12 Aug 2009

SpellQuizzer - Help your students master their spelling

Today, I was contacted by Dan Hite, a corporate software developer, who talked to me about his useful educative programme for Windows, SpellQuizzer. SpellQuizzer helps students that need help learning their spelling and vocabulary words and it has very nice features.

SpellQuizzer was not designed with any one spelling curriculum in mind. In fact, it should compliment virtually any spelling curriculum since you create your own custom spelling lists. Teachers can enter their students spelling words into the software and record them by speaking into a microphone. After that, the students can listen the recorded words and type them. The software has a built-in spellchecker that recognizes both US and UK English spellings.

Another great feature is that the spellchecker warns the user when creating a spelling list if they enter a word that appears to be spelled incorrectly. Because of this safeguard it's reasonably safe to let students create their own spelling lists guided by the curriculum they are working on. If the teacher or parents creates the lists in SpellQuizzer, it's always a good idea to try to make the sound recordings amusing for the child. Funny phrases or voices make this tool funnier for the child and help to keep them engaged.

There is a video demo you can watch, click here. Besides, you can also find a page of free downloadable spelling lists with audio recordings for use with SpellQuizzer, click here. Finally, you can belong to the community web site which has discussion forums and a place where SpellQuizzer users can upload and download one another's SpellQuizzer spelling lists, click here, I mean, SpellQuizzer users can easily export and import SpellQuizzer spelling lists to share with other SpellQuizzer users. Because of this members of homeschool groups can share their lists rather than everyone having to record their lists individually (assuming everyone is on the same curriculum).

This software is not free, it costs $29.95 to download the software, but the creator has generously offered Sharing Learning readers the opportunity to get a free copy of the software to the first five people who contact him referring to my blog. To get your free copy of SpellQuizzer fill out the contact form, click here. Be sure to mention that you are a Sharing Learning reader and educator and use an email address associated with an education institution when requesting a free license. You have also the opportunity to download a 30 days free trial to know how the software works. After this time, you have to pay for the service. It costs nothing to try out SpellQuizzer and once you have purchased you can still request a full refund if you are not completely satisfied during the first 60 days after purchase.

I don't earn any money spreading this information, I'm just passing along this information for teachers who are interested in getting this useful software with their students or children.

11 Aug 2009

Speak N' Spell

If you students need help with pronunciation, listening and writing, Speak N' Spell can be the perfect software to recommend them and use in the classroom. How does it work?

The first time you open it, if you want to add a specific word list for your students you have to open the Word Maintenance, clear the table and add your own words saving your own list. Doing this, they can revise this dictionary (add or delete words), use their own set of words (clear the table and add words), or load a plain text file with words. They can also save the word list to a plain text file. Make such a file one word per line and save the file with a ".txt" suffix."

There are several levels of difficulty in which your students have to guess the word they hear:

  • Easy: words with three letters.
  • Medium: words with four to six letters.
  • Hard: words with seven to ten letters.
  • Hardest: words with more than ten letters.
  • Mixed: any word included in the dictionary can be pronounced.
How to use it in the classroom? An Speak N' Spell Game
1. You will need the Speak N' Spell Software, a computer or laptop and a projector to play this game with your students.
2. Divide your students into two groups and explain that they are going to play Speak N' Spell game. First, they will hear a word and then, they have to guess what word is it in turns.
3. The teacher, then, presses the new word key to listen it. The first student who guesses it correctly has to raise his hand, spell the word and make a sentence with it. This depends on your students' level. Sometimes it is difficult for beginners to create a sentence, therefore, you can give them the chance of just spelling it.
4. If the student's answer is right, his team win a point.
5. The winner is the team that get the highest score.

To Teach or Not to Teach Grammar? - That is the Eternal Question

This morning, while browsing around the net, I stopped on an ESL forum post that called my attention and made me think:

"I think that grammar is useless for learning to speak fluently...what do you think?" someone said.
This topic has been quite controversial for decades. Should or shouldn't we teach grammar? If the answer is affirmative, how and when should we teach it?

In the late 1970s, Chomsky, Krashen and others pointed out that the learning of a language should be like a child ´s natural acquisition. I mean, when we start speaking our mother tongue, we don ´t think or care about grammar rules. Besides, it has also been documented that teaching grammar step by step has had little effect on speaking production, that is, many people who have studied English learning grammatical rules, can ´t communicate effectively. We are not allowed to teach English to children at school because there is an age, until nine years old more or less, in which language is acquired in a natural way. But, does it work with adults who start learning a foreign language?

