Wednesday, 14 December 2011

My 11 from '11

Brass on red
Photo on Flickr by Stephen Heron

It is almost the end of the year and my blog will be 4 years old on 22nd January. What better way to celebrate than with a blogging challenge and one that will make me reflect on my past year's posts?

Adam Simpson posted this challenge in his blog. The idea is to look back at your last year's posts and choose 11 that you think are the best.

I was surprised to find that I actually wrote 28 posts in 2011, 10 more than the year before. I often suffer from blogger's blog and the trick for me is to take blogging challenges and attend workshops and to write about the experience.

So, let's do it:

1. I will start with My Birthday Special, almost a year ago. In that post I wrote about 2010 posts, so if you feel like going further into this blog's past, please do.

2. and 3. A Picture Tells... How Many Words Again and Why I Love Digital Storytelling are inspired by the Digital Storytelling workshop I was attending at the time. In these posts I tried out various activities I had learnt in the workshop.

4. What Is Your Computer Metaphor was written as homework for my Multiliteracies class, but this post is also very important to me. If I was to choose only one post from 2011, I would probably choose this one. I don't often rant, but I came very close to ranting here. I will say no more.

5. Free Tools Challenge #4 - Classtools. The Free Tools Challenge was really great for my blogging. I wrote 12 posts during this challenge and it was difficult to choose only three here. I chose this one, because Classtools are just amazing and I believe everyone should know about them.

6. Free Tools Challenge #12 - Animoto. I was familiar with this tool before the challenge, so I tried to explore Animoto further in this post. I think the result is quite interesting...

7. Free Tools Challenge # 15 - Livebinders. Everyone should know about the wonderful Livebinders. They can be used in the classroom in so many ways.

8. How My PLN Came to Be is a tribute to my Personal Learning Network. You guys deserve it.

9. Get to Know Each Other is a lesson plan, or rather a list of warmers and introductory activities that can be done at the beginning of the school year.

10. Some Important Tricisions is about an online workshop I attended this autumn, but it is also about a useful little tool called Tricider.

11. The Tree: Some Video Activities is again a lesson plan. I won't tell you what it is about, see for yourselves.

So, here we are, many workshops and blogging challenges later. My blog is almost four years old and it is the end of the year. So, let me sign off with the same words I used in my last 2010 post:

It was a good year. The next one will be even better.

Baubles *Merry Christmas*
Photo on Flickr by Chris Jones


This was true of 2011. And 2012 is going to be just amazing, I know that.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, dear PLN. Thank you for letting me learn with you in 2011.



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Monday, 7 November 2011

The Tree: Some Video Activities

Before we start, please watch this video:


What would you use it for in class?

Here are some ideas of mine:

1. Why did the boy try to move the tree? Surely he knew he wasn't strong enough for that?
2. Why was the boy first joined by the children? Why did they look so happy?
3. Discuss: "The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” How would you define the boy? A born leader? A crazy kid? Or just someone who felt that he had to do something?
4. Why did the people join the boy?
5. Give the clip a new title.
6. If you had to define the force that had moved the tree, what would you say? Was it the boy's initiative? Or the team spirit of everybody else? Both? Something else?
7. Can we always change the circumstances in which we live, or are we sometimes helpless? Discuss.
8. How important is team work in today's society?
9. How important is team work in a language classroom?
10. Do you feel that you are a part of a team in your classroom? Why/not?

Now retell the story in the first person singular, pretending to be one of the people you saw in the clip.

I am still attending Adapting Your Coursebook With Technology with Nik Peachy and I am really enjoying the course. So far all the tools we have learnt about have been new to me.

Task 2 was creating activities around a video for students to complete at home. We learnt about Grockit, which enables the teacher to ask the students some questions while they are watching the video. The questions can be timed so that they appear exactly where we want them in the video. It is good for posting videos as homework as it is an equivalent to watching a video in class and stopping it whenever we want our students to tell us what is going on or to predict what will happen next. You can read more about Grockit in one of Nik's blogs. Here is the link.

Unfortunately Grockit videos can't be embedded yet, but here is my example.

The video I have used here is something I have dug up from the archives of my first wiki. It sends a really strong positive message, so I started thinking about exploiting it further and ended up with the lesson plan you can see above.






Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Some Important Tricisions

indecision dice
Image on Flickr by Anne-Lise Heinrichs

I am attending Adapting Your Coursebook with Technology on Seeta. It is a pleasure to learn from Nik Peachy and the participants are a lively creative bunch of people who are eager to share and learn together. The best thing in this course for me is the fact that I have found a large network of Serbian teachers who love technology. I have to say that so far I have had very few people from my part of the world in my PLN.

During the first week we learnt about Tricider. This tool was new to me and it was love at first sight. Tricider is an online brainstorming and voting tool and it can be used for polls, questionnaires and brainstorming sessions. It is very flexible. You ask your question and that question appears as the title of your questionnaire. Then you provide some ideas in the form of statements that people can agree or disagree with. They can vote for the best ideas (useful for collecting feedback) or add comments of their own next to them. Once your interviewees get used to Tricider, they will start providing ideas of their own and this is where the true power of Tricider as a brainstorming tool lies.

We were asked to provide two questionnaires, one for students and one for the teachers participating in the course. This is the questionnaire I created for my students:


powered by tricider

It is a very fast way to gather feedback after each class. They just need to click on the statements they agree with and I tried to phrase the criticism in a positive way, so that they don't feel that they are going to hurt my feelings. Other participants created a wide range of questionnaires, gathering information about the students' learning styles, their likes and dislikes, their opinion on controversial issues... Quite a few participants focused, just like me, on the feedback from students. Tricider was also used for reading comprehension (pre-reading activities) and grammar (What would you do if..., Have you ever...).

But the best fun started with the questionnaires for teachers. Here are some of the questions asked: Are you a technophobe or a technogeek? Is it difficult to be a teacher? What's the worst thing about being a teacher? What is your favourite "teaching hat"? What's the type of student you prefer? What have you got in your bag on a typical working day? What do you do when you get home from a full day of teaching?

I have always found questionnaires addictive. They are a great introspection tool. I ended up doing most of the questionnaires and they really got me thinking. The questions were well phrased and I was sometimes surprised by my answers (the amount of work I do after I come home from my classes). It is good to be understood and supported and very few non-teachers can understand a teacher. That's why this was such a great experience. I really learnt a lot about myself from my peers.

Anyway, here is my questionnaire for teachers:


powered by tricider

This second tricision I have shared is a good example of Tricider's brainstorming potential. All the comments in the middle column were made by my fellow participants, as well as two of the left-column suggestions.

The course is keeping me very busy and I'll post again soon to let you know how I am doing.













Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Get to Know Each Other

Chairs
Photo on Flickr by Night Owl City

The beginning of the new school year is approaching very, very fast. It is time to get prepared, physically and mentally. For me, meeting new students, facing them for the first time, is very scary. It hasn't stopped being scary, even after almost 22 years in the classroom. My students often admit (much later into the course) that they were nervous too in the first class. It is the unknown that we fear, I suppose.

That's why I find those first classes very important for the rest of the course. Ideally, by the end of the first two weeks, everyone will have relaxed. In order for this to happen, everybody should get to know everybody else. The students should get to know each other and some sort of group spirit should emerge. The teacher should get to know the students and adapt the course to their interests and learning styles. Last but not least, the students should get to know the teacher. Students will relate better to your subject if they get to know the real you.

In no particular order, I am going to share some of the activities I use during the first two weeks.

When I attended CRELL two years ago I learnt the following two warmers that I have been using ever since:

THE NAME GAME

Here is the original description of the activity from the CRELL lesson plan:

1. Tell students they are going to introduce themselves by sharing something about their first, middle, or last name. If you have a large group, you may want to have students work in small groups to share the story of their names. Begin the activity by modeling it and sharing something about your first, middle, or last name.

2. After each student has shared with the group, lead a whole class discussion using some or all of the following questions.

This is what I shared in the CRELL forum:

"My name is Natasa. The name was derived from Latin “Dies Natalis”, which means Christmas Day. It is really strange, but my maiden name, Bozic, means exactly the same thing, only in Serbian. So my name and my surname are synonyms. I like the idea of being protected by these Nativity symbols. I was named after my maternal grandmother. Her name was Natalia, but my parents shortened it to Natasa, which was more popular at the time. When I was a little girl, I didn’t like my name (I guess that’s usual for little girls), but now I am glad I was called after my grandmother. She died when I was nine and she was an important figure in my childhood. She was a truly good person. When I got married, I added my husband’s surname to my maiden name. I wanted to keep “Christmas” with me and I felt that by that time the surname was a part of who I was. I also did it because I am an only child and my father was no longer alive. My married name is very rare – I have never met anyone outside my husband’s family called Grojic. We believe that somebody made a mistake at the Registry Office a long time ago and wrote Grojic instead of the very common Grujic. I always have to spell it to people and they usually get it wrong – they write u instead of o. My husband says that with time I’ll stop paying attention and let them write whatever they want."

