Thursday 29 May 2008

Using wikis for teacher development

In my two previous features, I've looked at how to create a wiki and how to use them with EFL students. In this posting I'd like to look at a couple of technical aspects, how to embed video in the wiki and how to add hyperlinks, and how we can use them for teacher development.

Let's start with the technical bit. Here are two video tutorials. The first shows how we can embed videos into a WetPaint wiki.

To view this movie in a separate window click here
Right click and the use 'Save as' to download a Quick Time version of this movie

This second one shows how to use hyperlinks to link together text and pages across the wiki.

To view this movie in a separate window click here
Right click and the use 'Save as' to download a Quick Time version of this movie

Wikis, through sites like have shown us what incredible power we have to create and share knowledge through the internet. We can also use the power of wikis for teacher development.

How can we use wikis for teacher development?
  • You could use a wiki as a kind of scrapbook to collect together ideas you have on teaching, such as links to or quotes from articles you have read, as well as teaching tips and lesson plans. You could keep your own lesson plans online this way and edit and update them each time you use them. Much of this you could also do on a blog, but using a wiki gives you the opportunity to structure different pages for different topics, like having a classroom management section and a section on teaching pronunciation etc. In this way you could start to collect your own personal teaching manual and, who knows, at some point you might decide to put it live for other people to contribute to or share it with a mentor or peer to help you edit it.
  • You could work with a group of trainee teachers and ask them to create a wiki training manual by adding information to each section as they study on their course. You could then see how well they were assimilating the information they were learning on the course and this would give you the opportunity to revise anything they were getting wrong or misunderstanding
  • You could create a teaching jargon wiki. At the moment I'm working with a group of teachers and I've created an IT jargon wiki so that anyone who comes across a term they don't understand can add it to the wiki and either I or one of their peers can add a definition. They can also continue to refine these definition and add examples as their knowledge grows.
  • You could video yourself teaching, embed the videos, and ask for feedback on your teaching from other peers through your wiki.
  • You could use it to collect and share tips on aspects of teaching practice.
  • You could work with a group of trainers to create a teacher development course book using the wiki.
I think the possibilities for collaborative projects for teacher development are almost limitless.
I've actually started up a Technology in ELT wiki here which you are welcome to get involved in.

At the moment this focuses on developing a glossary of IT related terms and definitions, giving access to teachers to ask an answer FAQs, and attempting to define key skills in IT for ELT teacher development. So if you have time feel free to get involved with this. Just register and start to contribute.

I'll be very interested to see how and if this develops over the coming months. If you have any further suggestions or experience of teacher development projects using wikis, please do post a link in the comments.


Nik Peachey

Related postings
To have a closer look at WetPaint and create your own wiki go to:

Using wikis with EFL students

In this feature I want to share another tutorial that you can use with your students showing how to edit your wiki and have a look at a live demo wiki that you and your students can play around with.

In my previous post I looked at how to create a wiki using WetPaint and a few of the reasons for using one.

This tutorial shows you how simple it is to edit the wiki. As a demonstration I've set up a wiki using the Cinderella story so once you have had a look, by all means register and have a play around with this.

