Sunday, 25 November 2012

A Great app for developing spelling


I've been a fan of SpellingCity.com for quite some time now and I was fascinated when I heard they had produced a free app. For those of you who don't know about SpellingCity, the website enables learners or teachers  to enter a word list and then automatically generate a range of interactive multimedia activities based around the words. The site automatically adds audio recordings of the words and example sentences to the activities it generates. There is a great range of activities that students can do within the site and they can generate certificates for their teacher or parent to prove they have done their homework.

The app is in many ways very similar to the site. There are some ready made word lists and you just click on one and then click on the type of game or activity you want to play. The app has six different activity types:



Spelling TestMe - In the activity students have to spell out the words from the word list. To do this they hear the word in isolation and then again in the context of a sentence. They then type the word into a field. At the end of the activity they find out how many of the words they spelled correctly.



If they got any of the words wrong they can go to the 'Teach ME' activity which spells the word for them using audio and text and gives them an example sentence containing the word.

The MatchIt activity tests the students understanding of the words by getting them to put the words into gapped sentences. Again the students don't get feedback until they have finished the activity, so this reduces the tendency to randomly try to guess.



Which Word is a multiple choice type activity and students have to choose the correct word to complete the gap in a missing sentence.




The Sentence Unscramble activity tests students understanding of syntax, by getting them to arrange the words from the sample sentences into the correct order. The students can get an audio hint on this activity if they are stuck.




My favourite of the activities though, and the one that is most popular with my students is the Hang Mouse activity. This is SpellingCity's own variation on the hangman game. Students try to guess the letters that spell out words and each time they guess, the mouse runs to tab some cheese. Each time they guess incorrectly, the cat starts to wake up, and if they get too many wrong letters the mouse gets trapped.



As you can probably tell, the app is aimed very much at the younger end of the learner market though the word lists do go up to grades 10 - 12.

To get the best from the app you really have to have a SpellingCity account as this enables you to import your own word lists and to manage and track your learners' scores. That said, you can create a basic account for free.

On the whole the Vocabulary SpellingCity isn't going to cause an educational revolution, but it is a good simple app which does what it sets out to do in a user friendly, engaging and intuitive way, so if your students' spelling and vocabulary needs some work then why not get them using it.

You can download the app from the iTunes store at: http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/id538407602
Sadly there's no Android version available at the moment.

If you have used the SpellingCity app or something similar I would love to hear your comments and suggestions.


This post was sponsored by RM Education Shop a great place to buy all your educational technology hardware.


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Best
Nik Peachey

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Tall Stories as Digital Narrative

One of my favourite ways of helping students with the difference in use between 'present perfect' and 'past simple'  forms is a simple but effective activity called lies and truth.


All you need to do for this activity is to think of three - five statements about yourself using the 'present perfect' tense

Here are a few examples:
  • I've been in prison.
  • I've been married 3 times.
  • I've never eaten meet.
Then get your students to ask you for background information about them to find out which are true. The students should use past simple to get the details. Once the students find out about me they pair up and interview each other using the same format.

This is a simple but engaging activity that I find students really enjoy it and get a lot of speaking practice from it.

Recently, I've spotted a website called BluffBust that works on a similar format. The website contains video clips of people telling stories about themselves and then visitors to the site have to decide if the stories are truth or lies. Here's an example based around a song


Which story is true? 'I'm 6 feet tall' 'I drive a honda cr-v' 'I've never been to Hawaii'

I think this is a great way to get students developing their listening and speaking skills and something that they can engage with outside of the classroom. The language being used is very authentic, so it might be a struggle for lower levels, but for higher levels it should be appropriately challenging and give them some real exposure to authentic English.

All of the content on the site is user generated, so you can also get students registered and creating their own interactive video stories and activities. There are a number of game interaction types which you can see here: BluffBust Game Types

This looks like a great way to get students developing the listening and spoken fluency outside of the classroom in an enjoyable and competitive (there is a leaderboard) way.


