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English Language Teaching Global Blog


Gems on the Web – Storybird

Storybird.com design screenRussell Stannard, winner of the British Council Innovations Award 2010 and owner of teachertrainingvideos.com returns with another useful web tool for language teachers and learners. This time it’s a website that enables you to create your own illustrated stories.

I dedicate half my life to looking for interesting websites for language learning. Just like London buses, the good websites all seem to come along at the same time. The last few months have been amazing but I think there is one site that really stands out.

The website in question is Storybird.com. In its simplest form it is a website that allows you to create short illustrated stories or books. There is nothing much new about that, but the actual tools and illustrations that the site provides are what make it stand out from anything similar I have seen.

Storybird provides whole collections of artwork around a theme or topic. The artwork is by amazing artists and the collections are linked. So all the pictures have the same ‘look and feel’ and can be easily fitted together to create a very professional looking story.

A student can visit the site, choose a certain artist or topic and then use the pictures to build up a story. The student can build up his/her story by dragging pictures they like into the centre of their screen and then writing the story in the space provided. The artwork is simply breath-taking and the tools allow the students to easily add pages, add and delete pictures and edit the text.

The resulting books can then be saved on the website for others to read or for the teacher to view. What’s more, the whole site is free! The stories can also be printed out and a cover is even provided.

Writing stories is not for all students. The key, in my opinion, is to give students help with the writing process. So, for example, if you are going to get the students to write a story around the theme of “parks”, you might start by thinking of a series of exercises you could do to get them to brainstorm and focus on ideas. It might include listing related vocabulary, putting students into pairs and giving them an image of a park to describe together. You might provide the students with a list of activities and ask them which ones they would do in a park. The idea is to get them thinking about the topic, building up their vocabulary and generating ideas.

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Gems on the Web – What is a Word Cloud?

A word cloud about word clouds

Russell Stannard is back, talking about Word Clouds and how they can be used in your classroom.

A word cloud or tag cloud is a visual representation of user-generated tags (e.g. blog tags such as the ones at the top of this post), the word content of a website or simply plain text. Word cloud creation tools will look for the most frequently used words or tags and display them as a random pattern, with the more common words or tags appearing larger in the cloud.

Most creation tools also allow you to write in the link to a website and press the button and the cloud is produced by analysing all the text included in the website. Wordle can do this. You can normally print out your clouds or embed it into your blog or website. The videos at the end will take you through all these things.

Here is an example of a Word Cloud. What do you think the topic was about?

Example word cloud

Word clouds have lots of uses


The obvious thing is that they can be used for prediction. So you show the students a cloud you have produced and get them to predict what the topic is or what the content of the text might be. You may ask them some comprehension questions and get them to work out the answers from the word cloud alone. I have tried this several times in class and it works well. It is interesting to contrast their predictions about the text when looking at the cloud and then what the actual content of the text is. You can do this as a class activity or print out clouds and give them out in groups.

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Gems on the Web – Word Magnets 2.0

Russell Stannard, Winner of British Council Innovations Award 2010, writes about Word Magnets 2.0.

word magnetsI am always looking out for interesting tools that you can use with an interactive whiteboard. This latest find works great with an IWB but you can use it just as well on a computer screen or projector. The site is called Word Magnets and it is one of the best websites I have found in the last year.

The idea of Word Magnets is quite simple. You write a sentence, a paragraph or just a selection of words. You then press a button and each of the words becomes an individual word magnet and they are randmomized at the bottom of the screen. You can then move the word magnets around the screen and they will “stick” anywhere and make a nice sound too, which really gives the feel that you are working with word magnets. The obvious thing is to write out a sentence, create word magnets of all the words and then get the students to re-build the sentence as class or in pairs or groups if you have lots of computers at your disposal.  However you can do much much more with this tool.

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Gems on the Web – Listen and Write

Russell Stannard writes about Listen and Write and explains why it is one of the most useful tools to show your students.

Headphones resting on a bookOne of the most interesting things about the expansion of the Internet and its introduction into the lives of busy teachers is that it opened up a whole world of material that we can direct our students to. The number of resources is amazing, especially the growth in video content. It means that instead of asking our students to do exercises from a book or to write a story or to revise some vocabulary, we can ask them to go onto the internet and listen to an interview or watch a certain video. It makes homework so much more interesting and allows our students to be more autonomous in their approach to learning. One of the tools that teachers seem to really like is Listen and Write.

Listen and Write is a dictation tool. It allows you to listen to a whole range of news programmes and interviews. A lot of it is taken from Voice of America. The great thing about the tool is that all the listening activities are broken up into segments and the programme will continue to repeat and repeat that segment until the student has written it correctly. Then it will move onto the next segment. If the student is really stuck then they can press the hint button to get some help. The hint button provides the next letter in the dictation.

There are a variety of levels, though even the lowest level is fairly hard. However there are tools that can make the dictations easier. Firstly, before you start the dictation you can listen to the complete listening, so that you can get a feel for the dictation and get some context. Secondly if you think the listening is too difficult, then you can choose the “word” option. The word option is easier, some of the words are provided for you and you simply listen to the dictation and complete the rest of the words. It sounds complicated but it is a very easy tool to use. The Listen and Write help videos will show you everything you need to know.

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