Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

…For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL

March 7, 2015
by Larry Ferlazzo

“Writing Challenge For Kids” Could Be A Nice Change-Of-Pace For Students


I’ve previously written several posts describing activities that I’ve been having my Beginning and Intermediate English Language Learners do in pairs or small groups, with the Intermediates in more of a “teaching” position, but where they can learn, too.

Another exercise that fits into that category is a collaborative story lesson that I’ve posted about at A Good & Simple Collaborative Storytelling Lesson. I won’t repeat the steps here, but, basically, I give prompts and students work in groups to write and illustrate a story together. It’s a lot of fun, and I can adapt the prompts to the thematic unit we’re studying at the time, current events, student interests, etc.

Today, Edudemic wrote a very clear and positive review of an iPad/iPhone app called Writing Challenge For Kids (if you get it, make sure you get that version and not the one for adults). I’d encourage you to read it. The app basically does the same thing, but with automatically generated prompts, and uses a timer.

I’ve purchased (for $1.99) and downloaded it on my iPhone. It seems to operate just as Edudemic says it does, and I plan on putting it under my document camera this week and using it as a “change-of-pace” from the “manual” collaborative storytelling process I referenced earlier. I’m confident that the “manual” way is a better one, but, as in many situations, a tech version can often be used in place of an “old-fashioned” way to occasionally liven things up. As lots of research shows, novelty works wonders in teaching and learning.

I’m adding this post to The Best Posts On Writing Instruction.

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March 4, 2015
by Larry Ferlazzo

Is “Draftback” A Cool Toy You’ll Use Once Or Potentially An Effective Tool For Teaching Writing?


Five Thirty Eight wrote an extensive article this morning about a new free Google Chrome Extension called Draftback.

It allows you to see the entire writing process unfold for any Google Doc. In other words, every mistake, correction, revision, etc. — either in the “realtime” it took or in a “speeded-up” time. You can then easily embed the created “Draftback.”

As my headline says, I’m not sure if it’s just a cool toy that people will use once to try it out, or a tool that could be very effective in teaching writing to students.

I’ve embedded a simple document I created that illustrates some simple revisions I did for an essay’s “hook.” One way I’m thinking Draftback could be used is a sort of game — students see an example like this one and then have to identify what changes were made and for what reason. What do you think? Can you think of other ways to use it in the classroom?

(For some reason, in the first few seconds it shows the entire passage being erased, and then starts from the beginning. I’m not sure if I did something wrong, or if it’s a glitch in the extension)

For now, I’m adding it to The Best Posts On Writing Instruction, but it might end up getting removed from that list.

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February 16, 2015
by Larry Ferlazzo

Guest Post: Get Started with iBooks Author

I’ve recently completed a three-part series at Education Week Teacher on educators writing and publishing books.

Here’s a guest post from Peter Pappas about an important option I neglected to cover in that series.

Peter Pappas is a teacher, writer and national consultant exploring the intersection of critical thinking, teaching and new technologies. His popular blog, Copy / Paste is dedicated to relinquishing responsibility for learning to the students. It’s filled with loads of lesson ideas – many for the history classroom:

Apple’s iBooks Author (iBA) is turning 3 years old and it is still the best tool for creating highly interactive multi-media content viewable on an iPad or Mac. I’ve published eight iBooks (two authored by my students) and offered numerous workshops to train teachers on how they and their students can become published authors. All eight are free. You can visit my  iBA training website for more info and free downloads.

iBA includes many great interactive widgets that allow you to easily add video, audio, photo galleries, pop-up text / images, glossaries, and test questions. Secondary widget designers are busy creating additional widget functions. Here’s a video demo of how I used a Bookry widget to add a photo reveal effect to my latest iBook Portland’s Japantown Revealed

Crowdsourced Production

iBA (a free program) requires a Mac running OS X 10.7.2 or later, but that doesn’t mean that every student needs a Mac to contribute to the iBook project. All the classroom needs is access to one computer running iBA to create an iBook.

iBA accepts text from Microsoft Word and other text editors. Teams of student writers can do research and writing on a variety of computers (and devices) and send finished copy to the iBA production team. Images, audio and video files collected by researchers can be added to the iBook project with a simple drag and drop. If students have access to multiple Macs running iBA, it’s easy to consolidate iBA projects by copy / pasting chapters (or sections of chapters). Research, writing, and design can even be sequenced into a “flipped classroom” production model. Here’s my workflow that required only 2 hours of Mac lab time for my students to create an iBook.

Broadcasting Your iBook

Terms of use for iBA require that iBA-created iBook that are offered for sale can only be sold through the iBookstore. But there’s no restriction on “free” iBA-created iBooks – circulate them any way you want.

While the iBookstore does provide accounts for producers of “free” iBooks, there’s a simpler way to distribute an iBook. Connect an iPad to the computer running iBA, click Preview, and the iBook is pushed to the attached iPad. (With Macs Mavericks and Yosemite OS, fully functional interactive iBooks are also viewable on the Mac desktop.) It’s also easy to export the finished iBooks file from the iBA program to an external drive or network and distribute the iBook to multiple iPads or Mac desktops.

