Wednesday 31 October 2007

Creating an interactive cloze text

This is the second part in a series of tutorials based around using word processors to create interactive and multimedia materials.

This tutorial looks at how you can use a word processor to create a close text - also known as a 'gap fill'- that users can interact with on their computer.

This is quite a common type of activity that we use in the classroom. The students usually do it in a book and then the teacher tells them the answers. But we can create these materials to be used on the computer.

Here is an example text that I created based around a Shakespeare sonnet. Click on the gaps and then hit F1 at the top of your keyboard. You should get a clue to help you fill in your gaps.
At the end you can scroll down and check the answers.

Here is a short tutorial movie showing how the interactive 'gaps' were created (Using MS Word 97)
How to use this with students
This feature could be used in a number of different ways. You could use the text to give the students:
  • The correct answer
  • The first letter of the missing word
  • A synonym
  • Some instructions telling them to add to the text
  • A textual clue or prompt
The advantage of getting students to do these activities on the computer, is that by adding prompts or clues there is some middle ground for development between getting the answer right and getting it wrong, so this isn't simply a test.

Close activities like these can be used for a number of purposes:
  • Students can listen to an audio file and fill in the missing word
  • Students can watch a video and complete a description of the action
  • You can delete all the prepositions and get students to add them
  • Delete all the verbs and students replace them
  • Take out all the vocabulary words of a lexical group
  • Delete words at random ( every 5th, 10th word etc.)
Making the right gaps
Generally I think it's best to take out words where there is some chance that the students will be able to work out the meaning of the missing word from the context that surrounds it.
  • Example 1: "He went to the shop and bought a ____ " doesn't give you much clue to the meaning of the missing word, but
  • Example 2:"He reached into his pocket, took out a _________ and lit a cigarette" gives you a much better chance at guessing the meaning of the missing word ( Probably match or lighter)
The same can be true of grammatical words.
  • Example 1: " He had an operation on his __ last year" Not much chance of guessing this, though you would know it was probably a part of the body.
  • Example 2: " He had an operation __ his leg last year" Good chance of guessing this. If your students know their prepositions they'll know that the missing word is 'on' (operate on).
Hope you find this useful. The tutorial movie above was done on MS Word 97, I'm guessing that other versions of Word operate in a similar way, but if anyone knows how you can do the same thing on other free software like Open Office, then please do leave a comment.

For anyone interested in using the Sonnet worksheet above, there is also a recording of Alan Rickman reading it here on Youtube (Thanks to Jo Bertrand for the link)



Thursday 18 October 2007

Phonology can be fun and free

Phonetics Focus is a really wonderful new free resource produced by Cambridge English Online Ltd.

Basically it is a collection of interactive multimedia Flash based games and resources that can be accessed through the CEO website at

What is it?
In all there are almost 20 different interactive tools all accessible through the one page. These vary from an interactive phonemic chart where users can click on the symbols to hear the sounds and so develop their knowledge of the chart and the phonemic alphabet, through to more fun games which involve shooting the correct sounds to make a word in a ‘duck shoot’ type game.

What I liked about it
All of the activity types are pretty intuitive as they draw on standards like hangman, odd one out, word searches etc and they all have clear instructions. Many of the games and quizzes also have more than one level so this isn’t just for beginners.

Some of the really exceptional features are:

  • ‘Record and Practice’ which is a small tool that users can download to help them record and listen back to what they are saying.
  • ‘Flashcard Maker’ which helps you to make your own flashcards by either using images from an image library or sketching you own pictures on the program, and adding phonemic symbols to them. You can then print them up for use in class.
  • ‘Entry and Exit’ tests so that students can check their level before using the tools and then check again as often as they want afterwards.

What wasn’t so good
I can’t think of anything much wrong with this

I have to say that it’s rare to find really good computer based pronunciation materials, but to find them for free is a real exception. They are really nicely designed, work well, load pretty quickly and have made really good use of multimedia. This is a fantastic free resource that will be useful for teachers and for students of any level or age too.

Be sure to check it out

Please feel free to leave a comment if you use these tools and let me know how it goes.



Saturday 13 October 2007

Creating a mobile phone website

With the growth in interest in mobile and handheld learning, I thought I’d investigate one of the many new Web 2.0 type start ups that are offering free (at the moment at least) services for setting up websites and web based communities to be accessed on mobile phones and other mobile devices.

The one I’ve started with is a service called Winksite. On the home page of their website the company claims that, “Winksite makes it easy to publish mobile websites and communities that can be viewed worldwide on any phone.” So I thought I would try to set up my own site as an extension of this blog.

