Category Archives: Language Learning E-tivities

What is Study-English-Online.Net?

Teachers’ Digital Toolkit

International online learning projects for students


Online tools for resource creation

Animoto Create videos from images

Benettonplay Create stunning animations Create educational games

Gliffy Create floor plans, flowcharts and 3D diagrams

Glogster EDU Create interactive multimedia posters

Kerpoof Create movies and stories

Mixbook Create a page turning e-book

Myebook Create an e-book

PoducateMe Exe files How to create a podcast

Power League Create an online debate

Prezi A zooming presentation tool

Scratch Join up and download programming software to create digital learning objects

Sketchcast Embed evolving sketches into your blog

SketchUp Create, modify and share 3D models

Storybird Collaborative storytelling

Storyjumper Create a page turning e-book

Technology tips and cybersafety

Timetoast Create a free online timeline

Voice Thread Hold an online conversation about an image

Voki Create a personalised speaking avatar

Wordle Create word clouds to summarise main concepts of a unit for students

Source/Courtesy – UNSW

Three Generations of Distance Learning Pedagogy

Three Generations of Distance Learning Pedagogy

1. Cognitive Behaviourism

2. Constructivism

3. Connectivism

A Multimedia Resource for Language Learning

I have been racking my brains over the past few weeks in vain. I am incapable of thinking of a proper topic myself and that prevents me from starting work on the assignment which reads as follows

This assignment consists of two interrelated parts:

A multimedia resource for language learning for classroom or self-access use.

An accompanying rationale.

A multimedia resource

You should create a working piece of courseware that reflects the aims, objectives and learning outcomes outlined in your rationale and reflects good practice in both TESOL and the use of multimedia in language learning. This may be produced using any web authoring tool (although the expectation is that you use the WordPress CMS), and will include links to other media (audio or video, for example) and applications such as Hot Potatoes.

The resource does not need to be long or complex. It should, however, be coherent and it must work. For example, you could exploit a piece of listening or reading material with a relevant task or sequence of tasks providing practice on a specific grammar point. It can also be a piece of teacher education material. It may represent part of a larger package, but it should not simply consist of a sequence of tasks produced using authoring software. This multimedia resource should clearly reflect the issues discussed in the rationale.

So far a number of ideas have been put forward by some of my friends and acquaintances, but I can’t make up my mind.  I have contemplated

  • creating a set of interactive grammar quizzes to practise a particular language point (I mean there are thousands of interactive quizzes out there already, I have to create something really unusual)
  • designing a multimedia resource for very young learners, e.g. a picture dictionary with tasks (this one sounds OK-ish, I just need to get myself a proper digicam and learn photography – easier said than done. Plus where should I get the audio? I am not a professional anchor after all. )
  • devising a few topic-based units of sequenced tasks for a certain level or exam purposes (well, that’s sort of stretching and there are copyright issues as usual. Just can’t think of a place to get all those texts, pics and audio for free. So thats’ all about becoming a digital coursebook writer at the end of the day and I find it daunting, because this is LOADS of unpaid work)

I wish I could paint and draw, sing and act. I wish I were a prolific writer and could write engrossing stories and articles exceptionally well.

Online Language Lessons – Idea Bank

It looks like more and more language teaching is being done on the web. Let me summarize what online language teachers have on offer, what they do or could do in theory.  I will list several examples from Curtis J. Bonk & Ke Zhang’s (2008) Empowering Online Learning, pp.  62-63.

Types of resources & activities for online language learners

  • online flashcards
  • electronic dictionaries, glossaries & corpora
  • webinars
  • videoconferencing
  • presentations / slide shows
  • simulations
  • webquests
  • mazes
  • grammar lessons
  • vocabulary lessons
  • voice games
  • word games
  • interactive speaking games
  • news portals
  • topic-specific websites
  • podcasts
  • videos
  • reading exercises
  • listening quizzes & exercises
  • collaborative writing tasks
  • digital storytelling
  • blogging
  • text & voice chat sessions
  • asynchronous discussions
  • pronunciation labs
  • progress reports
  • interactive quizzes
  • online conversation classes
  • placement tests
  • self-paced lessons
  • peer-to-peer practice conversations
  • expert mentoring, etc

What else is out there? Is there anything on the list you either have tried and liked or hated, or would like to try?

