Tag Archives: student

Interactive Videos

mocap character

When I hear the phrase interactive videos, I think of people covered in florescent mocap pingpong balls or choppy, Choose Your Own Adventure-style stories like Dragon’s Lair.  And there are those.  But, it seems that some creative tinkerers have pushed the envelope with some of YouTube’s interactive features and come up with some interesting results.

How can they be used with ESL and EFL students?  Well, in addition to viewing and interacting with the videos and then discussing or reporting on the experience, students could be challenged to determine how the videos were made.  For the more ambitious, students could make their own videos using the same techniques.  Some of them, like the Oscars find the difference photo challenge would be relatively easy to remake.

For more interactive videos that will get your students talking, watch 15 Awesome YouTube Tricks.

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Poll Everywhere

clipboards

Ever stare out into a roomful of your students’ faces as you explain the role of the comma in differentiating restrictive and non-restrictive adjective clauses?  I have.  After a few terms, I began to wonder whether those blank stares indicated that students were overwhelmed by the topic, or bored because they already understood this material and couldn’t wait to move on, or were just plain bored (though I was pretty confident the latter was true.)

I thought it would be great if we teachers could adopt the same technology that the network news teams use when they take a roomful of average citizens and make them watch debates with a dial in their hand.  By turning the dial left when they are happy and right when they are not, an average response is displayed in a graph that scrolls across the bottom of the screen.  Wouldn’t it be great if students could dial between “I don’t understand. Slow down.” and “I get it.  Move on.”?  For now, we must make do with the analog, “Any questions?”

Getting live feedback can be very useful in the classroom.  Poll Everywhere is a website that makes creating live polls extremely easy.  With a free account, you can create a poll that allows up to 30 responses by web, text message, smartphone or Twitter.  You can even download your poll on a PowerPoint slide, which you can use to observe the results as they roll in.  More features are available for paid accounts.

Polls are very easy to set up, but there are lots of good online tutorials out there, including this one by Sue Frantz.  These kinds of polls can do a great job of gathering instant feedback from your students using technology they likely already have with them (instead of requiring them to purchase Clickers, devices with only one function.)  Whether asking students if they the pace of the class is appropriate or checking comprehension of content, Poll Everywhere is an extremely flexible tool that can be used in a wide variety of situations.

poll image

To respond to this poll, text the code for your response to 37607, tweet the code to @poll, submit the code to http://poll4.com, or use the web form to make your selection.  View results.

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Web Browsing in 3D

3D glasses

Everything else is available in 3D (movies, televisions, the real world), so why not 3D browsing?  I recently came across this demo video of a 3D browsing experience created using WebGL, HTML5, Javascript and the Mozilla Audio API.  Is this the future of Web browsing?

I’m not extremely fluent in all of these technologies (for more info, see Flight of the Navigator), but as a demo, this is pretty impressive.  To me, it looks a little like Second Life with tons of screens out to the internet.  In other words, slick and different, but I’m not sure how useful, or even how truly integrated this experience would be.  Would you rather navigate to different places on the Web by moving through a 3D space or by Ctrl-Tabbing to the next open tab in your browser?  Maybe I’m old-school, but the latter seems far easier to me.

Of course, there are lots of other demos posted online and it will be interesting to see where this goes.  Checking your favorite Twitter feeds in-game would certainly blur the line between the gaming experience and the real world, but is this necessary?  Probably not, but maybe that’s not the question to be asking with whiz-bang technology like this.  It certainly opens up interesting avenues for the greater integration of a wide range of technologies.  Where that takes us will be interesting to see.

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Show Me The Money

statue of liberty dollar coin

I’ve posted about finding royalty- and copyright-free images on line before.  In this post, I’d like to share an often overlooked source: the U.S. Government.  Many government departments have images in the public domain, which usually means that teachers can use them in presentations, classroom activities, and almost any not-for-profit ways you can imagine.  Of course, there are exceptions, so be sure to read the fine print.

coinsThe U.S. Mint

The Mint publishes some very nice images of the money it produces including coins commemorating states, presidents, first ladies, national parks, and significant historical events.  Most are available for free download, though a few are copyrighted (such as the Sacagawea dollar coin).  There are also a few anti-counterfeiting restrictions on reproducing paper money, so be sure to read the fine print on the website.

astronaut on the moonNASA

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has some amazing copyright-free images and videos available.  Whether you are looking for images of astronauts, rockets or other spacecraft, or images of outerspace, the NASA website has you covered.  Some of the images include those from the Hubble Telescope which has captured extraterrestrial images for over a decade.  There are lots of science- and engineering-related images, and the website makes it easy to search for them.

washing a dogCDC

You might not ordinarily think to look on the website for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, but but the Public Health Image Library has lots of interesting stock images available, related to topics such as home safety, personal hygiene, agriculture, child safety and more.  Of course, you’ll also find lots of images of bacteria, microscopic pests, and other diseases, some of which may not be suitable for children.

