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.

 

 

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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.

Blabberize

There are some tools that make you feel like a kid when you use them and Blabberize is one of them.

To make a ‘blabber’, that is, a talking picture all you have to do is follow three simple steps.

Pick an Image

Choose an image you like and upload it to the site. You can crop the image if necessary.

Place Mouths

You get a predesigned shape that you have to place on top of your image. Notice you’ll see some red dots. Those are the margins of your mouth. Make sure they match the lips of the face you uploaded. The big green circle will control the flap of the mouth. The farther away you drag, the more open the mouth will be.

Pick a sound

This is where you get creative. You can upload a track you previously recorded, or you can record on the spot (for this option, you’ll have to grant Blabberize permission to access your microphone) Once you are done, you preview your masterpiece and save it.

I find this tool incredibly useful for EFL classes, particularly for those shy students who have a hard time speaking in front of the whole class. The first time I used it was a few years ago when I was teaching Literature. My class was reading The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips, by Michael Morpurgo. In it, Lilly, the main character, loses her cat, Tips, and sets off to find it. After reading the book, I asked my students to rethink the story from Tips’ point of view and retell it. We could have done the good ol’ composition, but I wanted something different, something engaging. And this was when Blabberize came to the rescue. They uploaded pictures of a black and white cat like the one in the story and made it talk. The ‘blabbers’ were then uploaded to the class site so everyone could hear Tips talk.

Granted, there are other useful and user-friendly tools for talking avatars, like Voki, but what I especially like about Blabberize is that it is the most customizable of all. You can use any picture you want, even a selfie! Give it a try. I guarantee you’ll love it. And that talking llama on their site is just hilarious!

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Pinterest

Last month, I wrote about a very interesting tool for bookmarking: Pocket
Save to Pocket has proven to be incredibly helpful. It’s pretty intuitive, saves content for later access and has easy-to-install add-ons, which means that, with a simple click, your site is saved.
But the real jewel of bookmarks in my opinion is definitely Pinterest. Ahh, Pinterest, you make me waste countless hours sailing through a sea of pins. But I love you, anyway.

It works pretty much the same way. You find something you like on the web and you pin it for future reference. There’s also an add-on for Chrome, which you can install from here. You can create different boards in order to organize your content and find it more quickly. 

Bookmarking has evolved in the past years into social bookmarking, which basically means that you can share the content you found and also benefit from what other people have stumbled upon on the Internet. Pinterest has this social component as well, since you can follow other pinners and get inspired by their pins. 
Some of the pinners I find most useful are TEDEdudemicEdutopia and Humor Train for the occasional laugh. And you can find me as well 😉
Happy pinning!

Save to Pocket

Pocket has proved to be life-saving for me at times. It was originally called “Read it Later”, which I think pretty much sums up its purpose. You are browsing the web, find something that catches your eye but then life gets in the way. You have no time to read that article, watch that video, or check out that lesson plan that looks so interesting. No worries; Pocket will come to the rescue.
First off, you’ll need to create an account. You can save your finds by simply clicking on the ‘plus’ sign and pasting the link. Easy? Yes. But there’s an even more convenient way. Visit your Chrome Webstore and look for the Save to Pocket extension on the search box. All you need to do now is add it to your browser and voilà, you’ll see it at the top-right corner of your Chrome browser. If you are using another browser, no worries. You can easily install it here.
Save to Pocket add-on
Every time you find something you’d like to save, just click on the Save to Pocket icon and it will automatically appear on your Pocket account.Pocket even found another way of saving links: via email. All you have to do is send the link in question to add@getpocket.com. You’ll find step by step instructions here.

Do you have a smartphone? Then you can also have the Pocket app. It’s available for IOS and Android, so it’ll work on most phones.Now, trust me on this one. He who does not tag will inevitably get a headache. If you end up liking Pocket as much as I do, then your list will grow exponentially and finding that article you liked so much will turn into a headache. You’ll be back where you started. So remember to tag your finds with keywords you’ll remember easily (such as ‘lesson plans’, ‘recipes’, ‘sites for school’)

Of course, Pocket is not the only way of saving links. You can find out about some others on this old post.

Below, you’ll find a short video introducing the app.

Hope you like it!