Wednesday, November 13, 2013

World's Worst Pet - vocabulary app

World's Worst Pet is a free iPad-only app for students in 3rd grade through 8th grade to practice Tier 2 vocabulary items. Tier 2 vocabulary means frequently occurring words that appear in a variety of topics and across disciplines.  English language learners pick up Tier 1 vocabulary from their peers and every day life. Tier 3 vocabulary is the kind of academic language, often subject-specific, that even native-speakers of a language have to be taught in school. English language learners get Tier 3 language from direct instruction, just like their native-speaker peers, but tier 2 vocabulary is often their weakness.

This app has 6 different levels, C to H, for grades 3 through 8. Level C has 10 different sets of vocabulary, each with 10 words, and Levels D through H have 20 sets of vocabulary each with 10 related words for a total of 1100 words! At the beginning of each vocabulary set, students have the chance to read clear explanations with examples of how each word is used. Spanish cognates are included in the definitions for many of the words. Each of the ten words is clearly pronounced (by a real person, not a computerized voice) as part of the definition. If they make mistakes as they play the games (rescuing the "world's worst pet" Snargg from a variety of predicaments), the app will show students the definitions again, and they can return to the definitions at any point. One weakness as far as I'm concerned is that graphics could have been included in some of the definitions, which would have made it even more language-learner friendly.

There are a variety of activities at each level that ensure that the students see each word multiple times in each series. 

Although they are essentially all multiple-choice activities, once a student gets to the end of each set there is a composition assignment that encourages the student to use the words from the set. The writing assignment provides some accountability for the students beyond simply guessing their way through the game. Levels C, D and E vocabulary sets finish with one of the following types of writing: 
  • writing an opinion
  • writing an informational essay
  • writing a narrative
Levels F, G and H finish with 
  • writing an argument
  • writing an informational essay
  • writing a narrative
Just like any other teaching material, this app will be most effective when it is part of a carefully thought-out lesson plan.  I can see this app working well with small groups or on-on-one. Students should be discouraged from guessing as this defeats the purpose of the activity. Having students work in pairs and encouraging constructive conversations about the answers might be helpful. (Another reason for using the app in a focused way is that I can see students eventually getting bored with the games as they remain the same from level to level.

Because each set of words has a specific focus and the words all relate to that topic, rather than have students simply work their way through each topic, one after the other, I would be tempted to have the students work on topics that specifically related to other work going on in class. Having students simply work their way through the units with no connection to other work going on in the classroom is not going to get the best results. For example, the theme for Level C set 4 is "The People’s Government" and it would make sense to use this unit when working on related material in social studies. Unfortunately, the app itself does not contain a list for teachers of the topics and their word lists . . . so, for your convenience, I've started work on creating a resource for you. Follow the links below to see the vocabulary in each vocabulary set and the writing prompt at the end of each unit.

Level C topics and vocabulary
Level D topics and vocabulary (incomplete)