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Writing, Grammar, and Punctuation Tie the Knot at RACE-2-WRITE

By Jacinto Gardea

What is RACE-2-WRITE?

Available free at writingames.com, RACE-2-WRITE is a sentence game that enables players to hone their writing skills individually (in Practice Mode) or in competition with other players. The game functions at four skill levels in which players write a series of sentences on a randomly-selected topic. At its most advanced level—Level Four—the  game challenges players to include in their sentences nine punctuation marks andtwenty-three grammar components as follows:

 

Punctuation

period, exclamation mark, question mark, comma, quotation mark, dash, colon, semi-colon, ellipsis

Grammar

article, subject noun, object noun, subject pronoun, object pronoun, relative pronoun, gerund, adjective, ING-adjective, ED-adjective, other past-participle adjective, 1-word verb, 2-word verb, 3-word verb, 4-word verb, infinitive verb, adverb, preposition, interjection, simple conjunction, subordinating conjunction, coordinating conjunction, conjunctive adverb.

example screen capture of the game

Each punctuation mark and grammar component is assigned a specific point-value, so players earn more points for using the more advanced punctuation marks (dash, colon, semi-colon, ellipsis) and grammar components (relative pronoun, gerund, adjective, ING-adjective, ED-adjective, other past-participle adjective, conjunctive adverb).  In the GAME CHART, the punctuation marks and grammar components are presented in an abbreviated format; hovering over any square makes the full title of the item appear; clicking once on a particular item brings forth a HELP window with a definition/explanation and sentence examples.

RACE-2-WRITE does not require players to define, explain or identify any grammar component. Instead, the game shows players the grammar components in their own sentences. Each time a player writes a sentence on the SENTENCE-WRITING PALETTE and either presses the RETURN key or clicks the CHECK button at the bottom of the screen, the game creates an exact duplicate of the sentence in a separate text box (YOUR-GRAMMAR-SERVED-IN-COLORS PALETTE) with each word colored according to its corresponding grammar category.

 

After the game duplicates a sentence (simultaneously displaying the sentence’s total possible points in the SENTENCE POINTS box), the player can either modify or expand the sentence—or submit it, sending it to the larger ROUND SUBMISSIONS PALETTE, where all of his/her sentences are displayed.  As each sentence is displayed, the points earned are added to the running total. The game awards points only for the first instance of a punctuation mark or grammar component, so if in his/her first sentence a player has used an article, a subject noun, an adjective, a one-word verb, a preposition, an object noun, and a period, he/she will not be awarded points for these items in subsequent sentences. This is how the game encourages players to use punctuation marks and grammar components they have not used previously. The game identifies the punctuation marks not previously used (which earn player points) by displaying them within a rectangle.

What are the writing topics offered?

The pool of randomly-selected writing topics at each level of play includes explanatory, narrative, and persuasive writing topics. The number of writing topics per level is as follows:

Level 1 Level 2 Level 3 Level 4
Explanatory 215 292 339 329
Narrative 90 60 76 69
Persuasive 80 92 126 285
TOTAL 385 444 541 683

An instructor would also be free to bypass the randomly selected writing topics and ask students to write on a topic he/she deems more pertinent or timely.

How does it work?

RACE-2-WRITE’s capability to identify the grammar function of words in sentences is approximately 94% accurate, thanks to Google’s SyntaxNet, “an open-source neural network framework,” which functions in conjunction with Parsey McParseface, an English parser that analyzes English text, another open-source Google creation (https://research.googleblog.com/2016/05/announcing-syntaxnet-worlds-most.html). I dealt with the not-quite-perfect parsing capability of SyntaxNet/Parsey McParseface by creating two additional features—the Chat Room and the Edit Round—through which players can talk with one another and, by majority vote, determine

  • whether a particular sentence has a tangible relation to the writing topic.
  • whether or not RACE-2-WRITE’s grammar designation of a word is, in fact, correct as per the definition/explanations and/or sentence examples provided by the game—or any other source (Internet grammar site, grammar text, etc.).
  • whether or not a particular sentence contains a spelling or grammar error which the game has failed to identify.

This type of player interaction on spelling, punctuation, topic relevance, grammar errors and grammar designations translates into something that rarely occurs in composition classrooms: active engagement with and learning about the mechanics of writing. It underscores the point that when we are trying to learn something, we learn it best if we are able to discuss it. Equally important, player interaction will pertain to an actual piece of writing instead of a textbook exercise. This is why writing, grammar, and punctuation tie the knot in RACE-2-WRITE—players can actually see in thirteen colors the inextricable and interdependent relationship between the three.

