Thursday, 31 January 2008

Drama project tools

Celtx is a nice free project work tool that can help give real shape to your class projects and make for much greater involvement and collaboration between students. It's a fee piece of software designed for creating media type projects such as movies, advertisements, screen plays, theatre plays etc.
Once you've downloaded and installed the software, you choose what kind of project you want to create and then complete a series of templates which help you to outline various scenes, describe characters and assign roles, create story boards, index the different scenes and move the around. You can even upload images and videos of various parts or the project.

What's also really nice is that you can upload the work to the Celtx centre server and work collaboratively with a group of people online and when you have finished you can even publish your work for other users of the software / site to critique.

How to use this with students
When ever I've tried to do drama, video or machinima projects with students, it's often been a bit of a disappointment, they end up producing something that isn't very good or well thought out and they don't really produce much language along the way. With a tool like this you could structure the whole of your project and have them involved the whole time, so that they work together towards the actual project performance over a number of lessons.

There are some useful example projects which are downloaded with the software too and examining one of these could also form the basis of a lesson

A good way to get students into using this might be to take an existing short story and analyse it and input the information from the story into the software to turn it into a play or movie.
There are some nice tips here on common grammar and other mistakes when writing a screen play.

What I liked about it
  • It's free and a reasonably small download
  • It can be used by groups working collaboratively online
  • It can help to give real shape and a professional feel to creative / drama projects
  • You can download versions for MAC as well as PC and in quite a few different languages
  • It's nice to be able to share projects and look at other people's projects on the user community
  • It's pretty simple to use
  • There are some online tutorials to help you understand the software, though they tend to be a bit long and wordy.

What I wasn't so sure about
  • Project work can be quite an undertaking for a teacher and a class and involve loads of planning and commitment. You would need a good bit of practice with the software to make sure you are comfortable with it before launching into a project.

If you are already running drama type projects and want to get students more involved in the creative process and working on their own original projects, then I think this is a really useful professional level tool.

It would also work really well in conjunction with Moviestorm if you were thinking of launching into a Machinima project and would help you and your students to keep track of the work you do within the movie creation software.

I've actually downloaded this myself and started using it with some of my own creative media projects, so I'll let you know how I get on.

Hope you find it useful


Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Using 'How to' videos

Monkey See is an excellent site which carries a lot of short high quality video content. It is based around the concept of instructional videos; being able to see something in order to be able to do it yourself.
It has short video clips that cover a really wide range of things from parenting tips, relationship advice, to how to set up a home studio, play the guitar or apply red lipstick!

The featured video content is very high quality and each 'lesson' is split into shorted clips of between 1 - 3 mins, so it doesn't take too long to watch.

Visitors to the site can also create their own channel page to show their own videos and become 'experts'.

Some of my favourites are:

There's also a good section on careers and education which has advice and tips on selecting colleges, doing interviews as well as more business orientated stuff like negotiating and becoming a better salesperson

Using this site with students
You'll have to be careful about which videos you choose for your students. Some of them are quite high level with dense language which contains lots of subject specific jargon. This could be ideal for your higher level or ESP classes, but won't help your beginners much. If you want to use this with lower level students, it's better to focus on the more visual activity related type of videos.

Possible task you could set:
  • Develop some specific listening skills questions for your higher level students
  • Get students to watch a series of videos and prepare a short essay based on what they have learned from the content.
  • Get groups of students each to watch a different clip from a series then share their information together.
  • Ask students write the script for one of the clips.
  • Ask the students to actually learn how to do one of the things in thee video series and come into class and demonstrate it.
If you have access to video equipment:
  • Get students to create their own video series on something they like doing and upload it.
  • Get your students to make videos which summaries what they have learned in each of your lessons and upload them
  • Get students to make videos which demonstrate different grammar points
  • Create your own channel and make some video presentations for your students on how to speak English
Even if you don't have a camera you could get students to prepare some of these for a class performance.

What I liked about this site
  • The quality of the video and audio is generally very good and it's free
  • There's a really wide range of topics being covered
  • If you click on the 'Share this video' button you can get an embed code so that you can add the video to your own webpage or blog. That way your students don't get distracted by other things on the site.
  • It's not active yet, but there is a download button that looks like it will enable you to put the video clips onto mobile devices such as i-pod, PDA and phones.

