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Halloween Clip Art

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If you’re looking to spruce up your Halloween or autumn lesson plans, OpenClipArt.org has you covered. Check out their fall and Halloween clip art packages. As always, the images are completely free to use, and most of the images at the site are large (great for printing), easily resized, and unique to the site (because they were uploaded by the original artists). There’s more if you search for relevant keywords, too.

Check out my previous post, A Visual Feast, for more information about using the site.

12 Days of Christmas: EFL Classroom 2.0

Well, I’ve made it to Twelfth Night without missing any days. I wasn’t sure that would happen. If you’ve been reading all along, thanks for sticking with me! I hope today’s resource will help everyone who’s trying to force their brains back into lesson-planning mode after the holidays. It’s not easy, searching for inspiration when your head’s still full of punch and eggnog (or fever and bronchitis, in my case)…

j4p4n_Thinking_Woman_-_1905 from openclipart.org

Today’s resource is one that I’ve just recently discovered, EFL Classroom 2.0. It has over 11,000 registered users, so maybe you already know about it. I thought it was worth a mention, though, because it’s the only English-teaching megasite that I’ve found to be worth signing up for so far. You probably know what I mean–when you look for ELT resources online, many sites look promising but require registration to really view anything. You hand over your personal information and jump through the hoops, only to find out that the site has been abandoned since 2001, has nothing of interest to you, has only materials that are free on other sites, has only materials that were stolen from other sites, or has only a few things that are really free and actually requires you to pay to see the good stuff. EFL Classroom 2.0 is different–they have good content in a wide variety of formats, and it’s aimed at various age levels. They don’t just have ideas, either; they have actual stuff that you can download and use. There’s also an active user community and forum, and I get the impression that it’s growing rather than stagnating–though since I’m new there, it’s hard to say for sure.

Here are some of the highlights of the site that I think make it worth your time spent registering (note: I can’t link to each page since you won’t be able to see them till you’ve registered):

  • “Lessons in a Can”: 100+ fairly fleshed-out ideas, including necessary materials such as videos, slideshows, or handouts.
  • Karaoke and lots of it–I’ve known several excellent teachers who used karaoke for pronunciation, energy, and and motivation.
  • Games for the classroom, from paper to Powerpoint–original ideas from site staff and users as well as a directory of online games
  • Community, including forums, an “Answers” section, “Classrooms” that serve as interest groups, a place for teachers to find classrooms for keypal and penpal exchanges, and even photos of other users’ classrooms (could result in new ideas for your classroom, and interesting if you haven’t started teaching yet!)
  • Categorized resources on everything from using comics in the classroom (yay!) to testing and evaluation (I can’t wait to look at their placement tests).
  • Videos, but unlike the videos mentioned in my TeacherTube and Vimeo post, many of these have discussion in the comments from other teachers, which is nice. Videos include both things you might want to show the students and teacher-training videos with ideas and methods for you. Quality (and legality, ala YouTube) varies.

There’s a lot more at the site. I have to admit, I find it a little confusing to navigate, but stick with it–patience will be rewarded. (This is one of those times when being a Delicious user will come in handy, since I think I’ll want to bookmark and tag a number specific sub-pages.) The “Rate Your Job” section has potential, but it seems that although the site isn’t easily searched (since you have to register to get in), people are still hesitant to discuss their experiences. I wish people would start using it!

There are lots of other things and new things popping up, including a just-started thread on games and lesson plans that will work well with Korean classrooms (the first idea is a “Korean Celebrity – Guess Who” game, and includes two files to get you started). The Korea-based teaching community seems to be particularly strong here, with at least three Korea-related interest groups, so if you’re teaching in Asia and you’ve been unhappy that so much of the free lesson material online is ESL-oriented, you’ll really want to check this out. However, there’s plenty that can be used in non-EFL contexts, despite the site’s name.

If you know of another great free site, please let me know about it!

And with that, the 12 Days of Christmas series concludes! Thanks very much for reading. I’d still love feedback–readership went up during this time, but I’m still looking (like any writer, second-language or first!) for a response from my audience. :) I’ll take a break for a couple of days and then start trying to post more regularly than in the past. Oh, and you can follow me on Twitter at talkclouds.

