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Dr. Jon Aske

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Online Language Exercises


Getting coding help
Clipbook Repository
Web Exercise Repository


Fill-in-the-blank and multiple choice exercises of different sorts have a place in language instruction. They are just one more tool in getting language students to figure out and assimilate the workings of a language. Even in modern, communication-based approaches to language learning there is room on the side for this type of exercises, as long as they don't take up central stage.

HTML pages and scripts have added a new dimension to this type of exercises, by providing a medium which adds instant feedback, a major problem with the paper version, the possibility of endless repetition (as well as saving paper).

Although HTML-form-based exercises are not yet ubiquitous, technologically savvy language instructors have already begun to create their own exercises and to share ideas and methods with other colleagues.

Coding by hand

The first exercises of this type that I discovered on the Web were made by authors who did JavaScript coding by hand (which is the way I do HTML coding, but a lot more complex). To get an idea of the types of exercises that are available and what the possibilities are I suggest that you visit the following sites:

Juan Ramón de Arana, of the Modern Language Department at Ursinus College, for instance, has created a number of web-based exercises using JavaScript:

Barbara Kuczun Nelson, of Colby College has some interesting exercises as well: Spanish Grammar Exercises and Resources: Here she has links to her own web exercises as well as those of others.

Juan Ramón has managed to get some very interesting exercises which allow for instant feedback, including hints and explanations at every step of the way. For an example of what I mean by this, you can visit some of their pages:

  • Spanish subjunctive exercise: After a certain form is entered, the letters that don't match the correct answer are starred. By Barbara Nelson.
  • Spanish subjunctive exercise: after each entry there is a button that gives you feedback just for that entry. By Barbara Nelson.
  • Presente de Subjuntivo: Cláusulas adverbiales I: when you select a choice in a multiple-choice exercise, you are told whether or not it is right, as well as why it is right or wrong. By Juan Ramón de Arana.
  • Por/Para: An exercise I created using NoteTab and the pattern that Juan Ramón de Arana uses above. (For more information see below.)

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Getting coding help

Now, creating exercises such as these is not for the technologically challenged, Juan Ramón's tutorial notwithstanding. Here is where software which will allow you to create the exercise web pages comes in. There are a few such products out there that can help exercise creators with the coding.

Hot Potatoes

Hot Potatoes, by Half-Baked Software, is the most complete and user-friendly program -- a suite of programs, actually -- that I have found for making language study, interactive web pages. Half-Baked Software is a pseudonym of three members of the University of Victoria CALL Lab Research and Development team. They provide this suite free of charge. In their own words:

"The Hot Potatoes suite is a set of six authoring tools which enable you to create interactive Web-based exercises of six basic types. The exercises use JavaScript for interactivity, and will work in Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer versions 3 and above on both Windows and Macintosh platforms. The authoring tools will also handle accented characters, so you can create exercises in any language based on the Roman character set, including French, German, and many other European languages."
"The Hot Potatoes suite is offered as freeware (for non-commercial educational applications) by Half-Baked Software and the University of Victoria CALL Laboratory Research and Development team."

See a review of Hot Potatoes.

You can visit sites made with Hot Potatoes from this list at the Half-Baked Software Site.

Hot Potatoes allows you to give instant feedback to learners at every step of the way, which is crucial if these Web exercises are to be used for learning rather than for testing. Try it, you won't be disappointed.

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Another place where you can get help with making/coding your own exercises is at Gary Smith's website. Gary has designed a program, WebPractest©, just for this purpose:

"WebPractest© was designed by Gary A. Smith to help developers of instructional materials create self-correcting exercises or tests for distribution on the Internet. Written in Javascript, the program processes HTML documents and displays the text and images contained in them, but substitutes fill-in forms for words that the developer has marked as items to be practiced or tested. "

Until recently, the program only worked with version 4.0 or higher of Netscape Navigator, but now (August 1999) the program supports Internet Explorer as well.

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Webgen 2000

"Webgen runs under Netscape or IE5 for Windows, and IE 5 for Mac, and offers a considerable degree of feedback as well as testing. Since it is written in Java, not JavaScript, it has wealth of specific interactivity built into it. It will parse responses in a number of ways, looking for part or all of a number (100) of possible answers, and offering specific feedback on up to 100 anticipated errors. It can pick up on a number of variables and refer back to them in subsequent questions and so lends itself to semi-intelligent dialogues between user and computer--all of this in English, French, Spanish or German."

"You can sample the interactivity of Webgen at and clicking on Language Labs, then clicking where "a little chat about learning a language" is proposed. Netscape 4.06 or higher is required (or IE 5), and at present the wrinkles are being ironed out in the Mac-specific code, so the posted version won't run properly on the Mac."

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Vasu Renganathan, of the Language Resource and Research Center at the University of Pennsylvania, reports on another site to help you "make web-based exercises on the fly". It's called the Web Assisted Learning and Teaching of Languages (WALT): "Special CGI programs are used to write the code for you. Types of exercises one can make using this page include: multiple choice, question/answers, translation, cloze, interactive reading, true/false, yes/no and others."

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Interactive Exercise Makers

"Interactive exercises created through a simple web interface." "Some of the advantages of the Makers are that they can generally be used with non-western fonts, they are editable in HTML WYSIWYGs, there is no software (other than a 4.0 Netscape browser) on the client, they are instantly available on our web server, and they're super easy to create. I think you'll agree that the interface is better than some of the other tools available. Though it maybe not as fancy as some packages I've tried for simplicity."

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Word Dragon

WordDragon: Drag'N'Drop Puzzles for Language Learners:
"Puzzles: word scramble, sentence scramble, and word match. You can even create your own puzzles and add to the collection. A java enabled browser is required for these puzzles." Lots of English language puzzles are available, plus you can create your own online. You may also purchase the applets to create these puzzles.

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NOTETAB clipbooks

Before learning about programs and websites that help you with coding exercise pages, I started thinking myself of ways of making hand-coding of the sort made by de Arana and Nelson more automated. I came up with the idea of using templates. The advanced text-processor that I use, NoteTab Pro, allows you to create templates which then when you invoke them allow you to fill in the holes and it produces a text document (PERL scripts are often used to do a similar thing). I figured that if I created a few templates, I could then use them to make exercises of different types with ease. I made, for example, some multiple choice (2 choices (sample), using templates (Download: aske_web.clb 98KB).

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Other links

Test Authoring Systems

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Salem State University | Department of World Languages and Cultures

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Last updated: January 25, 2000