I sometimes get a little annoyed by education bloggers who gripe about teachers who won’t embrace technology. For people who are that concerned about it, they might want to consider the old community organizing adage of leading with ears instead of mouths — identify teacher self-interests through listening and relationship-building, and afterwards help them see how using technology can help them get what they want — if it can.
In my nineteen year community organizing career prior to becoming a public school teacher, one tool we used to encourage people to do something they had never done before — participate in public life — was develop what we called “fixed-fights.” These were small-scale actions where new volunteer leaders had an almost guaranteed chance of success. These victories would help them develop self-confidence and a belief that it was worth continuing on the road to greater risks.
We can do the same with both teachers and students (and others) who are new to technology by, as the title of this list says, providing ways for them to easily, quickly and painlessly create online content.
It’s really not that big of a deal to me if my colleagues use a lot of technology. I’m more concerned that they engage their students in higher-ordering thinking skills and “learning by doing,” and believe that can be done with or without high tech.
However, I am interested in my English Language Learner students having good initial computer experiences because I believe that technology can be a huge asset specifically in second-language learning.
To that end, I’d like to share in this list (you might also want to check out my other twenty-plus “The Best….” lists) the web applications I’ve used to introduce students to technology and develop confidence through these “fixed-fights.” I think they can also be introduced to teachers who are a little hesitant to use technology in the classroom.
The only skill required to use these applications is to have a very beginning level understanding of the English language. You do not need to have an email address. You also don’t need to know how to type — none of these sites require a whole lot of writing. You don’t even have to know how to copy and paste for the vast majority of these sites, though in a few you do.
In addition, here are a few other criteria the site had to meet to make this list:
1) No registration is required to use the service.
2) It’s available free-of-charge.
3) Users can create attractive and engaging online content in a few minutes.
4) Users can email the link to the content they created from within the site itself. In other words, there is an email feature within the web application so the user doesn’t have to use his/her own email — even if they have one. I have included a few sites, though, that don’t include this feature — instead, they just provide a link or code that the user has to copy and paste. But the vast majority do have this email feature.
5) The online content the user creates is hosted indefinitely on the web application’s server — it is not deleted within a week or a month like many others do.
6) Even though a microphone, or the ability to upload a photo, might be useful on some of these sites, you can still create engaging content even without the extra equipment or image.
Once the online content is created, users can use the site’s email feature to send it to a teacher who can just look at it or, even better, post it on a webpage. Of course, the ideal option is for students to be able to post it on their own site.
This leads me to the one site I’m going to recommend that does require registration — Jottit. It is, by far, the easiest way to create a website, which can be done in less than five seconds. My Beginning English Language Learners and my more advanced students love having their own website where they can post their own work. It also eliminates a problem for me — I don’t have to get a ton of emails. I just create one Jottit page that contains links to all my student Jottits. I can go there to check their work, and they can use it to see what their peers have created. If you are going to use Jottit, I’d also suggest you review a super-short screencast about how to use it from Demo Girl. Oh, by the way, one advantage of Jottit is that it’s easy to embed creations that provide their code. In other words, you’re able to actually put the content on the website and not just links to the content (assuming the site provides that code).
Again, you don’t have to use a website. Instead, teachers could just have their students email their user-generated online content to them for review.
This list is going to be a little different because I’m not going to rank the sites. All of them are pretty good, so I’m just going to put them in topical categories instead of “good, better, best” ones. In fact, there are so many good ones that this is going to end up being “two part” post since I don’t have the space, nor the time, right now to include every worthy application.
And, now, here are the best ways for students (and anyone else) to create online content easily, quickly, and painlessly:
WRITE A SONG: Use Let Them Sing It For You to write lyrics, and have each word sung by a different singer. You have to hear it to believe it…Or, if you’re an American Idol fan, you can try Don Pablo’s Tex Mex Serenade, choose a singer and a song, and then use a text-to-speech feature to act as one of the judges. For more ideas on how to use viral marketing gimmicks like this in the classroom, please see my TechLearning article Samuel L. Jackson, My ESL Students, And Me.
MAKE A MAP: There are two sites in particular that allow you easily make and save maps (without registration) that include multiple “pushpins.” These are spots on the map where you can insert more information about different places. These map-making sites are Quikmaps and TinyMap.
CREATE A PIECE OF ART: There are numerous sites that “fit this bill.” They included Imagination Cubed (which actually has multiple uses — see the Solar Systems my students created), Art Pad, Mr. Picassohead, and Etchy (an online Etch-A-Sketch).
CREATE A CARTOON/COMIC: Again, there are a number of great sites in this category. They include MakeBeliefsComix, the Toronto Public Library Tell-A-Story Builder, Scholastic’s Captain Underpants, and Kiddonet.
MAKE A SLIDESHOW: Bookr is about as easy of a slideshow maker as they get. You can search through images with a tag word, drag them into a flip-like book, and add text. My students love it. You can see some of their samples here. For an even easier way to create a slideshow, you can try Colgate’s Smile Slideshow.
PICK AN IMAGE AND WRITE A SPEECH BUBBLE: There are a number of sites that allow you to easily grab an image off the web and add a speech bubble with your text. The best ones are Bubblr and Caption Bubble.
TELL A MEDIEVAL TALE: Use the great Historic Tale Construction Kit to tell a story with images and text while you create a virtual medieval tapestry.
DESIGN AN EARTH-FRIENDLY HOUSE: My Abodo lets users design a house and then get a rating for how environmentally-friendly it is.
SUBTITLE A CLIP FROM A BOLLYWOOD MOVIE: Bombay TV lets you choose a scene from a B movie from Bollywood and have fun creating subtitles for the clip.
SEND A TALKING EGG-A-GRAM: This is another strange example of viral marketing. You can choose the way you want your eggs — scrambled, hard-boiled, etc. — and then use the site’s text-to-speech feature by having your chosen egg “speak” your Egg-A-Gram. Again, you can see some student creations here.
WRITE AN E-CARD: I have links to literally thousands of different kinds of E-Cards on my website. They include ones of images from every country in the world (Nations Illustrated), a Dancing Santa Claus or a Christmas tree, dinosaur pictures, a Valentine’s Day virtual cake, and a big selection of virtual gifts. You can see student examples of these at my website.
CREATE A PICTURE SENTENCE: Write a sentence and select an image to go with each word by using Phrasr.
CREATE A CHARACTER FROM THE DARK AGES: Dress-up the character of your choice from the Middle Ages (Viking, nun, knight, peasant, etc.) with all the accessories.
MAKE A TALKING OTTER: Yes, that’s what it is. Build and send an Ottogram. I wonder how they come up with these things….
DESIGN A FLAG: Go to We Are Multicolored and design and describe a flag that represents you.
CREATE A MUSEUM EXHIBIT: The Object Of History from the National Museum of American History allows you to create a virtual museum exhibition about a number of historical events, including the California Gold Rush, desegregation, and organizing for the rights of farmworkers.
Well, that’s a long enough list for now. I’ll be writing a Part Two of this list in the near future. You might also want to explore my other “The Best….” lists and the 8,000 categorized links on my website.
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