What’s good about it

I was actually quite impressed at just how easy it is and at the number of features on offer. Once you have registered, Winksite offers users the opportunity to set up as many as 5 websites for mobile devices. Each site can have a range of features that you can select and edit from a fairly easy to use web based interface. Some of the possible features for your mobile website include:
  • Announcements
  • Blog entries
  • Journal entries
  • Field reports
  • Profile information
  • User surveys
  • Chat rooms
  • Forums
  • Feed syndication
  • Plus a few others
I spent about an hour on Winksite, by which time I had;
  • set up my mobile site
  • added my profile
  • personalised the look of the site
  • created a couple of surveys
  • added chat and a forum
  • posted a blog entry and an announcement.
Once you’ve created your site there is also a tool that allows you to import email addresses from your address book to send out invitations to join, so you can quite easily get people onto your site and publisise it to your friends.

The sites that Winksite creates comply to all the established standards for mobile site, so that’s great too and also means that the site can be accessed through other mobile devices. I use an Opera browser on my Nintendo DS Lite as a kind of wireless palmtop as I roam around the house and garden, so to be able to access the site on that for me is really a great bonus.
The Featured books section is also interesting as it provides a way to access books on your phone, page by page and chapter by chapter, as they are written. This also enables you to interact with the writer as the book is written and discuss various elements through the forums and surveys.

What’s not so good about it
From the Winksite homepage you can also have a look around at the other sites that are being created. This isn’t so impressive, as it seems that lots of people are interested in finding out how this works etc, but it’s hard to find any sites that have more than one or two members signed up, and not many have much content added. That isn’t a criticism of the tool though, I think it’s just that the audience / market for mobile web content is still quite new and there is obviously huge potential here. The makers have also tried to steer you towards the best content by adding an Editor's choice section, as well as having a regular Featured site.

Unless you have a good contract with your phone provider that gives you plenty of web access included, accessing the site could be expensive. Having said this the pages the site produce are all pretty lite and should load pretty quickly, so comparatively, this won't be such an expensive site to access.

How to use it with my students
This is a difficult one. If you have students who come to class regularly, are they really going to want to use a mobile phone based web community to interact with their teacher and the other students from the class? I think probably not. There is also the problem that some students may well not have phones that are capable of browsing websites.
  • If however you have distance or online classes then I could see the possible potential of using a tool like this in conjunction with other web based materials to support students and make it easier for students to work together and keep in touch with you.
  • The site could be useful for a class project. Get the students to decide on issues that they feel are important to them, then set up the site based around one of these issues and try to get students from other classes or schools exchanging opinions and polling each other.
  • You could set up polls and surveys on Winksite as a form of action research to get anonymous feedback from students and create dialogue with them about some of the methods you’re using in class.
  • You could get students to create their own site as a form of learner diary.
  • You could set up a site to keep in contact with the parents of your students and help to keep them informed about what’s going on with their children and any events etc that are happening at the school. You could even post your homework assignments on the site so that the parents check to see that their children are doing the work you set them.
  • You could try to get students to collaboratively write a book/ story from their phone or computer. Decide on the topic first and then ask students to take it in turns to add a page each. Others could interact and vote on what they would like to happen next using the survey feature.
If you want a multi-featured mobile phone website with lots of interactive features, and you don’t want to pay anything for it, this is a great place to start. The feature set is rich and varied and the interface seems to be pretty easy to use. It’s difficult to say though at the moment if having a website that is accessed though a mobile phone has any really significant advantages over one that is purely accessed through a computer. I suppose a lot depends on how much change there is in coming months / years regarding access the web through mobile phones. The popularity of Apple’s new I-phone certainly points towards, this happening, but looking at the costs involved at present, it’s still going to be a while before this kind of access is available to many in poorer countries.

If you try out this tool or have tried similar one please leave a comment.



Tuesday 9 October 2007

Looking at

For a while now I’ve been a fan of the virtual 3D world Although it isn’t as developed and hasn’t had a fraction of the publicity of Second Life I think there are a few things in its favour and for anyone wanting to take some steps into teaching in virtual worlds or for students who are interested in finding others to chat to or practice their language skills with, they could do far worse.

What is
It’s a simple 3D online virtual world where multiple players can create avatars, create worlds, build and interact with each other. The interaction is mainly through movement gesture and text chat, but voice chat is also possible too if you opt to pay for a premium membership rather than free. Have a look here if you want to see the maker's description.

If you want to see what it looks like, there is a video here created by the company, but it's quiet a big download (30Mb)

What I like about it.

  • There are a number of attractive features within The most striking one for me is the way the text chat appears in cartoon-like balloon bubbles, which order themselves as the conversation progresses. This makes the conversation very easy to follow.

