Tag Archives: intelligent

Intelligent ESL Materials – WERTi 2.0

Two years ago, I wrote about the WERTi (Working with English Real Texts intelligently) system.  At the time, WERTi could be used to search for any article on Reuters and then apply one of three activities to the page for either prepositions or determiners.  The innovative (and intelligent) part of this process is that a nearly infinite number of tasks can be created and students can choose texts that interest them.

The WERTi system has now been rolled into a plugin for the Firefox browser.  So now any page being viewed by your browser can have the same activities applied.  Three new structures (gerunds, phrasal verbs, and wh-questions) have also been added.

For example, below, I did a search for a list of the most important questions in life and applied the “practice” activity to the “wh-questions”:

WERTi plugin demo

WERTi has taken each sentence and shuffled the words.  By clicking (or typing) them in the box, the user can check to see if they have been put back into the original order.  Green sentences have been reordered correctly while red boxes indicate they have not.  The “?” can also be clicked to reveal the original sentence which appears in black.

They system is not 100% perfect.  Occasionally structures are not labeled or are labeled incorrectly, but overall it does a very good job.  Now that it’s part of my browser, I’ve been surfing with it turned on and getting lots of great ideas for how it could be used.  Visit the download page to get more information about downloading and installing the plugin.  This project is still being developed by Detmar Meurers and his team, so suggestions for additional constructions are welcome and may be added to new versions.  If you think of some suggestions or find bugs, leave a comment below and I’ll pass them along to the development team.

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Intelligent ESL Materials – WERTi

The WERTi System.  Click to try it!

The WERTi System. Click to try it!

Many ESL professionals are familiar with the acronym CALL (Computer Assisted Language Learning), but an interesting off-shoot is ICALL (Intelligent CALL). One of my favorite examples is the WERTi system, developed by Detmar Meurers while he was at Ohio State. (To try it, log in as “anonymous” and leave the password field blank.)

This system uses XML to create three activities based on Reuters news articles: Color, Click, and Fill-in-the-blanks. The first activity makes targeted words blue, raising the student’s awareness of the targeted structure. The second makes every word clickable. When the user clicks on a target word, it turns green; mistakes turn red. The third replaces every target word with a blank that students can complete. Correct responses are again green, errors red. If users give up and ask the computer to fill in the blank, the answer is blue. Originally based around Prepositions, I suggested to Detmar that articles might also be worth practicing, so Determiners were added (more on that in a minute).

The greatest thing about this system is that the computer is exploited to create the activities, the topics of which are selected by the student. And the number of activities is virtually unlimited.

The downside is that computers are not truly “intelligent.” Consequently, a few mistakes are made. Each page is marked up in XML using the Penn Tagset. But if a word is misidentified, this will error be reflected in the activity.

Incidentally, if you want to “hack” they system to try different grammatical features, you can add the tag from the Penn Tagset to the URL. So, to change an activity from determiners to superlative adjectives, change “pos_target=DT” to “pos_target=JJS” and voila!

Some features in the tagset are probably too uncommon to be worth including; Others may not be easy to practice using these activities. But, the idea that computers can generate activities from any page on the internet is really appealing to me.


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