I always share this story with the students first before I ask them to do the same. It helps them understand what I want them to do. It is a great way for everybody to learn everybody else's name.

DRAW YOUR OWN SYMBOL

Here is what the CRELL lesson plan says:

"In this activity we would like you to think of a way to represent yourself to the other participants in our session by drawing a symbol. You can use Word Drawing or another program to draw your symbol. You can also hand draw your symbol and scan your picture, then download it to the correct folder. Please create an original drawing instead of downloading clip art or a photo. Below your symbol, please provide a brief explanation of how this symbol represents you."

This is what I did:

The Candle

"I chose the candle as my symbol. When I was a student, I used to draw candlesticks on the margin of my books. Maybe it had something to do with burning midnight oil, or maybe (and I prefer this second explanation) it had something to do with the quest for knowledge. Candle represents light, as opposed to darkness. It represents knowledge and wisdom. It shows us directions when we are lost and, if we leave a candle in the window, our dear ones will find us. We light candles to remember both the living and the dead. Our lives might be “like candles in the wind”, but if we live them with passion and if we bring some light into the lives of others, we will live forever. The flame is eternal."

Again, I would share the story with the students first, maybe even try to draw my symbol on the board. Then I would ask them to do the same. I teach adults so I usually wouldn't ask them to draw their own symbol in one of our first classes (they are scared enough even without me asking them to draw). I usually share a ready-made lesson plan instead. It is a lovely little lesson plan from the Inside Out website and it is called You In Pictures. A whole collection of these plans can be found here and You In Pictures is the first one. Please allow the time for the booklet to download.

SPEED DATING

I learnt this activity from my colleague Zorana who teaches German at my school. Students sit opposite each other in pairs and they have five minutes to talk to each other. After the time is up, everybody moves one seat to their left, so that they talk to somebody else. The goal is similar to speed dating - to find out as much as possible about their partner. Before the students start talking to each other, I ask them to write down five or six questions that they are going to ask everybody in the class, although, of course, improvising additional questions on the spot is most welcome. At the end of the activity, I ask each student to share the most interesting question they were asked.

WHAT MAKES YOU TICK

clock montage
Photo on Flickr by Rocket Ship


Students are given some time to prepare a one-minute talk about something they are passionate about. It can be a hobby or simply a topic they are very interested in. After each student has delivered the speech, others ask follow-up questions. At least three questions should be asked.

PLEASE DON'T ASK ME THAT

In pairs, students talk about what sort of questions they hate being asked, then they share the questions with the rest of the class and they explain why they hate talking about the topic. Those can be typical 'taboo questions' like asking about somebody's weight, or simply the questions the students find boring or intrusive. Very useful feedback for the teacher.

TWITTER BIOGRAPHIES

This is a writing exercise. Students are asked to write something about themselves in 150 words. I would share my own Twitter bio (mother, wife, EFL teacher, Webhead, blogger, writer lifelong learner, daydreamer, geek, insomniac) as an example.

ELEVATOR PITCH

I borrowed this from a blogging challenge I participated in. Here is my original post on what an elevator pitch is. An elevator pitch is similar to a Twitter bio, but it should be delivered orally. Students should introduce themselves to others in no more than 150 words.

I like to do this as a mingle activity. Students circle around, delivering their elevator pitches to each other. They should listen to other elevator pitches carefully, but they shouldn't write anything down. Afterwards, I ask them to recall anything they can remember about the people they talked to.

One of my favourite photocopiables is Group Work Intermediate. Activity 2 (Get to know your group) contains 64 great icebreaker questions that can be exploited in different ways. I often use those during the first two or three weeks of the course.

I could go on and on, but I am going to stop here for the moment. This post is very long as it is.

Please let me know what you think. Your opinion is, as always, very important to me.










Tuesday, 28 June 2011

PLN Challenge #2 - How a PLN Works

hεtεromogεnεous rhızlınkıng . .
Image on Flickr by Jef Safi

In the PLN Challenge #2 we were asked two questions:

1. What do you hope to learn more about with respect to your PLN in the coming weeks?

I have to be honest with you. I have joined the challenge because I want to meet new people and add them to my PLN. I am looking forward to new projects, new ways to collaborate. And I am hoping to join a couple of new online spaces.