  • I also like that when you register you get a free hover board (a bit like a small flying surfboard) and there are areas of the world where you can go to do speed trials or join other hover-boarding enthusiasts for races or lessons. See how to ride a hoverboard movie (3.5Mb)
  • The visual graphics of the world are far less detailed than in Second Life, for example, but this means that the hardware and bandwidth requirements are much less, so you don’t need an expensive computer with high-end graphics card to join in the fun. The system requirements also claim that you can enjoy the world even if you are on a 56k dial up connection, though this I find much harder to believe.
  • During my visits to, I’ve generally found the other inhabitants to be much friendlier than in SL and generally more willing to talk to strangers (though I have a female avatar in, so that could be part of the difference).
  • There are regular organised events taking place so you can go along and be sure that someone will be there and something will be happening. You can see what’s going on in the ‘There Fun Times’ new site:
  • offers a range of developer tools including a style maker for those interested in designing clothes etc.
  • There are some ready made ‘Quests’ so there are things for students to do which will get them working together and exploring the world.
  • The world is much more controlled than SL so there isn’t the ‘adult’ type of sexual imagery and content. Though that isn’t to say that it is safer in terms of the people who may be visiting, so the normal precautions apply. There is a guide for parents though and Online safety tips
  • The picture taking tool is handy for getting students to produce follow-up assignments. Here’s a picture of me (my avatar) exploring an Egyptian tomb close to the Pyramids.
  • has some very active machinima projects and also has a yearly machinima film festival
What isn’t so good

  • Generally it has a much smaller population so there tend to be less people about than in more popular worlds. So if you are recommending it as a place for your students to just hang out and meet other native speakers, then they might be disappointed.
  • There is a voice client that enables audio voice chat, but to use it you have to have a premium membership and that involves paying. Though it is just a one-off single payment of $9.95 (about £5) and this also allows you to start building and selling things for ‘there bucks’.
  • If you make things within you have to pay to store them in-world.
  • isn't Mac friendly and you can't log into the site through Firefox either

How can I use it with my students?
  • You could get them to do some Quest activities together.
  • You could ask them to visit various places and take photographs (Using the camera tools), then produce an illustrated report or narrate a story.
  • You could ask them to find out how to ride a hover-board and how to drive a ‘there’ buggy and then teach each other.
  • If you have distance students, you could host your class in a beach hut.
  • Start a machinima project. Get your students to write a script for their avatars, storyboard the action and act it out in world. Then film the scenes and edit it together as a movie. Here's a guide on how to create machinima in
  • Organise a hover-boarding tournament for your students
  • Take a series of pictures and get the students to create a story around them
Really though I think for these environments to work well for language learning you need to use them with distance learners or within a blended learning context. Not one where students are meeting regularly face to face.

On the whole I think is a fun and very sociable environment where teens are likely to enjoy hanging out and meeting people. There are things to do there and it has the potential to be quite accessible because the makers’ claim that it can run on much lower spec computers without broadband. It doesn’t have the visual impact and programming potential that more complex worlds like Second Life have, but if you just want to make a start on understanding how these worlds work and what the potential is, before you invest serious money in a powerful computer, then is well worth a look.

I'd be really interested to hear what other people think of, especially with ideas to use with students.



Friday 5 October 2007

MS Word tutorial 1: Adding ‘comments’

This is the first in what I hope will become a series of tutorials on exploiting the teaching / learning potential of some of the more common desktop applications like MS Word. Like many people I’m a regular user of this application and it’s probably the one I use most, with the exception of my web browser.

Despite the amount of time I have spent using it, I’m often surprised to discover another useful toolbar or technique that I can use to make life easier or my teaching more effective.

This first tutorial shows how to use the ‘comments’ feature that can be found on the ‘Reviewing’ toolbar.

The ‘comments’ feature allows you to add comments to the text of a document. These comments don’t appear in the text itself, but can be seen on screen whenever you hover the cursor over the part of the text that the comment refers to.

To find out how it works, Watch a tutorial (450k Flash movie)

What I like about it
  • This tool enables me to start a dialogue with my students about their work on the actual work itself, without interfering with the flow of the text. I’ve tried using tracking before and found that it can soon become a real mess, so nowadays I much prefer to use this ‘comments’ feature.
  • It doesn’t add greatly to the file size so you can email documents back and forth as you review and re –review them with your students.
  • It’s an ideal tool for encouraging a ‘Process writing’ approach, as students don’t have to re-write their compositions every time they need to change it.

A few ideas for using it with students
  • You can use it to add explanations of difficult words
  • Students can add translations or explanations to words within the text
  • You can comment on students’ work and suggest improvements, or better still they can use it to comment on each other’s work.
  • You can add questions to a text at very precise points. These could be comprehension questions that you would like to ask, or could be questions about a text they have produced which encourage them to write more or add further detail or description
  • You could simply use it for error correction or to point out weaknesses in the text.
  • You could build up dialogue with students about the text, by adding questions to it or asking students to add questions and then reply etc.

None of the ideas above are exactly revolutionary and they could all be done with pen and paper. The advantage though, that I have found, of using this method on a computer is that students seem much more willing to go back and revise work if it doesn’t involve rewriting text. After all the real process of writing that we want to develop and aid is the act of creation, not the physical process of forming letters.

If anyone else uses this feature in other ways, I’d love to hear about your ideas.



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