Which story is true? 'Legs not attached' 'Expensive hand cream' 'No Macarena'

The site might not be appropriate for younger or lower level learners though, but you could pre-sellect some specific videos that you could use in class as a way to get your students practicing the same activity in class.

I hope you and your students enjoy BluffBust and it helps them to develop their speaking and listening skills.

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Best

Nik Peachey

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Create Instant Interactive Text Based Activities

Creating computer based materials can be incredibly time consuming and also very frustrating as websites and web based content can change so quickly, that's why it is always so nice to discover tools like Textivate which can enable you to create instant interactivity using almost any text you find from around the web.

All you need to do is copy and paste your text into the Textivate window and then click on 'textivate now'.

Here you can see some text I have copied from the Goldilocks story which I found on the Project Gutenberg site.


Now I get a range of different exercise types to choose from. All I have to do to generate the exercise is to click on one of the square and I instantly have an interactive activity.


There are quite a few to choose from. Most of the first row divides the text into 'tiles' each of which have a portion of the text on. The students then have to put the text in the correct order by dragging and dropping them (NB: the columns work horizontally rather than vertically.)

You can also have the text arranged vertically so that students drag and drop the parts into position.

Some of my favourite task types it creates are the instant gapfill activity.

And the text reconstruction activity ( you can choose how many letters from each word are missing and even have all of them deleted if you want to.)


If you sign up and register (for free) you can save the texts that you use in the activity and have access to texts that other users have uploaded.

These activity types aren't new or revolutionary, but they do enable you to create instantly what a few years ago would have taken an experienced programmer hours to create. This means that you can change authentic web based reading texts into interactive texts and get them into your classroom on a projector or IWB in seconds.

You can make this tool available to your students and get them testing and developing their own reading and syntactical skills on their own computer for homework.

Best of all, if you register and log in, you can find a 'Share' button on your activities and get either a URL or an embed code to  add these to blogs, Moodle sites or other online materials. (My thanks to Martin Lapworth from Textivate for pointing this out as I completely missed it)



As I said, the activities aren't revolutionary or new, but they are useful ways of getting students to review texts and to look in more depth and the syntactical relationships between the words.

Why not try this one out for yourself and see how you get on:

Click below to access the activity. (Opens in a new window on touch devices.)

Click here to open the above activity in a new window.


I hope you find Textivate useful and try out the full range of activities with your students.

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Best

Nik Peachey

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Mind Mapping in ELT with MindMaple


I have been fascinated with mind mapping since I first read Tony Buzan's  book on this topic many years ago. I used  it quite a lot when I was studying music, to break down the structure of compositions as well as to brainstorm the structure of essays and assignments, so I was delighted when my new sponsors - MindMaple asked me to look at their product.


For those of you who don't know much about mind maps, they are like diagrams which include words, images and icons to explore ideas and make the connections between ideas. here's an example from Wikipedia
When I was at college, these were drawn by hand on large sheets of paper but nowadays they can be produced using computer programs, and MindMaple is one such program. Using a program like MindMaple to do this has a number of advantages (especially if you don'r draw well).  The program comes with a library of images and graphics and you can import in your own photographs and illustrations too. You can also hyperlink words to website and webpages as well as upload files as attachments. Features like these make it much easier to produce a really useful finished mind map that you can share with other people.




MindMaple does this pretty well with a good clean interface which is pretty intuitive for anyone familiar with 'Office' type software.