As for my existing PLN, I would like to learn how to communicate more effectively within the time I am already spending online, since I know it is unrealistic for me to plan on spending more time online than I already do. I have great people in my PLN and they are very supportive, but sometimes I am not there when I should be. Or at least I feel so. The internet is a messy thing and, no matter how much you spend online reading what other people have posted, you will still miss a lot. Right now I am missing a bunch of great posts and tweets posted by members of my PLN. I suppose that can't be helped. Still, it is a pity.

Knot  57-365 #2
Photo on Flickr by Samyra Serin

2. What have you learned with creating your PLN that you wish that someone had told you before and what tips do you have to share?

I know this is going to sound contradictory to what I have just said, but I wish someone had told me to relax and take it easy, to do only as much as I can. As I have said, the internet is messy, the information overload threatens to crush you and the key is not to do more, but to focus and prioritize. I wish someone had told me to choose my battles carefully and not to click the"join" button every time I see it. It is very important to treat online learning as a hobby (which it is) and never to treat it as an obligation. Not only will it kill the fun, but you are in danger of burning out and that might put you off online learning for a long time.

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Wednesday, 22 June 2011

PLN Challenge #1 - How My PLN Came to Be

Stay connected
Photo on Flickr by Paul Falardeu

Back in 2008 I believed that everyone who had a website was a demi-god. I read a lot of blogs, but it never crossed my mind that I, a mere mortal, should leave a comment. I was a member of a couple of forums, but I lurked. I didn't know I was lurking, I thought keeping silent was the right thing to do since I didn't 'know' anyone and no one had invited me there anyway.

Then in one of the forums where I lurked I saw an ad for Electronic Village Online. There were about a dozen workshops, but the one that caught my eye was called Becoming a Webhead. It read:

"Webheads in Action is a five-year-old community of practice of language teachers worldwide, coordinated by Vance Stevens. We explore Web communication tools and share the best ways of using them in our teaching practices, engage with students in virtual classes, collaborate on projects, and participate in conferences as audience and presenters. This collaboration takes place online, as we are all geographically apart. Would you like to become one of us?"

That last sentence sounded promising. Me becoming a part of an online community! I wanted that. I also wanted my own website, a place where I could share resources and links with my students. Maybe these Webheads could teach me how to create one.

In the introduction to the course they used a lot of words that were unknown to me: synchronous, asynchronous, wiki, podcast... As I was filling in the form to join the workshop, they asked me about the Web 2.0 tools that I had used. Now, what was Web 2.0? It was obviously something I was supposed to know about, so how could I ask? I would just show how ignorant I was. Googling "Web 2.0" never crossed my mind. My mind didn't work like that back then. So, I thought I would just join the group and keep quiet.

If you have ever had any contact with the Webheads, then you'll know that keeping quiet is not an option. I was greeted warmly and pulled into the conversation immediately. The forum was bustling with activity. There were quite a few people who were as ignorant as I was. I decided to learn or perish. I ended up sitting in front of my computer for six hours and loving every moment of it. By the end of the workshop I had my own wiki, my own blog (this one) and I had even created a podcast. After the workshop was finished, I joined the Webheads in Action forum. I belonged.

For at least a year all members of my PLN (Personal Learning Network) came from the Webhead forum. Things changed very gradually. The Webheads had me join Twitter and I met more people there. In January 2009 I read about Sue Waters' 31 Day Blogging Challenge on Twitter. I joined and I met some great new people. In April the same year I joined Problogger's 31DBBB challenge. By that time I knew for sure that my main online activity was going to be blogging so I joined every blogging challenge I could find. I still do that. Challenges give me something to write about and I always meet new people during the challenge. During the 31DBBB I met Karenne Sylvester who soon started BELTFree, a community of TEFL bloggers. Together with the Webheads, BELTFree bloggers became a very important part of my PLN. Although the BELTFree Ning is no longer bustling with activity, the ties have remained. We tweet together and read each other's blogs.

