Monday, 22 September 2008

Adventure Narratives for EFL ESL Students

For a long time now I've really admired and been fascinated by the work of AmanitaDesign. They have a really unique approach and I love the way they blend photographic textures with cartoon images.

I also find their games quite addictive and that's I quality I always look for when trying to find stimulating materials for students, so I've been looking at how these games could used for language development.

The two games I've chosen for this posting are Samorost 1 and Samorost 2

Samorost 1 is based on the scenario of an asteroid heading towards a planet. The player has to click various elements of the screen and find out how to help Samorost change the direction of the asteroid and save his planet.
In Samorost 2, Somorost's dog is stolen by aliens and the player has to help Samorost rescue the dog.

So why use these games with EFL ESL students
  • These games are fascinating and very engaging.
  • They are quite mentally challenging and help students to develop analytical and critical thinking skills.
  • They are beautifully designed and should stimulate your students imagination
  • They are based around strong narratives
  • They really are a lot of fun to play and discover
  • Online games are a significant part of our younger students' culture
So how can we use these games with our EFL ESL students?
Here are a few suggestions to get your students developing their speaking, reading and writing skills.

  • Tell the story - Split your class into A and B students. Get all the As to play one game and all the Bs to play another. as they work through the games they should keep notes of what happens and what they try to do to find their way through the game. Once they have finished the game pair one A student up with one B student and ask them to retell the story as if they were Samorost. Once the students have told their stories they can change over games and see if they can work their way through the game by remembering the narrative that their partner told them.
  • Write the instructions - Split your students in to As and Bs as above and get your student to work their way through the games and write instructions for how to complete each level. They should then give their instructions to their partner and see if their partner can use the instructions to find their way through the game.
  • Write a review of the game - You could ask your students to write a review of one of the games. You could collect these together with reviews of other games and publish them as a small booklet.
  • Following instructions - As a reading exercise you could print up the 'walk through' instructions on how to complete the games and see if students can read them and work through all the levels.
  • You can find a walkthrough for Samorost 1 here
  • You can find a walkthrough for Samorost 2 here

    You could use the walkthrough instructions from the first game as a model and get the students to write a walkthrough for the second game.

    You can find lots more links to games and their walkthrough instructions here at Games Online
  • Write the story - You could get your students to play one of the games and then write the story. They could write it as a news report and even use a video camera or web cam to create a news broadcast.

What I'm not so sure about
  • Students can get a bit excited and carried away and then they forget to use English
  • The games are actually quite challenging and students may well get stuck and frustrated. If this happens you can either let them stop and get them to end the story at that place in the game, or you can give them the walkthrough sheets to help.
Well I hope you enjoy these games as much as I do. If nothing else, they are a visual treat.

Related links:
Activities for students:

Nik Peachey

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Artificial Intelligence Chat bots and EFL ESL

Earlier this week I posted a short article to my Quick Shout blog about a new site called Virsona that enables teachers and students to develop their own AI ( Artificial Intelligence) chat bots.

Since then I have been trying the site a bit more, developing tutorials and thinking about how we can use it with our EFL ESL students.

To get an idea of what a 'chat bot' is, got to this page and start asking Abraham Lincoln some questions:
The chat bot has beeen programmed with lots of information about Abrham Lincoln and each time you enter a question the bot searches it's log and tries to match key words from your question with its log information.

This all sounds very compicated, but the site actually makes it quite simple to create your own bot which can either be yourself, a fictional character or a historical or real person.

The students can add information to their chat bot in a number of ways:
  • Write diary log entries
  • Email in the information
  • Add answers to random questions
  • Type in questions and answers
  • Ask the bot questions and then correct the answers.
Here are a couple of video tutorials showing how it is done:
So how do we use this with our EFL ESL students?
All of these ways can be very useful for generating meaningful language practice.

The virtual you - Get students to recreate themselves as a chat bot. They can upload a photograph of themselves and generate random questions to answer. You could also get them to write diary entries for a week or two. Then at the end of term you could get the students to share their chat bots and see which one is the most convincing. this is a noce way of combining a range of personal information questions with a learningg diary. You could also create one for yourself which students could interegate or get the URLs of your students' bots so that you could find out more about them.

Your virtual celebrity - You could ask students to do research on a favourite celebrity or person from history and then use the information they find to create a chat bot of that person. A number of these are already under development, though Lincoln is the only one open for you to chat with at present.
Grammar bot - You could get your students to create their own grammar bot with infformation they have learnt about various grammar points.

Vocabulary bot - Likewise you could try to get students to create a vocabulary bot that has definitions for the new vocabulary they are learning.

