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Grammar Evolution

Grammar Evolution is an online interactive teaching resource in beta form with a range of exercises under the categories grammar, vocabulary, dictation and reading. It contains abundant material in French and Spanish.Teachers can sign on for a six week trial. It is the creation of British languages teacher Rob Darby who writes:

Grammar Evolution's aim is to allow users to now practise their grammar in a competitive arena which is supported by an innovative league structure. Learners are rewarded for "giving it a go" but are also encouraged to focus on speed and accuracy to win games. The games suit language learners from beginner through to advanced levels, with the principle focus on the MFL curriculum in UK secondary schools. However, the grammar principles and vocabulary are applicable to anyone wishing to improve their grammar.

I've been having a look at the site to see what it's all about.

When you sign on as a teacher you can set assignments to be used on the interactive board or by students on their own computer. Pupils can also sign on to do tasks on their own. The teacher is able to generate passwords for their class and can keep an archive of assignments set for future reference.

Assignments are set via a menu of options including language, level, and exercise type (grammar, vocabulary, dictation and reading). You are also asked to set a date range for the task to be completed. It is possible to communicate via email with parents to let them know about tasks set.

Once you have chosen your assignment, for example, a grammar task on the perfect tense with regular -er verbs, the system generates a range of tasks. I would hesitate to call them games as such - the fun element derives primarily from the competitive aspect. There are target scores and students can compete with others. In the grammar category task types are exercises at the word or phrase level which usually involve translation. There are in-built "grammar tabs" which allow pupils to look up grammar explanations as they go along.

To give you an idea of the range of tasks, in the Vocabulary category exercises are called: Word Snake, 2 of a Kind, Stairway to Freedom, Code Lock, Make Your Own Lock, Pressure Point, Split Decision, Reconfiguration, Ordered Mayhem and Free Type. The titles give you a clue as to the nature of the tasks.

In the Dictation category students can work at three levels and can hear phrases read aloud. At the highest of the three levels students have to submit their written answers. The quality and clarity of the spoken French is excellent.

The Reading category has yet to be developed.

In its beta form I found the tasks worked well on my PC, but only some open on iPad. I understand from Rob that this will soon be sorted out.

This kind of interactive tool is not in its current form designed for self-authoring, but Rob says this aspect may be developed. There are already a good number of ready-made tasks to which may more will be added. The interface is clear and colourful and the games will appeal to teachers and students who value working at the word and phrase level, often using translation. The emphasis is on analysis, patterns, written accuracy and word recognition. The Reading section, once developed, may offer greater opportunity for more meaningful communication at the paragraph level.

Although navigation is intuitive enough, it would be useful for novices to have a basic teacher guide on the site. Rob does, however, provide some Youtube guides of the site in action: e.g.

Students may enjoy the competitive element, the time limits and clarity of the tasks. Differentiation by level is clearly built in. Compared with a programme such as Taskmagic the extra game-playing, visual, fun element is lacking, but this package may well appeal to pupils of  average ability or above who thrive on patterns and analysis.

Teachers should sign on for a free six week trial to see what they think. There are a number of packages available. For a one language whole secondary school package you pay £250 for 12 months. Rob tells me that they are offering a 75% discount for first year subscribers while the site is in beta format. He also intends to offer a simpler "log in and play" version at a lower price and to give teachers some more control of the subject matter - a degree of self-authoring.

All in all, Grammar Evolution has the potential to be a very useful resource for teachers and students, not just in the UK, who like to get their teeth into grammar, vocabulary and written accuracy.


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