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As a little nitpicky note: It bugs me that composing emails on Gmail’s website works so differently from composing emails in its mobile apps, making it easy to mess up your drafts. The text formatting works completely differently between desktop and mobile versions of Gmail. For example, mobile messages default to being double-spaced (or 1.5-spaced?), while desktop emails default to single-spaced– and if you switch from one editor to the other, it’s anyone’s guess which type of formatting will be preserved or overwritten. Also bullet points and numbers from the desktop version aren’t carried over into the mobile version, meaning that if you open a draft on your phone, you destroy that formatting.

It’s all rather silly, especially considering that Gmail is a cloud service. A consistent experience is the bare minimum one ought to be able to expect in that context.

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Affordable classroom tablet provides direct tactile feedback for kinesthetic learners

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Update, April 2nd, 2014: Happy April Fools’ Day! :)

For all the flexibility that tablets provide as classroom devices, they’ve traditionally had limited output options. Tablets are primarily visual devices, and especially in a classroom setting, it may not be appropriate to even enable audio feedback. Certain devices have allowed a modicum of haptic feedback– briefly vibrating upon keypresses, for example– but kinesthetic feedback has traditionally been limited.

Classroom tablets have traditionally been limited to primarily visual styles of learning. Photo: Eric E Castro, CC BY 2.0
Classroom tablets have traditionally been limited to primarily visual styles of learning.
Photo: Eric E Castro, CC BY 2.0

Manufacturers in China have devised a way to create a tablet which enables its users to physically “feel” the objects being manipulated on-screen, opening a new avenue for kinesthetic learning. Tactile learners will be delighted by this new sensory modality of output, and school districts will be equally delighted by the sub-$100 price tag per unit!

How would you use this revolutionary tablet in your classroom?

See a photo below the jump!

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Using Quizlet.com to generate and share vocabulary activities

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Hello, NEALLT 2014! I’m an educational technologist and ESL teacher who teaches adult students at the University of Pittsburgh English Language Institute.

I’ve written previously about many of the student-oriented features of Quizlet.com, and I will talk about some of those features during this talk. This entry complements the previous one. It focuses on some of features of Quizlet best suited for collaboration, including how to make a vocabulary study set from an existing vocabulary list stored in a Word document; how to copy and remix your colleagues’ Quizlet study sets for use in your own classes; and how to combine your and your colleagues’ study sets to create vocabulary master lists.

Please make use of the comments section! Presentations can be awfully one-sided and didactic, so keeping a real-time backchannel open for participants enriches the experience for everyone!


1. Creating a Quizlet set from your existing materials

For this demonstration, I will be using this Microsoft Word file. It’s a real document used in my institution, and if you’re a language instructor, you likely have many like it yourself. Feel free to use the file to follow along on your own computer while we create our first Quizlet study set!

1. Create a Quizlet account if you have not done so yet.
2. Click on the create-a-set button in the top navbar.
3. Give your study set a title and description.
4. Under “Enter your terms,” choose import data.

Notice this section:

your-data-should-look-like-this

We need to edit our materials until they match this format: exactly one term and one definition per line separated by a tab. Luckily, if you copy and paste a table from Microsoft Word, a tab is automatically inserted between each cell of a row. Our goal, then, is to pare down a table of vocabulary words until it only has a column of single-line words and a column of single-line definitions.

5. Open your MS Word document. Here is what mine looks like:

cv sheet 1

6. Delete all information except for the words and definitions. For example, in the chart above, we must delete the columns for parts of speech and collocations.

cv sheet 27. Delete or consolidate any extra word forms or definitions so that there are no line breaks within a word or definition. It’s fine if your text wraps naturally at the end of a line or cell; you just can’t have any manual line breaks, like in “Identify / Identification” or in the definitions for “Individual” in the list above. Make sure all extra line breaks and spaces are deleted.

cv sheet 4

8. Highlight your list of words and definitions and copy them. Click back over to your web browser and find the copy-paste box. Paste your words and definitions into the box.

copy-paste-data

If your data is formatted correctly, you should see appropriate results in the Live Import Preview box:

live-import-preview

If not, you need to manually edit the text in the “Copy and Paste your data” box and/or tweak the “Between Term and Definition” and “Between Definition and Term” settings until your data is parsed correctly by the Quizlet importer.

