Wordle your graded reader

Welcome to my blog, especially if you're coming to my talk on Using Graded Readers with Technology at the Macmillan Teacher's Days in either León or Ponferrada this week.

Below an image for one of the tasks I'll be suggesting, which I created by pasting text from the Macmillan reader Room 13 and other stories into Wordle:

The task

  • With a partner, pick out the 15-20 most important words, phrases, dates, names etc. from the story
  • Put them into Wordle, making the most important words largest
  • Share it with us and describe it to us, justifying your choices

I like the task for various reasons: it's collaborative (and therefore communicative); it requires the learners to go back to the text, to re-read it, and to select elements from it; and then make decisions about what they're going to pick out.

Sharing their work with the rest of the class (I suggest either a blog or Edmodo) is something you might once have done by hanging things on your classroom wall but posting it online means that other learners can not only see it but add comments to it: that's further interaction and further language practice.

To find out if your learners are doing their reading assignments, you could bore them with questions, but why not instead get them to prove they've read it by getting them to actually do something with the text, something they'll actually enjoy doing?

Notes on using Wordle
To get phrases to stay together, rather than splitting up into their component words, you need to replace the spaces between the words with tildes, thus:

Room~13 and the~sound~of~mad~laughter.

To increase their size, you simply need to repeat them: if you paste in Room~13 Room~13 Room~13 graveyard, for example, Room 13 will be approximately three times larger than the word graveyard.

In order to save your Wordle cloud, you will need to capture your screen (my favourite tool for that is Jing).

With Wordle you can also choose fonts and colours and so on (with a partner, also opportunity for language practice): in my example, above, I've chosen colors more or less in accord with Room 13 being a ghost story.

More on using Wordle
Even if you're not using readers, you might like Nik Peachey's guide on How to Wordle and these many More things you can do with Wordle.

You also have a number of Wordle clones, one of the best of which is Tagxedo. Many of these 101 ways to use Tagxedo could also be used with Wordle.

Also from the talk
Macmillan readers | A reading and creative writing task | All the tasks

Using graded readers with technology (2)

Creative writing with graded readers: one of the tasks from the session

Hi, and a particular welcome to my blog if you're coming to to my session at the Macmillan Teachers' Day in Valencia this Saturday (31st).

Above, you have one of the tasks I will be suggesting, with the example from The Princess Diaries 3 (Pre-Intermediate), though it's one you could adapt to many other readers.

I like tasks that force the learners to read (and re-read) carefully. Here, they have to pick out all the "texts" in the story (listed above, those in the first 30 pages). If you have an interactive whiteboard, slowly reveal your list as a checklist against their lists, using the coversheet, and force people back to the text if you've got something they've missed.

As a follow-up creative writing assignment, the learners then have to create a new story composed almost entirely of different texts. It works great in groups of 4-5, with each writer being responsible for 3-4 different texts, which (first) they've storyboarded into a coherent whole.

The texts could include fake Facebook entries and fake tweets, among other texts.

Thanks, questions, comments
Thanks for coming to the session (giving up your Saturday!); I hope that among the tasks suggested you found something that your learners will like and which will help make the book you are reading with them what it should be — fun!

If there are questions that you have after the session that didn't get answered, do ask them here, in the comments, and I'll be very happy to answer them.

What else do you do with graded readers?
If you do other things with graded readers, do tell us about them, even if they don't involve much (or any!) technology.

What works, what doesn't…?

From the workshop
Macmillan Readers | More links from the session

Related posts
More reading activities | More about blogging | More about Edmodo

How to design good 21st century language learning tasks

How to make your learners authors on a shared class blog

Using Google Docs forms to get feedback from your learners

Using graded readers with technology

Hi and welcome to my blog if you're coming to the talk on using graded readers with technology which I'm giving at various Macmillan Teachers' Days in Spain between now and early May (see dates).

You now have an edited version of my presentation here and on Slideshare.

Below, you have links to some of the tools I'll be mentioning and let me add this: class readers (unabridged versions as well as graded readers) and technology are unquestionably among the most successful things that I've done in language classrooms in the last 30 plus years.

Technology (nowadays) is obviously going to be successful (though you want to make sure it's the learners, not you using it; and that it's being used in ways that will actually lead to language practice and learning).

On the other hand, no one reads nowadays, do they? And your young learners probably say they "hate" reading, don't they? But I think that if you can get them to talk about what they're reading, and get them to respond creatively to it, and if you harness what they're reading to some of the possibilities the web offers us today, then books can still be successful in the 21st century.

Web 2.0 tools
I've deliberately choose tools which you may already have heard of, and hope to show you how they could be used with graded readers. The ones I'm going to be mentioning include the following:

Blogger | Edmodo | Glogster | Google Docs | Pixlr | Posterous | Prezi | Tiki-Toki | Vocaroo |  Wordle | Voki | ZimmerTwins

See also
Macmillan Readers | Guide to using graded readers | More reading activities

An idea is worth a thousand photocopies

Another of the ideas from my talk last Saturday, with a quote from my former DELTA course tutor…

At the previous talk I gave at the IH Barcelona ELT Conference, a year ago, I explained how I'd taken a vow of abstinence, had had my own photocopy code disabled, and not made a photocopy since, using instead some of the wonderful digital alternatives (blogs, Edmodo, shared Google Docs, wikis…).

Because we now have free online access to a vast number of articles on subjects of all kinds that will interest students of all ages, the following has become one of my favourite classroom activities, as it produces lots of student-generated language and discussion and doesn't involve queuing up to use the photocopier.

Have your learners negotiate and create their own digital list of "The top 5-10 [whatever] of all time"

Rough outline of stages

  1. Find an idea that will engage your learners (sources: blogs, RSS feeds, The Guardian, Twitter, …)
  2. Have your learners (face-to-face) brainstorm their own list
  3. Share the list online (blog, Edmodo, Facebook…)
  4. Extend list over course of 3-7 days, perhaps before the class meets again
  5. Negotiate reduction to 5-7 (10) points, possibly F2F in next class
  6. Provide link and compare "our" list with the original article
  7. Exploit article for language work and/or developing reading skills, using an interactive whiteboard if available
  8. Exploit the readers' comments accompanying the article
  9. Further discussion

We can spread this out over several days, do some of the discussion face-to-face, some of it online. Note how much we can get out of the article before we ever even actually look at it (stage 6, above).

As with all the uses of technology I suggest, we're in fact making fairly minimal use of technology here.

Examples of online articles
All of the following articles have popped up in my Google Reader feeds for sites like Lifehacker, Mashable, and Wired, which are great sources of such material.

I love all brainstorming activities! By definition they are creative (on which Carol Read gave a brilliant plenary at the conference); they are student-centred; give rise to conversation, social interaction and sharing; which leads to a focus on learner-generated emergent language; and they involve creating something, not merely consuming more photocopies.

Introduction | One | Two | Three | Four | Five | Six | Seven | Eight | Nine | Ten

Texts learners actually want to read

Here's a story I spotted this morning when I opened Google Reader, as I do first thing every morning. I do that because almost every morning it brings me something I could use in class.

The headline that caught my eye was Miami Invaded By Giant, House-Eating Snails, and I immediately bookmarked it on Delicious, in fact even before I'd actually read the whole article. I'm not sure when I'll use it or with which class but it's exactly the kind of thing I'm looking for…

What I'm thinking as I scan the headlines is that any story with a headline I want to click is maybe a text my learners are going to want to read; and any text they want to read is one I want to take to class.

And being on NPR, the article also comes with an audio version and a transcript (not to mention a photo to import to my interactive whiteboard).