Tuesday 16 December 2008

Online Video: What does it have to offer teachers and learners?

This series of postings are the result of a training presentation I was asked to deliver for Moroccan teachers of English in Kinitra on 15th December 08.

To prepare the session I looked back at many of the postings from my blogs over the last 18 months and thought about some of the changes that have been taking place in the way online video sharing has developed.

I've split the materials from the session into four sections.
These are by no means conclusive. With the spread of broadband access the potential for education and for language teaching and development and autonomous teacher development is huge, but still as yet largely under exploited as the discussion that followed my session highlighted.

Some of the potential problems we highlighted were:
  • Inappropriate content
  • Dead links
  • Teacher preparation time
  • Blocked sites
  • Lack of connectivity
Anyway, I hope you enjoy reading this series of postings, which are in main part a summary of my work in this area over the last 18 months, and that they give some insight into some of the potential and a few of the ways we can overcome the problems. If you have experienced other problems, by all means leave a comment.

Related links:

Nik Peachey

Online Video: As Knowledge Resource

Since the birth of YouTube, the web has seen huge growth in the availability and quality of user generated online video. With just a simple webcam, or a digital camera or camcorder it is now possible for teachers and students to create and share their knowledge and experience of a vast range of topics. It's also possible for them to access a global pool of knowledge and experience from cultures all over the world.


YouTube was originally set up as an online dating site, but has become one of the biggest user created video libraries in the world. With quite literally millions of video clips, it is a fantastic resource for materials and information. You can find anything there. One of the biggest problems though is that you can find anything there!!!

Apart from being a place to find and store your own videos, YouTube also offers some editing features; You can add annotations, change the sound track and also create your own private or public channel.

In an attempt to make video sharing safer for teachers, students and educational establishments, Teacher Tube was created. This is a site where any teacher can create their own account and upload their own videos. It’s also a great place to find educational videos for teacher development.
If you create your own channel and add the video you want to use with your students, you can choose to keep it private, so that only people you invite can see the videos.
TeacherTube has the advantage that you can also upload support materials, worksheet and presentations for each video that your students or trainee teachers can download.

Video sharing for young learners
Using online video with young learners can be difficult, but Totlol can really help you. The content for the site is selected by educators especially for use in education with young learners. The community of registered users ensures that only suitable and useful videos are included and makes sure the service isn’t abused. This is also a great site to recommend to parents who what to help their children study.
Read this article to find out more: Video sharing for young learners

Downloading Online Video
Because of the many problems associated with using online video sharing resources, it can be really useful to download the clip to your own computer. This can help you in a number of ways:
It stops your students wandering around sites and finding unsuitable materials
  • You don’t need to worry about the Internet connection
  • You don’t need to worry that the clip may get moved
  • You can build the videos into other materials
  • You can edit the videos
There are a number of online converters which enable you to copy in the link to a Youtube video, choose a suitable format and then download it to your computer hard drive. One reliable one is http://vixy.net/

Another useful tool for this is idesktop.tv
You can use idesktopTV to search for videos across a wide range of video sharing platforms. You can then either email a link to someone or download the video in a range of different formats:

Here you can read a more in depth review of idesktop TV: Downloading Online video

Video Clips for Teaching English
Creating your own video material is great, but having someone do it for you is even better. Jamie Keddie runs a great site with regularly published Lesson plans based on video clips from YouTube.
Read more about Video Clips for teaching English

I hope this posting has given you some insight into the wealth of what's available and how to overcome some of the problems involved in exploiting these materials.

Related links:

Nik Peachey

Online Video: As Communication

Over the past couple of years online video communication has been transformed, not only price and quality, but in ease of use and accessibility. This tool has great potential for extending the reaches of our classroom and opening access to much better support for distance learners.

Video conferencing

Video conferencing was once a very difficult and expensive activity that required specific software, hardware and in many cases an expensive account with a service provider. You can now do video conferencing for free using software like Skype or free web-based services like Tokbox

Tokbox doesn’t require any downloads. You just create a free account and then star connecting with other users. You can do this by sending them a link to a conference.
Using Tokbox you can:
  • Make live (synchronous) video calls from your computer either to one person or a small group.
  • Record video messages (asynchronous) and send the by email
  • Create a series of public broadcasts that anyone can access.
Here is a video which shows you How to use Tokbox
Here you can find some Teaching suggestions for using Tokbox with students:

Sending Video Greetings
Bubble Joy is a website that enables you to create short video greetings and then email them to people. All you need is a webcam with a microphone. The service is free and very quick and easy to use.

