Archive for May, 2008

One Sentence Stories

Real life stories, told in one sentence.

One Sentence StoriesI’ve seen a few simple and easy to use web sites around recently that I’ve thought “That would be a nice activity for a language lesson in a computer lab, or a great humanistic task for blogging with language students.” One Sentence is one of these sites.

The concept is really simple. I’ll leave it to One Sentence’s own blurb to explain:

One Sentence is an experiment in brevity. Most of the best stories that we tell from our lives have one really, really good part that make the rest of the boring story worth it.

This is about that one line.

This is about telling the most interesting or poignant story possible in the least amount of words.

This is about small bite-sized pieces of extraordinary lives and ordinary lives alike… the happy, the sad, the funny, the depressing.

Well, I for one liked the sound of that. Especially when I read a few of the one-sentence-stories that had been submitted. Here are a few of the ones I liked for their poignancy, humour or their touching nature:


We were going to stay up all night recording experimental music on his computer like John and Yoko, but then his mom came in and told us it was time for him to go to bed.

Less one friend

I hadn’t seen her in twelve years, but my heart still broke when I saw her picture on CNN with “Missing” underneath it.


I braced myself, stoic and still as stone, as they wheeled your body into the room, and I didn’t break down until I realized your long hair was still wet from the last shower you took.

Dan Beeston

One day I’ll be angry when she squeezes my toothpaste from the wrong end, but four years in, it’s still endearing.

I don’t think in one short page I’ve ever read so many moving, touching or simply human stories as I did in One Sentence. Reading through the stories, I guess you’ll agree that they are not for a glib, 5 minute lesson filler. I would suggest that you only use the site with students who know each other well, or that get on together. I guess they really aren’t suitable for use with a children’s class either.

So, how can we use this site with our students? It’s actually remarkably simple. Really it is!

  1. First I would ask my students to read trough a few of the sentences on the stories page.
  2. I would then ask the students to work together and tell each other which stories they liked and which they didn’t like. Seeing as they are only one sentence storie you students could probably do this just from memory, even if they are low level students.
  3. If you wanted to extend this activity, you could ask the students to work together and try to orally fill in the gaps to make the one sentence story more like a one or two paragraph story. Either that or you could ask them to write it out on their own. I would then ask my students to work together in groups to re-tell the stories in their new, fuller versions.
  4. Finally, and I’m sure you guessed this from the beginning, I think if you had the right class, you should ask them to write their own one-sentence-story and submit it to the site. It needn’t be as personal as the ones on the site if your students didn’t want to, but I would encourage them to write a true story in keeping with the ethos of the site.

I’ve submitted my own story. It was nice andsimple to do. just go to type your name, an email address and your story and off you go.

Can you find mine?


Fring for Teaching?

Fring – Skype calls and more from mobile phones

Many language teachers who use ICT and web 2.0 technology in their lessons , especially those involved in distance learning, will be aware of Skype. It’s a handy way to make calls to many countries around the world at rock bottom prices (as low as €0.017 per minute, pretty good heh?) What’s more, if you and your friends all have Skype on your computers, you can chat for free for as long as you want.

I’m sure lots of teachers have also heard of Gmail and the Google Talk service that Google provide too. Twitter is another useful tool for teaching up and coming service that many people have been talking about recently.

“Eh, so what’s all this then, a list of silly names?” I hear you ask 🙂 No, nothing that droll.

Fring is a wonderful little program that combines all of these chat tools (or silly names depending on your point of view) together in one place. What’s more that place is your mobile phone.

“What?! My mobile phone? With Skype, Google Talk etc all installed on it?”

Yep, absolutely. No more expensive mobile phone voice calls, no more over priced sms and what’s more you can have proper text chats just like you do with MSN messenger etc (which btw is also included in Fring.) Now hang on, is this too good to be true? Well, if you have a 5 year old mobile phone, it might just be. If, however, you have a newer “Symbian” phone or a fancy iPhone (as I think the lucky Carla Arena has) you will be able to use Fring.