Twelve Days of Christmas: Printable Goodies

Oh, it’s the seventh day, and that means I’m past the halfway point! Woohoo! Well, on New Year’s Eve, traditionally a time for confetti and streamers, we’ll be focusing on paper. Many of us have been asked recently by higher-ups to reduce our use of paper for economic reasons, and while it’s a good thing for the environment anyway, there are some activities for which there’s just no substitute for the paper-in-hand approach. Games, stickers, brainstorming, outlines–usually we’d rather print it out (okay, on recycled paper!). But if you’re like me and will spend hours fussing with a word processor that’s not really meant to create such materials, read on for a little help.

Simon_Printer_on_fire from openclipart.org
(best clip-art ever, or what?!)

Tools for Educators has a lot of printable material and does not require registration. They’ve provided not just pre-made items you can download and print, but generators that you can modify a little or a lot. The graphics are a little kitschy and clip-art-tastic, but hey! You didn’t have to draw it yourself nor waste hours looking through clip art sources. Here are a few of the highlights.

  • Dice! As an RPG geek, I love it. You can print and fold actual six-sided paper dice to really liven up your class activities. The page includes a link with some suggestions for language games you can play using dice, too.
  • Boardgames–simple, but lots of possibilities for various age levels and topics. Add your own or use the built-in options.
  • Two different bingo board generator pages (one image-oriented, one word-oriented and more customizable), which can be used for all sorts of things, not just standard bingo games–have students watch for certain phrases or interactions during a movie, for example.
  • Stickers and charts are available at a different URL but from the same people; you’ll be wanting to print in color and use adhesive-backed paper for these. Another site they run will get you a certificate generator with lots of nice-looking certificates you can present to your students.

There’s more at the main link, so give it a try. By the way, they mention that the generator pages should work on both 8.5×11-inch and A4 paper, which is very thoughtful since most North America-based teachers are using the former and nearly everyone else in the world uses the latter. (Confusingly, the United States and Canada do not conform to international standards on paper sizes.)

Another source (8.5″x11″-oriented) is Freeology.com’s Graphic Organizers. There are 56 items here, including Venn diagrams, a pros and cons scale, character description forms, storyboards, vocabulary cards, story charts, and many, many more. These could be used for reading and writing classes most easily, but also for conversation classes and other uses–just flipping through them may give you some ideas. One caveat: These are all PDFs, and for some reason, the text doesn’t display when I view them in Preview on my Mac (the shapes appear, and I can view the files correctly in Adobe).

Finally, the simplest “printables” site I’ve found, but still possibly useful, is PrintablePaper.net, which simply has many different forms of graphs and lines, including handwriting, octagonal grids, calligraphy, Battleship, and more (also 8.5″x11″, sorry).

If you have any suggestions for other A4-friendly sites, let me know, although I think most of these will print OK if you preview before you print.

By the way, I still have Google Wave invitations available! If you are an English/ESL/EFL or other second/foreign language educator or educator-in-training who would like a Google Wave invitation, please go to the Contact Me form and tell me what kind of school/other teaching situation you work in and what level you teach at (or where you’re studying and for what degree). Make sure to give me your Gmail address or another e-mail address to which you’d like the invitation sent. (Do not comment here to get the invitation–you don’t want your e-mail address posted for the whole internet to see!) You must be a language educator to get an invitation.

Twelve Days of Christmas: Portable Apps

Hello, and welcome to Day Two! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

USB memorystick from openclipart.org

I think this one of the best things I have for you; even if it’s not something you need right now, you may make a friend’s day if you know someone who needs it. PortableApps.com lets you install small, “light” versions of free programs for everything from word processors to web browsers, audio editors to IM programs, utilities to games. It can solve four big problems for ESL and EFL teachers:
  1. Using an office computer that won’t let you install applications? No problem–these apps can run from the Documents folder, which you usually have access to, or from a USB stick.
  2. Using an office computer running non-English Windows, but not comfortable in the other language? Just snag some English apps from the site.
  3. Using a lot of different adjunct office computers or internet cafes? Stay safe and comfortable by keeping your personal information and preferred settings in portable apps on a USB stick and running them from there, especially a web browser and a word processor.
  4. Deskwarming for hours, days, or weeks on end? Create amazing materials for class, write a textbook or a novel, chat, play games, watch video files, and more with a variety of apps to help you pass time productively and/or pleasantly. (EDIT: Naturally, I wouldn’t suggest anything doing non-work-related unless part of your job simply entails being at your desk, and you’ve already done all you can do to be prepared–which is unfortunately all too true for many teachers.)

Just to repeat the main point: these programs are small and “light” so that they don’t have to fully install themselves on the computer. Although the PortableApps.com touts the idea of running them from a USB stick, you generally don’t have to–if you use the same work computer every day, you can usually install them wherever you like inside the Documents folder, if that’s the only folder you can change on your work computer.

