Grammar Quizzes: Comprehensive Resource for ESL


Don’t let the name fool you. 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, The provide an excellent resource for the ESL/ELD educator implementing a blended learning model.


Edudemic Magazine built for the iPad Educator

The editors at have released their Edudemic iPad magazine, exclusively dedicated to the world of iPad in education. So far, they have published two issues, with Vol. 2 featuring an article written by us!

Download the latest version and tell us what you think.


The article, which we can’t link here because you have to download the magazine into an iPad, is entitled: Toward Meaningful iPad integration and deals with issues of app proliferation, equal access, and the future of app development in the age of Common Core State Standards.

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.






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 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.

iPad Hits All Learning Domains

An article  in T.H.E. Journal recently highlighted the efforts of a “newcomer” school” in Illinois that has successfully implemented an iPad program at their school for the specific purpose of getting their students to improve their English language skills before transerring back to their regular high schools. Every student was provided with an iPad at the beginning of the year and, according to the article, they have had great success in breaking down some barriers that many first year English learners encounter when they move to the U.S. (or any other Anglo-speaking country for that matter).

Students at Newcomer School using iPads

According to teachers and administartors, the program has been highly successful in that students are now able to take their iPads home to build academic bridges between the home and the school.  The conclusion that has been reached is that the iPad (as well as its junior cousin, the iPod Touch) is a hit with students and has boosted engagement and success.

While the article cites no data, the conclusion is clear: iPods are great for educating English Language Learners. Here are just some of the benefits:

1. Students are able to record their own reading using audio recording tools (Voice Memos, Voxie), and then keep a record of their reading attempts to compare over time, thus they can monitor their progress in fluency.

A notable app in this category is Toontastic. Students can make their own digital puppet shows, record narration and animate them. The app also instructs the students on a proper story arc so their shows have conflict and resolution, build -up and climax.

Use Toontastic to create your own shows

Q: “What did students do when they didn’t know what a word meant?”  A: they had to raise their hand and ask the teacher.

2.   On-the-go dictionary: If defining words was all that  the iPads and iPods did, they would still be a significant improvement over the traditional  printed and bound pocket dictionaries, which never have all the words you need, nor do these allow the user to see the words used in different contexts like you can with online tools and dictionary apps. The options for word definition on the iPod/iPad are too numerous to list here, but a good start is which is free and available to anyone with a web browser.

3. Handheld Translation: With apps like Google Translate  and ITranslate they can translate English into their own language, including speech recognition features. And with WorldDictionary, by Penpower Inc, students can now point to text directly and have it translated into English or their home language (from Swahili to Croatian ) by simply pointing their iPod camera to a printed word.

3. Reading: Students can read content from a variety of sources, including the Kindle e-reader app that helps students define, highlight, and take notes on the text they read, then share those notes with others. Other notable apps include Stanza and Google eBooks.

iphone kindle e-reader app

4. Listening: Audio books and podcasts have revolutionized the way students can access language. Primary school teachers are used to books on tape in their listening libraries, but why quit after elementary school? English learners can now download whole audio books and follow along the written version. They can pause and replay. Also, there are a variety of language courses, some free, some charging a fee, in the form of downloadable podcasts available from iTunes. While we can’t fully recommend any one podcast at the moment, there are enough reviews out there to point you in the right direction.  And the podcast format also allows students to create the podcasts and then share them with other listeners.

Music has long been an easy and effective way to introduce and develop language skills with second language learners. With the  iPod, which was originally designed as a music listening device, students can listen to songs in English and then find the corresponding lyrics online for a reading/listening experience that they can later discuss  or write about. This has been written about extensively and lesson ideas abound after a quick Google search.

5. Writing: Let’s face it. The writing functionality of the iPod and the iPad has faced criticism from  people who find it too difficult and unnatural. It’s not just folks with fat fingers who complain, but even the petitely-digited can get frustrated at the lack of a physical response one expects when typing. And while using an external keyboard can solve this problem in most cases, this may not be feasible or even affordable for many students or schools.  Still, there are more than enough conventional writing apps like Pages or Notes.  Text can be auto corrected, saved, shared, and uploaded to the cloud via Dropbox.

But beyond simple text editing apps there are a number of interesting apps that combine writing with images and storytelling, which make for more compelling and engaging writing activities. Moxier Collage, for example lets the student use images from the iPhoto library and add text, captions, banners, much in the manner of a collage, which is perfect for students at the beginning to intermediate level.

Moxier Collage lets you make storyboards, greeting cards and collages

Other apps like Notability, Keynote and a host of others allow for the integration of text and images for presentation purposes or for displaying written content in a variety of ways.

With all of these options, and with the portability of the devices, it is clear why so many schools are choosing to purchase iPads and iPods for their classroom. That is not meant to be a plug for Apple, assuming that there are Android developers out there quickly trying to catch up–as they should–to expand the platform in areas where the iPad is lacking.  But for the time being, we can only wait for more of these apps.

For more Reviews check out and Fun Educationl .

And for more stories on schools using iPads in schools see this post on  Technology Bytes and Nibbles.