9. Click on the import-button button.

10. Choose the correct languages on the the “Enter your terms” chart at the bottom of the page. It is important to select the correct languages so that Quizlet knows which text-to-speech engine to use to pronounce the words and definitions on your flash cards. In my case, both languages are English.

languages

11. Double-check your words and definitions to make sure that everything imported correctly. Once you’re ready, click the “Save” button. Congratulations! You just created your first Quizlet study set!


2. Managing your Quizlet study sets

It’s easy to see and manage the list of sets you have created or used.

1. Mouse over your account name in the top-right corner of Quizlet’s navigation bar. Click on “Your Sets.” (Tip: Clicking directly on your account name brings you to the same page.)

your-sets-button

2. This page is the nerve center of your account. You can access every Quizlet set you have ever created or studied; you can see any classes you are a member of; and you can create or join new classes. Simply use the buttons and links on the “Your Sets” page to accomplish whatever you need to do.

Tip: You can send people the link to your account page. For example, mine is http://quizlet.com/billcprice. If you visit that link, you can see every public study set I have created or studied.


3. Remixing Quizlet sets using Copy and combine

Quizlet has a few simple but very powerful tools for remixing study sets. First, let’s take a look at Copy.

3a. Using Copy to remix a set

There are several reasons you may wish to copy a set. Perhaps you’ve found someone else’s vocabulary set which you wish to tweak and use in your own class; perhaps you want to use separate copies of a given Quizlet study set in different sections of a course so that students only compete with their direct classmates in the study games; or perhaps you want to have one private copy of a study set and one communal copy which other teachers can edit.

1. Navigate to the study set you wish to copy. Mouse over “More Tools” and choose “Copy.”

copy-button

2. After you click “Copy,” you are brought to the “Create a New Study Set” page. However, the old set is already filled in for you in the “Enter your terms” section! Simply make whatever changes you want (if any), give the set a name, and save it.

3b. Using “Combine” to remix a set

When we used “Copy” in the previous section, it created a new study set based on the content of an old study set. “Combine” works similarly. It creates a new study set which combines all of the items of multiple study sets.

1. Find some study sets you want to combine. For example, here is a list of three study sets I have created for the University of Pittsburgh English Language Institute: one for weeks 2-4, one for weeks 5-7, and one for weeks 8-11 of our Level 6 course. It would be appropriate to combine these three sets together into one master set as a resource for students doing a comprehensive review at the end of the semester.

cv-to-combine

2. Click on one of the sets. It does not matter which one. Then, mouse over “More Tools” and choose “Combine.”

combine-button

3. If you are combining sets that you have created, the next step is easy: simply press the “+” button next to the appropriate sets in the “Your Sets” window. Otherwise, you will need to use the “Search Sets” box to find the other set(s) you wish to combine. In this example, we wish to add the “Weeks 5-7″ and “Weeks 8-11″ sets to the combination.

combine-sets-page

4. Once you have selected all of the sets you wish to combine, choose “Create a set” and click “Go.”

combine-sets-list

5. Finish creating your new set by giving it a name, making any necessary tweaks to the words or definitions, and clicking “Save.”


This has been a whirlwind tour of just a couple of the features of Quizlet most useful for collaborating with your fellow teachers. Following these instructions, you can create Quizlet study sets based on your or your colleagues’ Microsoft Word vocabulary lists; you can copy and tweak your colleagues’ Quizlet sets to use in your own classes; and you can combine multiple study sets into master lists.

How have you used Quizlet in your own teaching? Have you ever collaborated with a colleague through Quizlet? Do you have any tips to share? Post your story in the comments below!

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Authentic ESL writing practice through social media and news websites

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Hello, NEALLT 2014! I’m an educational technologist and ESL teacher who teaches adult students at the University of Pittsburgh English Language Institute.

I’m giving a presentation on how we can use social news and media websites to help ESL students practice written English. It’s an especially exciting method of writing practice because it enables students to interact with native speakers through text. Of course, ESL students often get to interact with native speakers verbally, but opportunities for authentic written communication are more limited!

See my tips below for how teachers can take advantage of Twitter, Reddit, and TED.com to engage students in authentic writing practice. And please make use of the comments section! Presentations can be awfully one-sided and didactic, so keeping a real-time backchannel open for participants enriches the experience for everyone!

twitter-logo

Twitter

1. For all students: Sentence practice.

Twitter is excellent for helping students practice specific vocabulary and grammatical constructions. Messages are limited to 140 characters, so they’re the perfect length for writing a few clauses.