What I wasn't so keen on
  • Some of the videos are simply talking heads, so they don't all make the best use of the visual. Still good for detailed listening though.
  • There's a very strong North American bias both in terms of accents and content information, but if your students need that then it's an advantage
  • Some of the topics covered (how to choose a bikini!) could prove distracting to some students, so be sure that your students stay on topic.

On the whole I think this is a really useful site with a real wealth of authentic materials that can be incorporated into lessons for both the listening / viewing practice and for the value of the content / information itself. Potentially very motivating stuff.

Hope you find some use for it and please leave a comment if you use it or have other ideas for how to exploit it.

Related links:


Thursday, 24 January 2008

Make your own chat room

Chatmaker helps you to do just that! I'm amazed at just how easy things like this have become these days and it's free! I used this website to create this chat room:
It took probably less than 2 minutes!

Here's a quick tutorial showing how it was done.
Chatmaker tutorial (Flash 202k)

This is the kind of thing that you used to need your own server and a lot of knowledge to create, Now anyone can do it.

How to use this with your students
Creating a chat room especially for distance students can be really useful, but don't just expect them to use it. You'll need to set them some goals and tasks.

If you can get your students using it, then you'll also need to decide what level of English you want them to aim for. Do you want them using text speak? e.g. "W8 4 ME, I’M L8, SOZ "OR Would you prefer them to express that in 'plain English'; "Wait for me I'm late . Sorry". Both have some value, but make it clear to students which you're after.

If you want to develop their 'text speak' then there are some good materials here on one of the British Council's sites for teachers.

Some possible tasks you could set could include:
  • Interview role plays (make one student a reporter and they have to interview another student by chat.
  • Mystery guest. Tell your students that they will interview a famous person and they have to ask questions to guess who it is (You could answer the Qs yourself OR get a student to pretend to be thee mystery celebrity)
  • Interview an expert. Get students to interview an expert on a specific topic. they should research the topic first to make some interesting questions, then interview each other to see who is the real expert
  • Chat room Quiz. Get the students to write general knowledge questions to quiz each other.
  • Trivia Quiz. You can be the quiz master, ask questions and award points to the student who gets the answer first.
This kind of text chat interaction can be really useful if you want to work on both accuracy and fluency because it pushes students to produce language in 'real time' , but you also have a written record which you can copy and past into a word document and get students to analyse and correct.

It's worth being aware that in chat rooms sentences don't necessarily come on screen in the order they would in a face to face conversation. You may get two questions appearing and then two answers. learning to cope with this can be a challenging but useful skill. You can also use this as a follow up exercise and get the students to put the sentences in the order that they should have appeared.

What I liked about it
  • Extremely easy to use and create
  • Very simple interface
  • Very fast to get working

What I wasn't so sure about
  • There is no logging in required, so you can't really tell who it is you're speaking with and so there's no accountability for what people say.
  • If you use this with your students I would advise creating a new room each time and as close to your meet up time as possible, that way it's unlikely you will get any unwanted visitors

Happy chatting and if you do drop by the chat room I created we might just have a quick chat.



Wednesday, 23 January 2008

A Picture's worth

A Picture's Worth is a really wonderful site which collects together images with short essays (300 - 1000 words). It's based on the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. The pictures and essays are sent in by site visitors.

There's a gallery section where you can browse all the images and essays which have been sent in, as well as a feature section which has some of the most popular images. There is also a link to Google Maps which will show you where the pictures have been taken.

This isn't your average Web2.0 site. If you want to submit a picture and an essay you have to send it to the editor / site owner who decides if it is good enough

These are some of my favourites.

How to use this with students
  • Get them to start their own Picture's Worth. This could be a website that you put together or just with pictures and paper around the class
  • Your students could submit their entries and try to get them published on the site
  • Ask your students to choose a picture, read about it and then tell the other students (summarise) what they read
  • Print up a few images and essays and see if the students can read and match the correct image to each essay
  • Get your students to look at some of the essays and submit their comments to the site.
  • Use the site as a stimulus to have your own show and tell in class and get students to bring in some photographs to talk about
What I like about it.
  • This is an excellent source of authentic materials for your students
  • The essays are short and written in very plain English
  • The images are really striking
  • Most of the essays are very personal and emotive
  • The overall quality of the site content is fantastic
  • You can see how many people have viewed each image / essay
  • You can leave comments about the pictures

What I wasn't so keen on
  • I would like to be able to submit my own pictures and essays and have them published immediately. Though the moderation of the images by an editor does ensure the quality of the site
  • Would be nice to have some embed code, so that you could embed the picture + essay in another site or blog to write about it.