Bound
Photo on Flickr by Domiriel

How big is my PLN? I honestly have no idea. There are times when I feel I am all alone online. Then there are times I feel almost overwhelmed. But one thing I do know - they are out there all the time. They can help me find that killer warmer I need, they can teach me how to use that new application everyone is talking about, they can show me a thousand new ways to tell a story or teach some grammar. And if I have a problem or a question to ask, there will always be someone out there to help me.

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Sunday, 5 June 2011

Free Tools Challenge #15 - Livebinders

personal journals
Photo on Flickr by Ingo Bernhardt

Today in the Free Tools Challenge we are exploring Livebinders, a tool I never heard about until two days ago. It is one of the tools that, once you explore them, you can't stop wondering how you ever lived without them. It takes minutes to learn how to use Livebinders, they are practical and adaptable and it takes just one link to share your binders with the world.

OK, I need to calm down. First of all, I suggest you read this excellent tutorial on Livebinders in the Teacher Challenge blog. It will answer all your questions on how to get started with Livebinders. Then, make sure you come back here because we are going to talk about Livebinders in a TEFL classroom.

Let's say you want to share a bunch of links with your students. For the sake of the argument, let's suppose that you are trying to share with them all the links for online dictionaries that come to your mind. The final result might end up looking like this:

In progress, with covers

Photo on Flickr by Jerome Collins

And what if I told you that the final result could look like this:



If you click on the icon or on the link underneath a window will open. It will look like this:

Unable to display content. Adobe Flash is required.

And I can keep adding the dictionaries to the binder as I come across them. In fact, I don't even have to visit the site to add the link. All I need to do is install the 'Livebinder It' bookmarklet to my browser and I can add any page I want to my Livebinders.

This is great because students often complain that they can't find the links they need. With Livebinders I can share online resources with them more easily. For my advanced students I created this binder with some short stories for them to read over the summer:



This way, instead of hunting for the links all over the pages of our wiki, they can focus on their reading.

What students often complain about in a blended learning course is that they don't know where exactly the course is. The teacher could create a binder with all the links used in the course (the forum, the wikis, the blogs, Twitter accounts...) and tell the students to bookmark the link and use it as their startup page in the course. The students could then add their own resources to this binder. The best thing about Livebinders is that everyone can learn how to use them. They even offer you to type your search term in their Google window and they populate the binder with the relevant pages from Google for you. This is what they came up with for Mother Theresa:



Students could create their own binders on different topics (the person I admire, the music I listen to, my country...). Or they could Google their name and share what they find in a binder.

Finally, you can use Livebinders to keep all your personal links in one place so that you can easily share them with others. The following binder contains links to my Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin accounts, this blog, my eportfolio and my wikis. And a bunch of other places where you can find me, including my school website. It is my business card:



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Saturday, 28 May 2011

Free Tools Challenge #14 - PhotoFiltre



In the Free Tools Challenge #14 we explored PhotoFiltre.

I almost skipped this challenge. With Picasa, Picnic and BigHugeLabs, did I really need another image editor? And one that needed to be downoladed at that?

I did download it out of curiosity (download link here). I stared at it, but it didn't seem appealing at first. Then I started playing with it.

You can never have too many image editors at your disposal.

Having an image editor in your computer (rather than online) makes it easier to manipulate a large number of images without having to upload/download them all the time. PhotoFiltre can do a lot of things other image editors can do (crop, resize, cut, copy, paste), but it also offers some really cool effects of its own. They are called the 'filters'.



The 'masks' are an interesting replacement for traditional picture frames:



You always need images in a TEFL classroom. Using a tool like PhotoFiltre lets you create exactly the kind of image you need. Cutting, copying and pasting parts of images is particularly useful:



PhotoFiltre can be used to illustrate idioms and vocabulary in general. PhotoFiltre images can be an interesting conversation prompt. What is the chair doing in the middle of the bridge?




You need an interesting image for a ghost story? No problem:



Or maybe you want your students to peep through a keyhole and tell you what they see:



I hope you have enojoyed this very brief overwiev of PhotoFiltre. If you have any questions, I will be happy to answer them (or at least look for the answer together with you). I have just started exploring this tool myself.



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Friday, 20 May 2011

Free Tools Challenge #12 - Animoto

Free Tools Challenge #12 was something I was looking forward to. I love Animoto. I have used it many times before this challenge to create beautiful clips, memorise holidays and family gatherings.

