Monday, 29 December 2014

Ipadio and audioboo for students to record themselves with

I posted this yesterday to the audioboo publisher community on Edmodo, but thought it might be of interest to a wider audience.

I teach English as a Foreign Language in Barcelona. I no longer have access to the Edmodo audioboo app, probably because I live outside the USA and Canada. I used the audioboo apps for Android phones and iPhones a lot last year: I got my students to record all their pronunciation work using audioboo apps on their phones.

This year I decided to stop using the audioboo apps for phones partly because there wasn't an up-to-date Android app, but mainly because I decided to use only one recording app instead of the two I used last year.

My favourite recording app for Android phones and iphones is and last year I got my students to use this app when really communicating in English and to use the audioboo app for the mechanics of pronunciation, reading sentences and texts aloud and repeating things.

Now my student record everything with the same app (ipadio) and they can cross-post their best communicative recordings to their e-portfolios fairly easily. Here are links to the best two examples of my current students' e-portfolios:

Students can also embed their recordings in Edmodo. Every week they choose their best recording and turn it in as an assignment on Edmodo. I listen to one minute of their recordings and in five minutes have enough time to listen twice and give feedback on grammar/vocabulary and pronunciation and record myself saying the phrases and words I have drawn their attention to. I use to do this.

Here is an example recording by the best student in my pre-intermediate class, my comments and my recording:

Listen once to the first minute of your recording and pause when you get to each of these grammar mistakes and take some notes:

He takes photos
he's working for a newspaper
one of his cameras is particularly important for him
His grandfather was from Germany
Today he's taking photographs of a model for
a famous fashion magazine

Here are some pronunciation problems. Listen to my recording and repeat the grammar mistakes and the pronunciation mistakes. There should be time to repeat them. Use your mobile to record my version and yours and then listen and compare them:



Listen again to the first minute of your recording and stop at each of these grammar and pronunciation errors above and say each word correctly.

Very fluent, but with some grammar and pronunciation problems to solve.

I've just spent 5 minutes on this. Please make sure that you spend at least as much time as me trying to learn from your mistakes. If you like you can make a new recording and post it here.

Monday, 8 December 2014

This is what I offer my face-to-face students:

  • My students record themselves speaking English every class. Sometimes it is pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar practice, but each student records themselves re-telling a story and/or being interviewed every class.
  • I listen to some of these recordings and give very informal feedback twice a week.
  • I ask my students to select their best recording of them re-telling a story or possibly being interviewed and I give detailed feedback on one minute of their best recording every week.
  • My students write an email, a letter, a story, an article, or a description every week.
  • I correct all the errors in their weekly writing and mark 5 mistakes as being the most important to learn from.
  • My students send me a corrected version of their weekly writing for me to check.
  • I check their corrected version and make any additional suggestions for improvement.
  • In theory, my students add their best recordings and their twice-corrected writing to their e-portfolio each week.
  • My students read a simplified book every week (in theory) and write a two line comment about it for other students to read.
  • After reading 6 books at one level I suggest they try the next level. Ideally they will read books from four levels in the three terms.
  • I suggest homework from the workbook and DVD(s) but tell my students to be selective and say “ONLY DO WHAT'S IMPORTANT FOR YOU” as there is too much to do it all.
This is what I don’t offer my face-to-face students:

  • I don’t correct the homework from the workbook and DVD(s) in class or at home. But I offer to help them with any doubts they have about the answers to this homework.
  • I don’t correct all the mistakes my students make when speaking in class, but I do write a selection of errors on the board after most speaking activities.
  • I rarely ask individual students to give answers to questions in exercises. Instead, students do the exercises in pairs, while I listen and tell them if I hear that they make a mistake.
  • I rarely ask individuals to speak to all the class. I nearly always ask them to work in pairs or groups of three when speaking and record themselves.
  • I don’t tell my students their grade for their writing until they have sent me a corrected version, although I have given them a grade and made a note of it after the first correction.
  • I don’t correct worksheets my students do in class or at home, but instead, I give them the answers and ask them to correct it themselves in a different colour. Sometimes I collect the corrected worksheets to see if there is something I need to teach again.
  • I rarely say “Excellent!”, “Very good!” etc in class, but I’m always saying things like “Great!” to my students online.
We use English File Pre-intermediate and Intermediate 3rd edition. We have already done one term using the book and plan to finish the book over the next two terms. Our class is equipped with an interactive whiteboard and I use it a lot. We use mobile phones in class and the internet out of class.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

How best can technology help students speak? [I always write about the same thing!]

