Sunday, December 27, 2009

Authentic Easy-to-Read Stories Online at the Toronto Star

I was recently introduced to the "Acts of Kindness" series published weekly by the Toronto Star by a multilevel instructor who teaches in Canada. She noted that these true stories, submitted by readers of the newspaper, are very suitable for multilevel classes since they are short and often written in "easy" English. She has the students work in cross-ability groups with the stories in a variety of ways. For example, students may be assigned to explain a story to a student at a different ability level, or rewrite the story in their own words. After a quick search, I found that the more than 2000(!) stories are archived at the Toronto Star online edition at and they are not only suitable for multilevel ESL situations, they are a wonderful resource for any ESL class.

The stories cover a wide variety of topics and everyday situations, so there are many opportunities to work with vocabulary and associate stories with topics being covered in class already. For example, I saw several stories related to getting stuck without money and someone helping, others related to losing things on buses and recovering them, and still others related to being helped by a stranger when a crime is about to occur. Most newer ESL textbooks have chapters related to finances, public transportation, and public safety. It would be very easy to choose selections from the stories and introduce them as supplemental activities to particular units during the semester.

There is also a link to submit one's own story! Students at all levels could work in groups or individually to submit an "act of kindness" story and see it published online!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

How to download a YouTube (or other similar video) using

There are probably several ways to download YouTube and other videos and save them to a DVD or flash drive. Basically, you'll just download them to your computer using converter software and then copy them to your flash drive or burn them using the DVD burning software on your computer.

A free web-based converter can be found at (there are also more versions of the same software with added features for a fee at the same website)

The process is really simple but it takes a few minutes because you're converting relatively large files.

1) Find the video you want to use in the classroom on YouTube or TeacherTube and copy the URL for that particular video. It's usually really easy to find but sometimes you have to click on a few links to find the actual URL (not the "channel") It should look something like this

2) Go to the Zamzar website and in STEP 1, click on the URL link in the sentence "Select files or URL to convert." The default Step 1 is to convert a file you already have on your computer so the typical "find file" window would appear. By clicking on the URL link, you get a spot to paste the URL of the video you want to convert. (Remember to delete the "http" that's already there before you paste in the URL if you've copied another "http" when you copied the URL; you don't want the "http" repeated.)

3) In STEP 2, select the file format output that can play on your computer. If you have Quicktime, you could select MOV. If you have Windows Media Player you could select WMV. You might have to experiment to find the right format for you.

4) In STEP 3, enter your email address.

5) In STEP 4, click on "convert" to start the process of converting the selected file to the file type you selected. What happens is that the selected video gets uploaded directly to the Zamzar website and starts to be converted. When it's finished being converted, you'll get an email message saying your file is ready to be downloaded with a clickable link included. Click on the link to start downloading the converted file (most likely to your "Downloads" folder. According to the email message, the converted movie is stored at the website for 24 hours only in the free version so get it without delay.

6) View the movie by doubleclicking on it just as you would any other movie file, copy and paste it to your flash drive, or burn it to a DVD or CD using the appropriate software. is not the only online or software method but I have used it and it works for most movies you'll find on YouTube or TeacherTube. There are apparently some movies that are protected.

Friday, September 04, 2009 for reducing image file size for online images.

It's great to find a website that provides a service of use and works well-and for free! Web Resizer is one of those! Do you want to make sure that people who view your website aren't waiting long periods for your photos to load? This is especially true for teachers who post images of students or student projects or who have websites where students upload a lot of photos. Webresizer reduces wait time in two ways. It electronically reduces the file size of any image, and it provides a convenient online cropping tool. The process is simple: browse for an image saved on your computer and click the upload button. The image is automatically reduced using the electronic process and appears on the screen next to the original image. The new file size is displayed and the difference in size between the original and the new image is shown as a percentage. Click on a link that says "download" this image and the reduced file is saved on your computer. The real proof is when you post the new optimized image on the website next to the original image and compare how long it takes for both images to appear. The difference is immediately evident.

Not only is Web Resizer free, you don't even have to register for it. Just click on the link and start resizing your photos!

There are also other online photo editing tools to check out including a cropping tool, adjustments for contrast and brightness, and a way to add borders to your photo.