My plan was to do the same thing this time. I had just come from my Spring Holiday and we celebrated our son's birthday there. So, what could be more logical? In fact, I was so looking forward to this challenge while I was on holiday that I kept directing my movie in my head and taking additional photos every day. I took the advice from one of the Animoto tutorials and photographed everything from our arrival onwards. Here is my holiday clip:




I was happy with my clip, but I wanted more this time. I have always sensed that Animoto could do much, much more than just create moving photo albums. So, I first came up with the idea of using it as a kind of a picture dictionary. I used their photos and worked with what I could find there. Here is the result:




This is just an idea. You can create thousands of these clips, depending on the vocabulary you need to teach or recycle. It is relatively easy to find the right image for anything among the Creative Commons images.

I still wasn't satisfied. I wanted to try telling a real digital story in Animoto, so I recycled an old one. It is The Boy Who Listened and it was first created in Mixbook. You can read the original story here and the related blog post is here.

Luckily, I had all the photos in a separate folder and I uploaded them into Animoto. I had to shorten the text a little, but it was worth it. When you are creating in Animoto, you never know what the final product is going to look like, but this exceeded my expectations. See for yourselves:




This can be used in the classroom in so many ways. The first thing that comes to my mind is recording role plays. Or students can write their own short stories or dialogues, record them and finally upload the photos to Animoto.

I was ready to wrap this post up when I suddenly had an idea. Yes, another one.

What if I recorded my own voice in the MP3 format, uploaded it to Animoto and told my story that way.

Luckily, I could yet again recycle an old project for this. It is a poem called The Dragon which I had recorded in Myna by Aviary for one of my online courses. You can find the relevant post here. I just needed the right images... Something to suggest the loneliness of the dragon, some caves perhaps. It was easier than I had thought to find the images. I used a search engine called Compfight which in my case is set to Creative Commons images.

OK, I will not hide it - I am very proud of this:



(Photos used in this clip: 1. DSC_0237, 2. Lonely tree on Planina lake, 3. Lonely in golden place!, 4. Maldives, a place you want to be, 5. DGJ_1985 - Paint my world (view Large), 6. Natural Bridge, 7. Vodable - cave - 26-08-2007 - 11h49, 8. THE SECRET OF NATURAL ARCH, 9. HDRcavernOrton, 10. NORWAY Flåm: Waterfall "Kjofossen" 18.953.17, 11. One Thousand and One Nights, 12. Phong Nha Cave, Vietnam, 13. Deep Inside the Iris Cave, 14. Ice cave in Glacier Gray, 15. Deja Vu, 16. Lavatube, Mojave National Preserve, 17. Ruby Falls, 18. The End of the Tunnel, 19. Reed flute cave, 20. Vodable - cave - 27-08-2007 - 11h05, 21. Devetashka cave, 22. Pirate's Gold, 23. Red Dragon Horizon, 24. The Dragon Cloud)

To sum up - you can do anything with Animoto. It is adaptable and it will never let you down. Whether you want to tell a story, use Animoto as a learning and teaching tool or simply record memorable events, Animoto is the right choice.













Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Free Tools Challenge #10 - Wordle



I created this image by running one of my longer blog posts through Wordle. Can you guess what the post is about? Check whether you were right or wrong here.

When I found out that Free Tools Challenge #10 was Wordle, I panicked a little. I feel that everything has already been said about this great tool.

Well, sometimes a bit of repetition doesn't hurt.



This wordle was created by using their Advanced feature. It helps you determine how big you want your letters to be.

What is this Wordle saying:

1. In the pre-reading and pre-listening stage, you can use Wordle to help the students predict what the text is about. You can also use it in the post-reading/post-listening stage for retelling and summary writing. Look at this Wordle on Romeo and Juliet.

2. When you want the students to write a story, you can give some words in advance by putting them into a Wordle.

3. You can help them improve their writing by having them run their essays through Wordle. That way, they can see if they keep repeating the same word over and over (in my case it was 'really') or whether they are mixing formal and informal language.

4. It goes without saying: Wordle is an excellent tool for introducing new vocabulary or for vocabulary revision. In fact, you can use it any time you want to replace an ordinary looking vocabulary box with something more beautiful. I love this Wordle that I have found in their gallery.

5. The largest word in my Wordle is brainstorming. I believe it requires no further explanation. Look at this Wordle, for example. Or at this one.

Of course, there are many, many other ways you can use Wordle. You can simply use it as decoration or to introduce yourself, the way I did here:



One thing you can't do is use Wordle as a storytelling tool. Right?

Wrong.

