Growing up literate; part 4. (evaluation) Betsy Staples.
Growing Up Literate
Antonym Antics from Muse Software is an exceptionally cute vocabulary game.
The program begins with a brief introduction to antonyms which includes instructions for pronouncing the word ("First say ant . . .'), a very short definition, and an example. The introduction is revealed one hi-res capital letter at a time, which is fine the first time you play, but becomes tedious once you understand the principle and want to get on with the game. We found no way to bypass the introduction or to resume an interrupted game.
The simple instructions for playing the game appear on each screen, so there is no possibility of forgetting how to play.
For each pair of antonyms, a word appears at the lefthand side of the screen. Five additional words then appear on the right. You press RETURN to move a rectangular outline through the list of words. When the word in the rectangle is the antonym for the word on the left, you press the spacebar and immediately learn whether you were right or wrong.
Regardless of whether you were right or wrong, you next see a hi-res cartoon illustrating the word whose antonym you are trying to guess. A press of the RETURN key reveals a second cartoon which illustrates the antonym. For example, "Sally's hair is wet' and "Sally's hair is dry' show very clearly the difference between wet and dry.
If your answer was incorrect, you get another chance to guess the correct antonym after you have seen the cartoons. Subsequent misses of the same word result only in new lists of possible antonyms. You don't get to see the cartoon again nutil you render the correct answer.
The cartoons are extremely cute and clever, although a couple of them fall a bit wide of the precise definition mark. "I never/always keep things in this room,' for example, is accompanied by a picture of an empty room followed by a picture of a room full of toys and furniture. Somehow, it seems that image would better illustrate some/none or empty/full.
The other problem with the hi-res screens is that they take a long time--about 12 seconds--to load. After the initial wait, you can flip between the two illustrations instaneously, but we wish there were a better, faster way.
The Antonym Antics package includes two disks. There are 13 word pairs on the program disk and 22 more on the second data disk. The program prompts you to insert the second disk after you have done all the words on the first one.
The words on the second disk are a bit more difficult than the first batch, and toward the end of the list your task is further complicated by the addition of double word pairs. You must match two sets of words and their antonyms; then the cartoon combines both sets: Lois is younger and shorter than Dick/Amy is older and taller than Neil.
Readers of this series know that we almost always downgrade educational programs that do not allow the user to add his own words or problems. Antonym Antics does, indeed, lack this feature, but we certainly understand why. The creation of the delightful hi-res screens that are the heart of the game would undoubtedly be beyond the abilities of most users.
The question remains, however: is it wise to buy a program that offers only 35 exercises? Well, yes and no. If you are looking for an educational game that will keep your child occupied for hours without requiring any supervision or interaction with the parent, Antonym Antics is probabily not the best vocabulary game to buy.
If, however, you are willing to spend time with the child and the program, talking about cartoons and the child's mistakes and using the program as a catalyst for other vocabulary games and exercises, then it could be quite valuable.
Classroom teachers in the primary grades should also be able to use the program to advantage as an integral part of a unit on antonyms.
Author Perry Edwards has done a good job with Antonym Antics. The words he has chosen to drill are right on target for primary school youngsters, and the clever, witty cartoons should appeal especially to children in just that age range.
Classes Of Nouns
Classes of Nouns is part of the English Grammar series from BrainBank. It is clearly designed for classroom use.
The lessons covered by the program include proper nouns, capitalization: titles are tricky, special classes of nouns, and common nouns. There is also a review exercise that keeps score.
Several of the lessons begin with colorful lo-res pictures that help to illustrate part of the explanation of the kind of noun under consideration, but most of the program is presented simply in the Apple uppercase character set. This means that the section on proper nouns that concentrates on capitalization loses a little something. The author underscores the letters that she want to indicate as caps, but it seems a bit contrived. The good news is that screen displays appear quickly, so you don't have time to start wondering if a good grammar book wouldn't do just as well.
The approach to the subject matter is tutorial. A short bit of text defines the type of noun being studied, and examples are shown on the screen. The actual exercises which follow ask you either to identify one of the kinds of nouns by typing it or to tell whether a highlighted noun belongs to the class being studied by typing Y or N. The number of practice sentences is just about right; when you finish the exercise, you feel neither bored nor cheated.
If you get the answer correct on the first try, the program prints a word or phrase of approval which is sometimes humorous or punny ("You're no dummy' is the response to the answer "mannequin'). It is rather like having the class clown present at your private lessons.
If you answer incorrectly, the program simply asks you to "Please try again,' and a subsequent correct answer evokes a simple acknowledgement, so there is no problem with reinforcing incorrect answers.
If you get the correct answer but spell it wrong, the message is "Watch your spelling!' You get as many chances as you need to spell it correctly, but, again, you get a noncommittal response ("Now I agree').
As for the information contained in the lessons, most of it is accurate and clearly explained. We were, however, distressed to see a reference to "Burt Reynolds' machismo.' Perhpas Strunk and White's first rule of elementary usage has gone the way of inflection in the English language.
We also take issue with the author's insistence that the word aunt in "Ida's aunt Sophie' should not be capitalized. The only reference we could find to this construction preferred the uppercase use.
The review test quizzes you on all the classes of nouns you have studied on the disk. There is a true/false section and a section that asks you to identify nouns of the different classes in sentences.
The computer keeps track of your score and reports it as a percent at the end of the test.
The documentation, oddly enough, says very little about the program. The eight-page Teacher Guide provides sample exercises similar to the ones on the disk and invites the teacher to reproduce them for use in the classroom.
The 18-page BrainWare Booklet is more of an introduction to computing than specific documentation for the program. The booklet begins "There are at least five lessons in every BrainBank diskette or cassette title. But you cannot work with them unless the computer is on.' Armed with that bit of priceless knowledge, even the most cyberphobic teacher should feel confident.
The Booklet also includses "The Microcomputer: An Overview' and a glossary of computer terms. The booklet provides a reasonable introduction to computing, but is all but devoid of the machine-specific information that would make it really useful.
Like Antonym Antics, Classes of Nouns is recommended for use in the classroom. Since it, too, lacks provision for adding material, it would soon grow stale in the home where only one or two students would soon master the sentences on the disk.
In the classroom, however, it would make an excellent addition to a unit on nouns or parts of speech in general. As we have said before in this series, we approve of the old fashioned custom of identifying parts of speech and punctuation marks and drilling them.
Photo: Antonym Antics Quiz.
Photo: Autonym Antics illustration of fast/slow.
Photo: Classes of Nouns.
Products: Antonym Antics (computer program)
Classes of Nouns (computer program)