Learning about inventors and inventions can be connected to many different subject areas, and offers lots of opportunities for English-language development. Plus, students often find it pretty engaging.
This “The Best…” list is divided into several sections.
The first focuses on sites that offer straightforward and accessible text or online videos on the history of inventions and biographies of inventors.
Next, comes interactives that students can use to learn a little more about specific inventions.
The third section includes sites that students can actively use to participate in the inventive process and develop some of their own ideas.
The final part shares some sites that are just plain fun (and educational!).
Here are my choices for The Best Sites Where Students Can Learn About Inventions:
The History of Invention comes from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and is very accessible to ELL’s.
Fact Monster also provides information on many types of inventions, though it’s not as accessible as the CBC site.
Zoom Inventions and Inventors has a lot of very accessible information.
Here’s a video about American Inventors.
The Library of Congress has a feature on Thomas Edison.
Learn about Technology in the Year 1900.
How Stuff Works has quite a few short videos on inventions.
You can learn a lot at Invention Facts And Myths.
Take a look at some Ancient Inventions.
Learn about Benjamin Franklin’s inventions. Audio support is provided for the text.
The History Channel has a number of short video clips on different inventions.
The Voice of America has a report on the history of the Internet, including audio support for the text.
Here’s a relatively accessible description of how television was invented.
You can read a very accessible biography of Leonardo da Vinci here.
The INDEX Award winners for this year have just been announced. It’s a Danish-based effort that provides large cash prizes for “designs to improve life.” You can also read more about it at this San Francisco Chronicle article. It’s really a neat idea, and a great site. If you click on any of the categories at the top of the Index page — Body, Home, Work, Play, Community — it will bring you to very short multimedia presentations on each invention, and they’re very accessible to English Language Learners.
Inventors And Their Inventions is a TIME Magazine slideshow.
Inventions: the weird and the wonderful is a new slideshow from The Guardian newspaper.
TIME Magazine has just published The 50 Worst Inventions. This is how they describe it:
From the zany to the dangerous to the just plain dumb, here is TIME’s list (in no particular order) of some of the world’s bright ideas that just didn’t work out.
“Innovations That Rocked The World” is a pretty interesting slideshow from Newsweek.
TIME Magazine has published a slideshow titled Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park: The World’s First R & D Lab.
The 50 Best Inventions of 2010 has been published by TIME Magazine.
“Science Of Everyday Life” is a neat interactive timeline of inventions, and comes from Discovery Education.
This interactive from Prentice-Hall focuses on a few early U.S. inventors.
This Brainpop movie on Thomas Edison (it requires a subscription, but offers a free trial) includes quizzes.
Watch these early films made by Edison.
How Edison Are You? is a pretty “non-linear” site about Thomas Edison. There’s a timeline and many images of his inventions. It’s a bit tricky to navigate, and not super-accessible to English Language Learners because of it, but this resource is a nice complement to all the other Edison sites.
See how many questions you can answer correctly in the Wright Brothers Game.
Here’s an interactive about James Watt, the inventor of the steam engine.
Print-out and complete this cloze (fill-in-the-gap) about the Wright Brothers.
Here’s a U.S. Invention Timeline.
And here’s yet another Invention Timeline.
Here’s an animation of the first printing press.
Check-out Devices Of Wonder from the Getty Museum.
Inventive Kids offers a number of informative games for students to play.
Learn about a cardboard box solar cooker that won an invention contest. Audio support is provided for the text.
Universal Leonardo has a bunch of great online interactive experiences students can have with Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings and experiments.
Alexander Graham Bell: Early recordings played is a neat interactive from The Associated Press.
Read and answer the questions about Alexander Graham Bell.
Read and answer the questions about Thomas Edison.
Watch this Alexander Graham Bell movie.
Try out these Wright Brothers interactives:
Invent your own “gadget” at Kids.com.
Invent something at the Invention Factory.
Take a look at 30 Of The World’s Strangest Inventions.
Play invention games at the Invention Playhouse.
You can do a lot of fun stuff at the Cyberchase Inventors’ Workshop. You have to register, but it’s quick and easy to do so.
“30 Dumb Inventions” is a slideshow from LIFE.
This one doesn’t necessarily fit in any of my four categories, but here’s a bunch of PowerPoint presentations on inventors and inventions.
Lucky Discoveries is a Newsweek slideshow that highlights “famous inventions and advances that came about by accident.”
Here are some History Channel clips I use in my classes:
27 of History’s Strangest Inventions comes from Brain Pickings.
Forget Edison: This is How History’s Greatest Inventions Really Happened is from The Atlantic.
7 Amazing Teenage Inventors is from TIME.
The New York Times Magazine has published their “innovation issue.” It has a very engaging “interface” and provides accessible information on the origins of fifty inventions.
The 50 Greatest Breakthroughs Since the Wheel is from The Atlantic.
Here’s their introductory video about it:
This video and lesson is a couple of years old, but is new to me. Here’s how TED-Ed describes it:
Invented in 1793, the cotton gin changed history for good and bad. By allowing one field hand to do the work of 10, it powered a new industry that brought wealth and power to the American South — but, tragically, it also multiplied and prolonged the use of slave labor. Kenneth C. Davis lauds innovation, while warning us of unintended consequences.
Feel free to share additional suggestions.