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Monday, March 10, 2014

5 Good Apps for ESL / ELL Students

There are plenty of flashcard services on the web that students can use for rote practice of vocabulary words. The following five apps offer a little bit more than flashcards by providing some larger context for the words and phrases that students can study through them.

English Monstruo is a free app (iPad and Android versions available) containing eight games designed to help students learn verb conjugation. English Monstruo was developed by researchers at Cambridge University who examined the results of 200,000 exams to determine the words that give Spanish speakers the most difficulty when taking an English exam. The games in the English Monstruo app contain activities ranging from fill-in-the-blank to sorting words to replacing incorrect words with correct words. Each game has a series of levels to work through to earn points and unlock increasingly more difficult levels. To access all eight games a player needs to first earn the maximum points in the first six games in the app.

Phrasalstein, developed at Cambridge University, is a great iPad app and Android app designed to help students learn the meanings of phrasal verbs. The app has a practice mode and a quiz mode. In the practice mode students select a verb and a preposition combination then see a short animation demonstration of the meaning of the chosen phrase. In the quiz mode students see an animation then have to select the matching phrase. Translations of the meanings are available in Spanish, German, Italian, Russian and French.

Duolingo is a free service that aims to help you learn Spanish, French, German, or Portuguese. Duolingo offers mobile apps that allow you to practice a new language anywhere you go. The Duolingo mobile apps and website provide a variety of translation activities to help learn to you read, listen to, and translate words and phrases. The activities include looking at pictures that are representative of words and phrases. After reviewing a couple of pictures students are asked to type translations. The app gives immediate feedback to students.

Lingualy is a free Google Chrome extension designed to help you learn a new language while browsing the web. With Lingualy installed anytime that you come across a new word you can double-click on it to hear it pronounced, read a translation, and read a definition. The words that you double-click are added to your Lingualy account where you can review them in a quiz format. 

Forvo  is not an app, but it is a website worth mentioning on this list. It can best be described as an audio wiki for word pronunciations. One of the problems with learning to speak a language that is not phonetic is trying to figure out how to pronounce the words. Forvo hosts hundreds of recordings of word pronunciations by native speakers. Along with word pronunciations, Forvo provides some basic demographic information about each language. Forvo's content is user-supported and user-generated. New pronunciations are added on a regular basis.

Five Multimedia Creation Apps for BYOD Classrooms

One of the challenges facing teachers in BYOD classrooms is finding apps and sites that will work on a wide variety of devices. Creating multimedia projects like videos and interactive images is a great way for students to share things they've learned through research and or share their thoughts about things they've learned. The following five tools will work on a wide variety of devices in BYOD classrooms.

SoundCloud - SoundCloud is a great tool for creating short audio recordings. Those recordings can be embedded into blog posts. The feature of SoundCloud that makes it worth using instead of just embedding a recording from another service is that listeners can tie their comments to an exact moment in a SoundCloud recording. This means that if something twelve seconds into the recording triggers a thought in a students’ mind she can tie that comment to that exact moment. I’ve seen SoundCloud used by world languages teachers who have students make short recordings and post them on a classroom blog. The teacher then used the comment tool to give feedback to students. SoundCloud is available as an Android app, as an iOS app, and as a web app.

Magisto - Magisto is a free video editing app available for Android, iOS, and Chrome. The app allows you to add music tracks and some simple effects to your raw video footage. If you have a series of clips you can string them together in one video. To create your video you can use footage that you have captured with your device’s native app or you can use Magisto to capture new footage. After you've uploaded the media that you want mixed, select a theme and music for your video. Magisto creates your video after you've completed the steps of uploading media, selecting a theme, and choosing music. The final video is emailed to you. On the Magisto website you can create albums of your videos. Your albums can be made public or private. If you want to create a group album, you can invite other Magisto users to contribute to an album. From an album you can download videos and grab embed codes for your videos.

AudiobooAudioboo is a free tool for creating audio messages to share on the web. Using Audioboo you can record messages on your mobile device using Audioboo's free Android or iPhone apps. You can also record messages directly on the Audioboo website. Messages that you create can be shared by embedding your recording into a blog or website. You can also share messages by posting them to Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.

Thinglink - ThingLink is a free tool for creating interactive images. ThingLink can be used in the web browser on your laptop, in the Chrome browser on an Android tablet, or through the ThingLink iPad app. To create an interactive image upload an image from your computer to your ThingLink account. After uploading the image you can add pins to the image. Each pin that you add to your image can include a video clip, a link to another site, a SoundCloud recording, an Audioboo recording, a block of text, or another image. You can make your images collaborative by allowing others to add pins to the image. Images can be embedded into blog posts for students to view and or add their own pins. A few of the ways that I’ve seen ThingLink used by teachers is to have students add multimedia labels to diagrams of cells, to label geographic features, and to label historical images like that of the signing of the declaration of independence.

Animoto - In my mind one of the original audio slideshow tools is Animoto. It's been around for a long time (in web 2.0 terms) and it is still a good tool for students to use to bridge the gap between slideshows and videos. Through the Animoto website, Android app, and iOS app Animoto makes it possible to quickly create a video using still images, music, and text. Animoto has an option to include video clips in your videos too. If you can make a slideshow presentation, you can make a video using AnimotoAnimoto's free service limits you to 30 second videos. You can create longer videos if you apply for a free Animoto for education account.

Code Maven and Game Maven Teach Kids to Program Their Own Games

Code Maven and Game Maven are interactive programming tutorials from Crunchzilla. Code Maven and Game Maven use the same style as the popular Code Monster javascript programming tutorial. That style is to present a piece of code with instructions on one side of the screen while providing a visual of the outcome on the other side of the screen.

Code Maven offers 59 lessons for students to work through at their own pace to learn programming fundamentals. After completing the Code Maven tutorials students are ready to move on to Game Maven where they can work through 37 lessons in which they will create three simple online games.

Applications for Education
Code Maven and Game Maven are appropriate for middle school and high school students who would like to learn a bit of programming on their own. The tutorials provide students with instant feedback which could be helpful in holding students' attention to the tutorials. Students don't have to register to use the service and they can stop a lesson and come right back to it whenever they want to.

Almost Everything Students Need to Know About the United Nations

While looking for student-friendly information about the situation in Ukraine I came across the following video from CNN Student News. Everything You Need to Know About U.N. provides a two minute overview of the basic structure and functions of the United Nations. The video is a bit fast and it could use a bit more detail so I would share the video to my students with this organization chart from the U.N. The chart can be downloaded in color or black and white.


Three Short Videos and a Timeline for Understanding Current Events in Ukraine

The ongoing situation in Ukraine is a complicated topic for middle school and high school students in current events courses. The following short videos do a nice job of providing an overview of the key points in understanding the current situation. For a text-based overview of the situation, take a look at this timeline from the BBC.

Keith Hughes offers a good overview for high school students.


John Green, in his typical fast-paced style with a dose of snark, offers an overview in the video below.


The BBC provides a 60 second overview of Crimea and its significance in the current situation.

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