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).

Related links:
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.

Related links:

Nik Peachey

Thursday 23 October 2008

Exploiting a Video Viral

For a long time now I've been fascinated with viral marketing campaigns and the way advertisers use these to promote their products. What's really interesting about them is the advertisers ability to come up with really novel and original ideas to capture our attention and make us want to share with others. My Fame Star is a great example of this and one that we can use to create lesson materials.
What it does, is enable you to upload a photograph and then create a story around it.

It then converts this story into a small video report. Here's an example I created called 'How my past caught up with me.' (You'll have to watch a short advertisement first)

Example: Click here if the video doesn't play

How to use it with students
  • Create a video about yourself or a fictional character and ask your students to watch it and make notes about your life story.
  • Get your students to create their own stories then put them in pairs to listen to each others' story and make notes of the variations / differences.
  • Use it as a prompt for students to write a newspaper story. You could get the students to watch the video clip and then convert the story into a newspaper clipping. You could add some realism to this by asking your students to use the Newspaper clip generator from one of my previous postings (Animated EFL ESL Writing Prompts)
  • Ask students if they can think of any real celebrities whose story is similar to this. Get them to tell the class or write the story of a similar celebrity.
  • Do they think it's useful?
  • Do they know of other viral marketing examples?
  • Does it have an influence on their impressions of the company / product?
Have a look at an article I wrote here to find a out a bit more about viral marketing

What I like about it
  • It can really personalise the lesson and materials
  • It's fun and free (despite the advertising)
  • It's easy to use
  • Great stimulation for the imagination
  • It has an embed code so you can embed the video into a blog or wiki
What I'm not so sure about
  • Shame about the advertising, but I guess everyone has to make a living
  • If you email it to someone the default is to accept promotions of the company's products (I deselected it)
  • Sometimes the embed code doesn't work so well but can be improved with a bit of code editing.
Well I hope you and your students enjoy this and by all means post links or comment about any other ideas or materials you create with this tool.

Related links:


Nik Peachey

Friday 17 October 2008

Exploiting Image Sequences

I have to admit that when I first saw Bubblr, I thought it was just a simple tool for adding speech and thought bubbles to images, but when I started to try it out I discovered that it can do far more than that.

You can use Bubblr to search through Flickr images, then drag them onto an image line and create a long sequences of images with text /speech bubbles / thought bubbles etc. These can then be printed, saved online or embedded into a blog.

This quick tutorial shows you how it's done.

Right click to download an .mov version Bubblr tutorial

So how can we use this with our EFL ESL Students?

  • Possibly one of the easiest ways to use this tool is like a picture dictionary. If you have a data projector in your classroom you can use it live to cross-check vocabulary and ask your students which they think is the best image to depict a word. By the end of the class you could have a sequence of images that represent all the new words students have learned in that lesson and then simply upload them to a class blog.
  • This could even prompt some discussion of more complex words. For example, which of these would be the best image to represent the word 'Medication'?

  • Your students could create and save their own vocabulary records and even upload them to their own or a class blog to share.
  • You could use a collection of images based around a theme as a prompt for essay writing or discussion. These are images all based around the key word Poverty.

  • You could create images of poems or haiku by finding images based around key words in the poem. You could use these without the words as prompts to help students memorise poems. Here's an example Haiku

  • You could use it for its intended purpose and create comic strips for your students, get them to create their own comic strips, or create your own strips and ask them to add the text. What do you think these people are saying? Conversations

  • If you are feeling really experimental you could try using a collection of images in place of your power point presentation. You can use images to make a strong visual connection to what you are saying and people are much more likely to listen to you if they aren't trying to read text or bullet points.
  • You could use images to revise different verb forms. Here's an example Haircut

What I like about it
  • The site is free and easy to use and gives you access to a huge volume of images that can easily be searched.
  • You can produce materials and activities really quickly.
  • I really like that you can embed the image sequences into blogs or link to them.
  • You don't have to register or part with any personal information or even an email address.
  • You an create online materials or print up on paper.
What I'm not so sure about
  • You should be careful about letting younger learners use the site as some of the images can be more adult orientated.
  • The search depends on the tags that users have labeled their images with and these can sometimes seem a bit odd. This can be used to your advantage though as you can get students to talk think about the association between the image and the search word.
Well I hope you find this a useful tool and if you think of other uses for it by all means leave a comment.

Related links:


Nik Peachey

Friday 10 October 2008

Animated EFL ESL Writing Prompts

Here's something that's fun for the weekend and beyond. A site with a collection of image and gif generators that you can customise with your EFL ESL students and add their texts to. This is an example one I created with talking flowers giving a warning about the environment.

gif animation

  • The site also offers talking squirrels
  • Talking cats
And a few other things like tomatoes, owls and a wizard. There's also a generator that helps you add a text to a packet of cigarettes and also a newspaper which I really like. It's really easy to do, you just add your text to a field and click the generate button.
You can then either download your image or get an embed code to add it to a blog or website.

So how do we use this with EFL ESL students?
  • We can use the animal and vegetable animations to get students to express opinions about different topics we discuss. It can often be hard to motive students to do this and using a tool like this reduces their 'exposure'.
  • We could get students to create an animal or vegetable very short story.
  • We could use the cigarette packet generator for a competition to think up the best reason not to smoke (could use this for modals of obligation too - you shouldn't / mustn't smoke because..)
  • We could use the newspaper gif to get students to write a short news stories about how they became famous, what they did at the weekend, their last holiday etc.
  • They could also use the newspaper gif to write some classroom or celebrity gossip to share
  • We could write news stories for the students as a prompt for questions - Write a short news text for them with the headline - 'Teacher Found Murdered' - add a few details and get them to write short questions to ask you more about the story. You could even develop this into a role play with students having to think of an alibi to explain where they were at the time of the murder and get some students to act as detectives and interrogate the other students.
  • You could use the newspaper gif to create an editing task by creating a text with a number of your students' common errors in and asking them to act as newspaper editors and find the mistakes.
  • You could use the newspaper gif to get students to convert a popular story form literature or folk tale (Romeo and Juliet, Goldilocks and the 3 bears, Cinderella etc.) into a quick news article. This is a good activity to practice summary writing skills.
  • You could use the Ninja or Wizard animations to get students to create short advertising slogans.
What I like about this site
  • It's free and really easy to use.
  • Once you've created your images and animations you can either download them or get an embed code and add them to a blog or website.
  • It's fun and adds an element of motivation to simple quick writing activities
  • Ideal for warmer.
  • It's all very 'low tech' and you don't need broadband.
What I'm not so sure about
You might have to be careful that students don't write too much. the wizard and ninja texts need to be very short.

Well I hope you find these useful and please leave comments with any other ideas or links to any materials your students create using these.

Related links:
Activities for students:


Nik Peachey

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