MindMaple is software so you do have to download and install it and there are many pros and cons around that. If you work in a school or institution that has good IT support, or better still none, then you can get software installed pretty easily and especially if you done have a great internet connection MindMaple will be fast and easy to use. If you work in a school that has a very security conscious IT department it could take you months to get this installed whereas a web based tool you could probably use immediately - if you have a good connection.
So how do you use mind mapping with students?
There are a number of really useful ways of applying mind maps in your teaching.
  • You can get students to create a mind map of the lesson as a form of note taking to help them revise later. Or you can create a mind map of each lesson and give them to students to see how much they can remember from the lesson.
  • You can get students to make a mind map of a book, story or text they are reading. This could involve mapping the relationships of the characters, adding in characteristics, adding in actions that each one does etc.
  • In an EAP context you could get students to create mind maps of more academic texts they are reading, so that they represent the information from the text visually
  • You can get students to create vocabulary mind maps based around themes such as sport or politics and they can gradually add words to these and organise them in categories around the central theme.
  • You could get students to research a topic and create a mind map to display their findings, such as research into a historical place or event. They could hyperlink their mind map to the relevant research sources they find.
  • You could create or get students to create grammatical mind maps research a specific verb tense with break down of form, and pronunciation points as well as few examples and notes about concepts etc.
  • You could get students to create infographics using MindMaple. Infographics usually compare contrasting ideas or display statistical information. Here are some examples: Infograpgics
There are many tools and software available for creating mind maps, but these are some of the things I particularly like about MindMaple
  • It has some really useful formatting tools that help you make the mind map look nice. You can easily change the look of your mind map and in a single click apply a hole different colour palette.
  • You can add callouts and notes to the mind map. These appear and pop up when you haver the mouse over parts of the mind map image.
  • It's great that you can add your own images as icons within the topic blocks.
  • You can drag the topic blocks around the screen to arrange them with your mouse, but MindMaple also has a really handy balance tool that with a single click will arrange the whole of your mind map so that it looks tidy and symmetrical
  • MindMaple - in the premium version - exports to quite a few formats which makes it pretty flexible as a tool, you can export your mind maps to pdf and use them as wall charts or save them as Word documents. The Word document export also shows a breakdown of the different levels of your map so you can use this a the framework for structuring an assignment.

Things that I'm not sure about
  • The concept of 'software that you download and install seems very 'old school' these days with so many browser based tools around, but as discussed earlier, there are some advantages to this.
  • It would be great to have a mobile version of MindMaple or at least a function html 5 web based version (I'm told that they are working on a mobile version).
  • It's great that MindMaple exports to html, but there isn't any hosting support, so if you ant to get your mind maps online you have to have access to some sort of server space. This can be a real stumbling bock for many teachers.
  • The  built in clip art and selection of backgrounds is still a little limited and it would be good to have more variety to choose from.

MindMaple has free and a premium version. You can compare he differences here: http://mindmaple.com/Products/ but the main ones seem to be the export features are more limited in the free version and there are fewer themes and images .

At $9.99 a year MindMaple is a pretty good buy for those who take their mind mapping seriously or you can buy a lifetime license for $50. There doesn't seem to be an institutional license option and you would probably need this if you wanted to get it installed in a school for students to use.

So if you work in a school where installing software is no problem or if you want to try it on your own computer then I think it's well worth downloading the 'lite' version and seeing how well it works for you. If you take your mind mapping really seriously and want a good reliable product that isn't going to disappear ( as many web based products do) then it's well worth thinking about MindMaple Pro.



I hope you find MindMaple useful and enjoy making some beautiful mind maps.

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Best

Nik Peachey

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Explore The Past Online

I spotted this interesting tool this morning. Take Me Back To is a search engine which can locate information from a particular day in history.  It searches for a range of things from the date you enter, from popular songs and movies on that day, to news, fashion styles and advertisements.


All you have to do is type in a date and click on 'Go' and it will generate your results.

You can try it from here.

Powered by TakeMeBack.to

This is potentially a great tool to use with students.
  • You could show results and see if they can guess the year / date
  • You can get students to research a date and make past tense sentences about it.
  • You can get students to find out what was happening on the day they were born.
  • You can get students to compare results from two different decades.

There are a few things you need to be careful about though
  • The search doesn't work so well when you tart going further back than the 60s
  • In the section that shows magazine covers, it sometimes shows the cover of Playboy magazine and students could possibly click through to the site from there, so be careful about letting younger learners or teens access the site.
Despite the potential problems, I still think Take Me Back To is a really interesting site to generate materials for language work in the classroom.

I hope you find it useful.

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 Best

Nik Peachey

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Create an eBook from Online Articles

ReadLists is a great tool for creating eBooks from any content you find online and you don't even need to register!