Here you can find some suggestions for teaching ideas and some instructions for how to make this work on your computer: Sending Bubble Joy to your EFL / ESL Students

Annotating the web
The bubble comment site enables you to create and share a brief 90 second commentary of a website. You can use this to get students talking about and sharing their favourite sites.

To find out more about using this tool go to: Great Video Commenting Tool

Video Microblogging
Video microblogging is a way of creating your own short video broadcasts. The first such site to enable this was 12 Seconds TV. The idea behind the site is that you create a short 12 second long video clip using your webcam. Other people can then subscribe to your channel and watch your video clips. It’s often used among friends to keep each other up to date on what they are doing, but it does have a range of uses for the EFL classroom.

 Here you can read about ways to use ‘microblogging’ with your students to create digital narrative, create vocabulary records and even practice verb forms: 12 Second Video Clips for EFL ESL

I hope this gives you a few ideas and hints for how to use online video communication tools and by all means leave comments below if your own favourites haven't been mentioned here.

Related links:

Nik Peachey

Online Video: Authentic Genres

Over the past few years video sharing websites have become increasingly specialised, bringing about the development of different 'genres' of video sharing sites. As online video increasingly competes with TV this has also brought about the development of genres of 'micro shows'. These are complete episodes of shows that take place within 2 - 5 mins. This is an ideal length both for or 'digital native' students with their characteristically shorter attention span, but also for our English language students with their limited ability to cope with longer streams of authentic input. This more specialised content is also ideal for teachers developing materials for content and language integrated learning (CLIL)courses or for teachers who want to develop video projects.

Product Reviews

There are an increasing number of specialised video sharing websites like ExpoTV . This one enables users to create and share videos that review new products. This is a great source of authentic material and a great project for students who can create and upload their own video.
You can find some tips and suggestions for exploiting these sites at: Using Product Reviews

How to Videos
Video is a great way to teach people because you can actually see how they do things as well as listen to them . For the same reason it’s a very powerful tool for conveying the meaning of language. MonkeySee is a really useful website that contains lots of high quality short clips, showing how to do a variety of things from dancing, learning a musical instrument through to sales and marketing techniques and even building sandcastles!

The videos are user generated so anyone can create their own series and upload it.
Read more about how to use these videos here: Using 'How to' videos

Advertising projects
The Rollmio site was created to connect companies with creative amateur marketers. The site publicises information about companies that want web based video advertisements and anyone can then create an advertisement upload it to the site and try to win the contract. This can be a good insight for higher level students into how advertisements are created.

Here you can see some examples that a class of higher level English students created: Ad projects
To find suggestions on how to use this site with your students read: Advertisement Project

Sharing opinions
Big Think is a video sharing website that aims to create debate and the exchange of ideas. They invite very influential experts to record their opinions on a range of topics. Visitors to the site can watch these videos, vote to agree or disagree and also record their own video response. You can also set up your own debates on the site by recording your own opinion, either on the same topics as the experts or on a topic of your choice.

To read more about how to use this resource, go to: Video debating website

Micro soaps
The ability to share short video clips over the Internet through websites such as YouTube has led to the creations of various new ‘micro’ genre of TV programmes.

One very popular example is the 3 minute soap opera ‘ Lonely Girl 15’. This started a couple of years ago with a girl in the USA called ‘Bree’ talking to a webcam about here life. It soon attracted millions of viewers and it was discovered that the girl was a professional actress and the show was being produced by a small company.

There are now many series and a parallel programme based in the UK called Kate Modern. This kind of material, though at times sensitive carries a lot of potential for classroom exploitation. The programmes can be used to portray and contrast the youth culture of USA and UK as well as highlighting linguistic differences. You should be careful which episodes you choose though as some are unsuitable for younger learners.

To read more about thee micro soap operas go to: Iconic teen video

I hope that this posting has given you a look at some of the genres of online video that are available and how to use them. If you have a particular favourite genres please do leave a comment about it.

Related links:

Nik Peachey

Online Video: For Language Development

There are now a number of online video sharing communities that are specifically designed to support the development of language and communication skills. These websites don't just provide us with video content, but also the tools to help us make authentic video accessible to learners.

Authentic video can be very challenging for language learners so at times it is useful to have translation in subtitles or a transcription of the text. Dotsub is a website that enables users to upload and add subtitles to their videos. The site is community based, so you can upload your video and request that someone else translates it for you, or you can also help other people by translating or transcribing their video. You can also import videos from YouTube to add subtitles to them.
To find out more read: Subtitling your video clips

LangoLab is a video sharing website designed for anyone who want to learn or teach any language. Users upload videos and add transcripts. Learners can then listen to the video and follow the transcript. They can click on words in the transcript to get definitions, and create their won flashcards to help them remember the words.