Twitter also acts as an archive which allows students to look back and see the progress they’ve made over time.

Some specific tips:

  • Establish a hashtag for your class. (For example, Corey Earle’s course used #amst2001.) Hashtags act sort of like folders for tweets. When you search for your class’s hashtag, you will see every recent class-related tweet from each of your students, making it simple to compile and check your students’ work.
  • Consider giving corrective feedback directly through Twitter. Simply reply to the tweet with your feedback. That way, your feedback is always connected to the student’s original tweet.
  • Encourage students to engage and interact with one another. Students can respond to one another’s tweets or build up products collaboratively. For example, students might be assigned to write a story together on Twitter, with each student taking a turn to write snippets of the story one sentence at a time.

2. For all students: Hold a weekly Twitter chat for your entire program or department.

Hold a weekly Twitter chat for your entire program or department. Think of it as a virtual “language house” environment: everyone gathers together for 30 minutes to chat in the target language. To better direct and encourage discussion, have a different discussion theme for each week (families, hobbies, etc.) and ask a new discussion question every five to ten minutes.

3. For intermediate and advanced students: Participate in the larger Twitter community.

Unlike Facebook, which focuses primarily on family and real-life acquaintances, Twitter is a very “open” network which encourages its users to connect and interact with strangers. This makes it very well-suited as a starting point for English language learners to find native speakers of English who have similar interests. In addition, because messages on Twitter have a limit of 140 characters, they must be kept very short and simple. ELLs may find Twitter less intimidating than some of the alternatives.

4. Encourage students to post bilingually on Twitter and other social networks they use.

As a purely extracurricular exercise, students should try to translate their own native-language social media messages into English. Below are two examples of colleagues of mine posting multilingual messages:

example multilingual post
An American in Germany posting the same message simultaneously in English, German, and Esperanto.
An Icelander in America posting the same message simultaneously in English and Icelandic.
An Icelander in America posting the same message simultaneously in Icelandic and English.

reddit-logo

Reddit.com

Reddit is a social news site which enables users to submit websites and news stories to subreddits, which are discussion forums for specific topics. For example, the /r/science subreddit is for sharing and discussing science news and the /r/Pittsburgh subreddit is for sharing and discussing Pittsburgh news. (Subreddits also exist for teachers’ collaboration and professional development, including /r/education, /r/teaching, /r/TEFL, and /r/EdTech!)

Every news website has its own commenting system. The advantage of Reddit is that it aggregates all of those news articles into one place and thus provides a single, unified, third-party forum in which to leave comments and have discussions. In the context of an English language class, this means that all of a students’ writing is centralized on Reddit, rather than being scattered across the internet on several different websites.

The first step

Reddit is only useful in an educational setting if you can keep track of your students. I suggest that you create a systematic, anonymous formula for student usernames and then stick to it. For example, the first student on my roster in a course titled Writing 5S in school term 2141 might be assigned the Reddit username W5S214101: Writing 5S, term 2141, student 01. The teachers of /r/EFLcomics (see below) assign their students similarly-anonymous usernames like “11RB048.” Whether you take the time to create these accounts yourself is up to you. It might be simpler to hand out the name assignments to students on slips of paper and then let them create the accounts and passwords on the website themselves.

1. For beginners and intermediate students: EFL Comics

I’ve written previously about EFL Comics. In short, students use an online tool to create short comic strips, then submit them to a community of English language teachers and English learners at the /r/EFLComics subreddit. Feedback is provided communally in the comments section.

A bit of administrative impedimenta: Before doing this activity, you must create Reddit accounts for each of your students and then submit the list of usernames to the moderators of the /r/EFLComics community. According to the sidebar of the community, “[o]nly approved users can post to EFLcomics. If you want to post a comic, get in touch with the moderators.” As such, the overall setup time and lead time can be considerable.

