This weeks blog is an interview with Andrew Lowery, creator of Rollama, an online interactive English grammar tool.
Rollama is a web app of interactive games for English spelling, punctuation, and grammar (SPAG) which uses gamification mechanics to incentivise regular practice and help all students build fluent fundamentals.
Working in Shanghai, my EAL students needed extra ways to practise things like verb tenses which don’t exist in Mandarin. The online games that existed either had no way for teachers to monitor progress, or didn’t have the level of detail required to suit a mixed EAL/native school, so I decided to try building my own.
At the start of 2021, I spoke to some developers of other online practice tools like Times Tables Rockstars and Pobble to get some advice, and started building the site to help all students practise spelling, punctuation, and grammar.
Standard English can be particularly tricky to learn — especially as an additional language — with many irregular patterns, non-phonetic spellings, and complex verb forms.
The assortment of learning gaps for individuals within a school cohort can be complex and impractical to address through curriculum time and interventions.
Rollama is a fun and motivating platform for both independent and guided practice of grammar accuracy, punctuation, vocabulary, spelling, and more.
Rollama combines focused English SPAG activities with Tamagotchi/Pokemon digital pet mechanics to motivate students to practise regularly. We have gamification features like leaderboards, medals, competitions, multiplayer modes, and achievements.
My 15 years of classroom teaching experience have helped us to design features that teachers want, with the simplicity and ease-of-use that busy professionals need.
Teachers create an account via www.rollama.com/trial, without inputting any payment details.
It takes 30 seconds to create accounts for your class, by copy+pasting your student names.
Print the login labels which shows the usernames and passwords for your class.
Your students can immediately log in to freely practise any of our 250 SPAG objectives.
Teachers can set assignments, create competitions, and explore whole class tools within their dashboard.
After the 30-day trial, schools can pay an invoice for an annual subscription from as little as £2.50/month
Currently we run in any web browser but are not fully optimised for phone screens, so we are in the process of preparing to convert the site into a mobile app for iOS and Android, launching later this year.
Coming soon, we have a big new feature called Checkup which can be used by teachers as an informal diagnostic test for their class.
We have 250 game pages but are always adding more. Everything is aligned to the English National Curriculum, but we are currently looking for ways to expand our content for US schools teaching the Common Core Standards.
From a technical standpoint, it has been a steep learning curve to run a software business without having any coding experience. I am leading a small team of freelance developers and iterating our design over time, which has required me to learn some coding and project management processes which are totally alien from my previous work experience.
It’s also a challenge to build a new brand and promote a product without any sales and marketing experience. Building the games and language content is much more familiar work for me, but convincing schools to pay for something is a brand new challenge; teachers are usually happy to try something new, but it takes a lot to convince a school to commit to a subscription, even if the price is good value for money.
Our long-term goal is to make English language practise fun for all children, so we aim to continue growing to offer engaging, motivating activities to more students at an affordable price for all schools around the world.
The majority of our users are UK primary schools at the moment, and we will continue to increase our content to better suit International Schools, secondary schools, home schoolers, and schools teaching the US curriculum.
Behind the scenes, my wife is the co-founder and digital artist for the site; within five years, I hope we will be successful enough that she can join me in the business full time.
We have received lots of praise from teachers about how much their students enjoy practising English on Rollama – even ‘boring’ parts like punctuation and verb tenses. Collectively, children around the world have logged over 750,000 games on Rollama, and we have been used by over 35,000 children.
We have a feedback page for users to suggest ideas at https://rollama.canny.io/feature-requests
We run polls and discussions in our Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/rollama
I regularly build new features and pages in response to feedback – at our current scale, we have the advantage of being agile and able to adapt our site to what our users find most useful.
Start a trial at www.Rollama.site Rollama puts your pupils on the playful path to fluent fundamentals!
Connect with Andrew on Linkedin here