To learn more about this site go to: Language Learning through Communal Video

Yappr is another community site that allows users to upload and transcribe videos. It is also community based so that registered users to the site can interact, get to know each other and help each other learn each other’s language.

Find out more about Yappr here: Transcribed Videos for EFL ESL

Yolango takes things a step further. It not only enables users to create transcripts and translations, but they can also create and do a number activities based around the video. These include gapfil exercises, comprehension questions and vocabulary building tests.

The site is free, but users must register to do the activities. The site will also track their score. The site uses authentic video many of them either music videos or popular movies. It’s more directed at older learners.
Read more about this site: Ready Made Authentic Video materials For ESL EFL

Wordia is a user created video dictionary. Anyone can choose a word that they like and create a video talking about what the word means. In this way users of the English language are starting to redefine the language according to popular use.

The definitions that people give are more like short narratives, but this is still a useful resource and you can get your students to create their own online dictionary using 12seconds.tv, like this definition of headache
Read more about Wordia here: Video Dictionary 2.0

Well I hope this gives you some insight into some of the sites that are helping to do the work for us. If you know of any more, by all means do leave a comment.

Related links:

Nik Peachey

Friday 5 December 2008

Seven Things You Don't Need to Know About Me

I have been tagged by Gavin Dudeney for the ‘Seven Things You Probably Don’t Know About Me’ thing…

So here are my seven things:

1. My first teaching job was in a prison.
While I was studying music at Dartington College of Arts I heard that they were looking for a guitar teacher and a nearby prison. I got the job and spent two years visiting a group of inmates each week and trying to teach them to play Blues. I recently found a journal that I kept of the time, but can't share any of it with you because I had to sign the official secrets act in order to get the job!

2. I used to juggle and walk on stilts in a clown troop.
I worked for a short time in a clown troop trying to raise money for various charities. I was actually on TV once. To my surprise I found it quite easy to walk on stilts, despite the fact that I have no head for heights and always thought I had terrible balance!

3. I didn't like school and left as soon as I could to become an antique restorer.
I found school dull, uninspiring and tedious (apart from the break times). I've always tried really hard to be the opposite as a teacher. I left school as soon as I got offered a job and spent 2 - 3 years restoring antiques which was okay but really badly paid and had little future (bad combination) .

4. I didn't want to spend my life restoring antiques so I went back to school in my mid 20s and studied music.
After I was made redundant I thought about how I wanted to spend my life and decided to go back to college and study music. I spent the next 4 years doing part-time cleaning, building, painting and decorating work to pay for classes and save enough money to go to college. Eventually started my degree at Dartington College of Arts when I was 25.

Dartington Hall Gardens
5. I have a degree in music
Spent some of the happiest (and saddest) years of my life discovering music from all over the world in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Fond memories of Totnes in Devon (South West of UK). I was lucky enough to study with two of Britain's best guitarists John Etheridge and John Rebourn and make some really wonderful friends.

John Renbourn

John Etheridge

6. I used to be able to sit on my hair!
Of dubious merit and certainly not something I can do now, but I stopped having my hair cut between my 14th and 27th years, with the result that it got pretty long (and eventually started to fall out!)

7. I got into ELT so that I could save enough money to do a masters in composition (Still saving - Any contributions?). I went to Cairo in 1992 and did what was then referred to as a 'TEFL' course. For me it was a truly mind expanding experience and I realised why I hadn't enjoyed school. I fell in love with teaching and decided that the world could well do with one less jazz guitarist (On reflection definitely the correct decision).

The rules say you have to:

* Link your original tagger(s), and list these rules on your blog
* Share 7 facts about yourself in the post - some random, some weird
* Tag seven people at the end of your post
* Let them know they’ve been tagged so ...

I'm tagging:

Hope they don't mind.


Nik Peachey

Monday 1 December 2008

A River of Images

I love the power of images and their adaptability for teaching, so I can't say that I'm upset to be almost overwhelmed with really great tools for exploiting Flickr at the moment. The latest of these is Flickriver, an incredibly simple Flickr search tool that creates an endless webpage (just keep scrolling and the page keeps getting longer!) of Flickr images based around either a search term or whatever it finds interesting on the particular day you visit the site.

This is great because it provides you with and endless stream (or I should say river) of images as you scroll down the page. You can keep scrolling and pull in thousands of images to the page.

