Software Review: MacReader and Storyboard Programs in ESL Reading Classrooms

Reviewed by Saad and Khalid Abalhassan, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, U.S.A.


Software Title





Gessler Publishing Co., Inc. 55w. 13th street, New York, NY, 10011


Macintosh based


Software Title

Storyboard, version 2.0 (DOS application)

Also, the new version of Storyboard included in The Authoring Suite Version (1.9b) (Windows application)


Christopher Johns & Ian Trachman


Wida Software Ltd.

2 Nicholas Gardens, London W5 5 HY, UK

Tel +44 181 567 6941 / Fax +44 181 840 6534



IBM-compatible Program (WIN 3.X, 95, 98, & NT)


In this review, authors evaluate two software programs used for a particular purpose (mainly ESL reading and vocabulary building). Evaluation considers the degree to which the two programs meet specific learner needs as well as specific curricular goals and objectives. Other typical considerations, which may assume greater importance when evaluating any software, are the programs' operation, content, format, clarity, interactivity, and the degree of feedback it provides to users. When all of that information are combined, authors make a conclusion about each of the two software's value and their applications in ESL learning situations. This paper is important for ESL practitioners who want to integrate CALL programs designed for enhancing the reading and vocabulary building skills into their curriculum.


1. Overview

The program mainly teaches reading and could be used for many other purposes just like any tool such as using it for exams, homework, or group projects. The teacher can use it for several other purposes, however, the program is mainly proposed by its writers to be used for reading classes.

2. Program Components

A. Exercises

2.1 Reading

The texts in this exercise are previously authored. The teacher can choose the topics and decide the level of difficulty of texts. A student is assigned a text randomly and this text is either prepared by the teacher or already exists in the software.

2.2 Timed Reading

This exercise begins with a screen indicating its purpose, which is to check the students' reading speed. Certain topics are provided for the student to choose.

2.3 Paced Reading

The paced reading exercise enables students to choose the pace that fits their abilities using a control bar indicating the numbers of words per minute. The student might experiment until the appropriate speed is found.

2.4 Cloze

This exercise is a reading comprehension exercise, which asks students to replace missing words.

2.5 Sentence Jumble

The sentence jumble exercise is meant for reading comprehension. It automatically mixes up the sentences from any paragraph that the student selects. The student must put sentences back into the correct order. The paragraph either comes included in the software or is authored by the teacher before hand. The computer creates the jumble of sentences automatically and randomly.

2.6 Paragraph Jumble

Paragraph Jumble is a similar exercise to the Sentence Jumble exercise. It just handles paragraphs. This exercise requires more advanced students unless the texts are abridged or chosen from very simple language material.

B. Glossary

Beside authoring the texts to be used for the exercises, teachers can also add vocabulary to the program using the icon "Glossary" in the program group. This feature helps teachers customize the program to fit their needs. English for Academic Purposes (EAP) programs can utilize this feature to meet specific goals like teaching their students certain lists of vocabulary. This feature adds a great deal of value to this program.


1. Overview

Two versions of Storyboard are reviewed in this paper. Storyboard (version 2.0) is included in a package of seven authoring programs created by Wida. The next generation of Storyboard comes as part of the Authoring Suite, which is an upgrade to the pervious version. Version 2.0 of Storyboard is DOS-based and the Authoring Suite is windows-based. Most of the problems that were found with the earlier version are avoided in the new version.

Storyboard is a classical text reconstruction program. The teacher enters the text, and learners rebuild it by guessing the missing words. In so doing, a wide range of language skills is involved. Storyboard is a popular and flexible activity, equally at home, in the classroom, and in the computer lab center. The program comes as part of a software package that includes 6 other programs: Spellmaster, Matchmaster, Choicemaster, Testmaster, Gapmaster, Vocab, Pinpoint, and Choicemaster. The new version of the windows-based Authoring Suite still combines these programs in one package.

2. Program Components

Storyboard consists of two programs. The first program is called "The Student Program" which is designated for the students' use. The second program is for the teacher to compose the texts and all the relevant functions like the introduction, hints, and help. The new version of Storyboard has the same components.

2.1 The Student Program (sb)

When the student runs the program, a list of passages that are either authored by the teacher or were originally included in the software appears on the screen entitled: "open file." When a topic is selected, the student moves to work on the selected passage. The main menu helps the students perform different functions needed to run the exercises and check results. Any move that the student makes is saved automatically and could be checked by the student or the teacher at any time. To review the scores, a student can select to only view the "score" from the main menu. The new version of Storyboard gives access to all functions by clicking on the graphic buttons. The program has not changed in content or capabilities.