Just go to: http://readlists.com/new/ and paste in the URLs of any articles or webpages you want to include in your eBook then click on 'Add'.

Once you have finished adding article to your book, give it a title and a description.


 Then all you have to do is send it to the device of your choice.

You can also share the eBook on Twitter or Facebook or get a URL or Embed code for it.

Here's the URL for the Top 10 Most Popular Blog Postings from my Learning Technology Blog. You should be able to open this on iPad or iPhone or on any other reader: http://readlists.com/b7254a42



This is a great way to create eBooks from your own online content or from any content you find online.
  • You can create and share reading lists for courses.
  • Create your own eBooks of yours or your students' stories.
  • Create your own collection of your favourite articles.
  • Collect a reading list of articles to read when you don't have an Internet connection.
  • Webpages that you capture in this way can be much easier to read and of course you have all the eBook's mark up and note taking functions which will store all your annotations on the eBooks you create.

There are a few things to watch out for though.
  • Remember copyright. If you are creating eBooks from content that belongs to someone else, get their permission, especially if you start distributing it.
  • It's a shame that video and other embedded elements from the webpage aren't included in the eBook version.

I hope you find ReadLists useful.

Related links:


Best

Nik Peachey




Monday, 11 June 2012

Teachers are Like Sharks

In the classic 1977 movie - Annie Hall, there is a scene where Woody Allen compares relationships to sharks and says that they have to constantly move forward or they start to die. In many ways I think the same can be said of teachers. Many of us work with our classes in complete isolation and are rarely observed and when we are then it is often only for the purpose of quality check rather than as part of a process of continuous development.



In my own case I was often lucky enough to work in schools that had regular development seminars, or a lively staffroom where teachers willing talked about and swapped teaching ideas and materials. For many though I know this isn't the case, though the growth in access to Internet services has enabled a lot of teachers to find their own way towards their continuing development, so now as part of a workshop I'm developing I would like to ask you how you keep developing your teaching and which methods do you find most effective.

Please contribute your ideas to the questionnaire below. You can:
  • Add ideas for developing your teaching
  • Add Pros and Cons to the ideas
  • Vote for the 4 you think are most effective.

You can either add ideas below or click on this link to submit ideas and vote

powered by tricider
Thank you for contributing towards this research.

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Best

Nik Peachey

Friday, 8 June 2012

Engage Students with Flipped Video Tasks

The concept of the flipped classroom seems to be gaining ever increasing momentum within the field of education generally. Much of this revolves around the use of video to deliver input / lectures to students who can then come to class and do the more engaging and practical part of their work with some teacher support.

One of the major criticisms of this method though is that a dull unengaging content doesn't suddenly become engaging because it's on a video on the web, so how do we get students to engage with the content and make sure they watch it in a challenging and interactive way.

Vialogues is a useful tool for attempting to do this (though dull content will always be dull) because it enables you to create interaction around the video that actually gets students to think about and engage with the content.

Here's an example Vialogue I created around one of my own (rather old) short videos.



As you can see it has the YouTube video (you can also upload video from your computer if you prefer) but I have been able to create a few questions and simple polls for students to interact with at specific points in the video.
As I said, this doesn't make the content any more lively, but it does make the viewing process a little more interactive and collaborative.

So if you think the flipped classroom approach is for you ( and your students) then Vialogues could be a good tool to try.

I hope you enjoy it.


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Best

Nik Peachey

Monday, 4 June 2012

Create Quick Video Conferencing Rooms

Video conferencing is becoming an increasingly common form of communication within business, learning and within our day to day social lives.  So what are you doing to help your students get to grips with this important medium and to help them communicate effectively with video conferencing tools?

Well if your answer is 'Nothing' here's your chance to get started. Meetings.io is a free and very quick and easy tool to help you create a video conferencing chat room that you can use wit your students.

All you have to do is go to: http://meetings.io/  and click on 'Get a Meeting Room'.



This creates a link to a unique meeting room for your meeting. You copy the link and send it to any of your students you want to meet up with.

Then click on 'Enter Now' and you'll just need to add your name and then enter the room.