This is what it looks like. I started by just scrolling through the random images that appeared when I opened the page, then I went back and typed in 'sport' to see what images would appear.

How to use this with our EFL ESL students
This is a great tool to use with a projector or an interactive whiteboard as we can put it up in front of the whole class. Most of these suggestions would also work if we had students working in small groups or pairs around a computer too.

  • Word association - Get your students to associate words with the images as you scroll through them. 1 student to each image. Once you have got through 20 or 30 words, get the students to work alone or in pairs and try to write down all the words they heard. You can scroll back through the images to help them remember.
  • Brainstorming vocabulary - Type a tag word based on a theme you will be studying into the search field and scroll through images getting students to suggest words that the images evoke on the topic.
  • Rapid sentences - You could do a similar activity to the word association one, by working round the class getting each student to produce a sentence about each image as they appear (one student for each image). This will enable you to push the students fluency, by getting them to think quickly as you scroll to the next image. Again you could consolidate this by getting them to write down or try to remember the sentence that was produced for each image. This will ensure that students do actually listen to each other.
  • Stream of consciousness story - You could make the above exercise more challenging by telling the students that each sentences for each image had to become part of an ongoing story and then see if they can remember the story at the end.
  • Picture grammar drills - You could use the pictures to create drills, by telling the students they have to make a sentence about each picture using a particular verb form. This could be present continuous (describing what is happening in the picture) 'going to' + infinitive (predicting what is about to happen in the picture) present perfect (describing what has just happened before the image was created). This makes drilling a much more engaging and creative activity. Each student could create a drill sentence per image and the other students could copy them or you could go round the class getting a different student to create a sentence individually for each picture.
  • Memory game - Get your students to watch as you scroll through 10 - 20 images. Then stop and put them in pairs to try to remember what all of the images were and describe them. Then scroll back and see how many they got right.
  • What's the association? - If you try more abstract words such as 'skinny' or 'vocabulary', the images produced can have only a very tangential connection to the search term. This is perhaps a good way to get students thinking more carefully about the way the words are used and what connotations they have as they try to explain the connection between the tag word and the image.
  • New words dictionary - As new words come up during the class you can search these and find images which help students to understand the new word. This strong visual should aid their memory. They could even decide on which image best illustrates the word and copy it into a digital vocabulary record of some kind.

What I like about this site
  • It's free and very easy to use
  • The site gives you access to far more images / flashcards than you could possibly ever carry into class
  • There is a constant stream of really high quality striking images
  • One of the things I like is the unpredictability. The images change each time you return to the site and there seems to be a constant stream of new ones.
  • Really nicely designed site

What I'm not so sure about
  • You might find the odd inappropriate image depending on what your search term is and depending on the age and cultural background of your students.
  • The site does sometimes produce some very curious results for some words!
  • Sometimes you can get a sequence of very similar images, if someone has just uploaded a batch of images with the same tag to to flickr.
Well there it is. Flickriver, another really great image tool. I hope you enjoy it and are able to use some of these ideas with your students and of course do leave a comment if you want to suggest other ideas.
Related links:

Nik Peachey

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.

Related links:


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:

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.

Related links:

Nik Peachey

Thursday 30 October 2008

Text to Speech Movies for EFL ESL

Yesterday on my Quick Shout blog, I wrote about a new tool called Xtranormal for creating text to speech animated movies. Since then I've had a little time to put together a tutorial video and think about how to use it in the classroom. First I thought I'd show you what extra normal produces.

There is quite a range of characters and backgrounds so the possibilities for creating situational dialogues is terrific and you can also build these scenes into a series, so this would be great for longer projects too. Here's a quick look at how a movie is created.

