Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

…For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL

July 24, 2008
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

The Best Places To Get Blog, Website, Book, Movie & Music Recommendations

First, I want to begin by saying that, obviously, the best place to get good recommendations for any of these categories are people you know and whose judgment you respect.

Secondly, I want to clarify that in this list I’m not going to cover any of the many websites that allow you to see what your “friends” are suggesting, either.

Instead, this “The Best…” list will highlight ways to get recommendations that are (or at least I think they are) based on some kind of computer generated formula. And, in some of them, they might be considered more like a search engine.

I’ve used these applications to identify new resources to assist in my teaching, and I’ve also had students (primarily reluctant-readers from my ninth-grade mainstream class) use one or two of them to find books in which they might be interested.

I’m sure I’m missing some good tools out there, so please feel free to leave suggestions in the Comments section.

Here are my choices for The Best Places To Get Blog, Website, Book, Movie, & Music Recommendations (again, through some kind of computer generated system):

BLOGS & WEBSITES:

Three places are the “related feeds” section in Bloglines, which lists other blogs that are supposed related to the one you’re reading at that time; Google Reader’s “recommendations”; and Stumbleupon.

Stumbleupon has recently added the great feature of being able to access and use it entirely online — without having to download anything. The toolbar now is entirely online. You can read more about it at Read Write Web.

The ultimate StumbleUpon guide is a pretty darn thorough…guide to StumbleUpon.

Wectar has recently  added not only a continually updated listing of the most popular Delicious bookmarks, but with one click of the mouse it will then show a list of related websites, including “thumbnail” screenshots.

Popacular shows the top twenty-five bookmarks from Delicious.com for the last: hour, eight hours, day, week, month, and all-time.  At first, I thought it wasn’t going to be a particularly useful web tool. However, I checked in on it three times today and found two very helpful links.  I probably spent a total of less than five minutes looking at the site.

Post Rank rates blog posts by an “engagement” index, and many blogs (including this one) have added their widget that highlights their most popular posts.  Post Rank has just modified their website to let you, among other things, identify not only the most popular posts by topic and by blog, but also the most popular blogs in any particular topic area. Of course, they are using their own criteria to determine popularity and what they identify as “education”, so you have to take their lists with a grain of salt. They change their ratings weekly.  You can see their education  list here.  It changes weekly.:  Again, you can search for any topic you are interested in.

Similar Sites is another web tool that deserves to be on this list, and in this section.

YourVersion won a big award at a conference being put on by TechCrunch. After you register, you identify your areas of interest, and YourVersion then seems to do a good job of identifying sites you might be interested in. It also has a lot of other bells and whistles.

Google has launched Google Reader Play. As TechCrunch describes it:

It is a more visual way to browse through the most popular items being saved and shared on Google Reader. When you launch it, you are presented with a large photo, video, or text excerpt on the main part of the screen, and can flip through by clicking on arrows or selecting an item from the filmstrip at the bottom of the screen.

You can read more about it at TechCrunch’s post. It seems like an interesting way to find new items of interest.

BOOKS, MOVIES, & MUSIC:

Here, one obvious tool is Amazon’s “Customers Who Bought This Item..” section that lists the books, movies, and music that other people purchased who also bought the item you’re looking at.

Amaznode is a search tool for Amazon that provides a more visual representation of search results. I’ve found that some of my reluctant readers are more engaged in looking for books using this tool than Amazon’s usual rather bland interface.

Scholastic has recently started the Teacher Book Wizard. It’s a data base of over 50,000 books that’s searchable by keyword, title or author. You can also type in the title of book and indicate if you are looking for similar books at the same, lower, or higher level. I typed in the keyword “immigration” and was able to find quite a few that I know my students would consider “high-interest” ones. I certainly got a better selection that I did when I typed the same word at Amazon’s site. I think this might end up being quite useful to teachers of English Language Learners.

Netflix’s “Enjoyed By Members Who Enjoyed” and “More Like This” features are also useful sources of recommendations.

Movie Lens is a new recommendation/search engine for movies, and it’s by far the most effective tool — for teachers, at least – I’ve found to search for movies.  The other typical sites that let you search for movies do it by genre (adventure, romance, etc.).  Movie Lens is the first that I’ve found that, in addition to searching by genre, lets you search by what they call “tags.”  For example, I searched for “World War II” and got an extensive list of World War II-related movies — a list that I would not have found through Amazon, Netflix, or any other tool on this list.

