The Reading Matrix
Vol. 1, No. 2, September 2001

Focus on Grammar CD-ROM
Reviewed by Nicole Décuré


Focus on Grammar CD-ROM


Exceller Software Corporation, 2 Graham Road West, Ithaca, NY 14850;
Tel: (607)-257- 5634 and Addison Wesley Longman, 10 Bank Street, White Plains, NY, 01606; Tel: (914)-993-5000, (1996)


Windows 95/98 or NT version 4.0, 2000* or later, or Macintosh

Minimum hardware requirements: for PC

A PC with 386SX:25MHz or better processor
Microsoft Windows 3.1 or later
Quick Time for Windows (included)
8 MB of RAM SVGA graphics card (640x480x256 colors minimum) with compatible monitor MPC-compatible
CD-ROM drive
Sound Blaster card or 100% compatible; stereo speakers or headphones

Minimum hardware requirements: for Macintosh A Macinstosh with a 68030 processor or newer
640x480 (13") or larger color monitor
CD-ROM drive
OS 7.0 or higher
Quick Time for Macintosh (included)
5 MB of RAM

The Focus on Grammar CD-ROM (intermediate level) provides grammar practice through a number of reading, writing, and listening exercises. It follows the same plan as the book but the exercises are different and it can therefore be used on its own or as supplementary material with any other grammar book or language course. The CD-Rom also contains the reference material of the book (appendices, grammar notes and charts) that is readily available with a click of the mouse whenever needed. It is therefore self-sufficient. Each of the 8 units is divided into five sections.

Discover the Grammar: The user has to recognize the target structure and its function with two activities:
-Recognizing sentences that contain a particular structure. Four sentences are given, and the user must click on the two that contain the structure.
-Identifying the parts of a particular structure in extended discourse. The user picks out examples of the structure within a paragraph and clicks on them word-by-word.

Practice: The learner uses the target structures in five to eight separate exercises per unit. A variety of exercises (about fifteen variations) is offered. Practice exercises often utilize illustrations, word banks, charts, and other material to provide context or reference. The exercises are fairly classical types: fill-in-the-blank(s), unscrambling a list of words to create a sentence containing the target structure, multiple choice, correcting mistakes in a sentence or paragraph.

Reading: A reading passage demonstrates use of the target structure in context and is the core of three types of exercises: comprehension (multiple choice), cloze (putting back in the blanks the words from the text), and unscrambling sentences.

Listening: A recorded listening passage (a few sentences) demonstrates use of the target structure in context. Four types of exercises follow. The user may listen as many times as s/he wants.
Focus. Understanding the gist of the passage with yes-no questions about the topics, details or ideas contained in it (8 items).
Recall. Choosing the best answer out of three propositions (5 items).
Guided dictation. The user hears a sentence from the listening passage. The same sentence appears on the screen, with some words blanked out. The user types the missing words in the blanks.
Dictation. The whole text is dictated, one sentence at a time. There is a bit of overkill in this section. By the time we get to the last part (dictation) is there a problem left? We have listened to the whole thing so many times that we soon know it by heart.

Writing: The user uses the target structure to express his/her own ideas. Three to five topics for writing are provided. When completed, the writing selections can be printed out for a variety of uses (peer-editing, teacher feedback, portfolio development, etc.) but the CD-Rom, of course, does not offer correction.

Review Tests: After a group of related units, there is a TOEFL-type test: the first section of the test is a multiple-choice test; the second section requires the user to recognize the element of a sentence that is incorrect. The disposition of the various elements on the screen is well done. Everything is under our eyes. At the top, there is a menu bar giving access to the parts, units, sections, activities, items. Underneath, six more buttons: Menu, View scores, Quit, Appendices, Grammar notes, Grammar charts. At the bottom are the commands to do the exercises: OK, Next Item, Help, Answer, Listen, View Reading, Print Reading and two arrows on each side to go to the next/ last item. In between are three windows: one for instructions (top left), one to remind us of the section (top right, useless, really, and too big, with a very childish drawing), one for the exercise (bottom) and sometimes another one for answers.

The problem, as often with such software, is that the user is expected to regurgitate the original text (in the reading and listening sections) and may well produce a correct sentence which will be then be declared wrong. There is no explanation why the mistakes are mistakes, which leads to frustration. We only know it is wrong. The way the corrections are done is that if one letter of the word we typed is correct it stays in green. This gives the impression we have a partially right answer, when in fact we don't. If, for example we typed rid instead of red (it could be a typing mistake), r and d will be kept on each side of the blank box. But can we really say we got two thirds of the answer right? What I object to is that it gives the false impression that there is ONE way of saying things, which, we all know, is not true. If it were, language teachers would soon be out of a job. Anyway, after two wrong answers, the right one is given so we are spared too much suffering.

In the practice section, if six choices are given the only answer that can be correct is the one with the right number of letters and spaces!!! For example: "I'm tired. Why don't we….? admits only one suggestion: "take a nap." My first choice would have been "go shopping," or "go for a walk" which, when I am tired of working with a computer sounds like a good alternative. All the suggestions are suggestions that are structurally correct. The rest is a question of context which is not provided and therefore is left to everyone's imagination. Again, implying there is only one correct answer suggests that there is no alternative to taking a nap when one is tired. What has happened to freedom of thought and expression?

Still, in spite of these minor flaws, inherent to this type of material, the Focus on Grammar CD-Roms (I expect the two other levels to be similar) should be a satisfactory tool for weak students, giving them a sense of completion and achievement.












































Nicole Décuré teaches English as a Foreign Language at Toulouse III University (science) where she is also the head of a research team on language learning and teaching.