So how can we use wikis with our students?
  • You can upload student work for collaborative editing, though you should make sure they are comfortable with this first. If they aren't you could try uploading some other documents which need correcting or redrafting and get them to work on those instead.
  • Get students to create a story collaboratively. Give them the start or even the start of the first few chapters and get students to add parts to it. The nice part of creating a story in this way is that through hypertext links to other pages you can create 'back stories' filling in information about other characters and telling their stories too. You could start this off by creating or copying a short story of fairy tale and creating hyper links to pages about each of the other characters possibly telling the story from their perspective. For example with the story of Cinderella that I have created, you can tell it from the perspective of an ugly sister or from the rat that got turned into a horse! This is a good way to develop some creative thinking skills and help students to see things from different perspectives.
    • I've set up an example of this here:
      Feel free to register and participate or get your students participating in this.
    • Some possible tasks you could set students using this wiki are:
    • Add some adjectives and adverbs to the text
    • Add an extra sentence to one of the back ground stories
    • Try to insert a new character into the text
    • Find words that you don't understand and add them to the glossary
    • Try to add some definitions to some of the glossary words
    • Write some questions that you would like to ask some of the characters and put them into the to do list
    • Look for questions that someone else has asked about the text and try to include that information in the text.
  • You could use a wiki as a sort of learning record which all the students could contribute to. This could be based around themes, having separate pages within each theme for vocabulary, useful expressions, grammatical structures, or it could be based around grammar and students could research and share what they know about various tenses and verb forms.
  • You could use it to create your own online course book, either working with other teachers or your class. You could get students to select texts and subjects that they are interested in and type / paste them in to pages on the wiki, you or they could then create learning materials to go with the text, as well as adding extra information and background on the them or topic or the grammar or lexis that goes with the text. You would then be able to build on this with other classes.
  • You set up collaborative assignments such as Webquests and get students to use the wiki and work together to produce their outcomes
  • You could upload or link to videos or images and set group or pair work tasks for students to do. You could use the 'To do' feature of the wiki to set up tasks for different groups or students.
  • The wiki also has a lot of communication features so you could set up online discussion / forum tasks with students so that they could discuss the story and make decisions about how they want to change or develop it.
  • If you have the means to set up a project with a school in another town or better still another country, you could use the wiki as a cultural research tool. Your students could research the country and the culture of their partner students and create a wiki about it. The partner students could then correct or comment on any errors or misunderstandings of their culture.
Wikis are a wonderful tool for students to work together and produce high quality texts. They are also great if you want to be able to share students' work with parents or the rest of the world, or just limit access to your class.

I hope you enjoy using this tool and if you have examples of work that your students have produced using wikis, by all means post a link in the comments section below.

To have a closer look at WetPaint and create your own wiki go to:


Nik Peachey

Related posts

Creating a Wiki

In this feature I'd like to show you how to create your own free wiki using 'Wetpaint' and look at some of the reasons for using wikis to achieve educational goals.

First, for those of you who don't know what a wiki is, here's a quick definition which comes from one of the most famous wikis,

wiki is a collection of web pages designed to enable anyone who accesses it to contribute or modify content [ ...]. Wikis are often used to create collaborative websites and to power community websites."

So, what really differentiates a wiki from a normal website is the fact that anyone who has access to the site can modify its contents (this is often, though not always, restricted to people who create a login or register to use this feature), unlike a normal website, on which the content is usually edited only by the company or person who owns the website.

To show you how easy it is to create your own free wiki, I've recorded these tutorial movies. They are each around 2 mins long and show you how to set up your wiki by using a free service called wetpaint (this takes about 2 -3 mins to do), how to change the style and look of your wiki (this takes about 2 mins) and how to start adding extra pages to your wiki (this takes about 2mins). Hope fully this will convince you that creating your own wiki is not only easy, but it's also very quick.

For anyone having problems with these embedded videos, or who wants higher quality. I've added links to Quick time versions that you can download at the end of this article.

So here is how you set up the wiki using

This movie shows you how to change the style and look of you wiki

This movie shows you how to add new pages.

Hopefully you can see just how easy it is to setup your own wiki.

What I like about wikis
  • Wikis are really quick and easy to setup, which means that you can forget about the technical aspects and get busy with the serious business of creating and sharing content.
  • The collaborative aspect is great, enabling other users, whether it is a select group or whether you open up the wiki to anyone who wants to contribute, takes the emphasis off you as the creator / author and helps you to share out the work and draw on a much greater pool of knowledge and creativity.
  • Many wikis like wetpaint also incorporate other planing and communications features like discussion forums, to do lists, photo galleries etc. which can help you share out the work on the wiki and co-ordinate dispersed teams or group of distance learning students.
What I'm not so sure about
  • There isn't much not to like on a wiki, perhaps with the exception of advertising if you decide to opt for a free service. Most service providers also offer a premium ( paid for) service which you can choose if you want to get rid of the ads. This option often gives you access to extra features too. It's definitely worth thinking about a premium service if you work with younger learners, as this will ensure that you don't get any 'unsuitable' advertising springing up along the side of your wiki.
  • Wikis can be a bit limiting in terms of design and what you can add to your design, such as amazing Flash games, videos etc, but there are often work arounds to give you access to these.

