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.


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.


Extra, extra, READ all about it!

If ever you’ve educated the young and have tried to impart the joyous importance of reading you know that while even Sisyphus might empathize with you, he does not envy you.

Why Reading Mattersa documentary by science writer Rita Carter, explores the effects of reading on the evolved brain and if multimedia, specifically video games,threatens those evolutionary gains thus far.  Despite not being programmed to read, she explains, when we do, it exercises and strengthens our ability to empathize with the characters of a novel and learn from their past mistakes in order to apply those lessons to real life.  Some scientists argue that video games, in particular, do not exercise the brain enough in that way due to their lack of content.  Though the evidence is inconclusive, I agree; while video games exercise other brain functions like eye hand coordination they do not exercise empathy enough. Even the collaborative qualities of mission-based, multi-player videos games do not develop the narrative and character enough to give us the empathy the real world is so desperate for us to learn.  What do you think?  Does digital media threaten the evolutionary benefits of reading?

For English Language Learners, their educators, and parents this documentary explains why for them practicing reading is even more crucial to academic development.  In part 2 of 6, minute 5, Professor of Education Usha Goswami at Cambridge University validates what most of us who learn English as a Second Language have known all along: English is much harder to learn than any other language!  She asserts that English is so hard that our brains must develop a whole different system to support this function than when we learn any other language.  For educators this is huge, science validates the frustrations of our students trying to learn content and English at the same time.  It is huge for them to know that there is nothing wrong with them nor with us trying to lead them down this rabbit whole.

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.



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: 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.

Idioms Until the Cows Come Home

There are more sites to learn idioms that you could shake a stick at. Finding a good one, however, can be like finding a needle in a haystack.  During the past few days I have been searching for the best ones to share with my group of Early Advanced ELD students who still can’t seem to make heads or tails out of some pretty basic idioms– idioms that for an native speaker are easy as pie to understand.  BrainPOP has by far one of the best lessons on this, except you need an account. Actually you just need a user name and a password, which is easy as pie track down if you know how to use Google. Oops, I guess that let the cat out of the bag, however ZapaTECHISTA does not officially condone nor promote the use of such illegitimate passwords that some districts are careless enough to post on public websites, and can therefore give access to the great content that BrainPOP and BrainPOP ESL  provides without having to pay the piper.

Enough beating around the bush. Here is a list of the best ones, and some decent runners-up.

Idiom site:  A bare bones list of idioms with definitions. Alphabetized for convenience- Not the holy grail, but not too shabby either. has a few line-match games based on idioms. They have a lot of good vocab games as well. Look under the game for more  games. Kids will enjoy checking their guesses at the end. is another no-frills site, that includes “3,498 English idiomatic expressions with definitions” and counting. Not the prettiest site, but impressive in its breadth and scope.

The Idiom connection: These guys put together another impressive list, with quizzes, and categorized by topic. They also put together a list of the 100 most commonly used idioms in the English language.

Read-Write-Think has a decent page on idioms, and while it is limited to a few, it is more interactive in that it asks students to type out the metaphorical meaning, and then use them in a sentence.

The Children’s University of Manchester idioms page is a flash based lesson/game  based on a few color idioms.  Highly recommended along with the rest of their content. If you don’t live in the UK you might find yourself doing some learning as well, as a few of the idioms are particularly “English”.

Idioms Bite the Dust: A PowerPoint – centered site with some good lesson ideas and worksheets.

Quia: not usually the best site, but this Jeopardy-style game actually asks you to submit a guess without the multiple choices.

LearnEnglish: A Panoply of Digital Learning from the British Council

The British Council has been providing an incredible service for English Learners worldwide through their LearnEnglish website.  Of all the sites, apps, and services that ZapaTECHISTA has reviewed, this is by far one of the best and most comprehensive…and it’s free, unlike BrainPOP ESL.

LearnEnglish and LearnEnglishKids offer an amazing array of high-quality stories, activities, lessons, and games for the ESL classroom or independent learner.

LearnEnglish is geared towards the adult learner community, although it can be used with middle school and/or high school age students. It includes a podcast/audio soap called Big City Small World that follows the lives of 20-something immigrants trying to make it in London. The content, or course has a distinct British feel, but the content is at the intermediate English Level and should still be accessible to most students within this range.

Big City Small World also has all the episode scripts in an easily downloadable format. At the end of each episode is a quiz to test for auditory comprehension that could be done as a whole-class excercise. Each episode also includes pre-listening vocabulary activities, and several interactive “tasks” that help the student make sense of the material. 

The interactivity is fluid and fast, not clunky nor dated like a lot of the grammar activities found online these days, which seemed like products of the 1990s.

LearnEnglishKids, on the other hand is full of engaging activities, songs and stories for the Pre-K to early elementary level. Like its more adult counterpart, it has simply too many features to cover here.  The content is colorful and rich in visual detail, and the activities are comprehensive. Although it is geared towards ELD or ELL students, it is obvious that the site offers something for all English learners, even native speakers, or students who might be working below grade level.

Parents might find it a useful and engaging addition to their current panoply of digital learning options.

And…as if this were  not enough, the Council also released a TeachingEnglish portal for teachers  who wish to make sense of all the available resources. It includes more downloadable materials, professional development options and more.

Overall, they definitely earn an A+ and a tag of “Indispensible”.

(More to follow as we plan to test this out with some of the newcomer students )