Friday, 21 November 2008

Things You Can Do With Your WebCam 1

I'm beginning to think that besides the actual computer itself, a WebCam is one of the most fundamentally useful tools we can possibly have to help us teach and learn a language and of course what's great about WebCams is that they are getting very cheap and many laptop computer come with one ready installed for free!

Beware of bad hair days!!!!

So I've decide to start a mini series of postings on 'Things you can do with a WebCam' - Even if you don't have an Internet connection.

Create fictional characters for narrative and photo stories
Most WebCams can be used to create and record both still and moving images and come with their own software which can be used to add backgrounds or to change and distort the images. You can get your students to dress up, disguise themselves and then create images that they can build into a picture story.

  • Here are some images of characters that I created with my daughter as the basis for a story.
  • I then embedded these into a document and added some speech and captions. This is a great tool for getting your students to create their own picture stories and practice dialogue and narrative.
  • I used Photo Booth to create these images and then imported them into Comic Life on my MAC, but you can do the same thing on a PC by using free software such as ManyCam to create the images and then just inserting them into a Word document and adding 'Call outs' for the captions and speech bubbles. (See a review of the ManyCam software here: Great WebCam Software)

Record your own stories
Story telling is a great way to develop students listening and speaking, but why loose all those wonderful story telling moments. You can use a WebCam to record stories for your students to watch and get your students to record their own stories to share.
  • Telling a story to a WebCam on a computer can be much less intimidating than facing a live audience, so this can reduce your students' anxiety levels. It also gives them the opportunity to watch and listen to themselves telling the story so that they can evaluate their own performance and record and re-record and improve their performance if they feel it's necessary.
  • Your students can also store these recordings as part of an E-Portfolio which they can look back on later and, if you have younger learners, you can share these with their parents.
  • You can also create the stories collaboratively, by recording your own beginning and getting your students to add a sentence each so that they develop the story in their own way.
Here's an example beginning that I created using an online tool called 12 Seconds TV, but you can do the same thing with your WebCam and just store it on your hard drive.


  • The stories that you record don't have to be created by the students or even improvised. You could get your students to record readings from books and work on making them entertaining. I remember as a child watching a TV show called Jackanory which featured popular celebrities reading stories and have often enjoyed reading stories to my daughter.
  • The ability to make your reading entertaining and dramatic with different voice to do the parts of the dialogue is quite a skill and requires a good understanding of the text. Asking students to use a text to develop these skills can be a really good way of focusing them, not only on their understanding of the text, but can also help the students to 'explore' the tonal ranges of their voice in English and to work on their pronunciation. If you try this though be sure to leave plenty of time for rehearsal.
Here's an example from Jackanory of Rik Mayall reading Georgie's Marvellous Medicine


Editing your videos
Once you have a number of stories recorded you might want pull these together into a short 'show' and start editing them together, adding effects and inserting images into the narrative - You could even use the still images of the characters that you created.

  • Again, if you have a MAC you can use i-Movie to do this, but don't worry if you have PC, there are also some great free tools that you can use with your students to do this. These include VideoSpin by Pinnacle (See my review: Free Video Editing Software ) or Virtual Dub which is a simple free program (You can see a review and tutorial here Merge Multiple Video Files With Virtual Dub )
  • Once again, remember that it doesn't have to be you who does thee editing. You can get students to edit their own videos and add effects too. having a polished finished product from their learning can help to motivate the students and give them pride in their accomplishment, which will ultimately encourage them to enjoy and improve the level of their English.

Well that's the theory. Hope it works out for you and if it does then look out for part 2 of things you can do with your WebCam.

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Best

Nik Peachey

Friday, 14 November 2008

Create Image Books

I've always liked sites that take images and enable you to do something interesting with them. Pim Pam Pum seems to be a company that is remarkably good at helping us to make the most of Flickr images, and I particularly like this little tool called Bookr.

Bookr enable us to create nice interactive image books with text captions.
Here's an example that I created based on the poem 'In White' by Robert Frost.

I found the words to the poem on Poem Hunter here: 'In White'
You can see the full size version here: In White by Robert Frost

The books are really simple to create, you just need to type in a key word to find the images you want and then drag them onto the pages and add your text.
Here's Bookr video tutorial to show you how easy it is.


  • You can download a higher quality (4.9Mb . mov) version here: Bookr Tutorial
  • You can download a version for iPod (5.6 Mb) here: Bookr Tutorial
So how can we use this with our students?
  • Poems - Like my example above, you can get students to illustrate poems, by typing in the words and picking an image for each of the key words in the text. If you have pairs of students illustrating the same poem they could justify their choice of image and how they felt it linked to the poem. If students illustrate different poems you could collect them together on a blog or webpage as a kind of poetry carnival and even choose the best ones.
  • Grammar Examples - You can get students to create books of personalised sentences based on various grammar structures.

