Sunday, May 22, 2011


Ok, so I had planned to do the next challenge -- Edmodo.  I even have the beginnings of a post saved to drafts.  The bottom line for me is that much of Edmodo is redundant, because my district has adopted schooltool to move most student data online.

That said, in my twavels this weekend, I discovered  It's a free online tool that allows you to create subtitles for existing youtube videos.

I started googling for something to accomplish this, after seeing this video by EF:

(the video was posted on #langchat, but I can't remember who originally posted it, because I tabbed it while doing something else, not having any idea it would become a blog post!)

My thought after watching it, was that there were some really great scenes, just enough vocab interspersed in the EF titles, and no dialogue, so students could write their own.  I tried it out myself (very quickly) and came up with this:

I found it to be quite user friendly.  This activity could easily be adapted to multiple levels by changing the number of titles required and/or specifying structures you want the students to be practicing.  What do you think?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Warning:  this post is quite long!

OK, so as I'm feeling very far behind, I'm going to jump right on the next challenge!  #4 is  I had perused it ever so briefly several weeks ago, so this is a good opportunity to revisit and rethink.  I'm going to briefly review template by template.  Please keep in mind that I will do so through the lens of a high school French teacher, so where I find something useful or not, may be completely different in your subject area.  My overall opinion of the tools here is that for the most part there are other tools that do the same job either more simply, more effectively, or more professionally, and in some cases I think low-tech is best.  Below is a brief commentary of each of the 23 tools (whew!).  My personal favorite (Random Name Picker) is in bold.

1.  Fakebook -- I truly love the idea of this!  Our school continues to block Facebook (although just about every student knows how to get around the filters even if we teachers don't) and I think it could be a great tool to get students using the target language in an authentic setting.  Here are my criticisms -- first of all, I wish the template were available in French (as the real Facebook is) second of all, even though it acts as a social media tool, students would be using it exclusively for class assignments, which takes away some of the authenticity.  Personally, I would prefer to be able to find a way (convince the powers that be) to use "the real Facebook" as a classroom tool.

2.  Arcade Game Generator -- Gotta admit, I'm not a fan.  The graphics are almost as prehistoric as Pong, but not in a way than makes me nostalgic for anything.  It seems as though the games require more effort to learn how to play the game than to learn the information.  Not my cup of tea

3. Random Name Picker -- a really simple but really cool tool.  How often are we doing a class activity when the same kids volunteer every time, they've been organized alphabetically since kindergarten, so that gets old, and we just need a way to even out the chances and -- just be random!  Really simple, and I really like it.  I used the kids' nicknames, so I felt OK embedding the tool into the class website for easy access.

4.  Twister -- Last night's Twitter #langchat dealt with authentic assessment, and what qualifies as "authentic" .  On that note, Twister could not be considered "authentic", because it is not real.  For that reason, I would much prefer to use "the real thing" with my students, creating a class hashtag for discussion.  However, sometimes we have to use what we have at hand, and Twitter is not functional with our school's filters, so this could be a good substitute.

5.  Keyword Checker -- Less applicable to my content area as far as I can see, as my writing assignments typically don't require use of keywords.

6.  Plagiarism Checker -- see above.  In FL our main concern is misuse of online translation devices, for which this tool would not be useful

7.  Dustbin Game -- could be useful for reviewing picky grammar points.  The game I created (and then promptly lost because I played before I saved) was to review the partitive article.  My 4 dustbins were de, de la, de l', and des.  Different food words were dragged into the dustbins based on gender, number, and starting letter.  Might be a cute way for students to practice on their own, but I don't know as it would be an effective use of class time in a HS FL classroom.

8.  Telescopic Topic -- seems like....much ado about nothing?  Or am I missing something??

9.  Post-it -- again, I think there might be more effort required to mess with the lines and boxes than needed to learn the language.  I would do this with real, hands-on paper Post-it notes.  Sometimes low-tech is the way to go.

10.  Diamond 9 -- Looks like a pretty neat tool, but probably more involved than a begginning-intermediate FL class warrants.

11.  Fishbone -- see comments for Diamond 9

12.  Venn Diagram -- Now we're talking!  I have always been a huge fan of the Venn diagram when comparing a target culture to American culture.  This version is very easy, interactive, and I would replace my paper version with this in a heartbeat!

13.  Animated book -- See comments for Telescopic Topic

14.  Timeline -- seems relatively a FL teacher I don't frequently use timelines with my students, and I think there are some better tools out there for timeline creation, but not a bad tool for the sake of simplicity

15.  Lights Out -- I just don't get the point.  :(

16.  Target Diagram -- Could be a useful mindmapping tool, but I'm not sure there aren't better ones out there that are more versatile (Mindomo comes to mind)

17.  Burger Diagram -- I have seen similar graphic organizers in B & W, and I think I prefer them simply because the colors are very distracting to me.

18.  Living Graph -- I am not a math person.  I am not a graph person.  Data makes my head spin.  That said, I am not the best person to judge this tool.  I really like what collaborizeclassroom does for me regarding data from student polls taken in the target language -- it makes me nice, simple little pie charts that I can understand!  :)

19.  Learning Cycle -- A bit too complicated for what I think it's supposed to do...then again, maybe I'm not understanding it.