How does grammar work in RACE-2-WRITE?

In its twenty-three grammar components, RACE-2-WRITE makes several key distinctions, the first of which is the distinction between the NOUNS and PRONOUNS functioning as SUBJECTS—and NOUNS and PRONOUNS functioning as OBJECTS—a distinction pertinent to a number of issues such as subject-verb agreement. Secondly, the game challenges players to consciously use four distinct type of adjectives: “regular” adjectives (red, new, tall, friendly, flexible); ING-adjectives (amazing grace, cycling star), ED-adjectives (abandoned house, brown-eyed girl), and other past-participle adjectives (known gang-banger, written instructions, broken arm). In identifying past-participle adjectives separately, RACE-2-WRITE gives players an idea of the wide array of the descriptive tools available to writers. The game also emphasizes the triple function of ING-words as ING-adjectives, gerunds, and ING-main-verbs.

Instead of requiring players to use specific temporal verb tenses (present, past, future, present perfect, past perfect, future perfect, etc.), RACE-2-WRITE challenges players to use 1-word verbs (We had dinner and then played Scrabble), 2-word verbs (My son has never liked to write in cursive), 3-word verbs (I’ve been working on this project for a week), and 4-word verbs (The damage could have been prevented if we had followed the written instructions) so that they can become proficient in using verb forms that create higher-level sentences. Again, by clicking on any verb form, players can see examples being used in sentences.

A fifth key distinction is that RACE-2-WRITE identifies “and,” “but,” and “or” as SIMPLE CONJUNCTIONS when they join two nouns (a cat and a mouse), two pronouns (he and I), two adjectives (tall or short), two adverbs (slowly but accurately), two verbs (worked and relaxed), or two helping verbs (could and should have gone). Conversely, the game identifies “and,” “but,” “or,” “nor,” “for,” “yet,” and “so” as COORDINATING CONJUNCTIONS when they join two independent clauses, as in these two examples:

  • Every saint has a past, and every sinner a future. (Oscar Wilde)
  • Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself. (Leo Tolstoy)

 

What is the process for starting/creating a game or joining a game?

The player who creates a game starts by entering his/her username then goes on to select the number of players, the game level, the game duration (1-20 minutes), and whether or not to include an Edit Round. He/she then presses the “Create Game” button.

create game screen

At the top of the next screen appear the Game Level and three buttons for “Game Instructions,” “Chat Room,” and to “Leave Game.” Below these buttons appear three columns, the first of which lists the game initiator’s name. The second column lists four possible writing topics; the game initiator has the option of “re-rolling” the topics to get four new ones by pressing the red button at the top of the column.

The third column lists the session ID number, the maximum number of players selected by the game initiator, the game level, the Round time length (1-20 minutes), Edit Round (Yes/No), the Edit Round time, and the Edit Round vote time in seconds. The most important of these items is the session ID number because this is the number that the other player(s) will need to join the game. The game initiator can press the aqua “Copy” button in order to send the game link to other players via email, a phone call, or a text message. In a classroom setting the session ID number can be written on a whiteboard or displayed via an overhead projector. Each player wishing to join the game then types his/her username, pastes or writes the Session ID number, then presses the green “Join Game” button.

The first column of the next screen now shows the names of the players who have signed in to play the round. When the selected number of players is reached, the blue “Ready!” button at the bottom of the screen turns green, and when all the players have pressed it on their screen, a countdown appears before the game screen appears—at which point each player can begin typing his/her first sentence on the topic which the game has randomly selected (from the four previewed).

Individual players who simply want to practice playing the game on their own can simply press the “Practice Mode” button (without even typing in a username). Edit Rounds, however, are not available in Practice Mode.

 

RACE-2-WRITE is a work in progress. In a simplified format, minus a text box and a few buttons, it may well be possible to morph the game into a viable app. For now, the game can provide elementary, intermediate, high school, and college-age players a challenging area on the web in which they can actually see the grammar components in their own sentences as they sharpen their writing skills.

As the game is in its formative stage, I am anxious to receive comments or questions at jgardea@portervillecolle.edu or gardea.jacinto@gmail.com. Thank you!

 

3 responses on "Writing, Grammar, and Punctuation Tie the Knot at RACE-2-WRITE"

  1. Thanks for sharing about this Jacinto. I can’t wait to try it with my class.

  2. Tremendous issues here. I am very satisfied to peer your post.

    Thanks a lot and I am having a look forward to touch you.
    Will you please drop me a e-mail?

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