    - For present perfect you could ask students to create 'experience books' with images of places they have been and things they have done.
    - They could create their future plans book with illustrations of things they are 'going to' do, things they 'will have done by ... ' etc.
    - They could create conditionals books with an image to illustrate each clause of the conditional
  • Narrative and story telling - Students could pick some images and then tell a story about them in their book. You could do this a few different ways:

    - You could try give the students ten keywords, they find images to match the words then create a story linking them all together.
    - You could search out the images yourself then ask the students to write the text for them. (You can do this by publishing an image book, then get the students to open the book and click on the 'Recycle' button. They will then be able to edit the book and save their own version.
    - You could also create a blank book with your own text in and ask the students to read and select images for the text (Again you do this by creating a book and then the students click 'Recycle' to edit their own version).
  • Matching text to image - You can create your own image and text matching exercises by creating a book with images and the descriptive sentences on the wrong pages. Students would have to cut and paste the sentences in to the correct pages.
  • Error correction - Select some images and write some text to describe each image, but include some mistakes (Errors in the description rather than the grammar - e.g. blue flower when the image is of a blue moth etc.). Ask your students to correct the mistakes.
  • Personal information book - Students could create a book to illustrate things about themselves such as hobbies, interests, favourite singers etc. (Make sure they don't include location or contact information)
  • Favourite things - They could create a book describing some of their favourite things, a bit like the song (Rain drops on roses etc.)
  • Hobby book - They could create books to illustrate information about favourite hobbies or sports which they enjoy, like a guide to basketball (Including images of all the equipment etc.) or skateboarding.
  • Scrap book - They could create a scrap book using images to illustrate a trip or holiday they went on. This could be even more effective if they have their own Flickr account as they could actually use their own images from their holiday.
What's good about Bookr?
  • It's free and very easy to use.
  • Gives students access to loads of images
  • You can pull in images from your own Flickr account if you have one.
  • Great that you can embed the books into blogs or webpages.
  • Really nice way to personalise and add creativity to classes.
  • Students have a really nice product at the end of their work.
  • Students don't need to register or part with any personal information
  • I like the way the pages turn!
What I'm not so sure about
  • Be careful with younger learners, some images may be inappropriate
  • It's a shame that the text is quite small and doesn't show up so well on the embedded version of the book.
  • Would be nice to be able to print the books up.
  • All published books are public
I've really enjoyed playing with Bookr and exploring some of the creative possibilities and it's a tool that I'm sure I will use in the future. Hope you enjoy it and by all means add a comment if you want to share other ideas or materials you have created with it.

Related links:
Best

Nik Peachey

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

A Tool for Comparing Words

I've just found this very useful tool that allows you to compare words and phrases and how they are used online. It works very simply by taking the two words or phrases that you type in and searching through Google to give you the results for each word. It tells you which is the most popular and how many pages each one appears in.
There are a few other tools around which can do a similar thing, but I prefer Google Battle, (an alternative is Google Fight) because it shows you a nice graphic of a smiling face and a sad face for the winner and loser, and because it also supplies links to the Google results, which means you can have a look at the context in which each word or phrase appears. This can supply valuable information about the way we use words in different contexts and their lexical grammar.
Here's an example comparing 'operate on' with 'operate in'

The very first result for 'operate on' shows that it is being used in a medical context.
If you compare this with the first result for 'operate in' you can see the context is quite different and in this context it has a different meaning.
By extracting these 'real' examples of the way the language is used and helping students to analyse and make deductions about the language we can help students to develop valuable autonomous learning skills.

So how can we use this with our students?

  • This is a great way for students to search and compare the use of prepositions when they aren't sure which is the correct one to use.

  • Likewise it can be really useful for checking collocations and the way they the different words and phrase are used, as in the 'operate' example I gave above.
  • You could also use it to check word forms when checking the different parts of speech of a word. With word like 'economic' and 'economical' which are both adjectives, students can check to see how the different forms are used and when to use the correct one.
  • Students could also use this to check different spellings of words to find out which is correct.
  • When learning or teaching new vocabulary we could use this tool to extract examples of similar words being used in context. We could use these to create gap-fil sentences, cloze texts and other learning materials for students.
  • We could get students to find real examples sentences which use the new words they are learning especially words with synonyms (slim, skinny) or words that have gradients, to see how the different words are used and when to use each one.
  • We can get students to compare British and American words to see which is most popular.
  • Students can compare the popularity of idomatic expressions like 'Raining cats and dogs' vs 'Storm in a tea cup'.
  • Students can search the results for two different words to find out which one has the most uses / different meanings.
  • We can also use this tool for discussion warmers comparing popularity of things. Which of these do you think is most popular?
    Dogs or cats?
    Madonna or Britney Spears?
    Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings?
    cook or chef?
    Students can vote on which they think will win and why they think it will be most popular.
What I like about it?
  • Simplicity.
  • This is a free and easy tool to use which gives you much of the power of a concordancer.
  • Because it links in to Google it gives you access to vast amounts of information about the words.
What I'm not so sure about?
  • Because it links into Google to search examples from the internet, you can't control what your students see in the results, so some of the results may link to inappropriate materials.
  • It searches words within text, so it gives youy limited information about how the words are used in spoken language.
Well I hope you enjoy Google Battle and find it useful and if you have any other ideas for using it please do post a comment.

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Best

Nik Peachey