At this point you may get a message asking you to allow access to your webcam and audio. This is nothing to worry about, just click 'Allow'.

At that point you should be able to see yourself in your webcam and you just have to wait for your students to arrive.


If you look to the bottom of the screen you'll see that you can also open a note pad  so that you can take notes during meetings and that file sharing and screen sharing are coming soon.

Here's the link to the meeting room I created: http://m1.io/8Cn  There's unlikely to be anyone there, but you can use the link to see how it connects on your computer.

It's great that you can do all this without even registering on the site. There is a registration option too though and if you do use this you can create your own permanent room and schedule and manage meeting etc.

So this is a great free, cheap and easy way to get your students into a video conferencing chat room, but what do they do once they are there?

Here are some suggestions for video chat room activities
  • Tell them a story - Ask them to make notes as they listen then come to the next class and retell what they remember of the story using their notes.
  • Interview a visitor - Get visitors from outside the class to come to the chat room so that they can interview them and then write up the interview. (Make sure they prepare questions first and have some idea of who and why they are interviewing)
  • Show and tell - Ask each student to bring a long an object that has significance for them and ask them to show and tell the other students about it.
  • Salesman simulation - Ask the students to bring along an object and attempt to sell it to the other students. They must describe the object's features and say why it is a bargain. You could add to this simulation by giving a students a budget to spend on the different objects.
  • Tutorials - You can use the chat room for one to one tutorials with your students and give them some feedback on their progress.

Problems
  • Of course one of the biggest problems with these kinds of activities is that they take place outside of classroom time and so they can be difficult to co-ordinate as you need to get groups of students online at the same time.
  • There is also likely to be problems with sound and vision if students don't have good equipment and good connectivity.
  • There is also likely to be a limit on the number of students that can gather in one room before it slows down too much.

If you are worried about all these problems, then probably the easiest way to get started and use something like this is to try to get a visitor online who your students can interview in class.

You could also try to get your students to use the chat room autonomously to do homework in pairs or to peer tutor and support each other.

Well I hope http://meetings.io/ helps you to get started with video conferencing. It's something that's likely to become increasingly important in the day to day lives of our students, so let's help them use it effectively.

Related links:


Best

Nik Peachey










Thursday, 19 April 2012

Digital Study Skills - Gist Reading

Studying and researching online is becoming an ever more important element of our digital skill set. I spend a lot of time reading online and skimming through numerous articles from journals and blogs, so I'm always keen to find useful tools which can assist me or my students in this and make the process more efficient.  One tool which I have just discovered and which I hope will help with this process is Cruxbot.
It's a very simple to use 'bookmarklet' tool (a bookmarklet is a button that you drag onto your browser bookmarks bar). To get the bookmarklet go to: http://www.cruxbot.com/howToUse.html click on the 'Cruxbot' image.


 Hold your mouse down while you drag it to the bookmarks bar on your browser.


Once the bookmarklet is installed just find an article that you want to read and then click on the bookmarklet (You can try this one on connectivism or this article from the BBC).

When you click on the bookmarklet it will analyse the text and provide you with a summary of the main points. It will also pull out some key words and terms from the article.

Clicking on the keywords will show them in the summary and re-summarise using those key words as the main focus.

You can also decide how many paragraphs you want in the summary  by using the slider at the bottom of the window.

For me, Cruxbot is a great tool for both teachers and students.
  • It can help you quickly get the gist of an article and help you decide if you want to read it in more depth. 
  • It can help your students create a framework of the article in their mind before reading in more depth and so aid understanding.
  • Students can see key words and terms in context to build a better understanding of them before they read.
Cruxbot is a valuable tool that I will continue to use myself and one that I feel can make digital reading more efficient and effective and help students engage with online text.

Lastly, I'd like to welcome Worth Ave Group as a new advertiser.

Related links:

Best

Nik Peachey



Wednesday, 18 April 2012

iPhone for Speaking Homework

Getting students to do speaking homework has always been quite a challenge, but for those students with smartphones we can now get them using free apps to practice and develop their speaking abilities. This speaking tasks requires the download of a free app called the VTR2 Video Recording Teleprompter from http://vrt2.com/.

