This is Week 6 of CALL's Technology in Education's on-line discoveries. See here for my introduction to CALL (Computer Assisted Language Learning). This week's topic is Speaking and Writing Tools. I chose a variety of sites and tools in order to cover a range of skills, all of which are necessary to master a language.
Speaking - DebatingDebating is a great way to encourage opinionated and/or argumentative students to give a purpose to their skills and also prompts quieter students to give a voice – an actual spoken voice – to their ideas. The debatabase (database of topics) on the idebate.org site has many suggestions for students, including point/counterpoint lists with details and links to sites with more information. Students can also use the lists as models for preparing for a debate on a topic of their own choosing. A topic of general interest to the student body of a school would be an excellent choice, provided that it is not too controversial.
Spelling/Vocabulary/GrammarVery often it seems like whatever rules English spelling has, there are more exceptions than adherents to the rules, so mastering the topic requires considerable practice, for some learners more than others. Therefore varied opportunities for independent work at an individual pace are very useful. The following sites are excellent for that purpose.
With the Interactive Spelling Bees on Annenberg Learning the computer replaces the traditional caller at a spelling bee. Learners can have words repeated as manner times as necessary, which would quickly tire most humans. The levels on the site range from first to twelfth grade.
The BBC has a rather addictive site for advanced learners – the site is geared towards adults – which teaches and tests grammar, reading comprehension and spelling skills. The subtopics of spelling are very varied (plurals, root words, prefixes, suffixes, common letter patterns and more) and the tests are trickier than one might think multiple choice tests would be. I think that this site is especially good for students who are slightly more advanced that most of their classmates and would welcome an opportunity to learn more at their own pace and test their progress.
Spelling City creates custom vocabulary and spelling tests from user-entered lists, including supplying definitions. The user can edit definitions, but all that is required is entering a list of words. This site is a time-saver for preparing tests and can also be used by students for self-testing or testing their peers. Didn't we all want to be teachers for a day when we were in school?
Fun Brain's Spell Check requires choosing the one misspelled word out of four choices AND correcting it. At both the "easy" and "hard" levels the tests remind one that the relationship between sound and spelling should not be assumed. Stay Afloat is a guess-the-word game which allows one to play "hangman" without finding someone else who wants to play. Grammar Gorilla grabbed me because of the name, and the banana prizes. It's a good review of the parts of speech. Find more of Fun Brains's games here.
Writing – Pre-WritingMy brainstorm map, titled Stormy Brain, is here on the WiseMapping site. I could not think of a topic for a map, and then I realized that I was brainstorming about brainstorming, and hence the stormy brain. (Plus my brain felt like a cloud had blown in.) I took a break and then resumed a calm weather pattern.
Rigid, confining boxes were the best choice for trouble spots and the good things brainstorming brings out I put into rounded shapes, the kind that expand well. This site is particularly good for visually-inclined students who think in charts and images. However anyone brainstorming should give it a try. One never knows what a new tool can do until one tries it.
Writing - While WritingI tried the British Council's story maker. The user chooses the type of story, fairy, horror or science fiction, and enters a few details, either by choosing one of the suggestions or entering a suitable word or words (number of characters is limited). A very short story is then generated. This option does not allow much creativity and therefore I would use it only with students who would benefit from the satisfaction of seeing their own story in print, but are not yet ready to fully compose one.
Writing – Post-WritingAfter the British Council's story-maker I tried making a book (My Garden – Cacti and Cats) with Story Jumper. I have not finished it yet, but I am enjoying the process. The site allows users to freely enter text, upload photographs, and add sound, in addition to being able to select items from a variety of backgrounds and props. This site encourages creativity! Students who are comfortable writing their own stories and want the freedom to add whatever images and sounds they desire will love this site. The site can also be used for diaries and travel logs. Writing about what-I-did-during-vacation is much more interesting with images and music.
Have a wonderful week of inspiring discoveries,