Well this posting seems to be long enough for now. I hope I convinced you of how easy it is to set up your wiki and in my next postings I'll be looking at how to use wikis with your EFL students and How to use them for teacher development.

Here you can download higher quality versions of the tutorials in Quick Time format

Nik Peachey

Related postings

Tuesday 27 May 2008

Using Product Reviews

Product review sites are becoming ever more popular on the internet, and why not after all? If you are going to spend money buying something, it's always a good idea to see what other people who bought that same product think of it.

ExpoTV is just that kind of site. It has a collection of, mostly home made, video clips made by ordinary people, mostly from North America, talking about the products they have bought. There is a huge collection of material here on a whole range of products from computer accessories to clothing, make up, cars, video games, children's toys and even trucks!

Here's an example product review. This one is of one of my favourite products, Apple's i-pod touch

What I liked about the site
  • The clips are reasonably short and download quite quickly.
  • It's free and you don't have to register unless you want to add comments or upload your own video.
  • The site is rich with the kinds of language and vocabulary that students find quite useful in their 'real lives' especially if they do have to buy things from websites or while traveling in an English speaking country.
  • The videos are made by real people so the material is very authentic with a wide variety of voices and accents.
  • The site is well designed with a good search facility, so it's easy to find the kinds of products you are looking for.
  • There is a brief guideline on how to make a good product review here which students can use as a guide. Also some how to video clips that are handy.
  • There is a great potential here for real tasks as registered users can submit their own video reviews and even make money from them!! (I would be very careful about advising students to do this)
  • There's an embed code for each video so if you don't want students wandering around the site, or if you want to use only specific clips you can grab the embed code ( as I have above) and just add the clip to a blog, web page or word processing document.

How should we use this with students?
  • Get students to watch videos of a type of product and decide which one they would buy and why / which ones they wouldn't want to buy.
  • Get students to create their own product video and include all the relevant information (this could be done very easily using anything they have with them in class from shoes to stationary, phones bags etc.) If your students don't have access to a video camera, you could still get them to do this for each other in class as a kind of short presentation. You could even make it competitive and see who can best convince the class to buy their shoes or phone etc.
  • Get the students to watch 3 or 4 clips and make notes of key information about each product. They could then share this information in small groups and decide on the best product.
  • Give pairs or small groups of students a budget and a shopping list and ask them to select the best collection of products within their budget. They should then use the product information to justify their choices.
  • Ask the students to make notes of key word or phrases / sentence structures used when describing products
  • Get some pictures of products and get students to watch / listen to one clip and decide which product was being described.
  • Prepare a list of product features from a selection of videos, then get the students to watch the videos and match the features to the product.
  • Give students a selection of clips to watch and ask them to decide which was the best made clip. Ask them to decide why. (This is a good activity to start with if you intend to get students to make their own clips or presentations)
  • Have a class discussion about product review websites. Here's some possible discussion questions.
    • Have you ever used a site like this before?
    • Do you think the sites are useful?
    • Do you know of any good sites like this (in English or other languages)?
    • Are the reviews unbiased?
    • How much confidence do they have in such sites?
    • Why do people add videos to sites like these?
    • How do the sites make their money?
    • Why do they pay people to make video clips?
    • Would you make a review of a bad product? Why / Why not?
What I wasn't so sure about
  • Students can submit their own videos and get paid for them, but I would be very wary of encouraging this especially for younger students. Be sure to protect your students privacy and personal information and check on any terms of use before letting them register on this or any other website.
  • The site carries a lot of advertising so be wary of letting students click round all over the place. It may well be better to create your own page that only uses the clips you have selected embedded into the page (especially for younger students).
  • Students should be aware of the fact that not all the information given in the video is necessarily correct. These are just amateur video makers giving their opinion.

