Vol. 6. No. 3 — December 2002
|Paragraph Punch (Version 8.1,© 2002)
132 W 21 Street
New York, NY 10011
|Type of product
|CALL software (writing)
|Minimum hardware requirements
|5 MB RAM, 7 MB hard disk space
|Stand-alone workstation $99;
5-30 networked workstations $269-$999;
site license, 1,499;
Home version $29
Paragraph Punch is designed to help learners of English, either as a first or second language, develop clear and organized paragraphs. The program is designed mainly for use in school computers and follows a step-by-step design that is common to many stand-alone CALL programs. A “home version” of the program is available to learners at additional cost, but this was not included in the evaluation copy and will thus not be discussed in this review. The “home version” is the same as the regular version, but contains a function that allows learners to send records to teachers by e-mail instead of sending records into the teacher record management system that comes with the regular program. This review is based on the single stand-alone version.
The program contains five units, each of which is based on a different type of paragraph. The units may be used separately and in varying orders: Reason, Details, Example, Topic, Cause and Effects. Each unit follows the same step-by-step sequence described below.
The first step in the sequence introduces the type of paragraph to be taught in the unit. [-1-]
Three topics appear and learners are asked to choose one as the topic of their paragraph. The program then prompts learners to enter the name of a specific subject that is related to the topic that they have chosen. This specific subject becomes the topic of their paragraph.
A notepad pops up and learners are asked to enter words or phrases, not complete sentences. Depending on the topic, the program offers three to six questions to stimulate thought about the topic. Learners respond to the questions by typing words or phrases into the input window.
The program shows a sample topic sentence and an incomplete topic sentence that learners are expected to complete. Learners are then asked to write an original topic sentence to introduce their paragraph.
The notepad from the pre-writing sequence appears again and learners are asked to choose a word or phrase from the notepad and use it in a sentence. They must continue to choose words or phrases to write a sentence for each of the phrases that they wrote in the pre-writing sequence. Space to write additional sentences is given so that learners can expand the paragraph. The notepad from the prewriting sequence is present throughout this sequence and learners may refer to it as they wish.
In the first step in this sequence, the notepad containing complete sentences from the preceding sequence appears on the left half of the screen and a notepad containing the topic sentence from the “topic sentence” sequence appears on the right half of the screen. Learners are asked to transfer sentences from the left half of the screen and arrange them in order to make a complete paragraph. At least three sentences from the left half of the screen must be used, giving learners the option of rejecting sentences if they have written more than three.
In the second step in this sequence, a box containing a draft of a complete paragraph appears. Learners have a choice of printing their work before proceeding to the next sequence. The program presents ideas for transition words that learners can enter between the sentences.
The program provides a sample concluding sentence and an incomplete concluding sentence that learners are expected to complete. Learners then write an original concluding sentence to the paragraph.
A draft of the completed paragraph appears on the screen for review. The program asks learners to check their work and offers brief advice on the use of editing buttons: “Add,” “Edit,” “Remove,” “Move” (sentences). The program also offers brief advice on editing, style, grammar, and sentence structure. Guidelines in this sequence are more detailed than in previous sequences. [-2-]
This sequence gives learners a chance to review the paragraph for mechanical errors. The program offers brief advice on basic punctuation and spelling. A spell-checker is available in this sequence.
The last sequence gives learners the chance to “publish” the paragraph by saving it, printing it, or moving it to a word processor. They can also review the paragraph for more editing or use the spell-checker again.
Paragraph Punch provides a clear, if somewhat formulaic, introduction to the construction and organization of paragraphs. The sequences build gradually on one another, guiding learners to an understanding of paragraph writing in the process. In the final sequences at the end of each unit, the program asks learners questions about their writing, which helps develop awareness of their writing and guides them to self-correction.
Designed mainly for use in schools in the United States from the 5th to 10th grade, the program is less applicable to learners of English as a second or foreign language. Some of the topics, such as the topic on inheritance in Unit 1 and the topic on the effects of a natural disaster on the local community in Unit 4, are not discussed openly in some cultures. The hints and stylistic and grammatical information are brief and might be difficult to understand for ESL/EFL learners with limited English proficiency. In the classroom, teacher explanations, in English or in the L1, can supplement what is given in the program, but caution is advised in asking learners with limited English proficiency to use the program for self-study.
Perhaps the greatest limitation of Paragraph Punch and similar stand-alone CALL programs is the lack of interactivity. When the program opens, it fills the entire computer screen and cannot be resized to allow users to access other functions on their computer. This makes it impossible, for example, for learners to use dictionary software or online dictionaries in the process of writing. For ESL/EFL learners who are accustomed to using dictionaries on computers, this is a frustrating limitation because it forces them back to using paper or portable electronic dictionaries. To use other functions on their computer, learners may exit the program and re-enter where they left off, but most learners will find this procedure somewhat cumbersome. Because the program is designed around a series of sequences, the lack of interactivity is understandable, but there is no function that allows learners to choose to go back to a particular sequence. They must go forward or exit the program, which gives them the option of starting again where they left off or starting the sequence anew. The editing and proofreading sequences give learners the chance to make changes, but these come at the end of the sequences. The program does not have a companion website for learners and teachers. Instead, the website (http://www.meritsoftware.com/software/paragraph_punch/) contains promotional information on the program. [-3-]
The information that came with the version of Paragraph Punch that I reviewed did not mention that the program was compatible with Windows XP, but the website listed it as compatible and it worked well on my Japanese version of Windows XP (Professional Edition). Occasionally, the program flashes when it moves from one function to another, and this is most annoying when the program flashes through sequences after learners choose to re-enter the program where they left off. The flashing does not affect the functioning of the program or damage the computer, but it indicates that, at least with the Japanese versions of Windows XP, the program is not as smooth as it should be for a commercial product. Finally, the color scheme and design of the interface is not very attractive; the heavy reliance on solid colors–gray, blue, and yellow–gives the impression that the program has not undergone much development since the days of Windows 3.1.
In conclusion, I recommend Paragraph Punch as an auxiliary program, either in a computer classroom or for self-study, for ESL/EFL learners with intermediate or above proficiency in English. The program is most effective when used with teacher guidance on how to organize information within a paragraph and on how to develop full paragraphs. The limitations of the program, however, make it difficult to use as the main material for a course or with beginning to low-intermediate learners of ESL/EFL. Learners at any level with limited computer skills or low motivation may become impatient with the sequential rigidity of the program.
Robert J. Fouser
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