The ease of distribution means students can communicate with a broader, and more authentic audience than just their teacher and class peers. Imagine your students telling family and friends their new iBook is available at iTunes. My most popular iBook to date is Exploring History: Ten Document-Based Questions It was written by my students – it’s available in iTunes in 51 countries and has been downloaded over 1,100 times.

Design Thinking Meet CCSS Skills

Researching, writing, and designing an iBook provides an opportunity for students to hone a variety of skills. Common Core State Standards require a host of literacy, critical thinking and writing skills that are essential to production. Project based learning (PBL) engages students with the opportunity to think like professionals while solving real-world problems. While the iBook qualifies as a project goal, don’t forget that the subject of the iBook could also give students a platform to tackle community-based issues.

Collaborating on an iBook draws from a wide range of creative skills – creating audio clips, producing illustrations, shooting and editing video. Because a variety of media can be included in an iBook, there are numerous opportunities for students of all ability levels and language proficiencies to be active contributors.

Digital technologies have put students in charge of the information they access, store, analyze and share. Most importantly the digital era has given them an expectation of informational choice. Creating an iBook harnesses all those motivational factors into an engaging learning experience. When students get to collaborate and work as adult professional do, we relinquish responsibility for learning to the student and provide them a valuable opportunity to reflect on both their process and product. That’s the foundation for a lifetime of learning.

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February 13, 2015
by Larry Ferlazzo

Excellent Review Of Writing Instruction Research

An Education Week post by Walt Gardner today led me to an excellent Hechinger Report article from late last year that I missed, Three lessons from the science of how to teach writing.

It’s a report on a study that I think is the best review of writing research I’ve seen since a report was published a year ago summarizing studies on teaching writing and critiquing Common Core (see New Study Says That Half Of “Evidence-Based Practices” In Writing Instruction Not “Signaled” By Common Core).

Here are three recommended practices:

1. Spend more time writing

2. Write on a computer

3. Grammar instruction doesn’t work

Read The Hechinger Report article and read the study itself.

I’m adding this post to The Best Posts On Writing Instruction.

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February 9, 2015
by Larry Ferlazzo

Great Article On “Being The Best At Anything” & How I’m Using It In Class

7 Secrets Top Athletes Can Teach You About Being The Best At Anything is an interview with David Epstein at Barking Up The Wrong Tree.

It’s a great article and very accessible to students, though it will need some obvious editing.

Here’s the writing prompt I plant to use with it. Feel free to make suggestions on how I can improve it…

The author says these “seven secrets” can help anyone get better at anything, including sports and academics. Pick at least two of them and explain what they are and if you agree or disagree that applying those practices can help you improve at anything. To support your opinion, you may use examples from your own experiences, your observations of others, and any of your reading (including this article).

I’m adding this post to The Best Posts On Writing Instruction.

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January 31, 2015
by Larry Ferlazzo

Here’s The Writing Prompt I’m Using With “Smartphones Don’t Make Us Dumb”

You may have seen Dan Willingham’s excellent Op-Ed in The New York Times last week headlined Smartphones Don’t Make Us Dumb.

It’s a very thoughtful well-balanced piece, and worth reading by everyone.

I think it’s also accessible to high school students, along with being a high-interest topic for them (and for us teachers).

Here’s the writing prompt I’ll be using with it in class:

In the article “Smartphones Don’t Make Us Dumb,” what is Daniel Willingham saying about the impact technology is having on our ability and willingness to pay attention to things? To what extent do you agree with what he is saying? To support your opinion, be sure to include specific examples drawn from your own experience, your observations of others, or any of your readings, including “Smartphones Don’t Make Us Dumb.”

I’m adding this post to The Best Posts On Writing Instruction, where I collect my prompts and prompts from others, as well as other useful writing resources.

I’m also adding it to The Best Posts & Articles Highlighting Why We Need To Be Very Careful Around Ed Tech.

Feel free to make suggestions on how I can improve this prompt and others!

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January 17, 2015
by Larry Ferlazzo

With The Appropriate Background Knowledge, This Could Be A Good MLK Writing Prompt


Vox has just published a short and useful critique of this week’s New Yorker cover suggesting that it communicates that Martin Luther King, Jr.’s main message was reconciliation when, in fact, it was confrontation to achieve justice.

If students had sufficient background knowledge (which, if truth be told, we should all have talked about in our classes already) — Ferguson, Eric Garner, the shooting of the two New York City police officers, Trayvon Martin (you can also find good related teaching materials at A Collection Of Useful Posts, Articles & Videos On Race & Racism) — they could read Vox’s short post, view the New Yorker cover, and respond to a writing prompt like this:

The author writes that Martin Luther King’s main message was that confrontational protest was necessary to achieve justice. To what extent do you agree that often it takes conflict to overcome unfairness and inequality? To support your opinion, be sure to include specific examples drawn from your own experience, your observations of others, or any of your readings (including this article).

I have also previously shared two writing prompts on similar topics:

John Lewis: “You Must Find A Way To Get In Trouble”

Quote Of The Day: “We Must Always Take Sides”

I’m adding this post to The Best Posts On Writing Instruction (where I collect all my writing prompts) and to The Best Websites For Learning About Martin Luther King.

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