How can I get in touch with English Banana.com?
Click here to visit our contact page.
Please let us know what you think of the site and how we can make it better. We love getting your feedback! Of course, if you spot any mistakes anywhere on the site, be they spelling or grammar or usage (whatever!), it would be great to hear about them so we can correct them. It is meant to be an educational site, after all!
How did English Banana.com start?
I started working on English Banana.com in December 2002. I had been working for about a year on my first site, Channel Z Television (see below), and felt that I wanted to make a site that was a bit more interactive than just a lot of text. It first went online on the free Lycos Tripod server as part of the same domain as Channel Z (members.lycos.co.uk/mattpurland/). The first ever index page had a nice picture of a tree on a windswept moor on it, until a student pointed out that this was 'boring' (he was quite right) and suggested that there should be pictures of people on the front page, rather than a moor (he was right again – although he did want all of the people on it to be attractive young women. I pointed out that this contravened equal opportunities, and the rest is, as they say, history).
The original plan was for the site to be interactive and offer something of value to students and teachers of English and Drama. I wanted it to appeal mainly to adults, but realised that some of the material could be useful to teenagers and children. I also wanted the site to be a bit more compact and user-friendly than the rambling mass of pages over at Channel Z. That’s why I designed a template page that could be used again and again, with the same main links on it. Although the site now comprises over 1,100 pages, the first set of material on the site was fairly scant - just the collection of descriptions of classroom games and some interactive quizzes, along with links and a title page. I found some entertaining games on the Net and added them to the games home page (more on this below). The site really began to take off though once I invested in Adobe’s Acrobat software, which enabled me to start adding printable worksheets as PDF files that could be downloaded and used freely. I learned the important lesson that traffic goes up once you start giving free stuff away!
The worksheets started to build up slowly, from 50 to 100, then 150, then 200 and so on. I had excellent support from the Sites For Teachers website and I quickly realised that it was necessary to integrate links to them into the key pages of my site. I added a new set of sub-heading links to all my main pages, including basic stuff like a facility to 'set as homepage', 'bookmark this site' and other peripherals like a polls page, tell a friend, guestbook and awards pages. I had an early boost when my site was added to the now defunct Yahooligans (in February '03), and also when the site won Site of the Month at English Club (in March '03).
I kept plugging away at building up the resources on the site – worksheets, quizzes and games – and the monthly traffic continued to grow steadily. It wasn’t until September 2003 that the site started getting above 1000 page views every day, with 38,164 pages viewed in total in that month. After that things just started getting plain silly, with 61,188 in October ’03 and 91,353 page views in November ’03. Where will it end? I don’t know, but currently we get over 1.2 million page views per month. I enjoy writing the worksheets and the books. I’m privileged to have an audience of willing victims at work for me to test out ideas on. I certainly plan to continue adding more resources to the site as fast as time and inspiration will allow. I hope you enjoy accessing the site and using the resources. Above all, please feel free to let us know what you think and any ways in which we can improve our materials.
Why is there so much free stuff available on English Banana.com?
I hope that you will find something that you can use on our site, either as a learner or as a teacher. The materials exist to be used, and ESOL or English teachers and students are always hunting for fresh meat. I know they are, because I do the same myself, and when you find a great site on the Net with lots of free content, it’s a happy day indeed! I felt like this when I first clapped eyes on all the free downloadable material that was freely available on Macmillan Publishing’s One Stop English site. I'm aiming to keep our site free to use. As a user of the Internet, I know what I want, which is good, free, useful material. I want to provide that on English Banana.com.
Why should the material be free? Well, because it’s better than paying for it, surely! There’s nothing worse than seeing a site with great educational materials, getting all excited about using them, and then getting the slowly dawning realisation that there’s a catch. That you can only access one page, or you have to sign up to receive something. On the whole I believe that the best stuff on the Net is free. Some of the web tools and games that I use on this site (see below) are completely free to use, and fantastic too.
So how can I support English Banana.com?
There are loads of way you can support us. Keep on visiting, using our materials and telling your friends and colleagues about our site and resources. The best referrals will always come from word of mouth!
Vote for us by visiting Sites For Teachers via the links on our pages. Check out some of the great sites on their pages.
Tell us what you think of the site, how we can improve it, and what you would like to see in the future. Why not contact us? What kind of quizzes would you like to see? It's always great to hear from you!
Link to us from your site. (Which brings me straight on to our next FAQ...!)
Who writes all the HTML, worksheets, books and quizzes then?
Er, I do. I have been teaching ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) in Further Education colleges and privately with adult learners here in the UK for five years, and thoroughly enjoy it. I love teaching and writing materials because I learn so much from doing both. I have earned a BA Hons. Degree in Drama from the University of Wales, the Trinity Cert. TESOL certificate, the City & Guilds Level 4 Certificate for ESOL Subject Specialists (9488) and the Certificate in Education FE (Further Education) from the University of Derby, which is equivalent to a PGCE in the UK.