Nanocrowd has been written-up by Read Write Web, and their post is probably worth a look. Basically, you start typing in the name of a movie that’s similar to what you’re looking for (as you type letters, movie titles will appear). Click “enter” and you will be led to a page filled with similar movies and descriptive “tags” for those movies, too. Click on the tags, and you’ll see more of the same.  It’s a pretty useful movie recommendation tool — somewhat similar to Movie Lens.

I’m adding Taste Kid to this list. After typing in the name of an author, a title of a book, a movie, or a recording artist,  it will provide you with a number of recommendations.  As with some other items on this list, a tool like this would be useful to help students find books they were interested in reading.

Pickii uses Amazon’s database and shows you the top-rated, by buyers, item by category.

Boys Read is a good source of book recommendations for…boys.

Savvy Graph is another addition to this list.

It’s slightly different from the other sites presently on that list, though.  Most of them will offer movie, music, book or website suggestions of other resources that are similar to the ones you like now.

If you type in the name of a book, author, musician, actor, or director into Savvy Graph, though, it will show you on one screen the Amazon consumer-rating for all of the items produced by that person.  In other words, it’s very easy to see which ones others considered the best and worst.  I could see some of my mainstream ninth-grader enjoying looking for a book from an author who has written many books using a web tool like this one.  It could help them narrow down the search.

Also, if you type in the subject of the book you’re looking for — let’s say “street gangs” — you can find all the books in that category and their customer ratings — again on one screen.

I figure that anything that will make reading, or even looking for high-interest books, a more engaging activity for my students is worth trying.

Again, this list might not “go together” as smoothly as some of my others, but there does seem to be at least a little bit of a common thread that might make it useful to teachers.

Literature Map

Hunch is the brand new site created by the co-founder of Flickr that I think could be beneficial to teachers, English Language Learners, and all students.  It’s not quite open to the public yet (march, 2009), but I received an invitation with a couple of days of signing-up. I’m sure they received thousands of requests over the weekend in response to the enormous amount of coverage in the major tech blogs over the past few days, so they’re clearly ramping things up. I suspect anybody who registers will get an invite quickly.

Here are links to several substantial posts about it from the tech blogs, so I won’t go into great detail about Hunch here — TechCrunch, Mashable, .and Read Write Web.

Basically, though, it’s a recommendation engine — You choose a question that you’d like the answer to and you’re then led through a simple and engaging process of ten questions or less to help you reach a decision (and they seem accessible to Intermediate English Language Learners). Questions raise from the serious (What kind of blog should I read?) to the not-so-serious (What kind of Star Wars character am I?). After you received the responses, you can leave both positive and negative reactions.

In addition, users can pretty simply create their own question and “build a topic” that others can use to help with their own decision-making. I would very characterize it as creating something very roughly analogous to a “choose your own adventure” style story (also called an “action maze”).

I think Hunch can be useful for teachers professionally as a good site to find recommendations, which is why I’m adding it to this list.

The Book Seer is the newest addition to this list.  You complete this sentence:

Ambassador, I’ve just finished reading _____________ by ____________ . What should I read next?

After that, you’re shown a split screen with recommendations from Amazon and from “Library Thing.”  I could see my mainstream ninth-graders getting a “kick” out of using it and, more importantly, finding some books they might be interested in reading.

GetGlue is a neat recommendation site that has just expanded to movies, books, music, and television shows. You first identify a few things you like in each area, and you then get recommendations provided.

Meltinpop is a new site dedicated to what they call “free association.” Users identify “themes” related to anything they are interesting in — songs related to food, movie scenes with car chases, scenes from television shows about doctors, etc. Other users then respond with their suggestions. It’s got quite a few “themes” already started. This could be very handy for ESL/EFL teachers looking for multimedia to connect to the thematic unit or specific lesson they want to teach. You can only log-in through Facebook, so it probably wouldn’t be workable for student use.

Links to all of these sites can also be found on my Teacher’s Page.

If you’ve found this post useful, you might want to consider subscribing to this blog for free and also explore the other 130 plus “The Best…” lists.