EDIT 7 July 2010: Flash Drive Reminder is a small, freeware program that will alert you if you start to shut down or log out of a Windows computer without removing your USB stick (flash drive) first. Great idea! Here’s an explanation with a screenshot on Lifehacker.

PortableApps.com’s applications are meant for Windows environments since few people find themselves in a Mac-only work situation (particularly one where they can’t install their own software), but if you are in that situation…uh, do tell us about it! Especially as a teacher–that’d be a new one on me. But if that’s you, there’s an option for you too: FreeSMUG Portable Applications. (Yes, as a Mac user I agree that “SMUG” is not a good choice of acronym!)

You can still nominate a great free resource for the Twelve Days of Christmas, and I’d really love to get feedback if you find any of these useful!

(I previously mentioned PortableApps.com in An Alternative Software Sampler, but I didn’t address its full potential nor mention its Mac counterpart.)

Free Illustrations

No need to pirate!
No need to pirate!

Illustrations can really liven up activities or serve as the focal point of an entire lesson. Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to find sources for these online, particularly for non-commercial usage. A recent Lifehacker post pointed out this About.com article on 30 legitimate free image sources, but I’m going to to just feature a selected handful from there and from my own Delicious bookmarks. I think these will save you time, because the list of 30 sites includes a lot that don’t seem very useful to me.

  • Open Clip Art Library has a wide variety of digital art, from 3-D to black and white. Some is original; others were scanned and cleaned up from Victorian graphics, etc. The quality ranges from incredibly professional to so-so. I got the Korean flag image and several other images used previously from here. Some are high-res enough to be printable. There are no limitations on how you use the images. (If search doesn’t work well, try navigating to the image you need using tags.)
  • Flickr’s Advanced Search feature + Creative Commons box checked lets you look for Creative Commons-licensed photos and videos (which you can read about here). Not all users who have put CC licenses on their work really understand it, so you may wish to comment and ask permission to be nice. Make sure to follow the rules of the license, such as giving attribution (name and a link back) if requested and not modifying unless the license grants that permission.
  • morgueFile is a site where photographers submit images for others to use (the name evokes the “photo morgues” that newspapers keep). You can search and download in the “free photos” section. Nice and easy to use, but be sure to check licenses.
  • Stock.XCHNG is a very popular free “stock photo” site with some great images. Unlike the above sites, you need to join (free) to download images. Be sure to read the license information for the images you want to use.

Korea 101 Plus

jp_draws_south_korean_flag1Chris in Korea (a great blog if you’re interested in teaching there) brought my attention to “what may be the most comprehensive guide on living and working in Korea”, published by the Association for Teachers of English in Korea. Chris recommends this book for anyone interested in teaching in Korea and anyone who’s already there. It has sections on finding a job, your rights as a resident and employee, working with Korean co-teachers, making lesson plans, and even the average nutritional content of common Korean dishes, totalling nearly 350 pages. Wow. I wish other countries had resources likes this–particularly for free! (If you know of one, please let me know in the comments!) I’m going to read it, not because I’m planning to work in Korea, but because I’m curious about the place where my friend has just started working.

It’s apparently not fully linked on ATEK’s site yet, but Chris and another blogger spotted it and provided links to the PDFs (and there are some problems with ATEK’s website at the moment). Notably, though, the book is being provided under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works License, which means that we’re free to share and copy it as long as we do not alter it, sell it, or remove its attribution. (The principle author, Tony Hellmann, has kindly reassured everyone that this is OK.) Therefore, to make your life easier, I’ve put all the PDFs in a single .zip file, which you can download directly right here: ETG2K.zip (11.3 MB). If you have any problems with it, let me know. (Remember, I just created the .zip file and am hosting it; the work was done by the listed authors and ATEK.)

Major kudos to Tony Hellmann, Tom Rainey-Smith, Jason Thomas, Matthew Henderson, and everyone involved with putting this together! What a fantastic labor of love. Please send them your thanks if you download it and use it.

An Alternative Software Sampler

Even with educational discounts, software can be expensive. However, a lot of people aren’t even using name-brand software anymore. I don’t think I run any Microsoft products on my computer these days, and you don’t have to, either. While there isn’t a satisfactory substitute for everything, there are for a lot of things. (By the way, make sure to read to the end of this post for a really useful link if you travel and use internet cafes and library computers, or shared school computers.)

