Using Fotobabble with ESL students

I love finding new websites.  One of my current favorites is Fotobabble, which allows you to upload pictures from your computer or your Facebook account and then create a short recording to accompany each picture.  It’s a terrific idea for a birthday card, but I’ve been using it with my students for speaking practice, and we’re loving it.

Each week, the students post a new picture (has to be a picture they have taken – no stealing photos from the Internet) and they describe or explain the picture.  I’ve learned so much about my students, and I think they love getting to share a little more about their lives. It’s also been great for focusing on speaking accuracy skills, like pronunciation, vocabulary, and oral grammar.  Since the recordings can’t be longer than 60 seconds and the topics are easy (talk about your picture – can’t get much easier), students can really pay attention to form more than content.

I’m attaching a Fotobabble I did as an example for my students so you can see what it’s like.  If you’ve used this website before, I’d love to know what you did with it.


VSTE 2011 – My thoughts

For the past three days, I attended a wonderful conference in Roanoke – the Virginia Society for Technology in Education conference.  It was my first time to attend the conference, and I was a first-time presenter.  Here’s a quick summary of what I learned and the cool resources and ideas I got from this wonderful conference.

Lessons learned:

  1. Conferences are exponentially better when there are bowls of M&M’s everywhere.
  2. It sounds like it’s sometimes incredibly fun and sometimes incredibly frustrating to be a K-12 teacher.  I have a newfound appreciation for working in higher ed.
  3. Don’t expect a great Internet connection (even at a tech conference).
  4. You can do some really awesome stuff with Apple products. It also helps to be a Title I school.  Does anyone know how a university intensive English program can get grant money? I want to buy iPads for the classroom too!


  1. Use what you already have: I learned how to use the Microsoft Office suite to create Madlibs, comic books, and choose your own adventure stories.
  2. Let students teach each other, and let students create their own assessments.  These are two ideas I’ve already been exploring in my own teaching, but it’s great to hear that other teachers believe in the power of the students’ knowledge.

And here are some websites to visit:

  1. TPACK – this was new to me, though, of course, it’s not new.  It stands for Technological, Pedagogical and Content Knowledge.  The idea, as I understand it, is to look at how these three kinds of knowledge interact.  Integrating technology without understanding how it works with the pedagogy and content is missing the point.
  2. Here’s a presentation I wanted to make it to, but didn’t.  Fortunately, the presenter posted a website full of great links to a lot of different Web 2.0 tools.
  3. And here’s another presentation I didn’t get to see about using Google. And we all know how much j’adore Google.
  4. And another great presentation I didn’t attend about how to streamline your web usage. With all the information that’s out there, it’s nearly impossible to keep all the information you need handy.  But, this website helps you get close.
  5. Finally, here’s my presentation website, once again, for good measure.  (You see, I did make it to at least one presentation.)

Productive proscratination…

… a phrase I’m totally stealing from a good friend of mine who used it on Twitter.  I am really, really good at productive procrastination – the art of getting so much accomplished, but not actually accomplishing the one thing you really needed to do today.

I’ve got a conference presentation coming up in about a week, and I have been productively procrastinating all through the Thanksgiving holidays.  But, I did stumble onto some helpful websites along the way, so I thought I’d share (yes, I’m also using this blog post to productively procrastinate).

Classroom 2.0 – I can’t believe I didn’t know about this website before.  Great resources for teachers and another social network to join (as if you didn’t belong to enough of them).

Wix – cool website for creating your own flash website. I created one with handy links to all my networking information.  It was super easy to use and really fun.

Screencast-O-Matic and Screenr – both are free screencasting websites.  Since my presentation will be about the screencasts I’ve created for my students, I decided to look into the different programs that are out there.  These two are pretty good (and free!), though I still think Jing and Camtasia are tops.

Now, here’s my presentation website (I set it up through Google Sites). It’s unfinished (I told you I’ve been procrastinating), but it’s getting there.  I’m looking forward to the conference and bringing back even more great tech ideas!

New tech projects!

And here’s what I’m trying out this semester…

I’ve switched my class website from Google Sites to Blogger.  Saw some other teachers on Twitter who use a blog as their website for students, and this seemed like a really good idea.  My students will be able to subscribe to the blog, so there’s a better chance they’ll actually visit the site.

