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.

 

Smart APPS*

Rocket Math

Rocket Math catches my attention for two reasons.  First, I think it has a lot of imagination.  The player is able to create his/her own rocket in their image.  Also the player is able to choose the rockets name.  Second, the game is also smart. In order to buy attachments for the rocket you have to get money, and in order to get money you have to solve math problems.  Another example is when you launch the rocket into space there are bubbles that have numbers in them and  “you have to get the ones your assigned to like evens or odds”.  Clearly, Rocket Math is one of the best math apps for kids like me playing to learn.

iScroll

iScroll is an amazing reading app for two reasons. One, its organized. It has a bookmark so wherever you left off it puts you there when you start again. Second, it has a store filled with fantastic books.  It gives one book for free and that book is called The Art Of War.  I thought it was amazing.   All in all, IScroll is far though the best reading app I have.

*Smart Apps is a weekly review series that researches and reviews iPad education related applications by Sol Ruiz, a 5th grade student, and Sebastian Ruiz in 7th grade.

MangaHigh: Free, Standards Based Games for Students and Reports for Teachers

While I don’t want to sound like a commercial for this site, I do want to give props where props are due!

Since I began incorporating MangaHigh into my weekly Math routine, my students have been thrilled to obey my every command.  Buah, ah, ah!  Well, maybe not, but they’re certainly more willing to follow instruction on math content as well as be more engaged during the “boring” direct instruction because they see the MangaHigh light at the end of the tunnel.

As a teacher, MangaHigh helps me keep my students engaged, motivated, and learning the basics.  After learning the basics and getting the exposure and practice at their level on MangaHigh, one begins to see students going beyond the analysis into the synthesis and evaluation pieces in Bloom’s Taxonomy.  I upload a whole class list, assign challenges for my students on the standards they need the most practice knowing they’ll get adequate feedback, get reports on their progress toward assignment completion (keeping us all honest), and work with a small instructional group that needs more of my personal support.

When My Dictionary Doesn’t Help try YourDictionary

How many times have you assigned work out of some dictionary–even reputable online dictionaries–and end up with a definition that is equally baffling to a student. A student in this situation will usually do what she or he is  told and copy said definition in their notebooks. Then  they will attempt to write a mangled sentence with no sense of context and meaning, suggesting that the whole activity might just have been a huge waste of time. 

This aforementioned scenario takes place in countless classrooms around the world and millions of students who are supposed to be learning new vocabulary are in fact engaged in a senseless practice of copying from a reference book and practicing their handwriting and patience, but little else.

Dictionaries are useful tools that can help a reader find the meaning of a persistently hard-to-pin-down word when all other recourses fail. They should not be used unless context clues and word analysis don’t help.

That said, I recently came across Yourdictonary.com, a site specifically developed for learners of English who struggle with the oblique and comprehension-unfriendly language often found in most dictionaries.

It works very similarly to a dictionary.com or the Websters online dictionary. The user enters a word into a field, and as long as it’s spelled correctly it will reveal the definition. The difference is that in YourDictionary the results actually make sense.

Let’s compare:

Here is the dictionary.com entry for “manifest”

man·i·fest

[man-uh-fest]

adjective

1.

readily perceived by the eye or the understanding; evident;obvious; apparent; plain: a manifest error.
2.

Psychoanalysis. of or pertaining to conscious feelings, ideas,and impulses that contain repressed psychic material: themanifest content of a dream as opposed to the latent contentthat it conceals.
verb (used with object)

3.

to make clear or evident to the eye or the understanding;show plainly: He manifested his approval with a hearty laugh.
4.

to prove; put beyond doubt or question: The evidencemanifests the guilt of the defendant.
5.

to record in a ship’s manifest.
noun
6.

a list of the cargo carried by a ship, made for the use ofvarious agents and officials at the ports of destination.
7.

a list or invoice of goods transported by truck or train.
8.

a list of the cargo or passengers carried on an airplane.

And here is the YD version…

manifest

Manifest describes something that is clear to see or understand.(adjective)

An example of manifest is someone knowing that something is true.

Manifest means to prove or make something clear. (verb)

An example of manifest is showing someone the facts about something.

As you can see, the latter is much clearer and easy to understand. It goes without saying that the previous definition is more comprehensive and more reliable in terms of finding out the specific use in all the possible contexts, however the YD version has the advantage of purging out the language that is an obstruction to understanding, and only presents the most common uses of the word.

Another advantage to YourDictionary, at least as it pertains to English Learners, is that it offers sample sentences, probably fished out of the internet by some algorithm, but that nonetheless offer a student many different ways they might encounter a word, or many real life ways that a sentence can be constructed with it.

But it doesn’t stop there. Besides providing word definitions and examples in sentences, YourDictionary.com  offers ESL and Education pages specifically designed to help teachers and students of ESL make better use of their vocabulary development time. There are lesson ideas on how to use YourDictioanry.com and other resources to help with comprehension whether you are learning English in Harbin, China, or in Phoenix Arizona. You can even use your mobile device so you can get results on the go.

There are also pretty simple printable worksheets on vocabulary, commonly confused words, GRE or SAT practice, essay writing tips, grammar help for kids and more, earning this site the title of “indispensable” for any bilingual or ESL classroom.

So next time you think of throwing  a brick at your students, send them to YD instead, and you will hear more students exclaim, “Aha” instead of “huh?”

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.