Product Review of Grammar Ninja
Grammar Ninja is an app where players hunt down all instances of parts of speech within sentences. Learners race against the clock to tap the number of correct words shown at the bottom of the page. Tapping a word lobs a throwing star at it. If the word is correctly chosen, the throwing star stays. If the word doesn’t fit the current part of speech, that word explodes and the correct part of speech for that word is shown. If learners keep tapping incorrectly, the correct words will be highlighted for them. Incorrect taps each add five seconds to players’ scores at the end of the mission.
The app includes a few tutorial missions that teach learners how to play and attempt to familiarize them with these parts of speech: nouns, verbs, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, prepositions, particles, and determiners. There are also some featured missions that are free and updated every six hours, providing fresh content. There are also regular missions that include topics such as “Cool Facts,” “Jokes,” and excerpts from various public domain literature, such as Alice in Wonderland. But to play the regular missions, players must either watch an ad or unlock it with diamonds, the in-game currency. Some regular missions have three difficulty levels: Simple (nouns and verbs only), Standard (adds adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, and conjunctions), and Expert (adds particles and determiners).
The faster learners complete missions, the more points they receive and the better ribbon they earn (bronze, silver, or gold). Learners can share or save their results. There are player rankings based on how many points players have earned. The players on these high-score listings periodically receive extra diamonds. Just doing well on missions can also earn them diamonds, but players can spend real money for diamonds as well. The game regularly asks players if they want to connect to social media accounts or to invite a friend to play.
Teachers could currently assign this app as a critical thinking exercise for learners who are already well-versed in the parts of speech, challenging them to screenshot specific exercises and diagram them in more detail. For instance, learners could be challenged to find examples of different kinds of nouns or verbs. Learners could also give feedback on sentences to the developers; however, to do so they’ll need to shift their minds (and habits) out of game mode.
Grammar Ninja has made some major visual improvements since it was originally released and feels and plays like popular games that learners already enjoy. However, it falls a bit short of what educators and learners expect and need. It’s also worth noting that the playful ninja aesthetic, while not necessarily offensive, could be seen by some as insensitive.
Success in exercises isn’t just about tapping the correct words, but doing so quickly. Thankfully there’s no on-screen timer, but learners will still feel the pressure to answer quickly when they see their score at the end. While this is a great mechanic for a general consumer audience, it could lead learners — especially those who struggle with parts of speech — to tap indiscriminately, or to not think deeply about sentences. Similarly, Grammar Ninja aims to acknowledge how the same word can be a different part of speech based on sentence context, which is important for learners to understand. However, during testing some words were associated with parts of speech that were possible for those words but didn’t fit the contexts of the sentences. (See one of the images included with this review.) Grammar Ninja also struggles with more complicated word formations, such as compound words that can force players to make some confusing choices. For example, in an exercise identifying nouns, the compound noun “Blue Jay” was split into the words “Blue” and “Jay,” requiring the player to identify both words as separate nouns. There are also some finicky details like needing to tap specifically on the “‘s” part of “it’s” when identifying a verb that, combined with the other issues, could frustrate or confuse learners.
Lastly, while Grammar Ninja usefully adds complexity by expanding the parts of speech covered from simple nouns to trickier things like adverbs, there’s room for more scaffolding, instruction, and complexity within parts of speech. It’d be helpful, for instance, to build players from common nouns to gerund nouns or from action verbs to auxiliary verbs.
Overall User Consensus About the App
Curriculum and Instruction
Brief grammar descriptions, and a lack of scaffolding, don’t properly prepare learners for the sometimes complicated sentence constructions. The fast-paced gameplay can hinder reflection.
The app has tutorial levels that introduce play and parts of speech. There’s a lack of useful feedback on learning.