Speaking as much as possible is the best way for students to speak better. Any materials which encourage students to speak to each other will help. I prefer students to work in pairs as that creates the most opportunities to speak. I adapt materials to maximise opportunities for students to speak in pairs.

Where does technology come in? I am lucky as I have a projector attached to a computer so it is easy to project a series of questions that half the students in the class can see but the others can't as they are sitting with their backs to the screen. If possible, when they swap roles, I have another set of questions for the second interview. The projected questions are rather like the auto-cue used on TV. This can be done without technology, by preparing posters and sticking them to the whiteboard.

In this kind of activity there is a lot of simultaneous speaking and it is sometimes hard to monitor, help or assess students. However, if students record themselves answering the questions using their mobile phones it is easier for teachers to monitor errors and or assess students' speaking. Teachers can still help during the activity

Using apps like audioboo or ipadio smartphone owners can build up a portfolio of their speaking which their teacher can follow using feedly. Students can follow each other, too. Even simple mobile phones can be used with an ipadio account for free in many countries of the world.

This is just one example of how speaking in pairs can be set up and recorded. There are many advantages in getting students to record themselves:
- Students are more likely to speak in English when they are recording themselves.
- Being able to listen to themselves makes students more aware of how well (or badly) they speak
- Building up a portfolio of their speaking showing their progress is motivating
- Teacher feedback on one minute of every recording takes about the same amount of time it takes to give feedback on written work and generates a manageable number of errors to work on
- Providing students with small amounts of regular individual feedback on their strengths, weaknesses and errors in grammar and pronunciation is more effective than brief general classroom feedback
- It is much easier for teachers to get to know their students' speaking level by listening to them regularly. Assessment is much easier as a result.

The other type of speaking activity in pairs we do in class involves creating an information gap which students have to explain. Typically it is a story or article which only half of the students listen to and/or read. They listen to it a number of times and often see the script for a moment the last time they listen. They then practise retelling it to each other before retelling it to one of the students who hasn’t listened to it. I offer help with problems I overhear when they are practising retelling and students usually only record themselves when they are retelling it for real.

These extended monologues are a real test of and opportunity for speaking and involves real communication and are ideal for assessment.

Depending on your definition of speaking you may or may not consider the following activities to be speaking as they don’t involve communication, but do involve saying words and sentences in English. My students also record themselves doing these activities:
-          repeating new vocabulary after a model (and recording both the model and their own version
-          repeating new grammatical structures in the same way to reinforce them and to work on their pronunciation
-          repeating pronunciation exercises
-          reading aloud paragraphs from the course where there is a model to compare with

These recording are also added to their portfolio of spoken English, which I listen to on my way to work and give them the words they need to look up later on howjsay.

Here is a list of the websites mentioned above:
audioboo  which my students use to record their pronunciation
ipadio  which my students use to record their real speaking
feedly  which I use to follow my students recordings
howjsay  where students can check the pronunciation of words

Edmodo where I give formal assessment in private 

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Tablets in the EFL classroom?

Personally, I have my doubts about the value of having class sets of tablets in the 'foreign language' classroom for adults at intermediate levels, which is where all my recent experience lies. So, I'm always on the look out for anything about other people's experiences with using tablets of any kind in 'foreign language' classes.