2.2 The Teacher Program

In both of Storyboard's versions, the teacher program is made separate for the teacher to compose the texts and prepare lessons. The teacher program is different from the student program in its main menu. The authoring item in the menu is the main difference. Student files could be saved and reviewed under the item "File." The functions that the teacher can use this program for are:

1. Text Authoring

The teacher chooses the authentic material or any material found appropriate for students.

1) Creating Help Statements

The teacher composes three help options (help 1, help 2, and help 3) in a way that fits the lesson plan and topic.

2) Selecting Given Words

In order to allow some flexibility to the lesson, the teacher may show some words to students as needed.

3) Creating Hints

The teacher creates these hints to help the students come closer in guessing the correct missing words.

The new version of Storyboard has changed in terms of design and multimedia integration. Its components have remained intact with the exception of the capability that teachers now have to create audiovisual hints and help files.

Criteria for Evaluation

CALL practitioners give primary consideration to certain aspects when evaluating CALL programs as outlined in Warwick Thorn's guidelines. In addition to Warwick's guidelines, this paper considers the aspects of software learnability/teachability and ease of implementation into ESL curriculum. Those aspects are most likely to be considered when developing, evaluating, and writing effective programs for CALL.

In addition to Warwick's guidelines and their definitions, the authors of this paper consider the aspect of software learnability/teachability as an important factor when evaluating CALL software. The reason for that is the fact that some software packages are too complicated for students and teachers to learn. Since computer programs usually require a certain amount of operation skills that students need to learn to run the program independently, it is important to see how much instruction a program requires until students feel comfortable using it. The other factor used as a factor for evaluation is the software ease of implementation into the curriculum. This aspect refers to the extent to which software can be integrated into the curriculum to serve the teaching goals of any given ESL class.

Overall Software Evaluation

A. Evaluation of MacReader

1. Navigation

MacReader has icons for almost everything a student might want to do. The way the meaning of words is explained through a pop up window is very attractive and practical. The mouse is effectively utilized allowing limited use of the keyboard. Also, the importing of texts from other documents is easy and simple. Navigation bars allow students to switch windows smoothly. The tool bar is available for the student's convenience and many functions are accessible for the student all the time (e.g. Current texts, Exercises, and Help).

2. Cognitive load

MacReader allows flexibility to the cognitive load to be reconditioned to fit the students' abilities as assessed by teacher. The students' ability to cope with the programs' contents, structure and the response options are all determined by the teacher's planning and preparation.

3.Media integration

MacReader lacks the reinforcement bells and whistles. Content was given more attention than design. MacReader utilizes some pictures and visuals representing some functions like a person's head for "answer" and a stop sign for "Quit." With respect to media integration, MacReader ranks high among other programs considering the time it was released and the rarity of similar programs in the market.

4. Aesthetics

MacReader is attractive and utilizes images throughout the different stages of exercises. The colors are used effectively. The program loads smoothly, which means that efficiency was not compromised to overdo the aesthetic side of the program.

5. Overall functionality

MacReader is solely designed for language instruction. When the level of difficulty is carefully selected and students are trained to run the program the proper way, students are expected to learn a lot when using it. The program can serve the teacher's objectives when employed effectively. MacReader is functionally very useful for the goals its manufacturers claim it serves.

6. Learnability/Teachability

MacReader is easy to learn for teachers and students. When we started to evaluate MacReader, a big number of our ESL students were able to use it independently. In average, the program requires a short time of instruction to get the learners to start using it on their own. Considering the notion that a CALL software should be easy enough to facilitate the students' learning of the language through technology rather than learning the technology itself, this program is a great choice for the minimum amount of teaching it requires teachers to provide.

7. Ease of implementation

Although it is assumed that there is no ultimate teaching method, the ease of implementation of CALL software into the curriculum varies from a software package to another. MacReader can merge smoothly in the ESL teaching plans. It is a good choice for the variety it offers and the ease to incorporate into lesson plans. MacReader could be used for pastime or as a learning supplement. Teachers can assign students to work on the program in the lab or at home. It can also be used for language assessment and vocabulary building.

B. Evaluation of Storyboard

1. Navigation

Storyboard 2.0 has become a lot easier to run and manage, since the release of Win 95 has added a Windows-like menu and interface to DOS applications. However, the design quality of the program has some shortcomings caused by the limitations of DOS. Storyboard requires students to become familiar with a number of fairly complicated steps to learn how to make changes and get results. Loading the program does not overburden computers because of its reasonable size.

The new version of Storyboard has avoided most of the shortcomings found with the older version. The user does not need to switch to DOS in order to run the program. The menu is more flexible giving the users the capability of easily moving from a program to another within the Authoring Suite which has seven CALL programs. The merits that Windows programs usually have over DOS applications are reflected in the new version like using the mouse for execution. The buttons added to the interface have eliminated the need to use the traditional drop-down menus.