“So how do I find out if I can use this Fring thing with my phone?”

Fring has actually been around for more than a year now and is slowly, but surely increasing in popularity. There are many more phones that can now use Fring, and they aren’t actually all the most high tech, whizz-bang models. Have a look at this list of Fring phones to see if yours is on it. There are loads of them from many of everyday manufacturers, not just the fancy iPhone types too! 🙂

“Wow, my phone is on the list, surely there must be a catch somewhere?”

Actually yes, there is. Fring uses the data connection on your phone (your phone’s internet connection.) If you pay a lot for the amount of data you use on you phone, Fring is not for you. However, f you have a free (or cheap) data plan, or if you have a wifi connection on your mobile (like the iPhone) then Fring could be a great idea for you.

Fring for Teaching?

Imagine all the things you or your students could do with Fring. You could organise quick and simple conference calls no matter where you are (no waiting by the computer just to chat to your students.) You could organise regular 10 minute text chat sessions with your students, again you could be anywhere to do this (teaching English from the pub is closer to becoming a reality!) Fring is also slowly starting to introduce file sharing via your mobile too, so you could send a picture or Powerpoint file to your students pre-lesson, then get them to discuss it in a group text chat.

I’ve been using Fring for almost half a year now and I’ve had no problems with it at all. There are two things that I love about Fring: the fact you aren’t tied to a computer and the fact that it rolls so many chat and voice services into one. I’m sure it will take a little while for us to regularly start using it with our students, but in the meantime it’s a great gadget for us cash-strapped tech-teachers to enjoy!

Do post a note here if you try using Fring on your mobile. I’d love to hear of anyone who’s used it with their students too!
All the best,

Nelba Quintana Webhead and English Teacher

Teaching Technology For Technology’s Sake?

Nelba Quintana Webhead and English TeacherNelba Quintana, a professor of English and a fellow Webhead has started off a really interesting discussion at the moment and one that is dear to my heart: in her blog, she is discussing the pros and cons of introducing language students to tools like “Technorati.”

Personally speaking I passionately believe that technology should be the medium and not the message when we are teaching languages. By that I mean that our students should be introduced to web tools and activities by their language teachers only if they have a direct relevance to language learning. It could always be argued that there will be lots of incidental learning going on when our students use tools like Technorati, but I don’t think this is good enough. I believe in the “C” (communication) part of I.C.T., not the “T” (technology) part so much.

IMHO we language teachers should be encouraging our students to use all this wonderful technology that allows them additional opportunities to communicate such as, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and so on. In general what my students in Italy lack is the chance for real, authentic practice of the language they are trying to learn. Anything that can give them another opportunity to do this is a real bonus if you ask me. Anything that doesn’t, well it doesn’t mean that it’s a waste of time, but I don’t think it should be our job to be introducing our students to these sorts of tools.

I will be really interested to see know what you guys think about this. Should we as language-teacher-techno “gurus” introduce our students to all ICT tools? Leave us a comment to let us know your opinions.

All the best,

Voicemail in your blog – Get A Buz

For a While now I’ve been thinking of different ways that students can have asynchronous voice conversations outside the classroom. I’m convinced that this would help a lot of my adult learners to improve their English more quickly, as IMHO it’s the short, weekly exposure to a foreign language that they get in traditional 1.5 hour lessons that is holding them back. If they could get online a couple of times a week and take part in an asynchronous conversation, a bit like an oral blog, I’m sure that it would help them to recall more vocabulary, create interest in what they are learning and give them a focus for their studies.

I wrote a while back about a great called Evoca. But it is a bit labour intensive, requiring the Evoca account holder (the busy teacher) to manually embed the code for any replies they got to their voicemails if they wanted to share them with the rest of the class. This led to me not using Evoica that much after first discovering it.