More

For links to photos from more U.S. Government photos and images, visit the USA.gov website.  You will find links to images from lots of other departments related to agriculture, the environment, defense, safety, science and technology and others.  In essence, these images are “free” because you’ve paid for them with your taxes.  So, don’t hesitate to take a look and use them if you need to.

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Google Labs

beaker

If you haven’t visited Google Labs, you should check it out.  This is the experimental, work-in-progress part of Google where users can see what’s next, or at least what the engineers at Google are tinkering with

Some projects that started in Google Labs have graduated to become fully-fledged parts of the Google experience.  These include Google Scholar, Google Docs, Google Maps, and many others.

Other projects have stayed in the Lab, sometimes continuing to develop, other times seeming to arrive at a conclusion that may or may not be further integrated Google-wide.  Some of these are may be interesting for language learners and teachers, though how to use them is not always immediately obvious.  A few of my favorites are below.

set of fruit imagesGoogle Sets

This was the first experiment I ever encountered in Google Labs and I always come back to it.  Enter a list of items in a set, and Google with guess other items in the set.

It’s easy to imagine how this was envisioned as a way to improve the search experience — sometimes searching for synonyms can be more productive than the original search terms — but it almost has the feel of a Scattergories-like party game.  (Can you find a set that Google can’t guess?)

In a way, Google Sets is kind of like thesaurus, but its kind of not.  At the same time, if students can get hooked by it’s game-like nature, it could be a good way to discover new vocabulary.

books arranged by color on shelvesGoogle Ngrams

In its endless pursuit to make it possible to search everything, everywhere, across all time, Google has scanned millions of books and made them searchable.  This is not without some controversy as authors and publishers are concerned that their books are being given away for free online.  Currently, Google only makes passages of copyrighted books available in its search, as opposed to the entire work.

In the meantime, Google has made the entire corpus available and easy to search.  Though not as robust as the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA), Google’s simpler interface may be easier for non-linguists to use and understand.

Students of English can not only compare the frequency of several words and / or phrases, but can also see how the relationships between the search terms have changed over time.  For example, see how ain’t has precipitously fallen out of favor since peaking in the 1940s.  Or, see the how the use of subject pronouns has changed, in part as a result of he no longer being considered the generic.

motorcycle gogglesGoogle Goggles

This one isn’t as language-oriented as the previous two examples, but it is a remarkable glimpse into the future.  Google Goggles are a way of performing a Google search, but instead of typing in search terms, upload a picture from your smartphone.  This can include anything from a book cover to a landmark.

Given the rise in popularity of smartphones, just think of how much language is available to ESL students through these devices.  Walking down the street, a student can snap a picture of something unfamiliar and find links to all kinds of related information.

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Optical Illusions

optical illusion

We’ve all seen optical illusions before.  Many of them, like the Ames Room above, take advantage of the flattening effect of the still camera, which only captures images from a single perspective.  But part of the fun is moving around to a different vantage point, which reveals how the eye is tricked.

Brusspup is an artist who has a YouTube channel that reveals optical illusions that he creates.  These videos offer the best of both worlds because the viewer can see both the illusion and how the trick is achieved.  Some examples are below.

How can these be used in the classroom?  Optical illusions are almost universally engaging.  Beginning with a still image of the illusion (or by pausing the video at that point,) students could be challenged to express how the illusion is created.  The class could then watch the video to see the solution.  This could be a fun and challenging way for students to formulate hypotheses and think critically.

Alternatively, students could be directed to the YouTube channel and asked to find their favorite illusion.  They could then be assigned the task of describing the illusion (both the effect and how it was achieved) in a presentation or in writing.  Depending on the level of the students, breaking down the task into step by step pieces would also be a good test of their English.

There are lots of other ways to use these videos.  Whether they are incorporated into a classroom activity or just viewed as an informal warm-up activity, they are sure to get your students talking.

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Group Work

classroom groupwork

Working in small groups is a natural choice for the language classroom.  If one student in each group is talking, the opportunities for practice increase dramatically.  But does group work work?

Group work that works (even in large classes) is the title of an interesting article on this subject in the Prof Hacker blog on The Chronicle of Higher Education’s website.  Although the article is targeted towards college and university professors, there are some useful suggestions for the ESL classroom.

First is that group work allows students an opportunity to make a difficult decision based on a set of data.  An analogy is drawn to a jury which must decide the outcome of a court case based on evidence in a trial.  The article argues for posing the same, significant problem to each group and having them report their specific choice simultaneously.

simultaneous reportingReporting simultaneously, whether by holding up cards with letters on them, pointing or moving to a wall or area of the classroom, or using clickers, prevents later groups from changing their minds based on previous groups’ answers.

The article goes into much more detail, and is worth a read.  How could these ideas be used in an ESL or EFL classroom?

Groups of students could be asked to evaluate a piece of writing and report back on their evaluations.  If you received this job application, would you hire the person?  Based on the mistakes in this paragraph, which country is the author from?  What letter grade should this essay receive?  Projects like these could be very engaging ways for students to interact with the target language and each other.

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