Here's an extract from a post I read today:
In a small French class with only five or six students, the teacher helped her students familiarize themselves with their new iPads by screen casting a vocabulary exercise on the board. As students responded to the prompt, their answers popped up on the screen. The teacher could instantly see who understood her question – asked in French – and who was confused. Students also got immediate feedback on their answers and the class could discuss common mistakes.
Later, the teacher asked students to draw iPad sketches of the scene she described in French. Students were able to share their drawing with one another through the screencast, an especially useful too if the class had been bigger."
I know it is early days for this teacher, this school and these students, but this seems a very small return for the investment in ipads, in this case, and all the tech support involved. My own take is that I would prefer to rely on BYOD to ensure all my students have access to the incredibly useful apps that are available.
I'm not really interested in apps that drill for use in class, although if some students think these will help them out of class, I am prepared to accept that they may be right. However, in class I only really want apps that are to do with the production of language and spoken language at that. This means apps for recording my students' speaking and it's a question of each student taking responsibility for recording their own spoken work and storing it on-line, where they and I can listen to it.
"I liked your article, which I read because I use smart phones in my classes with adults every day, too.
We use ipadio and audioboo apps, which are both available for iPhones and Android phones. Students record themselves speaking using the ipadio app for retelling stories or interviews and the audioboo app for pronunciation, repetition, reading aloud. The idea is that they set up their ipadio and audioboo accounts to automatically post to their e-portfolios on WordPress, where they post their corrected writing, too.
I really recommend teachers to experiment with recording students on smart phones and to overcome obstacles to the use of smartphones in class. It is also important to get the school to install wi-fi and allow students to connect to it."
"I use:
All have free apps for Android and iPhone
I teach English as a Foreign Language to Adults"
The ones marked with * are the ones my students use
I posted replies here, too:
"I give my students a questionnaire at the start of each course and 'Speaking' is always the top priority for my intermediate and lower-intermediate students. So it is not only the most difficult, but also the most important. This is why my energy and experimentation goes mostly on speaking.
I feel I am in general successful in helping develop effective speakers although some teachers might be appalled by the number of mistakes many of my students make. However, they are usually quite fluent.
My students record themselves on their mobile phones a number of times every class using apps like ipadio, audioboo or sometimes just voice recorder. The two apps are great as they make it possible to create a portfolio of their speaking, and I can use Feedly to follow my students and listen to a lot of their recordings while I'm travelling on public transport. I think recording themselves and hopefully listening to themselves is one of the keys to their fluency as it gives more importance and permanence  to their speaking.
I have constant doubts about the value of giving feedback on errors I have noted down using Google Drive on my mobile phone to the whole class and the very brief feedback to individuals I listen to while on the move and the detailed feedback on errors I give to individuals on their assessed recording every two weeks. I feel it is very worthy and it is very time-consuming, but I have doubts about whether it is a good way to spend class time or a good way to spend my out of class time, but, all the same, I continue to do it.
Ideally, I would like my students to develop more pride in their portfolio and to be assiduous in listening to themselves and if necessary re-recording themselves out of class. I haven't asked them to listen to each other, but I am starting to point them to the portfolios of the students who are taking the trouble to create something they can take pride in.  The best by far is Carlos Matallana, who has given me permission to share his e-portfolio:
"Usually half the students (up to 7) are speaking at a time, but I invite them to go outside to the corridor if they think the sound will be better there. Often there have been 6 pairs in the room with one retelling a story that the other hasn't read or heard.
Here is an example recorded live in class by Carlos
He re-recorded many of the conversations at home.
By holding the phone as a phone, that is with the microphone near the mouth or by holding it in front of your mouth with the microphone nearest your mouth you can get a good enough sound to be able to hear perfectly well despite the hum of background conversations of up to 6 other students."
What do tablets offer students and teachers in the classroom that cannot be achieved using smart phones?
  • Writing is easier on tablet than on a smart phone, but I don't do much writing in class and tablets are not THAT easy to use for writing, anyway.
  • Searching for information about course content may work in content based learning, but language is primarily skills based
  • Recording audio and/or video is possible on both tablets and smartphones
  • If students don't have smartphones, class sets of smartphones or tablets might help, but ipadio can be used on even the simplest phones in many countries, and any phone that can record for a few minutes can be used and the files produced uploaded to audioboo
  • Electronic book versions of coursebooks are still as expensive as or more expensive than printed books, but are lighter and have added audio-visual features, but I don't use 'the physical books' much in class as I have an IWB with the coursebook software.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Monitoring students during speaking activities

In the “good old days” of the OHP, I always had a clipboard with some thick lined paper and an OHT on top that I used to take notes of student errors. When we got computers and projectors in every classroom, I dreamt of doing this digitally, but never managed it until this term.