By the way, all the Wordles I have linked to here have been posted to the gallery during the past hour. Amazing, isn't it?



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Monday, 9 May 2011

Free Tools Challenge #9 - ToonDoo

I


In Free Tools Challenge # 9 we are again creating comics. This time we are using ToonDoo.

ToonDoo is a fast, easy and fun way to create comics.

I already shared some ideas about how to use comics in a TEFL classroom here. So, this time I will just concentrate on exploring ToonDoo.

The first thing you will probably want to do is create a fun avatar for yourself using Traitr. Later you can use your character in comics the way I did here:

My Name Is Natasa


After that, I advise you to just explore the characters they already have in their gallery and I am sure ideas will come.

Every Day


One thing I like about ToonDoo is the wide range of characters they offer. This gives you freedom to experiment with different characters and different stories. That way your comics will never be boring:

I


Bookmaker lets you can put several toons into a single book:




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Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Free Tools Challenge #8 - Glogster

I have been absent for the past two weeks. I haven't got a laptop, or a tablet computer. My only online connection when I travel is my old Nokia. I don't know whether this is good or bad. On the one hand, I get completely rested this way. On the other hand, I feel overwhelmed when I come back. Now I am even more late with my Free Tools Challenge. I am stuck on Challenge # 8, which is Glogster. Not that I am complaining too much, I love Glogster.

Glogster lets you create online interactive posters. It is easy to use and it looks beautiful. I haven't been using it for long, but, as I have already said, I love it. If you haven't tried it so far, I hope you will give it a go after you read this.

I promised I would give you practical advice on how to use these tools and that I would do that from the point of view of a TEFL teacher teaching adults. So, here we go.

A glog looks like a poster and it is precisely this feature that should be used to the full. You can use it to introduce yourself when you start teaching a new class, the way I did here:



As you can see, this glog has two elements. The first part is actually my Twitter bio and the second part is a collage of photos that represent what I like. Students usually like to know more about their teacher. This collage of photos is not that easy to decipher and they have to ask additional questions to find out what some of those pictures represent. (For your information, starting from top left-hand corner: my guys, teaching, coffee, dark chocolate, travelling, reading, computers, writing, nature.)

Students can create their own glogs and they can introduce themselves any way they like. They can combine text, images, sounds and videos. Or they can follow the format I used here. Writing a Twitter bio is not easy, but it is a fun way for the students to define their interests in a clear succinct form. Creating the "What I like" collage is great because it can later serve as a conversation prompt. When they get to know each other better, they can create a glog that represents their class and put it on their class blog for everyone to see.

The second glog I am going to embed here was created for my Digital Storytelling class. I was comparing three online tools and I used the same poem in all of them. The winner was Photobabble and I featured it in my blog here. I almost forgot about the Glogster version of the same poem, but here it is:



I searched Glogster a little and found a whole section devoted to text letters and poems. Some of them are just amazing. As I have remarked in this blog before, there are so many talented young people out there.

If you have students who like writing poetry, Glogster is a great tool for them. However, there is one other idea that came to my mind when I looked at my old glog with fresh eyes.

Glogs look like posters. (I know, I have already said that). What if this was actually a holiday destination? And what if it turned out the food was terrible, the beach was far away and the hotel roof leaked. Tourist agencies don't always tell the truth.

Students can create advertisements for different holiday destinations in Glogster or you can do it for them. You can put pictures of beautiful beaches and expensive-looking hotels. You can then add the text of the advertisement. As I have said, tourist agencies don't always tell the truth. Students can come up with a whole list of things that didn't meet their expectations. They can role play a dialogue in which one of the students is a dissatisfied tourist and the other one is a travel agency employee. This can be followed by a letter of complaint.

The whole poster/advertisement thing gave me an idea and I just had to try it out. So I came up with this ad:


This can be a speaking/writing prompt and different things can be done with it, from the mundane "We need to have the doors oiled" grammar exercises to horror stories. Who bought the house? Why? What was their first night in the house like? What did they do afterwards? Who is the ghost?

Glogster is great as a writing prompt. You can create a glog with a random combination of pictures and ask the students to write a story. You can give them the first sentence if you wish. Another thing you can put into your glog is different sounds. You can find the sounds you need here.

Looking for more things to do with Glogster? Check Greetingsfromtheworld. This amazing wiki project was started by Arjana Blazic and her students, but now it has taken a life of its own.