The 4 Types of Multilevel Class Activities

Heather McKay & Abigail Tom (1999, CUP, Teaching Adult Second Language Learners, pp. 21-22) suggest teachers differentiate among four types of mixed-ability activity.  Unless the text is in quotation marks, it is my own interpretation.

same input, same task

What is different in this situation is the level of your students’ language proficiency. What makes it possible for the students to do the task is their collaborative effort. You have to divide your class of students into pairs or groups so that weaker students get to work with stronger ones. The tasks that are best suited in this case are those that require problem-solving skills, e.g.  games, puzzles, mazes, quests, trivia quizzes and the like. In other words, the focus is not on English but on the task, which should require the students to draw on their knowledge of the world and life or work experience as opposed to their knowledge of grammar rules or lexis. You should design the activity so that it would not look, feel or sound like a language practice activity.

same input, modified task

A good example of such an activity would be a multilevel dictation.  The more proficient students would have to write everything, the less able ones would have to fill in the gaps, and those you consider a pain in the neck could be asked to tick the options they hear.  Once you have finished dictating, everyone should have the same text.

Another example is multilevel listening. Stronger students may be instructed to listen without reading the script while the audio is being played, and weaker ones could be permitted to consult the script as they listen.

By and large, weaker students are provided with more scaffolding.

different input, same task

This type of mixed-ability activity requires weaker students to use the input you provide “as is” and stronger students to do something with the initial input in order to do the main task. For instance,  you can choose to give the more proficient students in your class cues and the less proficient ones ready-made questions when you do a mingling activity such as “Find Someone Who”.

same task, different performance level

This last type is very much like project work. What makes it special is that the teacher doesn’t give out any materials, but just sets the task.  The students work alone or in small groups, and the language they produce will vary according to their level.  I imagine all sorts of “create a poster” type of tasks will fit in this category.

Web 2.0 Synonyms & Opposites

The opposite of hyperlinking is RSS aka really simple syndication.

Users find content on the web and hyperlink to it . The opposite is subscribing to syndicated content aka RSS feeds.

RSS readers are also known as aggregators.

Metadata or metatags

  • are usually embedded in website code,
  • are not visible to the eye,
  • are added by website content managers,
  • are arranged by taxonomies,
  • are structured hierarchically, and
  • are meant for search engines.

The opposite of a metatag is a regular tag.


  • are words that authors such as bloggers select and attach to the content they create,
  • are meant for humans,
  • are arranged by folksonomies,
  • are logical in the sense that they convey meaning about the content, and
  • are often arranged into tag concept groups called tag clouds, which show how the terms relate to one another.

Hyperlinking & tagging can both be considered e-learning activities as they impact student learning, whereas RSS feeds are rather materials that can be part of an e-course.

How Long Should One Online Language Lesson Last?

To begin with, I am not aware of any reliable statistics.  I can only draw on my personal experience and summarize a number of related Google search results.

It is obvious, I hope, that it is impossible to spend more than 3 clock hours talking without a break.  I guess that’s the maximum.  As for the minimum, an online lesson can be as long as a regular phone call, i.e. it can last for as little as 5 or 10 minutes.  Personally, I like it when lessons are 2h15min long, with a short break or a longish filler activity when 2/3 of the time has elapsed.  But I cannot justify my preference with reference to the literature, because there is nothing in the literature:(  apart from some “circumstantial” evidence.

Let me elaborate on that.  First and foremost, a language lesson like an aerobics workout should start with a warmer. Most warmers allow the student to practise making some small talk, discuss the latest news and learn a few related lexical items,  ask questions about the last homework assignment and the like. It is an important element, though I can think of situations when you can opt out of it and “get down to business”. The usual recommendation is for a warmer to last between 3 and 10 minutes, the average being 5 (without homework questions!).

The rest of the lesson is usually comprised of activities.  Again, most activities are composites, i.e. they are made up of several parts or stages.

Stage 1 is known as lead-in.  It introduces the topic or activity and usually takes between 2 and 15 minutes in an onsite lesson.  It is impossible to give a more precise estimate, because you have to consider the number of the students present, their level, motivation and familiarity with the topic.