2. Cognitive load

Storyboard is excellent in its cognitive load. It gives total control to the teacher to decide the level of difficulty and the way it should be used. This aspect remained intact in the new version.

3. Media integration

The older version lacks the interactivity windows-based programs offer. Sound, images, and video are can now be integrated in the program operation. Teachers are now able to include any files their creativity can come up with and integrate them in their lessons. This means that a creative teacher can make Storyboard a very powerful program depending on the extent to which the program potentials are utilized.

4. Aesthetics

The DOS-version of Storyboard is limited in its aesthetic aspect. However, the new version included in the Authoring Suite uses the standard colors of Windows. The program is not as attractive as many Windows programs are, but it is acceptable in general. The buttons are not professional looking and require some fine-tuning in design. Some teachers may find a less attractive program more agreeable than an attractive one because of the notion that an attractive design might distract their students.

5. Overall functionality

Both generations of Storyboard can be quite functional in ESL classrooms. Using them in classrooms and computer labs is not too sophisticated and does not involve many complications. The simplicity and consistency in design and operation have made Storyboard a good program to consider for ESL classes. If employed properly, this program would be a valuable addition to the language learning process.

6. Learnability/Teachability

Storyboard is equally easy to learn for teachers and students. All tasks are accessible through a control bar of buttons. Individuals who used the older version will have an easy transition to the upgrade version since Wida has kept the simplicity level unaltered. The only but valuable addition to the program, which is the integration of audiovisual media, is all what is needed to learn to use. The user-friendly interface created for the Authoring Suite makes the learning/teaching of this program a very easy task.

7. Ease of implementation

Using Storyboard on a network or a computer lab is possible in most situations due to the considerably small size of the program, which allows it to be installed in most compatible machines. Therefore, teachers have a wide range of possibilities in considering the program for their ESL classes and relying more on it as an important addition to their curriculum. Since Storyboard is included in a comprehensive suite of seven CALL programs, it is most likely to be integrated as a supplement to ESL programs together with the other programs in the Authoring Suite.

General advantages and disadvantages

Based on our experience with the two software packages, we found that they have the following advantages and disadvantages:



The skills which this software can be used to teach are reading, vocabulary building, and writing. Listening could also be taught using MacReader depending on the teacher's creativity. For example, the teacher can read the text which students are going to work with, and then ask them to start the exercises using their notes taken during listening.

This program can be installed on a network. It can be used for groups or individuals. It is flexible for network usage and is similar to many other programs whose capabilities for networking are mainly based on the lab capabilities.

One of the good features of MacReader is the ease of navigation. MacReader gives a lot of convenience to students to look up new words without having to leave the computer (i.e. by clicking on the new word). It gives immediate help for the student. This feature is timesaving and allows the continuity of reading. Students do not need to interrupt their reading to look up a new word in another source.

Having the title of the text displayed on the window bar is another feature that allows students to know what piece they are reading. The program is flexible in terms of level of difficulty. Students have the freedom to choose what they find appropriate or appealing and can make the exercises challenging by choosing more difficult exercises based on their level of proficiency.

The buttons are made conveniently available to students who can switch between the five options (exercise, notes, import, quit, and help) at any time. This gives flexibility to students to switch between applications or exit any activity, as they need. Some other software packages do not allow exit unless the activity is finished.

The sentence and paragraph jumble exercises are equally great for teaching cohesion. The automatic shuffle of sentences and paragraphs makes the preparation of this exercise easy for teachers and students as well.

An outstanding feature that MacReader has is the ability given to teachers to add to the vocabulary and make new texts, which allows control for the teacher over the level and type of material to be taught.


Like many other Mac-based programs, MacReader requires moving the whole folder to the desktop in order to access it. That is, the program is not very easy to run because teachers and students will require significant amount of instructions before being able to work with it independently.

Some flaws are also found with the instructions given to students when navigating the program. For example, when a meaning of a word is given, the student is not aware of what to do next. There is no indication that a click on the mouse is what is needed to move forward.

In the timed reading exercise of MacReader, students are recommended to link certain words with words in their native language. According to SLA research "Gass, 1994," involving L1 in the learning process of L2 could cause problems to students' acquisition in the future. This might cause transfer (interference) from L1 into L2 in the long run. Students will associate meaning with their native language rather than remembering the word in its context as found in the text.

As for the students' scores, MacReader design causes some inaccuracies to occur if students access their scores before finishing reading. This can be noticed in the timed and paced reading exercises. The paced reading exercise scores can also be tampered with. It is easy to delete or change any scores. When the reading is started, the student is capable of changing the pace of reading, which alters the scores every time it is done. The program will not be able to notice any changes in the speed of reading. When we tested that problem, we found that the program registered the reading speed inaccurately. It did not take into account the multiple switches of speeds we made while reading. It is then not reliable for teachers to use the program to evaluate their students' growth in the long run. It is also not reliable for testing.