20.  Jigsaw Diagram -- see comment for Dustbin Game

21.  Priority Chart -- see comment for Target Diagram

22.  Source Analyser -- I can see this being a very useful tool for teaching students how to do research, and how to evaluate research materials.  More in depth than what I do as a FL teacher, but I think English and Social Studies teachers could easily incorporate this.

23.  Countdown Timer -- I can definitely see this as a useful tool -- for someone who functions well in structure.  I am not that person, so this is not for me.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Bitstrips in the FL Classroom

So it's May 19, and I'm still on Free Tools Challenge #3 lol.  When I saw this challenge, I knew I'd fall behind, because I needed to find the right objective, and that's not always easy at this time of year.  In fact, I'm still thinking maybe I didn't choose the right one, but I did get to try a new tool, and my kids are having a blast.
So I'm using it (present tense because we're finishing up in the lab tomorrow) with a level 1 French class to get them writing about leisure activities.  Their task is to create a 10 frame comic strip about a weekend (theirs, or the character(s) they create) and the activities taking place.
The tool was a fantastic success. The students are taking to it like ducks to water, needing very little guidance, although none of them had been on the site prior to this morning.  They were easily able to create characters, find premade characters that interested them, change scenes from frame to frame, add props, control the positions of characters, etc.  Adding text with thought bubbles is very easy, although the drawback as a foreign language teacher, is that students need to know keyboard shortcuts for diacritical marks, or they cannot put them in the text.
The drawback for me, is that students for the most part seem to be spending more time creating their "artwork" than using the language.  This is not altogether surprising, and I'm pretty sure I won't use this tool again for this particular assignment, but I will definitely keep it in my arsenal for future use, perhaps in a level 2 or 3 class.
What do you all think?

Addendum to this post:  here are a couple of student work samples:

Monday, May 16, 2011

Poll Everywhere!

So, I'm one of the few teachers left in my district without a Smartboard or Promethean board.  I'm a techie at heart, so I have to admit, I've been kind of bummed out about the situation.  I tried to make myself feel better by listening to my colleagues complaints that they're not all they're cracked up to be.  Since the beginning of the school year somewhat, but really intensely over the last month and a half or so, I've been  diving headfirst into alternative ways to change up what I do in the classroom and make it more meaningful to my students, while broadening their knowledge of technology.  As foreign language teachers, we are really skill-based in what we teach and in what we expect the students to do:  they need to read, write, speak, and listen.  When I started looking at the ways I asked them to do that, and looked around at the tools that are available, the creative juices started to flow, and now I'm just trying to keep them from drowning me!  My latest discovery came from and it is  Polleverywhere is a web-based app that allows you to create open-ended or multiple choice polls that your students can answer using their cell phones.  I discovered this gem of a website via a link from a post on Edudemic   Clickers?  Who needs clickers????  Imagine the looks of delight in the eyes of my students when my first direction to them was (in French of course) take out your cell phones!  The excitement was palpable.  The motivation piece was clearly present and accounted for, as evidenced by my final multiple choice poll question asking for their opinion on the activity -- all but one student expressed a favorable opinion (and that student later said he hadn't understood the choices).  Now critics of technology will certainly point out that fun does not an objective accomplish, so I go back to my goals for that day's class.  We have been recycling food vocabulary, and had just introduced expressions of quantity (bag, box, can, bottle, pound, litre, etc.)  Most of my questions were open-ended and consisted of questions like "What can be purchased in a jar?" The answers were varied, students could immediately see what their classmates had posted, and evaluate the correctness of the responses for themselves.  This particular polling app is anonymous, which has good and bad points.  On the positive, there is no issue of a student being unwilling to "put him/herself out there" if they are unsure of an answer, because when I point out errors, no one knows whose answer I am correcting.  On the negative, we do deal with teenagers, and there were some mildly inappropriate posts, but once I reexplained that the alternative was pen and paper, those disappeared.  For this trial run, I used my whole 40 class period -- I had prepared more than enough questions.  Students were engaged during the entire class, however, my ideas for future implementation run more toward quick bellringer activities that can be answered upon students entering the room, and discussed as class begins. 

Check it out!  Let me know what you think!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Web-based bulletin boards

Ok, so I need another blog like I need a hole in the head, but I've learned SOOOO much over the last month or so of research into free Web 2.0 tools and how I can integrate them into my classroom activities, that I thought I'd take this plunge.  The straw that broke the camel's back was the Teacher Challenge Free Tools 31 Day Challenge.  The first challenge (although I'm a couple of months behind) involved Wallwisher.  I posted my first Wallwisher wall on my French 3 page where you can see that the response I got was positively underwhelming!  In my defense, the updated district website did not go "live" until several weeks after I posted my wall, and the students were not quite motivated to try and find the site on their own.  So, my second attempt involved each student having their own individual wall.  We were working on the future tense, so each student had to post on every other student's wall a prediction about what that student will be doing in 25 years.  The response was much better, however, the students and I had great difficulty with "matrix glitches".  I think for future bulletin-board projects (of which I have several in mind...) I will try Linoit instead.  I have not had difficulty accessing their site thus far, which in itself is a great advantage.  Let me know what you think!