Stage 2 is really a meta-stage, but it must never be ignored, because it has a direct impact on how successful the activity itself will be. You tell your students what they have to do or set the task during this stage.  You may have to demonstrate,  model, elicit sample answers and so forth to make sure your students understand what they have to do and how. Timewise, this stage lasts between 1 and 5 minutes on average, and depends on the complexity and focus of the activity.

Stage 3 is frequently labelled run in lesson plans. It is the activity per se. During stage 3 your students usually do the task, and your role is to monitor.  In 1-to-1 lessons the teacher usually forms a pair with her student and does a double load of work, i.e. does the task and monitors simultaneously. Whether 1-to-1 instruction is the best way of teaching speaking is a controversial issue. I for one have my reservations, but outlining them is beyond the scope of this post, so I’ll leave it at that. This stage can last between 5 and 90 minutes.

Stage 4 is another meta-stage that is often labelled close in lesson plans. The teacher tells the students that their time is up and rounds up the activity.  Sometimes it is necessary to stop the activity before it has come to a logical conclusion, before everything has been done or all the questions have been discussed.  You have to tell your students whether they will finish the activity later in a subsequent class or for homework, or whether that’s it and no more work is necessary. Whatever you decide, you have to make sure that the students are not frustrated and can see the pros of your choice. Of course, it is great when you are very good at timing and can estimate how long an activity will take to the minute.  I have to admit it that I still have to work on that:(  and it is not uncommon for me to underestimate – I never overestimate – the time necessary to complete a task, as a result of which I occasionally have to do without some or all of the follow-up activities.  Closing the activity and telling students whatever next usually takes 0.5-5 minutes.

Stage 5 is usually the time when you provide different types of feedback.  Providing activity feedback such as the correct answers normally takes 1-3 minutes. Providing delayed feedback to do with the mistakes that you jotted down while your students were doing the activity might take up to a quarter of an hour.

Stage 6 is any follow-up activity or task that is based on the main activity.  In other words, it is a new activity that might take as long as stages 1-5 combined or as little as 3-5 minutes. What makes it a stage as opposed to a standalone activity is its dependence on the outcomes and language practised during the main activity.  It is not unusual for an activity to be followed by more than one follow-up task.

Now let me do some simple maths.

If a lesson is comprised of a shortish warmer and a short activity with a tiny little follow-up task, it should take you a minimum of

greetings 1 min

warmer – 3 mins

lead-in – 2 mins

set task – 1 min

run  – 5 mins

close – 1 min

feedback – 2 mins

follow-up  – 3 mins  (set – run – close)

feedback – 1 min

leave-taking – 1 min

GRAND TOTAL: 20 mins

As can be seen from the estimate above, it is possible to have an even shorter lesson – 10-11 mins – if you decide to do without politeness conventions (i.e. if you choose to say neither hello nor goodbye and start doing the main activity immediately), warmers (it is possible if the student is fairly advanced and has plenty of speaking practice outside class, which usually means that he doesn’t really need to “warm up” making small talk) and follow-up tasks. But would such a lesson be as efficient? I am not sure.

Another consideration is that stage 3 of most enjoyable speaking activities takes between 15 and 40 mins on average (most fun speaking games take at least half an hour to play because there are usually several rounds, and some communicative games last for an hour and a half), and the higher the student’s level is, the longer the activity tends to take. You should also allow for some thinking time. Not all speaking activities are heated discussions by nature. Nor are they tongue twisters – it is neither your nor your students’ objective to speak as fast as you can all the time, but it never hurts to introduce time limits.

What I’d like to make clear now is that the framework described above pertains to different kinds of language learning activity, not only collaborative speaking tasks.  Students may have to not only speak, but also listen, write, read and do hybrid tasks in class either alone or in pairs or small groups.  The nature of the task set as well as all the student variables have to be considered when estimating the time the lesson you plan might take.

An Ideal E-Notebook

‘Spent the day contemplating Clarke’s e-note-taking advice.

Isn’t it amazing? They’ve got it all online but for proper note-taking tools.  I mean Moodle doesn’t have such a module or activity as a notebook. Nor does Blackboard Vista. Well, they do have blogs and notes sections, but they’re so-o badly designed that I do not want to comment.