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Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Free Tools Challenge #7 - Kerpoof



Kerpoof is owned and operated by the Walt Disney Company. In fact, making pictures and movies in Kerpoof feels a little like directing a Walt Disney cartoon. Yes, it is ideal for young learners and yes, it isn't aimed at adult learners. Or is it?

Well, I am an adult (sort of) and I had so much fun playing with Kerpoof tools. In fact, that's why it took me so long to write this post - I was busy playing.

Here is what you and your students can do in Kerpoof:

Watch Kerpoof tutorials first. Then you can try and make a picture of your own. Choose the background you like and then just keep adding more things, the way I did here:


One way to do this in class is to start with an image such as this one. Then discuss fairy tales in general. Find out what your students' favourite fairy tales are, then let them create their own image. As a follow-up they can write the rest of the story.

Another tool that is very useful for TEFL teachers is Spell a Picture. Here is a link to a lovely lesson plan that tells you how to use it. And here is what the end result might look like:


Then, you can make movies:

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They are really easy to make and, of course, you can make your characters say and do different things:

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Let's not forget Tell a Story:

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Unfortunately, none of these are embeddable, which is why I had to use Jing to record them.

There is a wide variety of purposes Kerpoof can serve in an EFL classroom. You can introduce new vocabulary and grammar, Kerpoof images and movies can accompany reading and listening exercises or serve as writing and speaking prompts. They only take a couple of minutes to create.


And, as I will be away for the next ten days, I apologise in advance if I don't answer your comments as quickly as I normally do. I am pressing the Pause button on the Free Tools Challenge, but I hope I'll manage to finish the Challenge when I get back.

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Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Free Tools Challenge #6 - DoInk


Today's Free Tools Challenge is DoInk, a free vector editor that you can use to create images and animations.

If you can draw, that is.

I, personally can't. You know how people say they can't draw, but they create lovely little paintings. Well, I am not one of them. I really can't draw. I never draw on the board, not because I am embarrassed by how I do it, but because my drawings only further confuse my students. Is it a bird? Or a butterfly? Oh, it is a flower. Isn't it?

I can't draw and I am going to prove it to you in a second. Yes, I did try DoInk. Of course I tried it. I managed to create this lovely educational video:


I bet my beginner students would never have grasped Present Continuous without it.

I can't draw, but other people can. And you can share DoInk drawings and animations on your website.

From what I have seen, most of the people in the DoInk community are very young. If you are teaching teenagers and if they enjoy drawing, this might be a perfect place for them. They have to be over 13 to join. But even if neither you nor your students feel like drawing, DoInk still has a lot to offer. Just explore it a little and see what you can come up with. For example, I really think I will be able to use this animation with my students:


As you can see, there is a lot of lovely language inside. And it fits perfectly with the topic of food and cooking.

If you are a blogger, you will find it easy to identify with this girl:


A lot of students are apparently choosing DoInk to do science projects, which is great if you teach CLIL.

For example, this little video is amazing:


And if you are interested in the topic, just follow the link underneath. There is more by the same author.

The trick here is to play around, watch a couple of animations and wait for the idea of a lesson plan to come to you. Unless you can draw, of course, in which case you can create exactly what you need.

As for my beginner students and their problems with Present Continuous, I think I am going to give this animation a try:



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Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Free Tools Challenge #4 - Classtools




Our Teacher Challenge #4 was to explore Classtools.net.

Classtools are almost too good to be true. They can turn a most boring vocabulary list into an exciting game. They can organise your data. They can help you create wonderful graphs. There are so many tools out there, folks. And there is no need to even register.

The first tool I am going to show you is the Arcade Game Generator. Not because it is the first tool in the Classtools list, but because it is going to be our star of the evening.

When you click on the link I provided above, a window will open. It will look like this:



Simply type or copy/paste your list of words and their meanings into the window and click 'play'. That's all it takes to turn your boring list into something like this:


As you can see, there are five (yes, five) games generated from your humble little word list. What it does is make students go through the same vocabulary over and over again without even realising they are learning.

Let's look at another game. It is called Dustbin Game. Again, you create a simple vocabulary list and up to four 'dustbins' to categorise the words into. This is what you get:

Click here for larger version




Once again, I am urging you to explore Classtools on your own. There is something for everyone. I am going to share just one more thing with you today. It is called Hamburger and I believe no explanation is necessary:


Brilliant, isn't it?

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