setting, especially if students are struggling to maintain their Spanish.

Historically speaking, the purpose of the site is clearly to help kids develop a strong sense of civic pride as well as to integrate them into a national narrative that, at times seems too simplistic and hero-worshiping, but that can nevertheless serve as a starting point for deeper discussions, should you wish to take it that far.

Try it out and leave a comment if you have success using this in your class.

The best feature I found are the audio-books, which offer printable text to accompany an instructional read aloud in Spanish class. Comprehension questions and vocabulary is not included, however.

For a more grown-up site, look at : http://www.bicentenario.gob.mx/index.php

This bicentennial site has similar content as the kids site, but also has everything from flyovers that take you to important historical sites to  historical newspapers digitized for 21st century eyes. It’s quite probably the largest and most impressive effort to date to officially present Mexican history on the web.

Mexico 2010 also exists for the English-speaking world. It is available here: english.bicentenario. gob.mex

It is a great resource for any student working on a biography, or a Social Studies project.  You will even find materials you can use in biology and music.

On the downside, much of the content requires Flash, so no leave your iOS devices by the door.

I’ll end this post on this note  so I can return to peruse its content some more!

Bilingual and Bicultural, the Immigrant Student’s Way To Success

New research done by the University of Missouri’s David Aguayo and published as  “Culture Predicts Mexican Americans’ College Self-Efficacy and College Performance,” in the journal Culture and College Outcomes finds that Mexican-American students who keep their native language and maintain close ties to their home culture earn higher GPAs than their English Only counterparts.

In the study, Aguayo followed 408 Mexican American students and found a strong correlation between their grades in school and the degree to which they kept their cultural heritage close to them, including language.

This might seem counterintuitive to many who for years have clamored for the elimination of bilingual education and the establishment of English only requirements for schools, however those of us who had the fortune to grow up bilingual, despite the strong acculturating forces that tend to strip away home language and culture in this country while  achieving  high marks in school hardly find these results surprising.

  After all, brain research in recent years point to several  cognitive advantages held by bilingual brains over monolingual ones.  There is strong evidence to prove that bilingual brains have stronger executive functions and can handle multiple tasks better than those that only hold one language.

Researchers have also found that the bilingual brain also has a 5 year delay of the onset of dementia when compared with monolingual patients. Why then, would it not makes sense that students who have hard-wired their brains with double the power in the executive language centers would not have an advantage over those that only rely on one.

It’s our own Dual Processor!

A story that ran today on NPR pretty much outlines these findings.

As vindicating as these findings may be to proponents of bilingual education, we have to pause and ask a few questions:

1. What makes a student more likely to maintain their home language and culture? Could there be a cognitive advantage already pre-installed that allows some students to move through life without losing their native tongue and others to struggle to maintain it?

2. What correlation is there between the ability to remain bilingual and the desire to maintain and nurture cultural heritage? Does one precede the other?

3. What outside factors contribute to the maintenance of a home language? Distance from the border? Availability of Spanish media outlets? The chance to go to a bilingual school? Spanish-friendly public policy? It would be interesting to see how Aguayo’s findings vary across geography and income brackets as well.

4.  What do these findings tell us about the direction of public education given the fact that Latinos are one of the fastest growing demographics? Should we be promoting more bilingual schools, and as a consequence, fostering the resurgence of more bilingual models that have recently bitten the dust as a result of the No Child Left Behind schemes of the past 10 years?

5. Finally, what do we as educators of English Language Learners need to do to make sure we are not promoting English proficiency at the expense of a rich native literacy?

One small change I predict has to do with the the focus of this website. In the future zapaTECHISTA will definitely have to change   from a blog that only promotes the teaching of English to English Learners through technology to one that includes more digital resources to maintain the Spanish language and associated cultures.

This article, by the way, can be used as a reading comprehension lesson. I’ve adapted it and added some questions to the end. Feel free to pass it along.

News-David Aguayo

 

Cognates = Cognados

It is amazing how many  students whose home language is Spanish and who come equipped with decent language skills in that language habitually misspell English words that are identical to their Spanish cognates.  Cognates  refers to words that are spelled similarly or identically in two languages and carry the same meaning.

habit=hábito

similar=similar

etcetera= etcetera

I first noted the problem in my first year of teaching; students would write about their favorite calors and about the animols in zoo. Ever since I’ve been teaching them about cognates, how to identify them and how to tell the false ones like grocery and embarrased,   which don’t translate into grocería and embarazada .

These recourses are a good starting point:

Spanishcognates.org offers hundreds of different cognate pairs in English and Spanish sorted by different criteria such as endings, ABC, and by subject. They claim to have a comprehensive, searchable list. Very impressive stuff!

Delivered correctly, these cognates can help students unlock hundreds of vocabulary words that they probably already know in their home language. Many of these turn out to be part of the “academic vocabulary” that so eludes ELLs.

Colorin-Colorado also has a useful list at the end of their ELL Starter Kit for Educators, available as a downloadable PDF. It comes at the back page of an assessment packet for those who want a quick start to evaluating the language level of their ELL Students.

For a short list of false cognates click here!

To read more check out the Literacy Beat blog.