The greatest site in all the land!

Month: April, 2014


Why ignore it! You know you use it! YouTube is a great ‘old’ tool for teaching. We use it so much we sometimes forget just how useful it is. If we set up accounts on sites such as Weebly to create webpages, for instance, YouTube videos can actually become a part of the site. The video stays intact just like any document and can be accessed with one click of a button at any time and directly from the site. Also, how many times have teachers put on a YouTube video on a Smart board to supplement class activities? For instance, I taught a segment on Canadian history, and specifically the brave souls that tight-rope walked across Niagara Falls a hundred years ago. Students were amazed at the videos. The fact that all sorts of obscure videos exist on YouTube means there is almost always something available that will supplement a lesson. In fact, it is too available. Some teachers tend to show too many videos or they simply show the videos with no real pedagogical method. The use of YouTube should be done in a disciplined manner. Worksheets can be made just like for any listening activity. In addition, teachers can set up playlists therefore they can conveniently organize their activities by themes. Another advantage is that real life situations can be shown to students. The real advantage of YouTube – at least from a language learning point of view – is that it offers authentic examples of everyday English used by everyday people. Students today tend to prefer authentic content and YouTube has an endless supply. In addition, current events around the world often end up on YouTube long before they are on mainstream TV news. For instance, in 2012 nine Peruvian miners were trapped for a week. One of my students found out about it during the break on his smart phone and almost the entire class stayed in the classroom during the break to watch the drama unfold on YouTube. This is not to say class should be stopped to watch YouTube, but when special events occur it is an invaluable link to authentic information that catches student’s attention. For example, several of the students who watched the miners on YouTube were not particularly enthusiastic with the regular listening activities, but when real-life events occurred they were very willing the follow along in English, their second’s language. This is certainly quite ‘low tech’ but it is free, easy, easily accessible from any computer and very visual. There is the danger of having little student input, but this can be avoided by students uploading their own videos to YouTube that can, in fact be posted on a private group, that only the class can see. You can teach students video production and editing skills through projects and upload the videos to your classes YouTube channel.  In this way students can become familiar with other Google tools such as Google drive. This will prove to be a valuable combination with the videos …  in that students can communicate and create documents on the drive that could, for instance, be plans for their activities in their YouTube group. In fact, the administrators of YouTube recognize its potential as a pedagogical tool and have created EDU which lets you discover, create, and share educational videos. So next time you are thinking about finding a new educational tool for the classroom … think about the ‘old one’ which may just surprise you and how ‘not old’, it really is!

BBC Learning English

Call me old fashioned, a traditionalist, whatever you want, but ever since the Anglo-Saxon conquest of  the British Isles between 400-600 AD, just after the Romans left, and the celtic speakers learned the language of their new ‘guests’  the Brits have been in the business of teaching English and have sure done a great job of it! … English is the most spoken second language in the world … 600 million plus second language speakers! The BBC Learning English online web tool proves this once again. To give an example of its use in Bangladesh, more than 1m English lessons have been downloaded to mobile phones as part of the BBC’s Janala sercvice, the corporation announced today at the World Mobile Conference in Barcelona. Nothing here is fancy. Just clean learning situations that are clearly supported with images. The site is divided into different categories: General & Business English, Grammar, Vocabulary & Pronunciation, Talking Sport, Quizzes, The Flatmates, Community, for teachers, Specials, about us and Downloads. Each of these categories is clearly indicated on the left side of the site. You will notice certain expressions that are common in British English as opposed to that found in Canada … for example ‘flatmate’. That’s OK because I didn’t suffer too much when learning certain French expressions from France while learning my French in Quebec. We live in a great big global community and we should get used to these different usages. The savvy teacher must be careful however not to allow less advanced students to get mixed up in these details. Allow exposure to these language items but don’t let the students feel like they are learning several different languages. In terms of everyday language the site has some great features such as the lesson it gives called Express English where every week, people in London are asked questions on a specific topic At the Englishblog we see that the BBC Learning English series which follows the fortunes Anna, a sales executive. Following the exploits of a ficticious character may seem odd, but isn’t that what every movie and TV drama are about. The BBC is able to construct situations that are geared at certain language learning objectives. Another very useful feature are the podcasts that makes following the characters even more convienient. The site is slightly on the dull side and would definitely not be suited to young learners or those with certain attention challenges because there are no real attention grabbing special effects, but for certain students who enjoy reading about current events the BBC site is right on track. The BBC is afterall primarily a current events media outlet. For instance, the section Words in the News could be very interesting to certain students who like learning obscure facts such as the dilemma scientists have had in determining whether or not a certain sound coming from the ocean depths was a whale or a duck … I won’t give the secret away here … check it out yourselves on the site. I find the site quite interesting, but its not ‘everyone’s cup of tea’. A final and very important note is that the BBC is well-known, and respected around the world. It is therefore not surprising that many people use the site to learn English and as the site tesl.ej mentions how relationships between the intermediate level users of all nationalities have emerged and developed through the use of each feature at the site. This pretty well sums up what learning a language is all about, communicating and in the process making new and enduring social relationships, and the BBC Learning English tool is certainly facilitating this for many people.