On the whole I think that sites like this are a really useful source of authentic materials, real language use and authentic real life tasks that can be useful to students beyond the classroom.

there are some things to be wary of when using them, but on the whole I think making students aware of the possible dangers, traps and pitfalls, is a valuable part of their education in itself, so I don't see this a reason not to use these sites.

Well I hope you find these tips useful, and please do add a comment if you have any other ideas for using product review websites, or if you have used them with your students.

Here's the URL of the site in case you missed it:


Nik Peachey

Tuesday 20 May 2008

Skype Part 1 Recording Audio

This is the first in what is going to be a series of postings looking at Skype and the range of plugins freely available for it and how these can be used for teaching languages and creating ELT materials.

As most people know, Skype is a freely available VOIP program which allows users to make computer to computer 'telephone calls' for free. What many people don't know is that there is also a huge range of 'plugins' available for Skype which expand and enhance its functionality and turn it into an even more useful tool for teaching and learning.

This first video shows how you find and install these extra plugins and focuses on one in particular (Pamela) which helps you to record your Skype calls.

Click the play button and turn up your sound

I hope you can see how easy it is to start installing and expanding the functionality of Skype.

Having this ability to record calls really helps as us language teachers and as materials creators to get a lot more out of this free program.

Watch the movie tutorial to see how to start recording your calls.

Click the play button and turn up your sound

So how do we use this with our students
  • This is great if you are doing any business training or training students involved in Call centres or customer services where the phone is a major means of interaction with customers. You can set up telephone role plays record them and give your students feedback on their performance.
  • You can record example / model phone calls for them and get them to listen and analyse how well the callers performed.
  • With general ELT / EFL students you can also set up a range of telephone role plays and record them (These could be job interviews, ringing about renting a flat, booking a hire car etc.) There are a whole range of real world tasks for which we need to use the phone for and giving your students the ability to try these scenarios out and then listen back and evaluate their own performance can be very empowering.
  • You could record some dialogues or interviews with friends or fellow teachers for students to listen to.
  • Students could interview each other and record and create their own tasks for each other.
  • You could ask students to use Skype for collaborative work (group conferencing is possible) and record their meetings for you to give them feedback on.

What I like about it
  • Pamela is free, easy to use and records audio to Mp3 format which can easily be edited or imported and used in other multimedia projects.
  • The Mp3s can also be used on i-pods or other mobile devices
  • The plugin is easy to configure and quick to download
  • Using voice only for communication with no visual cues from facial expression or body movement is very challenging for language learners, so this is a great way to practice and perfect this.

What to be careful about
  • You can only record up to 15 mins on the free version, but that should be enough for most purposes.
  • Never record people without their knowledge, it's actually illegal in some countries
  • Both Skype and Pamela need to be downloaded and installed, so if you are working with computers in your school, then you might need to persuade a few people before they allow you to do this.
  • Make sure that if students are using their own Skype user names and accounts that they are careful about who they share these with, as Skype does attract some nuisance callers.

I hope you find this a useful addition to your teaching toolkit. I'd be interested to hear from anyone who is already using these tools, and especially if anyone is using other Skype plugins to record or extent their Skype functionality.



Friday 16 May 2008

Games With a Purpose and a Social Network

Well who would believe it? A social network built around playing word games with online partners! This may not sound like a great idea, but I have to say that I'm impressed! Gwap (Games With a Purpose) is a collection of 5 basic word games which you can play in collaboration with an online partner (The website automatically finds you one).