In the late 1980s another approach appeared, the Communicative one, which made emphasis on authentic materials instead of "traditional textbooks". This new approach, which was the product of the dissatisfaction of many educators and linguists with the audiolingual and grammar-translation methods, emphasized other really important disciplines like Pragmatics (negotiation of meaning, social context, interaction...) or cooperative learning. This is because learning a language is much more than communication, it also represents a cultural background. What is the role of grammar in this approach, then? Grammar plays an important role, as well,within this approach, but it is learned into a context, not explaining grammatical rules, since students motivations to learn the new language come from their desire to communicate in real life (travelling, at work, etc) fluently. Teaching is not essential any more, but learning. A strong point of the Communicative Approach is that it focuses on the student's process of learning and this is a great advantage. However, as the other teaching approaches and methods, it also has its disadvantages.

The Communicative Approach developed into the Task-based Language Learning Method (1990s), I mean, this method was within the framework of the Comunicative Approach and focused in the use of real language, allowing students to do meaningful tasks, like buying flying tickets in a travel agency, conducting an interview, etc., using the target vocabulary and grammatical structures. A task is " a piece of classroom work that involves learners in comprehending, manipulating, producing or interacting in the target language while their attention is focused on mobilizing their grammatical knowledge in order to express meaning, and in which the intention is to convey meaning rather than to manipulate form. The task should also have a sense of completeness, being able to stand alone as a communicative act in its own right with a beginning, a middle and an end." (Professor David Nunan) Is it possible to integrate grammar in this method in an effective way? It is, but not focusing on form but inferring the grammar rules from the context.

There is not a "perfect method" for teaching or studying a foreign language. However, I think it is very important to give our students as many opportunities as we can to use the new language but without avoiding grammar all time since different people have different learning styles at different times. Therefore, as there are not quick recipes, why not to use the best of each approach or method to engage our students? We learn languages listening but we learn to improve our level, our communication style also via grammar. And what is the point of fluency if we do not set a context? How would you explain these situations?
  • Quarter of a Million Chinese Live on Water
  • Include Your Children When Baking Cookies
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Listening, writing, speaking, grammar, pronunciation, meaning, context... Everything is important when teaching or learning a language.

10 Aug 2009

My English Images - when a picture is worth more than a thousand words

A lot of researches have been done over years on the importance of using visuals in the ESL/EFL classroom for our students' learning process since images allow them to infer, deduce and provide the context to clarify the meaning of written texts.

A great resource for teachers that I discovered three days ago is My English Images, a website created by F. Michael Kloran, an English teacher and illustrator living in Japan with a very personal style who has decided to create this site to make other teachers' life easier.

In this site you will find a collection of ESL resources, mainly pictures and worksheets to spice up your classes, which have been grouped into different categories:

  • Conversation
  • Grammar
  • Vocabulary
  • Pronunciation
  • Games
  • Images
All the worksheets include and introduction and clear explanations about how to use them in the classroom. These materials are copyrighted but you can download them for free in PDF version. Beside, if there is something you cannot find here or you would like to make the author some suggestions, you can contact him in the e-mail address provided in the site.

1 Aug 2009

Language Social Networks - Don't Stop Learning!

Due to the globalized world we live in, many people decide to learn a foreign language for different reasons and purposes. The best opportunity to learn it is being immerse in the context the language is spoken but not everybody can afford to live in a foreign country. However, learning English has never been so easy, interactive and social since social networks appeared on the net! ESL/EFL students spend a lot of time surfing on the net, maybe more hours than they do studying therefore, why not provide them with opportunities to practice and learn real English with native English speakers or ESL/EFL students from other countries in a communicative setting?

Social networking can be an excellent reading and writing practice which can be completed with other communication tools like Skype, since Skype allows you to speak in real time. This is a great way of producing fluent speakers! Besides, with social networking students can learn more about English culture since they can be in touch with native speakers who can share photos, videos or audio files with them.

English Social Networks
  • Babbel: it is a language learning social network where you can improve your language skills chatting with other Babble users, many of them native ones. As it is said in this website "Babbel already has more then 250,000 users from over 200 countries that learn English, Spanish, French, Italian and German." You only need to register in order to start communicating with other learners. Besides, you can also choose an online course if you are interested in learning grammar or vocabulary.

  • Busuu: it is a free online community for learning languages where users have access to more than 150 highly audiovisual leaning units covering a wide range of day-to-day topics. The language material is currently available in French, Spanish, English and German but further languages will be added soon. Additionally, the users have the possibility to directly improve their language skills with other native speakers of the community. Via an integrated video-chat, users can practice their skills while being at home. They are a Madrid based start-up and launched the website in May 08. By now, more than 100,000 users from over 200 countries have joined this great website and they have been nominated Official Project of the UNESCO during the International Year of languages.

