Connecting – Mystery Hangouts and Mystery Skype

The world has certainly shrunk with technology and it’s a true pity to miss the opportunity to allow our students to connect with it. Especially when learning a foreign language.

A Mystery Hangout or a Mystery Skype might be the solution to this. I gave it a go earlier this year and haven’t stopped ever since.

There are some things to bear in mind before you launch yourself on your first video chat.

The basics
  • Before you start, you’ll need a Gmail account for the Hangout or a Skype account. Log in and make sure your microphone and camera are working properly. You don’t want technical issues to ruin your experience.
  • Find a teacher or class willing to have a Hangout/Skype session with you. You can find some teachers in these Google+ Communities: Mystery Hangout for schools, Connected Classrooms Workshop, or Mystery Location Calls.  The Skype in the Classroom website also features teachers looking for Skyping buddies.  If you use Twitter, you can use the #mysterylocation or #mysterySkype.
  • Make sure your schedules coincide. Check time zones and locations. World Time Buddy is really handy for this, but you can use any online time converter. Remember that Argentina is GMT -3:00.
Prepare your students
  • You can brainstorm questions beforehand and write them down if possible. This will give them enough confidence when the videoconference starts.
  • Remind them they need to speak clearly and politely. There might be some delay, so this is key.
  • Assign roles. When kids know what is expected of them, the chances of them acting out decrease greatly. This will help you have a smooth call. There should at least be  a ‘greeter’ and a ‘closer’ to start and finish the conversation, some ‘question makers’ who ask the preassigned questions, a ‘locator’ that keeps track of the clues on the map, a/some ‘Googler’ who looks up key information that may lead to discovering the mystery location, and some ‘sharers’ who will continue the conversation after the guessing is done by telling their buddies fun facts about their city/country.
The Follow-up

The follow-up activities will depend on what kind of Hangout/Skype you had. Activities can range from very simple ones, like writing an account of the conversation or listing fun facts about the other country/school, to more complex ones, such as presentations or essays. It will all depend on the age and level of your students.




Developing Speaking Skills

Speaking is one of the most difficult skills to teach. There are many objective factors involved: individual sounds, fluency, rhythm, vocabulary, grammar, sentence structure, etc. But there’s also the more subjective factors, such as shyness, numerous classes or, well, plain adolescence. All these, individually or combined hinder the development of fluency. These are two of the tech tools I find useful when trying to get my students to practice.

Speech Recognition

The idea of turning speech to text is not new. Apple’s Siri and “OK Google” have been out for a while now. Speech Recognition jumped into this wave. It is an interesting add-on for Chrome. Once installed, whatever you dictate to your computer will automatically turn into text in your Google Doc.

How can I use this in the EFL classroom? you may ask. Well, I found that some of my students have a hard time listening to themselves and cannot tell the difference between the sound they should be making and the one they really are producing. Here’s where this add-on came in handy. By giving them a text that would force them to produce certain sounds (eg the difference between ‘three’ vs ‘free’, which is so difficult for Spanish speakers) I make them see their pronunciation needs to be spot on; otherwise, the computer won’t recognize it.

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Fluency Tutor

This free Chrome app takes it a step forward. Fluency Tutor has a wide range of texts to choose from (you can even filter them according to age or lexile level) You can send them to your students directly or you can share a link with them (in the class blog or virtual class, eg) They have useful tools to help them through the task: a dictionary, a translator and a picture dictionary. Once they listened to the text and feel ready to start, they just click record and start reading. They can record as many times as they need and play their recording back to make sure they are happy with the result. Then, all there’s left for them to do is send you the recording. You’ll get it straight on your Drive in a folder conveniently called “Fluency Tutor”

If you look closer in your FT Dashboard, you’ll see how many times your student listened to the text, which words they looked up and how many times they recorded. A true gem.

Google Workshop on Internet Safety for Educators

Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to take part in Google Argentina’s workshop for educators on Internet Safety. It is truly refreshing to see so many like-minded teachers willing to spend a whole morning during winter break to learn a few tricks to apply in class (and in daily browsing)
Internet safety is definitely something we all deem vital but know very little of. These are some of the things I learnt yesterday.
We need to stop thinking of passwords and start creating passphrases. For example, let’s say your favorite book is One Hundred Years of Solitude. Your password could then be: OHYoS#1967 (the year it was written) This way, your password fulfills all the necessary requirements: 8 characters minimum, upper/lower case letters, special characters, and numbers. And, most importantly, you will remember it.
Two-step verification

Enabling two-step verification is basically adding an extra layer of security to your account, especially those which have sensitive information. Every time you sign in, you’ll be asked to type in your password and also include a specially generated code you’ll be given.  There’s even an app to make your life easier. You can learn more about two-step verification here.

Chrome Safe Search

By turning safe search on, you’ll be making sure your students/kids will not be accessing inappropriate content. It is dead-easy to enable. You just need to visit your settings page. More detailed instructions here.

Youtube Restricted Mode

Worried that your kids/class might watch something inappropriate on Youtube. You can replicate Chrome’s Safe search by turning on Restricted Mode. You’ll find this at the bottom of the home page. Interested? Click here for further instructions.