Topic expert - You could ask groups of students to create topic experts based around various general knowledge areas then they couldd work in teams to challenge each others' bots in a test of knowledge.

Interview Lincoln - Get your students to interview Lincoln and see what they can find out about him. See if they can decide if it is a real person answering them.

What I like about this site
  • It's free and obviously aimed at educationalists
  • I'm fascinated by AI and how it can be applied to language learning and language production so..
  • It's great that they have ma de it easy to create your own bot, with out having to know about the technology
  • I like the selection of random questions it can get students to answers (a task in itself)
  • Looks like it could develop into a novel way of sharing knowledge

What I'm not so sure about
  • The site is obviously still under development andd a few things don't always work (I had a few problems trying to upload questions and answers in the 'Teach' section
  • The site carries some advertising
  • Not sure about the ethics of creating bots of real people (not sure if i would want someone else putting words in my bots' mouth)
  • Bots aren't real people and sometimes they make stupid mistakes, but as long as our students are aware of this then we could maake it part of the challenge. It might well be worth telling your students about 'The Turing Test': a challenge designed in 1950 to try to trick people into thinking a machine was human.

Well for all the problems I still think this is a site that students can enjoy and which can encourage them to produce a lot of accurate language in text form (bots don't understand bad grammar or spelling).

Hope you enjoy it.

Related links:


Nik Peachey

Naming My Sources: Part 2

In the first part of this series aimed at sharing the sources of the information I blog about, I focused on sites which spread the word about new technology or websites. In this second part I'd like to spread the word about some of the more ELT and Educationally orientated blogs which have provided me with a wealth of information and professional development.

First of course has to be Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day……For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL
This site is a huge and constant source of information and new sites and resources. Larry also produces categorised lists of resources so it's well worth searching through his archives.
The blog is up dated a number of times each day, so to really get the best of it and to stay informed you should sign up to his RSS feed.

Free Technology for Teachers
This is another great blog. It's aimed more at general education than at EL teachers, but a lot of the sites and activities it mentions could easily be used with EFL ESL students, especially if you are using a CLIL type of approach.
Again, the site is up dated at least everyday, so again this is a good one to subscribe to.

Jane's E-Learning Pick of the Day
Again this isn't an ELT specific website, but is the source of quite a few interesting links to educational software and websites. A new item is added each day along with a short descriptive text (often taken from the site being recommended) so it's well worth subscribing to. Not all of the resources recommened are non commercial though, so be sure to check.
One of the best things about the blog though is that the resources are all added to a directory that now has thousands of useful tools to help with learning, so if you are ever thinking of buying some software, be sure to check the directory first as you may well be able to find something free there.

Technology and Education Box of Tricks
This is a blog that I've only started tracking more recently. Again it is aimed at general education rather than being ELT specific, but there are lots of useful tools there and it's really well designed and well written with some good tips about how to use the resources in the classroom etc.

This is again a more recent find for me, but one that has a real wealth of information. It's updated regularly and has a mix of content between links to educational sites and information on new web tools and software.
The content is well written, informative and goes into some depth, so well worth reading.

The English Blog
Last but not least, is this blog which is written by Jeffrey Hill. This one is aimed at EFL ESL teachers and has links and comments about useful resources, videos and news and opinion from around the web.
This is one of the blogs which I've been subscribed to for the longest and it has a real wealth of information in the archives, so well worth a browse.

I hope you enjoy these blogs and find them as useful as I have. If you write a blog and it hasn't been mentioned here, well then look out for part 3 which you should see in a month or two.

If you want to get the best out of these blogs or any others then I recommend that you have some form of RSS feed reader or personalised homepage. If you don't have one you can download a step by step guide to creating a personlised homepage from my article: Creating a personal homepage

If you know of other blogs which are regularly updated with useful content for educators, then by all means post a comment at the end of this article.

Related links:
Thanks and best wishes

Nik Peachey

Friday, 5 September 2008

Photo Assignments for EFL ESL Students in Second Life

One of the things that I really like about Second Life is the rich visual imagery and the creativity that many of the builders there have put into designing their Islands. We can exploit this along with the Second Life snapshot tool to create stimulating projects for our students.

Here's a quick video showing you how to take a snapshot.

Here's another showing you how to access and use the snapshot controls so that you can get better camera angles.

So how do we use this with EFL ESL students?
We can use this in a number of ways to enhance writing activities.

Send a postcard activity - One of the options on the snapshot interface is to email the images we take to other people. When we do this we can add an email text telling them about the image or what we have found at that place etc. We can ask our students to imagine that this is a postcard to the class and to write about an imaginary holiday they are having.

