Monday, March 26, 2012

Grammar - parts of speech

As an ESL teacher, I obviously have to spend a good portion of my teaching time working with my students on their grammar. I want my students to be able to communicate effectively and incorrect grammar often gets in the way of that communication. It is obviously helpful when you are trying to help students improve their writing if you have a shared vocabulary. If they don't know what a adjective or an adverb is, it doesn't help to tell them "You used an adverb here instead of an adjective." Mainstream students need to know this vocabulary too - especially because it does turn up on standardized tests - "Which of the words in this sentence is a noun?" (I'm not even going to get started though on whether we should even be doing all the standardized testing that we do  - that's a whole 'nuther blog!)

So, someone was asking me the other day if I've found any apps to help kids with their grammar. If you want them to be able to identify the parts of speech, yes there is an app (or two!) for that!

 Grammar Dragon is a free app that asks you to identify what part of speech specific words in a sentence are. There is no instruction as to what the parts of speech are. The 'game' is essentially a multiple choice worksheet with some animation added, though it is sufficiently game-like to keep kids interested for a while. The grammar dragon has captured all of your friends from the castle. You must rescue a different person on each level by correctly identifying various parts of speech. Grammar terms used in the game include: adjective, pronoun, conjunction, preposition, noun, interjection, verb.

This is intended as a one person game, but I could see two students working on it together. It can be a tricky game for ESL students if they don't know all the vocabulary  - sometimes they can mistakes simply because they don't understand the vocabulary. On the other hand, if they have a good sense of sentence structure and the vocabulary required for the game, it is possible for them to get the answer right without actually understanding the sentence they are reading.

The traditional Mad Libs games are also good for students to learn the basic parts of speech. There are several of them available, and there are even some that are free. Watch for the advertising on the free ones though, and for the in-app purchase options that allow you to buy more stories. (Remember you can turn off the ability to make in-app purchases in the settings, and it is also a good idea to always change your payment method back to  'None' after you've made a purchase, in addition to remembering to log out of the app store.)

Mad Libs (free) - the traditional Mad Libs game. The name Mad Libs is owned by the Penguin publishing company who put out the books and now the app. They have a free version of Mad Libs available for download but, of course, what they want you to do is to purchase more so it only includes 4 stories. A $3.99 in-app purchase gets you another 20 stories. There are 2 different in-app purchases available, for a total of 40 stories. The game does not always specifically ask for a part of speech - sometimes it asks for something like "a kind of liquid." It asks for adjectives and adverbs, and specifies plural or singular when it is asking for a noun.

WordVenture! (Free, some advertising)  - Although per story this works out more expensive than Mad Libs if you buy the additional stories, I like the fact that this app gives definitions and examples of the kind of words as it asks for them. Grammar terms used in WordVenture! include adverb, verb, past tense verb, noun, exclamation, verb ending with "ing", adverb, adjective, noun, plural noun. It comes with 3 stories - 30 more are available at 3 for $0.99. The three free stories could serve as a good introduction to the concept of the game as this app offers some support, and then students can move on to one of the other apps.

Silly Stories Lite (free, some advertising),  Silly Stories ($1.99) and Silly Stories - iPad edition ($1.99). More Mad Libs-type stories. The full version of Silly Stories lets you share your completed stories online, and I would hope it has no advertising. Stories that are posted online are associated with the account that posted them. The company does have a policy of not posting stories automatically - they are reviewed for appropriateness first.  (The company needs to do some editing of their site though - they spell inappropriate as 'inapproperate' and currently the site says "Additionally, all Silly Stories are reviewed before they are allowed to be made pubically available." Hmmm . . . I hope their stories are better edited!) Once a story has been uploaded and approved, it cannot be deleted from the website, but the company says they can disassociate it from the account that uploaded it. Grammar terms used in Silly Stories include: verb, past tense, adverb, adjective, plural.

SparkleFish is a MadLibs-type app that doesn't involve any typing.  Record the words it asks for and they are then included in a story that you listen to rather than read. SparkleFish is free, with in-app purchases for additional stories, ($0.99 for each story pack of 5 stories.) Grammar terms used in the free stories provided in SparkleFish include adverb, singular noun, plural noun, verb past tense, verb ending in 'ing', adjective, verb. Other terms include singular body part, beverage, liquid, number, ordinal number.

With all of the Mad Libs-type stories, (just as with the books) the students will have more fun if they are not working on them alone. Students could work on a story with a partner and read it aloud (and giggle) together. If you have more than one iDevice, two students could both work on the same story on their own and then share their different versions once they've added all the words. Once they've played the apps a few times, rather than buy new stories, the stronger students could then write their own stories. If you have computers available where the stories could be saved as templates, you could then build up a selection of student-generated stories that could either be used on the computer, or printed out for completion.

(Originally posted July 2011, updated March 2012)

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