One of the display disadvantages is the size of the program windows. Having a fixed window for the program that can not be resized causes the window to be crowded with limited space for scroll bars. The screen looks confusing unless the student has a 17"+ monitor (almost impossible to provide for each student).

Another aspect the software is lacking is sound and visuals. There is almost no multimedia support. The display of colors is not attractive enough. Black and white is as boring as a notebook or sheet of paper. Computer software is a medium assumed to offer more than what traditional learning methods do. Another drawback of MacReader is that no motivational devices were noticed in the program. Feedback on what students do is encouraging and motivating. A few audiovisual devices can make the program more interactive and fun to work with.



The new version of Storyboard has avoided most of the DOS version problems. It also kept most of the program components conveniently unaltered allowing users of the DOS version of Storyboard to continue to use the program with a bit of information to learn about using the new version. The upgrade version has limited its changes to two aspects: 1) moving the program from DOS to Windows, and 2) utilizing the multimedia capabilities that computers have. One of the advantages of integrating multimedia in this program is allowing teachers to use all types of multimedia (i.e. video, audio, and images) and use them when authoring the reading material for their students.

Storyboard allows teachers to save and access their students' scores. Students have no access to the scores except to view them. If a student for example decides to look at the text as a whole, the program will automatically detect that action. Consequently, teachers can observe the reading behavior of their students using those files.

The program gives teachers full control over the reading content. This helps them design the exercises to fit the level, culture, and interest of their students. It also makes a good supplement for teachers to reinforce their regular activities. Like many CALL programs, this program provides change to class regular activities. Teachers can use this program to support their reading classes and train students to use reading strategies to become better readers using their guessing abilities.

Teachers are given full control over scores. Students have access to each part of the program and limited access to scores. They can just see them but can not change them. The configuration button available for students to make changes to the display of the screen. The program is runnable in networks. It runs as effectively on networks as on individual personal computers.


Many IBM or IBM compatible computer users consider any DOS-based program a hassle. The reason behind that is access. It requires a series of DOS commands that are confusing and not easy to memorize. Storyboard's DOS-version has the same navigation problems that are typical of DOS applications like the lack of spelling check and the inability to print documents automatically. Although the release of Win95 has enhanced the look and feel of DOS applications by giving them a windows-like interface, the program still lacks the convenience and interactive nature of Windows applications.

A typical use of multimedia is missing in this program and that is the reinforcement devices found in many other CALL programs. Storyboard does not support that feature. Students do not get feedback on their performance throughout the program. The scores are the only types of immediate feedback they get when running the program.

Another drawback of Storyboard's DOS version is related to importing texts. Teachers are required to type in every text they want to use. Moving texts from other programs is not supported. The new version of Storyboard has avoided this problem because most Windows applications now take into account the copy/paste feature.


Like many CALL programs, teachers can not find everything they want in one package. Although the Authoring Suite and MacReader have a lot to offer to ESL teachers and learners, it is fundamental to realize that teachers have a major role to play. Learning how to use these programs and having the creativity it takes to make a CALL program a useful contribution to the class curriculum is essentially important.

The programs examined in this paper are found useful for ESL classes. Authors of this paper use these programs for their ESL classes and recommend them to enhance the teaching of ESL reading. Students have also found these programs useful and enjoyable. The programs make a great supplement to ESL reading classrooms and are reasonably priced.


Celce-Murcia, M. (1991). Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language. Boston: Heinle & Heinle.

Gass, S. & Selinker L. (1994). Second Language Acquisition. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Norton, P. & Wiburg, K. (1998). Teaching with Technology. Harcourt Brace College Publishers: New York.

Schofield, J. (1995). Computers and Classroom Culture. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Tutunis, B. (1990). "CALL" in the Heart of Darkness: A Research into the place of "CALL" in TESOL. A paper presented at the International conference of the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (24th, Dublin, Ireland, March 27-30,1990).

Warwick J. (1995). Points to Consider when Evaluating Interactive Multimedia. The Internet TESL Journal. [Online] Available


About the reviewers

Saad Al-Kahtani, a Ph.D. candidate at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP), received his MA/TESOL from Michigan State University (1997). His research interests include computer-assisted language learning and teaching methodologies.

Khalid Abalhassan, a Ph.D. Candidate at IUP, received his MA/TESOL from MSU (1996) and BA/Translation (1992) from IMIU, Saudi Arabia. He is interested in CALL, Computational Linguistics, and Machine Translation.

Copyright©1999 Saad Al-Kahtani, Khalid Abalhassan & CALL-EJ