So how can we use this with our students?
  • We can use it as a novel way to present language in context by creating small scenes for our students to watch.
  • We can get our students to create dialogues for specific contexts. You could even give students specific tasks (Convince your partner that taxis are better than buses - Try to convince your partner to buy shares in Mircosoft and not Apple) get the students to work in pairs, taking it in turns to create each side of the dialogue, then they can show the class their work.
  • You can get students to create news reports and then create a movie of their own news bulletin.
  • You or your students could create monologues of characters telling jokes or stories or reading poems and develop this into an animated talent show.
  • Their is both a rating feature and a comments feature, so once students have finished their work they can look at and rate each others' videos
  • There is also a 'Remix' button on each movie which enables you to grab a copy of someone else movie and make it your own and remix / change it. You could create movies with errors in the script and ask the students to remix the movie and take out the errors.
  • You could create a movie with only one half of the dialogue. Your students would then have to remix it and add the script for the missing person
  • You could create the first scene from a story and get your students to create the next scene.
  • You could show your students scenes from real films or a TV series and then see how much of the scene they can recreate.
  • You could get students to create their own soap opera, adding a new scene each week.
What I like about it
  • Well it's free (at the moment) and it's quick and easy to use?
  • It's a way of giving students a 'finished product' to showcase the language they are learning.
  • It's entertaining and creative.
  • It's a very flexible and adaptable tool and could be used by students (over 13 years old) or by you to create materials for your students. You could use it to create materials for young learners through to business courses.
  • It's a way of getting students to listen and to write.
What I'm not so sure about
  • Well I'm not sure how long it will be free. There are signs that the owners intend to start charging, though no signs of how much or whether there would still b a free option.
  • Some of the voices that create the speech from the text don't always sound 100% real, though in cartoon type animation I think this is reasonably acceptable.
  • Not everyone using the site is doing so for educational purposes, s some of the animations that are already there could be inappropriate for younger learners or offensive to older ones.
Well I hope you find the time to try Xtranormal with your students and by all means share any ideas, tips or materials you create (just add a link in the comments).

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Nik Peachey

Filming in Second Life 1

Last Sunday, I was lucky enough to make my debut as an educational chat show host on The Consultants-E's Edunation Island where I interviewed Gavin Dudeney. In an attempt to capture this moment in my personal history I decided to video record the event with the intention of editing it into a kind of 'highlights of' show.

Since I posted the first clip from this on my Quick Shout blog, I've had a number of people asking me how I recorded it and what I used, so I've decided to share what I've learned so far from creating movies in Second Life and have a think about how this could be put to use with our students. Anyway, in this article I'll start with the technology bit and how the clip above was created.

Hardware and Software

  • My initial worry was that grabbing an hour of video and running my avatar and being the host of the show all from one computer was asking for trouble, so I decided to use two computers (both MACs) and run my avatar on one and record the video on the other.
  • I used a MAC to record the video and some screen recording software called I-Show-U (it's not free, but it's not expensive either). The software uses a plugin called Sound Flower which enables me to record the audio coming into the computer. I've also had some success doing this on a PC with Camtasia Studio 5.
  • Another advantage of using a separate computer to do the recording on is that when I've tried to do it before with just one, my microphone comes out much louder than the speakers coming through the computer. Most good screen recording software should have an option to record the in-coming audio from the computer, so make sure you have this option selected.
Setting up the Second Life Interface
It's important to set up the interface on the computer that you are recording on so that you get the best quality sound and minimise distraction, so ...
  • On the sound controls I muted any of the unwanted sounds that i didn't want in the recording
  • I also edited my preferences to make sure that there were as few on screen distractions as possible. I turned off the avatar name tags and disabled popup messages etc.
  • As I was planning to go into mouse look to zoom in on the action from the back of the hall, I made sure that audio for voice chat was set to 'Hear Voice chat from camera position'.
  • I reduced the frame size of the Second Life viewer, to make it a bit closer to the final output size I wanted, as I thought this would reduce the final file size and save on quality loss when the video was edited.
Editing Software
Once the recording was over I was left with a 1 hour / 253Mb .MOV file. To edit the file I used the free I-Movie software that came with my MAC. This was the first time I'd used it and I found it pretty easy to learn.
  • One of the really great things about it is that when I save the movie I can load it directly up to my my YouTube channel in a single click.
  • For those of you not blessed with a MAC Camtasia Studio 5 (which I've used for most of the SL tutorials I've created) enables you to do all the editing from within the software, so PC users don't need a separate software, though Camtasia Studio 5 isn't free (I think Camtasia Studio 3 free is though)
Well you've seen the results above, though the .MOV file quality is much better (but slower and larger than the YouTube version).

So What Went Wrong
As with all best made plans, plenty of things went wrong:
  • The biggest problem was with avatars appearing in the centre of the coffee table during the interview! Kind of hard to know how to prevent this kind of thing.
  • Also of course if you leave a computer idle for long enough, even though it's recording it can start to hibernate, or a screen saver can appear! So worth changing those energy saving settings.
  • And of course how ever many of those popup messages you disable there's always one you miss!

Anyway, I hope after trying this I'm a bit wiser and next time it will go a lot smoother.
If you have any experience of creating film from Second Life, by all means leave a comment. Or if you think I've made any big mistakes omissions here, by all means try to put me right,

Look forward to your comments and in part two of this article I'll be looking at ways to exploit filming with students.

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Nik Peachey

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