There are probably other websites that provide similar tools, but this was the first one I heard about and it works great.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

More from CLEAR-Use Viewpoint to easily create short videos

A second free application from the Rich Internet Applications suite of programs from the Center for Language Education And Research of Michigan State University is called Viewpoint. Viewpoint allows you to create simple videos (using your own webcam and microphone) completely from within your web browser. The completed video is saved in your CLEAR account and accessible via a URL or is associated with an "embed code" that you can place on your website, blog or wiki. You can also upload an existing video from YouTube, TeacherTube or from your own computer and it will be converted to a format that can be posted on a website.

There doesn't seem to be any editing capabilities once the video is made so have a good idea of what you want to say before you start recording! If you make a mistake, start the recording over.

Here's an example!

Click here for a quick video message that I posted on my class web page for the students to view when they get back to class.
If you already have an account at CLEAR or the Rich Internet Applications website, you don't need to create a new account.

Sunday, March 29, 2009


The great new website that I learned about at TESOL 2009 in Denver that I've already started to use (I created a practice speaking exercise for my students to use starting Monday.) is the "Rich Internet Applications for Language Learning" website created and developed by the Center for Language Education And Research at Michigan State University. Dennie Hoopingarner presented the free tools that (among other things) give anyone with a website the ability to add an audio recording tool to the website. It works for websites, blogs, wikis, and any other type of web page that you can edit. The first one that I've tried out is called an "audio drop box." Patterned after an assignment "drop box" that a professor might place outside an office (the students leave papers and assignments there when the professor isn't in), the audio drop box allows a student to click on a "record" button in order to record themselves responding to a question. The completed recording is automatically sent to the correct file at the instructor's account page. The next time the instructor logs in, he or she can click on the list of files submitted to hear each student's recording. It's fast, easy to figure out, and it's free. The audio drop box feature is only one of the tools available.

You can see a sample drop box at the bottom of this post! Click to type your name, and then click on "allow" when the website asks for permission to access your microphone and speakers. Click on the
record button to start recording and then on the stop button to stop! There's also a play button if you want to hear what you recorded. If you click on the record button again, you will record over any previous recording. When you're satisfied with your recording, click on the green check mark to submit your recording. The next time I log into my account, I'll see your recording. For your test recording, tell me how you think you could use an "audio drop box" with your students.

You can see my first exercise (recording three types of sentences about some photos from the TESOL conference) at the new "Speaking Practice Page" at my class wiki. The top half of the page has screen shots of the steps necessary to record your voice. Scroll down the page for the actual assignment. You can submit the assignment if you want! Just include your affiliation when you type your name in the Audio Drop Box so I get an idea of who is trying it out...

Check out the audio drop box and the other internet-based language practice tools at the Rich Internet Applications for Language Learning web site. You'll be glad you did!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Free Rice Updates

If you haven't checked out the Free Rice web site for awhile, go back and look at the many new features. You can now earn free rice by answering questions on other subjects as well, including grammar and basic math! Click on the "subjects" tab at the top of the page to see a list of other topics.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

When you want education fast!

This was in today's Daily News. Don't blame the driver! He was just an overeager student following the directions on the sign...

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

CUE 2009

I just returned from the CUE (Computer Using Educators) conference this past weekend, and as usual, picked up several good ideas that I can start using right away in the classroom. My hands-on workshop didn't go as well as I would have liked because of the difference between the version of Microsoft Office that I use in the classroom (2003) and the version of Microsoft Office that was loaded on the computers at the conference (2007). Frankly, I was caught by surprise. It hadn't even occurred to me to ask this year, since last year the computers had 2003. I guess the equipment provider upgraded all of the software in the meantime. I stumbled around and had to ask participants how to do some things. It was not as professional as I would have liked. Fortunately, most understood the problem and appreciated the projects I showed them anyway. Part of the paradox of the situation is, of course, that even if I had demonstrated the projects using the latest version of PowerPoint or Excel or whatever, most of the teachers present would still have to go back to classrooms where they would have to do the projects in 2003 anyway! From now on, I will have to see what version of Office will be on the "lab" computers, and prepare dual handouts. One handout for the version of Office in the lab, and one handout for what the teachers will see when the get back to their classroom.

I should also note, that it is fairly obvious (when done side by side in both versions of Office) that some procedures are NOT easier to do in 2007 and many of the icons and arrangement of the menu items are NOT transparent to the user...