  • Italki: is a social networking site that helps people learn languages in a fun and interactive way by connecting members for language exchange. The site initially went live in December of 2006 (making us one of the earliest players in this space), and has experienced tremendous growth such that we now have about 440,000 members from more than 200 countries, speaking over 100 languages. One of italki's earliest and most popular features is "Answers", where members can ask questions about learning languages and other members of the community respond. Many students have used italki to get help with their homework and to find recommendations on textbooks and other study materials. In May of 2008, italki added "Knowledge," a publicly editable wiki of language learning content, which we hope over time, will become just like a free public textbook.

  • Livemocha: Livemocha, with more than 2 millions of members offers a great number of languages including English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Hindi, Japanese and it is the most popular language learning site! Students can write or speak about a topic and receive feedback from native speakers on the network. According to Shirish Nadkarni, chief executive of the company, the name Livemocha refers to the relaxed atmosphere of a coffee shop, the perfect place for chatting with native speakers while drinking a cup of coffee at home.

  • Palabea: it is another social network for practicing, communicating and learning foreign languages which uses audio and visual tools as learning aids (podcasts, videos, etc). Palabea has created virtual classrooms where all users can upload or create content, I mean, if you are a teacher you can record videolessons, podcasts or create documents. However, if you are a student, you can search for a language course or communicate with speakers from all over the world in audio or videoconferences.

However, if you are interested in creating and customize a free social network for communicating with your student, Ning makes it easy. You can create your own social networks just in a few minutes, adding the content you want and have your students participating and learning. In EFL Geek 3.0 blog you will find very useful information to know how it works.

20 Websites to Practice and Learn the English Language

Some students need extra practice outside of class. Fortunately, there are many different websites to practice and learn English online. Here are 20 free sites to recommend to your students:

Learn English

Livemocha - Livemocha is a popular language learning site used by millions of people around the world. Students can learn from online language lessons and chat with other language learners.

VerbaLearn - VerbaLearn is an excellent place to learn and practice English vocabulary. Students can customize the way they learn and receive mp3 study lists.

English as a Second Language - This About.com site provides thousands of free ESL resources to help people learn English. Resources include free English courses, grammar and vocabulary practice, tests, quizzes, and other English learning tools.

Transparent Language - Transparent Language offers a number of free resources to students who are trying to learn English, including an overview of the language, learning software, and online quizzes.

The English Club - This site offers free lessons, videos, games, stories, quizzes and other helpful resources to students who want to learn English for free. Students can also chat online and practice their English with other club members.

Learn English - Learn English has been a valuable resource for EFL/ESL learners for more than ten years now. The site teaches students English vocabulary, grammar, and conversation and then tests their knowledge with quizzes and games.

Learn English Online - Learn English Online offers a free 52-lesson EFL/ESL course for beginners. Each lesson includes writing and pronunciation practice.

Fonetiks - This site offers free audio pronunciation guides for nine varieties of the English language, including American English, British English, Irish English, Scottish English, Welsh English, Australian English, Indian English, and South African English.

Merriam-Webster - The online version of Merriam-Webster is an excellent place for ESL students to learn new words. The site offers a search feature, a "word of the day," and fun word games.

Babel Fish - This free online translator from Yahoo! can translate single words, a block of text, or entire web pages--a great way for ESL students to learn new English phrases.

Practice English

ManyThings.org - EFL and ESL learners can practice their pronunciation with the free audio games on this site.

ESL Fast - Digital robots help ESL learners practice their English on ESL Fast. Visitors can practice conversations for hotels, apartments, college, transportation, travel, employment, entertainment, shopping, and daily life.

ESL Forum - This online forum is the most popular ESL forum on the web. It can be used by both students and teachers who want to practice writing and discuss ESL learning.

Dave's ESL Cafe - Dave's ESL Cafe offers a wide range of resources to ESL students and teachers. Students who want to practice their English writing and communication skills will especially enjoy the large student forum.

ESL Flashcards - ESL students can practice their English with this enormous collection of free ESL flashcards and printables.

Online Books Page - Students can practice their English reading skills with the free books found on the Online Books Page. There are more than 35,000 books to choose from in all.

Bibliomania - Like the Online Books Page, Bibliomania offers a large selection of free English literature. The site also provides study guides to popular books as well as other learning materials.

IPL - The Internet public library is another good place to practice English reading skills. This online library offers free books, magazines, newspapers, and other reading materials.

Ohio University Department of Linguistics - Ohio University has assembled a nice collection of links to online English language tests. ESL students can use these tests to assess their knowledge level and determine where they need practice.

Peterson's TOEFL Quiz - Students who want to practice for the TOEFL can take this quick online quiz from Peterson's. The quiz tests reading comprehension and can be scored with the click of a button.

Guest post from education writer Karen Schweitzer. Karen is the About.com Guide to Business School. She also writes for the Online Colleges Database at OnlineColleges.net.

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