Storybird is a simple but effective web tool that offers a quick way to create and publish short illustated stories. The illustrations are provided by artists the site has contracted, and you will find that they are very suitable for young learners. In fact, even very young learners can quickly learn to create stories. Obviously, learners in cycle one of elementary school cannot write stories but they can participate with the teacher, adding suggestions as the story is developed. Don’t expect any sophisticated writing tools here. You only get the bare essentials. You can add pages, like in Power Point, and see these pages as a numbered list, but you can basically just add short texts to the artwork that is provided by the site. At digigogy.blogspot it is mentioned that its based on writing which at first seems fine, but in cycle one of elementary school the students cannot write. Thus, the site is essentially rendered simply a tool with which teachers can write short stories for these very young students … with their input, as mentionned above, if the teacher and the students so desire. This is not entirely a bad thing because the teacher can quickly create short stories that fit in with other activities the class is doing. moving on now to the art work … it is very colourful and has a very pleasant innocent quality that is suitable for childrens’ stories. The title of the site, Storybird, gives a good idea of the fact that it is geared toward a very young audience. It’s very basic but this makes it a quick and easy method to create short activities for the teacher who is busy. Some eight year olds, and certainly most nine year olds would be able to write, perhaps with the help of teammates, a short story on Storybird. The simplicity of the site offers a great introduction into the world of online story creation to them. What is particularly good about the site is the fact that the artwork actually inspires story telling. The idea of ‘writers block’ is resolved by the presence of pictures. As they say ‘a picture says a thousand words’. Thus, in this case pictures will often come before the story, rather than being used to embellish it afterward. The images on the site are arranged into categories such as rabbits, balloons etc. When the category is clicked on numerous different images in this theme appear. This is useful, for instance, if the teacher wants to teach a particular subject. For instance a story about different bunnies at Easter time. At EDLab this convience of having pre-supplied pictures is described as being at odds with advances in teaching techniques as children’s books move toward multimodal, this website only offers conventional pictures created by professionals instead of letting users to import their self selected or self-created pictures. It is fascinating how the same thing can be seen from a completely different perspective in the site which mentions that with the groups of images provided students young and old can tell that story as they consider it and imagine it. This site therefore says that the pictures actually enhance different intepretations and thus creativity. Try it out and you decide, but remember, like all learning tools, the savvy teacher must use the site within reason because all good things begin to show there faults through overuse.


Edmodo is a great site that’s a social network site similar to Facebook. It is however geared at teachers specifically and is used by countless teachers and is officially recognized as a pedagogic tool by many school boards in the United States. The fact that so many teachers use means that there is a very well established professional development communities related to the site. It should be pointed out here that the site is very secure, it is password protected, and parents can enjoy access to their own child’s work with the peace of mind that only they, and the teacher, can have this access. In addition, and unlike Facebook, students cannot create private groups that the teacher or parents cannot access so again this is an attractive feature in terms of being a secure pedagogical tool. On the other hand, there is the possibility of creating a discussion wall that is open to the whole class. This is very useful for students who would like to share suggestions and also for students who may be inspired by information that they read on the discussion wall. The fact that Edmodo is similar to Facebook, in many ways, has the additional advantage that students will quickly learn how to navigate around it. Other access features include the fact that the system can be setup so that teachers can send message alerts to students. In terms of class management assignments can be sent to the students, marks can be calculated and there is a calendar so the class can clearly see their term activities. Kelly Croy is a language teacher who adds that the quiz feature on Edmodo is a great way to see if his students are understanding their assignments. For extra-convenience sake there is an app that allows access from smartphones or iPads. In addition, Google drive can be directly accessed from the site, thus adding a further convenience to a multitude of tools. Another teacher, Valeria Foarce makes perhaps the most obvious, and hence well worth mentioning, positive point about Edmodo, and that it drastically cuts down on the use of paper. The advantages of cutting down on paperwork are limitless … starting out with not needing to carry it around, photocopy it and of course for the good of the environment. It is in the ‘backpack’ on the site that students turn in their work. It should be mentioned here that there is a very useful feature in that teachers can correct work that is turned in right online. Teachers can write on the documents students sent in and add comments. Students can then see these corrections. Again it is important to point out that students can only see their own work and corrections. To end on a dollar and cents factor, teacher Keith Rispin points out that Edmodo is affordable to run, it’s free, and he notes I ran a Moodle site for my online classrooms but unfortunately I had to abandon it because it became to costly to self host on a private server. So there it is, Edmodo is easily acceefficient, safe and free!