The site has a selection of five rather addictive games:
  • The ESP game. You and your partner both see an image and you have to type in as many words as you can that you associate with the image, until you and your partner come up with the same word ( that's the ESP bit). This is great vocabulary practice and pretty addictive too. You play to a time limit ( about 3 mins) and get a score at the end.
  • Tag a Tune. This is a fantastic idea. You and your online partner both hear a tune and you both have to type a description of the tune. You then have to decide if you were both listening to the same tune or a different tune. Great writing practice and again done against a time limit with points awarded.
  • Verbosity ( a variation on the classroom 'Hot Seat' game). You and your partner take it in turns to see and describe a word. The partner who can't see the word has to guess it. When you are describing the word you have specific sentences that you complete as clues. This not only helps to develop vocabulary skills, but also helps develop students abilities to explain new words which they don't understand.
  • Squigl. This is an image based game. You see an image and a word and you have to hold down your mouse and outline the place on the image where you see the object of the word. Great for vocabulary building.
  • Matchin. This is the least useful game in terms of developing vocabulary, but is still quite interesting. You and your partner see two images and you both click on the one you like the most. If you click on the same one, you get points.
All of these games are played against a time limit and you are awarded points, though you work collaboratively with your online partner.

Where's the social part?Well you have the option to start chatting with them at the end of each game and you can also set up a profile with picture and demographic information, which the site uses to help select a similar playing partner for you (though this is optional).

I was actually more interested in the games than the chatting, though with the last game, particularly if you are choosing similar pictures a lot, it might be interesting to chat and find out how similar the person you are working with is. It's also a good bit of language practice for your students if they do, though as ever they should be careful to protect their privacy and identity.

How to use this with students
  • Just get them online and get them playing the games.
  • They could do it from home as homework and you could set them a score to reach, or see who can get the highest score.
  • You could use them as warmers at the beginning of class, especially if you have an IWB or data projector, or as fillers for early finishers in a multimedia room.

What I liked about it
  • It's free, though you do have to register, easy to use and fun.
  • Students work collaboratively rather than competitively
  • The games are really nicely designed, visually very attractive and have good use of multimedia
  • They are 'authentic' rather than being made for language learners, though they are really well suited to the ELT / EFL classroom.
  • The site was set up by Carnegie Mellon University so you can be reasonably sure there isn't some large dark corporation doing unspeakable things with your personal data
  • The site is actually being used as a way of tagging images and audio, so your time is being put to good use and helping the world become a better place ( find out more)

What I wasn't so sure about
  • There's not much I don't like about the site. It's shame that you 'have to' register to play the games, especially as you are supposed to be 13 or over to register, but this is due to the chat functionality.
  • Also, as with any site that contains images, there is the potential for some of these images to be offensive to your students, but there is a small button for them to click to flag offensive content, and that in itself is a good form of training.

Well hope your students enjoy the site and that you don't get too addicted to plan a lesson.



Thursday 15 May 2008

Immersive Image Environments

If you enjoy working with images with your EFL students, especially on an IWB (interactive whiteboard) or a data projector, then PicLens is exactly what you need.

PicLens is a plugin (small program) that works within your web browser (there are versions for Firefox, Safari and IE 7) and it converts many of the standard image sharing websites, like flickr, Photobucket, Google Images, Yahoo Images etc. into "3D immersive environments"!

To understand what that mean have a look at this short flash video tutorial which shows how to use PicLens.
Click here or on the image to view the movie (5Mb Flash)
Download a version of this movie for i-pod / i-tunes here

At the click of the mouse the normal 2D web pages are converted into a wall of images which you can explore and enlarge.