Well I'll be sending in my own essay and photograph soon. Not sure if it will ever get published though.

Hope you have more success

Friday, 11 January 2008

Video debating website

I’ve been having a look at a new website (still in beta) which I think has some great educational / language learning potential. It's called

The site is designed to create debate and get people thinking about some of the big issues in life. It contains video clips from a very large and broad range of experts giving their opinions on various issues. users then have the opportunity to vote on whether they agree, respond to the questions raised or rate the speaker.

The site also provides people with there opportunity to upload their own questions or statements via video, audio, slideshows or text.
These are some really good examples
I set up a free profile and even added my own question, only to find (rather embarrassingly that I couldn’t delete it, so here it is, direct from my office in Second Life.
Here’s a tutorial created by the site owners that I have embed into this page. It tells you a little about how to use the site.
How to use big think:

At the time I started to write this there were 2897 ‘ideas’ added to the site so there’s plenty there for students to look at.

If you decide to post your own idea, you can do this in either the form of a statement or a question (statements give users a chance to vote - agree - disagree and add a comment, questions allow users to respond)

How to use this with students:
Here are some suggestion for how you could use this site with your students. Be aware though that this is authentic material and the language level in some of the expert videos is quite high.
  • Discuss some of the questions or statement in class then check with the expert on the site
  • Get the experts opinion then discuss in class and see whether your students agree
  • Get your students to prepare their own opinions and video them for their own class Big Think (could add it to the site or just use Big Think as a model for a classroom activity)
  • Get students to watch some of the videos and rate for how interesting they are
  • Ask students to find the expert they most agree with
  • Ask students to find one that they disagree with and prepare a response (then respond on the site or in class)
  • Ask students to summarise an opinion they have viewed
  • Ask students to view an opinion and then defend that opinion in a class debate (even if they don’t agree with it)
  • As the teacher you could set up some questions that you would like your students to respond to, or you could get your students to set up questions that they would like you or their fellow student to respond to
  • Get students to create a big think question to add to the site. (Review later and see if there are any answers to your question)

What I liked about it
There's certainly plenty to like about this site even though it's still in beta at time of writing
  • It’s free
  • These are real experts many of them well known which should be pretty motivating for students
  • The site is well designed and has a pretty clear and easy to use interface. Creating and adding your own question or statement is pretty quick and easy once you’ve created your profile (just three steps)
  • You can choose your form of media, so even if your students don’t have any kind of digital recording equipment, they can still contribute to the site using text.
  • If you click on the small email envelope icon on the video player you can send a link, get code to embed in a webpage (look at this earlier tutorial to see how this is done), or add it to your Delicious, Facebook or Digg accounts.
What I wasn’t so keen on
  • It takes a while to get registered. The process itself is quite quick, but you need to click a confirmation link which is sent to your email address and this took a good hour to arrive, so it’s best to get yourself and / or your students registered well in advance.
  • I’m not sure whether there is any editing or censorship before comments and opinions go live. The potential for abuse and misuse is huge. The site is very serious and if user don’t take the site seriously it could easily be swamped by rather uninteresting and poorly thought out opinions. With most Web 2.0 sites the vast majority of what is on them is rubbish, but the remaining 5% is pure gold.
  • I also noticed with my own question, that once you add one you can’t get rid of it or edit it (which I would now like to be able to do). Adding this feature might help to ensure higher quality through self censorship.
Despite these slight drawbacks I think this is definitely a useful site and it has loads of potential. Do drop me a line if you use it with your class.



Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Social networking for language learning

I've just seen this site which is aimed at helping people to set up language exchanges. It's a kind of social networking tool. It's called You simply put in your language and then the language you want to learn and then you can also choose the country where you would like to find the person. Click on search and you get a list of people who fit your criteria.

You have to register, but it is free, then you can get in contact and start chatting, emailing through the platform (no email addresses are disclosed) and can even leave voice messages.

No 'teachers' as such are involved, there are however a coupe of useful tools on the interface to help you.

There is;
  • a text to speech converter, so that you can type in a phrase and see how it is pronounced
  • a multilingual dictionary so that you can get help with translating
  • a phrase translator. Type in any phrase you want and get a translation of it
On the whole I think this is a great idea. It looks like there are quite few people registered already, though many of the ones I came up with on my search hadn't been active for a while.

Still a great idea and if enough people get registered this could be a real winner.
I'd love to hear from you if you've tried it.