The app acts as a teleprompter which scrolls a text across the screen of your devices and records you speaking as you read the text.

The app can be used on iPhone or an iPad with a camera. It's very simple to use. When you launch the app you see 3 buttons at the bottom of the interface. These are:
1. The video gallery icon which links to a collection of all the movies you make with it.
2. The 'Record' button, which starts the text scrolling and records you speaking.
3. The settings icon which enables you to control the speed and size of the text scrolling and change the text.

To get started, find a text that you want your students to read. I chose a poem as this is more suitable for reading out loud.

Go to the settings and scroll down to text. There you can replace the existing text with the one you or your students want to read.

Then then tap on 'Done'.


 Now go back to the launch screen and click on 'Record'. Read the text as it scrolls down the screen and then when it is finished click the 'Record' button again to stop it.

You can then click on discard to try again or 'Save' if you want to view your recording.

You need to give the recording a name and to save it.

You can then go to the gallery and watch and listen. From the gallery the videos can either be deleted or shared.

Tapping on the 'Share' button enables users to either send the recording as an email attachment or upload it to YouTube.

The video recordings export to email as .mov and are quite big files, so emailing them can be slow.

So, if you have a YouTube account for your class and they are confident enough, it might be good to get students uploading and sharing them there or on a blog.

How to use VTR2 with students
  • You can get them recording short poems or monologues from films. This is particularly effective if they have a model that they can compare their recording to so that they can try to improve.
  • You could get the students to record jokes to share so that they practice good timing and delivery.
  • You can get them to record speeches or quotes from famous people.
  • Try to get students listening to each other and praising the ones they like best.
  • Give students feedback on ow and where they can make improvements and get them to record again.
  • You can also get students to think about how they look when they are speaking, so that they think about some of the visual aspects of communication like eye contact, facial expression etc.
  • Try to keep an archive of your students recorded work so that both you and they can go back and look at earlier work to see improvements.
Most feedback on speaking activities is given by the teacher after the activity and it can be hard for students to remember or be aware of what they did wrong or right at the time, but using a tool like this students can really see and hear what's happening when they are speaking and you can really give them tangible feedback on their performance.

I hope you enjoy this  http://vrt2.com/ and that your students find it a really useful way of improving their speaking skills.

Related links:
 

Best

Nik Peachey

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Create interactive cloze texts

For many years now I've known lots of teachers who get really enthusiastic about creating interactive activities with tools like Hot Potatoes. This is great but can be quite time consuming to learn and you need to find somewhere to put your activities online once you have created them. Learnclick is a very good alternative that can help to make this process quicker and easier.

First you simply go to the Learnclick website and click on 'Create a Cloze Test'.

Once you have done this you simply type in the title of your text and either type in or copy paste in the text that you want to work with (I've chosen a short story from Andrew Wright's marvelous blog).

Next you select a word that you want to take out of the text and then click on 'Create Gap Word'.

The selected word will go blue and should look a little like a hyperlink. You then click on 'Add a Hint' and you will be able to add a clue to help the student.


You will need to go through the entire text adding your gaps and hints. Remember don't add too many and make sure there is enough context around the gap to help students deduce what the missing word should be.

Once you have added all your gaps you can click on 'Show More Options' and this will allow you to limit the number of attempts the students can have at filling each gap.



Then you just click on 'Start Query' and you activity will be created.




If you sign up and log in before you start creating your activity you will also be able to save it to a page that you can share with your students. You can then give them the link to your public page to do all the activities you create or just the link to a single activity.

It is also possible to create classes and track students' grades, but for this you'll need a premium account. At present, this is only $5 a year, so not a huge investment if you want to get serious about creating online tests and interactive activities for your students. If you go for a free account you'll only be able to have 5 stored texts.

Personally, I'm not a huge fan of these types of activities, but I can see that they do have a place in language development and testing and I know that lots of teachers really value them, so if you are one of those, then why not give Learnclick a try?

I hope it works for you.

Related links:


Best

Nik Peachey

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