How to use this with ELT students on your data projector or IWB
  • Pull up a wall of images and describe one while your students try to guess which one it is. Then get a student to describe an image and the others guess which one. (This will work best with quite similar images). You can then get students to do this in pairs.
  • Type in a search term and ask students to describe the connection / relevance of the image to the term (This works best when you enter abstract nouns like politics, alienation, paranoia etc.)
  • Use the resource for any new vocabulary words that come up in your lesson. Simply collect the words, type them in and find images that relate to the word. (This won't work for every word)
  • Get students to compare and contrast two images (A common task in EFL exams such as FCE)
  • Play just a minute and select an image for each student, they then have to talk for one minute about that image with repeating them selves or pausing (This is difficult to do, so don't expect too much) award points for the student who manages to speak for the longest.
  • Put students with their back to the images, select one and the other students (in two teams or groups) have to describe the image to the student who can't see it. The student then has to guess which image they described.
  • Pull up a single image and ask students to think about the photographer's intention.
    • Why did the photographer take the image?
    • What did they want to say?
    • What is their relationship to the image content?
    • What were they doing before, after they took the image?
    • Etc etc.
  • Students can select their favourite image and explain why they like it, or the one they like least.
  • Students can try to use their imagination to describe the space around the image that you don't see.
    • What's happening around the photographer that you don't see?
    • What is the photographer wearing?
    • What's happening behind the photographer?
    • Describe the photographer (age, gender, nationality, personality etc.)
What I like about it
  • The Plugin is free and very simple to download and install and less than 2 Mb
  • The interface is really easy to use and very attractive
  • It really highlights the images and frees then from the textual distraction that you often find on a web page
  • There's no advertising on it
  • You get access to some really fantastic images in class without having to download them or violate anyone's copyright
  • The most recent version also enables you to create immersive walls of videos from YouTube !!! Fantastic!

What I'm not so sure about
  • As with any image sharing / search bank you have to be careful with younger students that inappropriate images don't appear. You can get around this though by setting up your own account on something like Flickr and only using specific images from your account. This could be time consuming, but if you got other teachers and students to help, it could be a fantastic resource.
  • If you are on a slow connection it could take a bit longer for the images to load.

If you want to use PicLens then you can download it from here:

This is a really great tool for the connected ELT classroom and also great to use at home. I hope you are able to enjoy using it with your students. Do drop me a lne with any other ideas and activities you use with it.



Wednesday 14 May 2008

Goolge Maps for Directions

Love them or hate them, you have to admit that Google does offer us all manner of useful free tools. One of my favourites is Google Maps, especially useful on my odd trips to London (when I never seem to be able to remember my A-Z!)

So, I've been thinking about how we could use this 'real world' tool to help our EFL students and to develop their abilities to give and understand directions. It's actually quite simple to use. You just go to or Click on 'Get Directions' and then enter your start point and destination. Click the Google logo below for a quick video tutorial that shows some of the features.

Click for flash video tutorial (1.4 Mb)

So how can we use this with students?
  • Choose a location and destination and get Google Maps to create your directions, then print up a map of London with the two destinations on and ask your students to mark the route on the map.
  • A variation on this would be to have the map printed with the route on and cut up the directions and ask your students to put them in the correct order
  • Print up a route map and directions and edit out some of the key words, then get your students to write in the missing words.
  • Give your students a map showing only the start point and read out directions for them to follow. They have to listen and tell you what the destination is.
  • Print out close ups of each stage of the journey and use them as flash cards. Get your students to match each step of the journey to the correct flashcard.
  • Print out a route map and ask students to write their own directions for the map (You could give two groups different destinations then get them to exchange directions to see if the other group can use their directions to find the correct destination.)
  • To download an example set of directions + route map and blank map to print up and use for these activities click here: Example materials >> (500k pdf)
  • To print up maps and directions for yourself just click on the Google maps 'Print' icon.

What I like about it
  • Google maps is free and really simple to use
  • If you have an i-pod touch or an i-phone, there is a fantastic Google Maps widget which you can install (great for mobile learning)
  • Gives good clear instructions and easy to print maps (just use the 'Print' icon)
  • A really useful 'real world' tool
  • You can use it live if you have a computer room or data projector / interactive whiteboard in class, or just print up materials for use off line.

What I'm not so sure about
  • The detail of the maps for some developing countries is pretty sparse
Hope you find this tool useful and if you have suggestions for other activities I'd love o hear them.



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