I love writing and have been trying to get a book published since I was five years old, when I sent a book that I had made all about trees to Ladybird Books. Sadly, it was rejected. Since then I have had to make do with writing stories and plays, lacking the attention span and interest in starving penniless in a garret to write a novel. My favourite authors are John Irving, Bill Bryson, Leo Tolstoy, George Eliot and Sue Townsend. When it comes to movies I love Woody Allen's stuff and comedies in general. I also like moving films, but don't like CGI fight scenes (because they're boring). I enjoy writing worksheets but one day hope to sit down and write something longer - with a beginning, middle and end. See below for more info on my first online opus and potential Net soap Channel Z Television…
What on earth is Channel Z Television?
Channel Z Television is English Banana.com's sister site. It was my first attempt at creating a website from scratch. That’s why there is a link to it on the English Banana.com home page! I was inspired to start doing it in February 2002, when my mum took a computer course but failed her exam because she forgot to close a link, and her complete article acted as a link to the next page (instead of just one word). I vowed to learn HTML to avenge her fail.
Actually, it was more out of boredom and also because I couldn’t afford a mega WYSIWYG website package like Front Page (though I looked at it longingly in the shop for a bit). I bought a book called HTML Complete and it really did live up to its name. It taught me how to make a page. The reason that both sites look a bit home-made compared to more shiny and polished sites is that they have both been created using mainly handwritten HTML coding. Rather than this being a problem, I soon realised that there were potential benefits; the pages are very quick to load in browsers, and I also feel that both sites stand out a little bit and are unique because the code has been handwritten rather than generated by a software program.
From the start, it was fascinating being able to change the colours and add links, and save them all in one folder. It was really exciting. I 'ooohed' to the novelty of adding pictures, and 'aaahed' to the fun of creating tables. In the end I finished up with a basic page shape which I liked (see example here). A colourful page, with a links bar at the top, a heading, a site logo gif, a small JPEG photo, and a white table in the centre with the text in. I stuck with that style of page, and then used the idea (and coding) for English Banana.com.
I uploaded all my pages and images onto the free Lycos Tripod server, which has been good on the whole. However, to get more and more bandwidth I had to pay for hosting professionally. I wanted everything on English Banana.com to be more self-contained than Channel Z. I also wanted it to be more interactive and fun.
Channel Z is still online and I hardly ever update it. I never get any feedback about it, and it feels a bit like a neglected tea towel, half hidden out of sight in the laundry cupboard of my life. I would like to get my hands on it one day and make a book or play or something out of the characters and material. There is a storyline with an ending for the whole plot, so if you would like to know what happens in the end to Rodney Clambake and Michael Macintyre, please do not hesitate to get in touch!
Channel Z started out on local radio. I had a friend at university who did a one hour local radio show every week and we got some other drama students together and actually performed the first six scripts live on air. Did anyone hear it? Yes, statistically, they must have done. Although that person has now moved out of Wales, I believe. We had fun doing it, and then I started writing a sit-com set in the English Civil War, which also never got very far. That was called 'Evening Playing' and was very enjoyable to write. It had a kind of 'Blackadder' thing going on (though admittedly would not have been worthy to polish Richard Curtis’s wing mirrors...).
What software, web tools and other resources have you used to make and develop English Banana.com?
This is the credits and plugs section of the FAQs. I haven't used a lot of software to make English Banana.com, but here goes. I make the pages for the site using Microsoft Windows. I learnt HTML mainly from the book HTML Complete, published by Sybex, as well as getting some much needed help and advice from the excellent website HTML Goodies. I write the code for each page in Notepad, then save it as an HTML page. I edit the pages by flitting between IE7 and Notepad. I get all of the pictures, apart from the ones that I take myself, from shop bought royalty-free photo and clip-art CD Roms, and edit them using Real-DRAW Pro 3 (most of the time) and ArcSoft's Photostudio 2000 (sometimes). I make the quizzes using the fantastic, free and completely invaluable (and worth its weight in gold) Web Questions 2. When I need an image map I use Mapedit, and I downloaded some of the Java applets from Anfy (for a small fee). I write the worksheets and books using Microsoft Word, then print them as PDF files using Adobe Acrobat 5, which it's safe to say definitely wasn't a free download. In hindsight though it was well worth splashing out on.
A special mention goes to Bravenet, who give away some really great free tools for webmasters. In the past I have used their guestbook, guestmap and tell-a-friend services, but they offer loads of others.
I keep finding new sources of online games, and will endeavour to continue adding to the online games index on the site in the future.
What have students, teachers and other visitors said about English Banana.com?
So far we have had visitors from over 115 different countries. Click here to see the latest list. We are currently getting over 1.2 million page views per month on English Banana.com, and we are pleased to welcome thousands of new unique visitors every month. Visitors have given us lots of nice feedback, some constructive and helpful criticism, along with just a smattering of unhelpful comments. During term times we get messages every day from students who either love or hate our games, which are absolutely funny and delightful to read! We’d love to know how you think we can improve the site. Why not tell us how you use the materials, along with what you find works and more importantly, what doesn’t work. Please do get in touch here.
What happens if something on the site doesn’t work?
If a game doesn't work, it may be that you need to download and install an up-to-date version of both of these plug-ins - Shockwave Player and Flash Player. Or, perhaps whoever is supplying your internet access, e.g. a school or college, is using a web filter to deliberately block content from one or more of the sites that provide some of our games, e.g. Miniclip.com.