I created a Youtube channel for my students.  I’ve put together a lot of videos for my students over the past few years, and I started thinking that it would just make sense to start putting everything in one easy-to-find place.  So, Youtube it is.

I’m passing the video-making torch to my students.  I’m going to try to get my speaking students to make videos this session which will be posted on my Youtube channel (yes, that was a misplaced modifier, and yes, I was probably the only one who noticed such a glaring grammatical error in my own writing, but whatever.)

I’m making writing and reading classes all Google docs, all the time.  It’s so much easier to collect assignments this way, and the students like it. (I don’t know if that’s a project exactly, but again, whatever.)

Here’s to another session!

My grade for Engrade

This session, I switched up gradebooks and checked out Engrade.  Here’s my brief review:

What I liked:

– It was easy for me to set up an account, and it was easy for my students

– Very intuitive interface

– Easily allows me to do weighted grade categories and add extra credit assignments

– Provides a spreadsheet of grades and students for each class that can be edited without having to leave the page and go to each individual assignment page

– Students can send me a message related to a specific grade/assignment, or I can write my own comments for the students under a specific assignment

– Students get an easy-to-read report of their grades

– Provides a class grade average at the bottom of the gradebook, which was extremely helpful

What I didn’t like:

– I couldn’t find a “student view” page for me so that I could see my student’s grades as they see them (perhaps this exists, but I just didn’t find it?)

– Requires a unique ID number for each student. I understand the reasoning behind this, but it’s really tedious, especially when you’re teaching international students, and just entering their names takes a long time.

And that’s it.  Those are the only things I didn’t like, and to be honest, those are minor quibbles.  Overall, it’s a fantastic gradebook and it’s free, which makes it even better.  It has all kinds of great features I didn’t use, like creating online quizzes, flashcards, and wikis.  I feel like I could just host my entire class on this site, instead of having a separate class website and online gradebook.

My grade for Engrade: A

Creating a blog for my program, initial thoughts

So, I’ve put together the blog.  There aren’t any posts on it yet, but come Monday, I’ll have added a “welcome to the blog!” post and the first “news and events” post will be up.

The tentative plan for the blog:

Mondays: news and events, both in the city and on campus

Fridays: fun posts and interviews

Fun posts are of the students’ choosing.  They decide what to write about – reviewing a restaurant in town, interviewing their favorite teacher, writing up their visit to a local museum, etc.

Interviews are a way to include all students in the program.  My students will be interviewing students from each level in the program and posting these interviews on the blog.

Thoughts so far:  The students have no idea how to pick appropriate news and events.  Their choice for Wednesday, September 14 was a “Sorority Showcase” for girls interested in joining a sorority.  Hardly something relevant for students in our program.  We’ll have to work on that.  Which makes me a little nervous about the Friday posts, which I haven’t seen yet.

Anyway, here’s the link to the blog.  No posts yet, but at least there’s something there to look at!  Here’s hoping this experiment is not a disaster.

Writing project: Creating a blog for the program

Every session, my program publishes a student newsletter. It’s nice, I guess. That sounds bad. It is nice. And it probably involves a lot of work.  Which is probably why they put me in charge of it. “Give it to the new teacher. She won’t complain.” And I’m not complaining. That’s what happens when you’re the new teacher. Eventually, you’re not the new teacher anymore and you get to pass on the jobs you hate to someone else. It’s the circle of life, or karma, or something like that.

But I just couldn’t ever muster up any enthusiasm for the project. I’d have to learn how to use Publisher. I’d have to go to Kinko’s or somewhere equally depressing and make copies (which is not just sad, it’s also needlessly killing more trees).  I’d stress myself and my class out for one little newsletter published at the end of the session when nobody cares about school anymore anyway. I could never see the project as anything other than a waste of time.

Then genius struck (that may be an exaggeration, but I thought it was a pretty smart alternative).  What if, instead of a boring newsletter, we had a blog for the program?  We could update it weekly instead of once a session.  We wouldn’t waste paper.  We’d be publishing our work on the Internet, so students could show their family and friends back home.

And, so that’s the plan. I know a lot of other IEP’s have program blogs, so this is hardly a revolutionary move. But I’m still pretty excited about it.  So even if it fails, at least I’ll have had a good time.  I’m not publishing the link yet because I want to wait until my students and I have actually got it set up properly.  Right now it’s just a boring page with nothing on it.  Soon, I hope it will be a lively page filled with our posts and comments from other students and teachers in the program.