“Get A Buz,” despite it’s silly name, provides bloggers, MySpace users, and in general anyone with a website to include a voicemail type of widget, that would allow a teacher, or one of the students, to start off a discussion. Other class members can then listen in their own time to the discussion and then add their comments. All of this happend automatically, with the teacher only having to upload the code to the blog once, and then they can simply follw the discussion and reply to their students wherever relevant.

Here’s an example of a “Get A Buz” plugin below. Click on the “Hear My Message” to listen to my recording, then please feel free to leave me a reply too:

The things I like about “Get A Buz” are:

  • It’s a great way to get students speaking L2 outside the classroom. This will be really valuable to them IMHO.
  • It’s pretty straightforward to use. As long as you know how to embed a bide of HTML in your blog page you can use it.
  • Once you have set it up, it “Just Works” there is no need to perform ongoing maintenance on it.

The things I don’t like are:

  • You only get 3, free “Buzzes” per account. This means that you can’t start new discussions over and over again without either paying, or re-registering.
  • With large classes the conversation threads could become a bit lost and it might be difficult to follow who is following who.
  • It’s not possible to get rid of one “pre installed” introductory voicemail which is essentially just an advert.
  • Most Importantly, there doesn’t seem to be any sort of notification / RSS feed etc to let the teacher and students know when a new comment has been left. This could be a a bit of a pain if the teacher has to check the site for new messages.

All told, I think Get A Buz is a cool little tool to use, especially as it’s very straightforward to set up. If anyone uses this, or any tools like it, leave me a comment to let me know what you do with it. I’d love to exchange teaching tips!


Update: Be aware! Get a Buz allows you to create up to three different personalised “greetings” for your voicemail, but each and every voicemail player will record and play the same messages.

In other words if you want to use Get A Buz with more than one class of students, make sure you get several accounts with Get A Buz and use a different account with each class. Otherwise all your messages from all your different classes will become mixed together as one (as has just happened to me!)


WordPress Blog & Website

Wordpress Well, I decided to take the plunge and shift my blog over from the fantastic Blogger to WordPress.

Blogger has been a great home for the last two years for the various mini-blogs and out-of-class projects I’ve been doing with my students. I now feel like I have outgrown Blogger for a number of reasons, even though it is a great service. These are a few of the reasons I decided to leave Blogger in the end:

  • Now that DigitaLang is getting more teacher-training work, I wanted a more professional looking website that integrated my blog seamlessly with the other content I wanted to have online (a contact form, a summary of the work we do etc.)
  • WordPress is is just as good at being a content management system as it is a blog. WordPress now manages my whole website. I can add or delete pages and change the content from any internet connected computer. Before I had to use ftp and other complicated tools.
  • I wanted to have more flexibility with my blog so that I could be as creative as I wanted and not have to work within the limits of Blogger. For example, I am planning to create a space where I’ll upload technology-based language lesson plans in the new blog. I probably could have done this with Blogger, but it would have been complicated and I doubt if it would have worked smoothly.
  • Blogger has lots of clever little add-ons (widgets) that do clever things and make your blog look more interesting. WordPress has more and they’re open source too!

All in all, I’m really pleased with how the new blog is shaping up. There is still a lot of work to do yet, there have been several technical hiccups, but I’ll leave that for another post 🙂

All the best,


Justin Timberlake is a Language Teacher!!!

Actually he’s not, but Mike Mara, a Spanish teacher from Dublin Jerome High school is, and he’s AWESOME!

I thought I’d seen cool ways to teach a language but this guy is just way out there. If you can make your students laugh (like surely Mike’s did) when they are learning a language, well you’re doing something right.

Mike has made a couple of videos, based on Justin Timberlake pop songs, to remind his high school Spanish students how to conjugate present tense verbs. The thing is they are so funny! Every time I watch them I can’t help giggling like an idiot! My favourite one is the “Conjugation’s Back,” which you can watch below.

Thanks to Joe Dale’s Blog for putting me onto this one 😀

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