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.
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.
Two years ago, I wrote about the WERTi (Working with English Real Texts intelligently) system. At the time, WERTi could be used to search for any article on Reuters and then apply one of three activities to the page for either prepositions or determiners. The innovative (and intelligent) part of this process is that a nearly infinite number of tasks can be created and students can choose texts that interest them.
The WERTi system has now been rolled into a plugin for the Firefox browser. So now any page being viewed by your browser can have the same activities applied. Three new structures (gerunds, phrasal verbs, and wh-questions) have also been added.
For example, below, I did a search for a list of the most important questions in life and applied the “practice” activity to the “wh-questions”:
WERTi has taken each sentence and shuffled the words. By clicking (or typing) them in the box, the user can check to see if they have been put back into the original order. Green sentences have been reordered correctly while red boxes indicate they have not. The “?” can also be clicked to reveal the original sentence which appears in black.
They system is not 100% perfect. Occasionally structures are not labeled or are labeled incorrectly, but overall it does a very good job. Now that it’s part of my browser, I’ve been surfing with it turned on and getting lots of great ideas for how it could be used. Visit the download page to get more information about downloading and installing the plugin. This project is still being developed by Detmar Meurers and his team, so suggestions for additional constructions are welcome and may be added to new versions. If you think of some suggestions or find bugs, leave a comment below and I’ll pass them along to the development team.
Word cloud of my blog feed.
Word clouds and tag clouds are a popular way to visualize words. The larger the word, the more frequently they appear in a given text. Wordle makes creating a word cloud simple: Just paste some text into the Wordle interface (or link an RSS feed) and the cloud is generated. You can even tweak the color palette, font, and orientation of the words.
How can this be used by an ESL / EFL teacher? I’m still working that out, but it seems like a word cloud must appeal to visual learners. After pasting in a student’s writing passage, what can we learn? If some words are very big, maybe she needs to expand the range of vocabulary used. If very simple words are big, maybe her writing is too simple. Did any words from the academic word list make it into the cloud?
Of course, other texts can also be analyzed this way. Take a look at @iVenus‘s wordle based on program for the 2009 CALICO conference. Gives you a pretty good snapshot of the conference, doesn’t it?
By stepping back and viewing this information visually, we can get an interesting snapshot of the overall text. Why not turn your students loose and see how they use Wordle?