Photo journalist - We can send our students on photojournalism assignments. These could be to report on events that they attend, or on islands or installations that we've asked them to investigate. The students can save the images to their hard drive and then either import them into a word processing document or create their own Second Life News blog about the events.

Photo stories - Students can work together using their avatars to create a sequence of images that tell a photo story. They can enhance the images by using a word processor to add dialogue bubbles to the images. This encourages them to collaborate both in class and while they are in Second Life.

Research Assignments - We can send each students to a different location in Second Life to do a research task. They can then send an email with an image and a report from that destination telling other students what is there and why they should visit it. In class the students can then read the reports and decide which place they want to visit.

Photo Fashion - You can ask students to work in pairs to dress up and take photographs of each other in different Second Life clothing. They can then use a word processor to import the images into a fashion column, describing the clothes etc. Again these could be published on a blog or printed up as a class project.

Working with students in Second Life needs care, so always be sure to set tasks and check your locations for suitability before sending them anywhere. If you are working with teens then be sure to use the Second Life Teen Grid.

To see more Second Life video tutorials go to my YouTube playlist

Related links:
The videos used in this posting were originally commissioned by The Consultants-E and are part of an introductory course for teachers they deliver on Edunation Island II and are used with their kind consent.


Nik Peachey

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Using Word Clouds in EFL ESL

I've just discovered Wordle, which is a really useful site for creating word clouds. The word clouds are created by entering either a text, URL or user name into a field. The site then generates a word cloud based on the frequency of key words in the text or webpage.

Here's what a word cloud based on the URL of this blog looks like.

The word clouds are really easy to create and can be printed up for classroom use or saved to a gallery on line. To see how this is done watch the tutorial movie below.
How to use this with EFL ESL students
This is a wonderful flexible tool to use with students.
  • Revision of texts - You can paste in short texts that your students have studied recently. Show them the word cloud and see if they can remember what the text was about and how the words were used within the text. You can build up a bank of word clouds over a semester and pull them out at random to get students to recall the texts they have studied and the key vocabulary in them. You could also see if they could rewrite or reconstruct the text based on the word cloud.
  • Prediction - You can create word clouds of texts before the students read or listen and ask them to make predictions about the content of the text based on the word cloud. They could also check any new words from the word cloud that they are unsure of before they read or listen.
  • Dialogue reconstruction - You can create a word cloud of a dialogue students are studying and use it as a prompt to remember or reconstruct the dialogue.
  • Short poems / Haiku - You can generate a word cloud from a short poem or Haiku, then ask students to create their own work based on the word cloud. They could then see how close they came to the original.

  • Text comparison - You can create word clouds from a number text genres (news article, poem, story, advertisement, dialogue etc.) and then see if the students can decide which genre each is from and why. You could also do this with a small collection of poems short stories or articles. Then students could read the complete texts and match them to the word clouds. Here are two poems. One is from Shakespeare and the other is from Robert Frost. Try to decide which one is from Shakespeare. How did you know?

  • Personal information - You could get your students to each create a text about themselves and then turn it into a word cloud. You could them put the clouds up around the class and see if the students could identify each other from the cloud. They could exchange clouds and use them to introduce each other.
  • Topic research tasks - You can create a word cloud based around a topic you want students to research. You could use a page from Wikipedia to do this, then use it to find out what students already know about the topic by asking what they think the relevance of each of the word is to the overall topic. They could then go to Wikipedia and find out more. Then report back on their findings using the key words as prompts. Here's an example I created by cutting and pasting the intro text on Cairo

  • Learner training - This is a good tool for students to use regularly to help themselves. They can regularly make copies of the texts they study and pin them up to revise them or keep them in their gallery on the site. They could even create word clouds of their study notes to help them revise.

What I like about it
  • It's free, quick and very easy.
  • You don't need to register or part with an email address so it's a low risk site to get students using.
  • The word clouds are very attractive and will stimulate more visual learners.
  • Having key word prompts is a great way to support more fluent language production, but avoids having students just reading texts.
  • It's nice that the students or you can customise the design and choose colours and fonts that they like.
What I'm not so sure about
  • Would be nice to have a more effective embed code for blogs (There is one, but it's not very effective) I've used a work around to embed these ones.
  • Saving the word clouds as PDF is possible, but again a bit tricky unless you have a MAC (That's another good reason for getting one)
I've really enjoyed trying out this site and creating word clouds. Hope you do to. I'm sure the list of suggestions above is by no means exhaustive, so if you have any ideas for how to use this with your EFL ESL or other students, by all means post a comment and share your ideas.

Related links:
Activities for students:

Nik Peachey