On the first day after Christmas, I decided on the spur of the moment to try taking notes using an app I had installed on my Samsung Galaxy 3 some time before. It’s called Fast Notepad. It worked surprisingly well because of the predictive text and as it is a small class I was able simply to use these notes as prompts for my own feedback. I didn't write anything.

That weekend I contributed a couple of lines to a crowd-sourced list of apps for learning English on a TitanPad page and that gave me the idea of using TitanPad in the next class as then I could display my notes and talk about them. Sadly, the internet wasn't working on the second day of class so I couldn’t display anything and then to compound matters I started having connectivity problems on my phone as well. So I was back to using my TitanPad notes as prompts for my feedback. But I did manage to record myself giving them feedback.

For the second class that week, I decided to try Google Drive instead, thinking that would solve any connectivity problems. I installed the Google Drive app on my phone. It was great: the internet worked perfectly; my phone had no problems of connectivity and I was finally able to display my notes on the whiteboard when I gave spoken feedback to the students. I even managed to record my feedback!

The fourth class was problematic again as I kept having connectivity problems with my phone and the Google Drive App doesn't allow you to edit documents offline! I solved the problem by going back to using Fast Notepad, which I discovered had a send to Google Drive option!

Tomorrow, instead of using the app, I shall use Google Drive on the Chrome browser on my phone, which does allow you to edit offline although you have to set this up.


What I did before I began to use Google Drive in class was to create a new document there with a title like, “PINT16 Monitoring Term 2 2013-2014” on my computer at home. I shared it so anyone who has the link can add comments to it, but not edit it. I also made it a favourite so it would be easier to find.

After the first time I used it in class, I sent a message to the students on Edmodo with the link. There are seven students in the class and the document has been looked at 6 times.

Foolishly, I didn't send the same message again after the last class. I must remember to do that every time I add to it. I did it last night!

The idea is to use the same document every day for a given class and I always put the latest notes at the top of the page – reverse chronological order. I also added links to Howjsay for any pronunciation problems and on the two occasions I recorded myself on ipadio, a link to the recording.

The lists of points in my feedback document on Google Drive is now a combination of all four sources: My original Fast Notepad, TitanPad, Google Drive, and Fast NotePad sent to Google Drive. I lot of copying and pasting was needed and I've set the font to 18 to make it easier to read on an IWB .

I’ll try to carry on doing this and recording myself and posting the same link to remind students it’s there after every class and I suppose what I should do is to survey students about what they think of it. Fortunately, Edmodo tracks the number of times it is  accessed over time, so if the number starts dropping off, I’ll know it’s time to do something different.

13 Easy steps to doing the same thing:
  1. sign up for Google Drive
  2. install a simple notepad (Fast NotePad for Android, _______ for Apple)[I haven't tried Simplenote, but it looks OK. Taken from 100 Apps for Taking Notes on Your iPhone
  3. install the Google Drive App for Android or iPhone
  4. Sign up for an account with ipadio (or SoundCloud or Spreaker audioboo only gives you 3 minutes, so it’s not good here) and install the app
  5. Create a document for one of your classes, or each of your classes if you're up for a lot of work!
  6. Share it so anyone with the link can access it and leave comments.
  7. Make it/them favourites so it/they are easier to find
  8. Connect the class computer to Google Drive and sign in. But don't display it.
  9. Open the document you created before and add a title for the day, like ‘PIT16 2013-2014 Term 2 Day 1’
  10. Start taking notes for feedback using Google Drive on the Chrome browser on your mobile phone.
  11. Show your notes on the IWB and give feedback. You can record yourself and add to the notes.
  12. Add pronunciation links to the document and to your recording.
  13. Send a link to the document to your students.