Once you’ve cleared those hurdles, here are the steps to successfully leading students through this activity:

  1. Introduce students to a comic creation tool such as Dan’s Awesome Rage MakerLOL Builder, or Rage Generator. (Warning: every one of these comic creation sites contains some PG-13 material, including occasional bits of strong language. For example, one stick figure is captioned “F*** YEA.”)
  2. Students create a comic strip incorporating target vocabulary or grammar.
  3. Students save their comic strips to their computers.
  4. Students upload the comics to a free image host (imgur.com is the best) and submit them to /r/EFLcomics on Reddit. (On Dan’s Awesome Rage Maker, this can be done very easily: the “save comic” menu has an option to submit the comic directly to /r/EFLcomics.)

2. For intermediate and advanced students: Read articles and write responses

In this activity, students read an article on the Reddit website and then write a comment for other users to read and respond to. The goal of this activity is to practice authentic reading and writing while opening the door to interaction and discussion with native speakers. This activity can be conducted in either a controlled or very open-ended manner.

Strictly controlled activity:

  1. The teacher finds a good, level-appropriate article in a subreddit related to the topic of the current class unit. For example, for a unit related to the environment, the /r/environment subreddit is a good place to start. Consider pasting the article into the BNC-COCA-25 text profiler to analyze its vocabulary content and help you develop supplemental materials for scaffolding and assessment.
  2. Students read the article printed out on paper as a normal in-class reading activity, including scaffolding, comprehension questions, discussion questions, and so on.
  3. For homework, students visit the article on Reddit and type out their answer for one of the discussion questions used in class. Students include any target vocabulary or grammar assigned by the teacher.

Moderately controlled activity:

  1. The teacher selects a subreddit—either a general one like /r/worldnews or a specific one related to the topic of the current class unit.
  2. Whether in a lab class or for homework, individual students select articles to read from within that subreddit. Consider having a minimum length requirement for articles.
  3. Each student types a response to their selected article, including any target vocabulary or grammar points assigned by the teacher.

I did this version of the activity several times with a student I tutored over the summer. I let him select articles from the /r/worldnews subreddit. Here is an example of his work:

My student's response to an article about a train tragedy in Spain. His assignment was to use five gerunds or infinitives. I have highlighted the target forms he incorporated into his text. Note that an unrelated Redditor responded to his comment.
My student’s response to an article about a train tragedy in Spain. His assignment was to use five gerunds or infinitives. I have highlighted the target forms he incorporated into his text. Note that an unrelated Redditor responded to his comment.

Open-ended activity:

1. Individual students select from a list of teacher-approved subreddits to find a topic of personal interest. Here are some suggestions from among the most popular subreddits:

  • /r/worldnews
  • /r/science
  • /r/todayilearned
  • /r/space
  • /r/politics
  • /r/news
  • /r/soccer
  • /r/apple
  • /r/technology

Teachers might also consider allowing:

  • Subreddits related to the university, city, or region the ESL program is in;
  • Subreddits related to students’ home countries or regions;
  • Subreddits related to students’ academic fields.

2. Individual students select articles to read. Consider having a minimum length requirement for articles.
3. Each student types a response to their selected article, including any target vocabulary or grammar assigned by the teacher.

TED-Logo-Ideas-Worth-Spreading-Global-Good-discussion-GlobalGoodGroup-Reference

TED.com

TED.com is a free website which contains hundreds of short lectures on innumerable topics. It is an excellent source of lecture-style listening texts to play in the classroom. However, it also has a commenting system similar to that of Reddit, enabling its use as a forum for authentic writing practice.

For intermediate and advanced students: watch lectures and write responses.

This activity can be conducted in either a controlled or very open-ended manner.

Strictly controlled activity:

  1. The teacher finds a good, level-appropriate video. Consider pasting the video’s transcript into the BNC-COCA-25 text profiler to analyze its vocabulary content and help you develop supplemental materials for scaffolding and assessment.
  2. Students watch the video in class as a normal in-class activity, including any necessary scaffolding, comprehension questions, discussion questions, and so on.
  3. For homework, students visit the video on TED.com and type out their answer for one of the discussion questions. Students include any target vocabulary or grammar points assigned by the teacher.

Open-ended activity:

  1. Students select a lecture to watch. Consider having a minimum and/or maximum time limit, such as videos between 5 and 20 minutes long.
  2. Students watch the video in a lab class or for homework.
  3. Students log into TED.com and type out a response to the video. Students include any target vocabulary or grammar points assigned by the teacher. Students might also be assigned to reply to one or more other TED users’ comments.

How have you used social news or media websites to help your students practice their writing skills and communicate with native speakers? Share your ideas in the comments!

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