What would one want to take notes for? According to Clarke (p. 25), there are 4 major reasons

to record the contents of a lecture, seminar or other learning activity so that you can later use the notes to help you revise (1.1) or aid your efforts in completing assignments (1.2)

to help you concentrate during a lecture. Undertaking an activity such as talking-notes during listening can assist you to focus on the content (2), while simply listening is often less effective.

to assist you to understand the content of the learning activity (3), since note-taking encourages you to analyse what you are hearing.

to convert the content of the learning activity into your own words. (4)

Ways of taking notes are also worth listing. You could write (Clarke, p. 26):

  • a comprehensive record of the content
  • an outline of the key points
  • a chart or a spidergram of the content
  • the references to other documents, sources and websites

Now where do we go from here? As it is necessary to take notes, we need a tool for that. If there is no such ready-made tool, we need to explore the affordances of the tools at our disposal for one of them might well serve the purpose.

Let’s see. I am using this blog to take notes and keep my thought organized. I should say it is efficient. But I do not need anyone to correct any mistakes I might have made. I would appreciate that, but that’s about it.

When it comes to language learning, the situation is more complex, because notebooks are frequently handed in for correction, and that means that blogs are not likely to make ideal e-notebooks unless both the teacher ans the student have equal access rights (A). Another thing is that you would not normally want to make your e-notebook publicly accessible if you were to hand it in for correction. There is a greater need for privacy (B).  In addition,  e-notebook entries need to be editable 24/7 (C) and should allow you to embed media (D) as well as add comments (E).  In terms of recording vocabulary, being able to insert a table (F) is critical.  The quality of notes depends on memory-boosting techniques that you use, such as tagging (G),  categorizing (H) and sorting (I) in addition to visuals. It is great to be able to sort your notes by alphabet, by date, by keyword or phrase, and some other criteria. Lastly, it never hurts to have a searchable (J) e-notebook.

Blogs tend to lack the sorting feature, but they allow you you to tag and categorize content.  Adding graphs and charts can also be a problem. I for one really like all sorts of spidergrams and flow-charts  –   they help me think. There is no technology out there that would allow that – none I would know of, at least.  The Moodle Glossary Module is a great notebook alternative, but it does not have a drawing toolbar, either. A possible workaround would be to combine regular and web-based  note-taking: whatever it is that’s easier to do the regular way such as drawing mindmaps can be done the usual way. Later,  you can scan and upload the respective pages for future reference attributing them to the right category and tagging them as you see fit.

At present I use both web-based and regular tools to take notes:

  • this blog (I might need one more  to blog in another language)
  • a private forum where I am all alone and happy and where I post all sorts of paragraphs and hyperlinks I encounter on the web – it functions as a kind of in-tray
  • I use the Moodle notes feature to make post-it notes – it is rather convenient, for I know which note goes with which course
  • I also have a size B5 160-sheet notebook where I scribble this and that when I am in an onsite lesson or teaching online
  • I also make use of traditional bright yellow post-it notes

That’s rather disorganized, eh? :)

E-Learning & Note-Taking

Alan Clarke (E-Learning Skills, 2004, p.  26) made my day today when I read this

E-learning does not provide an event at which you are required to take notes. All the content is presented in a form you could save as a file or print out. It would seem that you can capture everything. However, the danger is that, since you can save everything, there is no need to read the material or make any particular effort to understand the content. This can lead you into a false sense of security that you have a comprehensive record of everything and there is no need for you to do anything further.

A. Clarke has spotted and described the problem very well. Novice e-learners frequently have a lot of misconceptions as regards what they should or should not do, and note-taking  or rather their belief that saving files equals note-taking  is a topical one.  You have to take notes whatever your mode of study, you just have more tools at your disposal when you choose to take notes on the computer.

What you actually need to do is read the content and then analyse it. Word processors allow you to annotate electronic text that you have saved or highlight the key phrases using the bold, italic or highlight functions.

Hehe:) I guess my blog is an e-note-book in that sense. In addition to the formatting tools that Clarke suggests, I also use quotation marks and embed media when I deem that necessary.

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