Here are just a few (I’ve tried to only list cross-platform ones so that most people will be able to use them). Most are free; some ask for a small fee or donation.

  • Office applications, including word processing, presentations, and spreadsheets: OpenOffice.org (cross-platform, including Windows) and NeoOffice (OS X) do pretty much everything we want them to. They can open .docx and .xls files, export as .pdf, save so that Word users can open files, edit Powerpoint documents, etc. In fact, both are so much like Word that you still have to go turn off all the annoying autocorrect features. Ugh! But at least there’s no paperclip … I have no more compatibility issues than I had when I used Word itself. Support for multiple languages, including Asian languages (some features built in). Very familiar interface. Free to use; optional donation.
  • Web browsing: Firefox (cross-platform) is safer than Internet Explorer. It’s less prone to viruses, etc., and less prone to crashing. It also has a lot of great features that, admittedly, IE eventually gets around to copying (like tabs). It has more useful add-ons, like Rikai-chan, which lets me read Japanese more easily. More about Firefox sometime in the future.
  • Sound editing: Audacity (cross-platform) is a free sound editing and recording application. It’s particularly popular with TESOLers doing podcasts (here’s a tutorial). It’s fairly easy to use.
  • Statistics: The R Project (crossplatform) was mentioned on Metafilter as a free substitute for expensive stat-crunching licenses, and may be useful for researchers. I haven’t used it myself.
  • Course management: Sakai (online) is a free alternative to Blackboard and its ilk. Designed by actual educators and researchers at Stanford, Michigan, Indiana, MIT and Berkeley, I really recommend giving it a try (Blackboard is such a mess).
  • Instant messaging: Pidgin (cross-platform) and Adium (OS X) are wonderful if you’re trying to stay in touch with friends, family, clients, and students around the world. Both applications put EVERYTHING in one wonderful chat interface. You don’t have to worry about whether different people are using Yahoo, MSN, AIM, or whatever anymore. I use Adium, which even lets me have both my Yahoo! Japan and my Yahoo! chat names signed on at once, and multiple accounts (for my teacher and real-person identities) with the same service. Additionally, it’s free of ads, which most of the proprietary free services aren’t.

These are just a few of the free and open-source programs out there. As for graphics, no one seems to be able to agree on a decent all-around package that’s also cross-platform. Your best bet is probably to search Lifehacker for your specific need (vector graphics, font creation, photo editing, 3D graphics, etc.) and see if they have a recommendation for your operating system. In general, Lifehacker and Ask Metafilter (may have adult content, textually speaking) are good places to find safe recommendations.

Another bonus of using these applications is that many of them are smaller than their commercial counterparts, so they take up less room on your hard drive. Many of them are available in even more stripped-down forms at Portable Apps, so that you can put them on a USB stick and use them on, for example, a school computer running Korean Windows and all Korean applications, or in an internet cafe where you really shouldn’t trust their software. (Internet cafes, library computers, etc., are favorite places for hackers to install keyloggers and grab your passwords…) Great for travel!

P. S. I was thinking of doing a conference presentation on this topic one of these days, but I’m not sure how interested people would be. What do you think?

Audio Journal? Well, After a Fashion…

ITESLJ, the longstanding free online TESOL journal, is trying out a nifty new feature: free audio versions of its articles. Go to the main ITESLJ page to get the free password and check it out. The catch is that the articles use the Mac’s text-to-speech program, something like what the Kindle 2 e-book reader does. If you haven’t heard text-to-speech in a while, you may be pleasantly surprised: it sounds pretty good. But it still has issues and certainly isn’t as good as listening to a real person read aloud. All things considered, though, this is a really nice free service to offer. If you find that you just don’t have time to read journal articles, it’s a decent solution. Just download the articles to your mp3 player and listen to them on your commute or your jog or while you shop.

The current list of 8 mp3s includes articles on team-teaching with ALTs/native English speakers and local teachers, a task-based approach to entrance exam prep, teaching deaf ELLs, using origami and magic, and more. Give it a try, and leave them some feedback in the comments box (especially if you like it and want them to keep experimenting with it!).

Word Games

A year or two ago, a CSUEB classmate and I presented a workshop on using word games with student writers. There is research that word games are connected to a higher degree of language awareness, which is correlated with better language control. We made a PDF with a couple of references, some game recommendations, URLs for free games, and more. You can download it: Creating Play from Work: Word Games for Student Writers (PDF).

However, I also think that playing in English is valuable. Although it’s not exactly a word game, I’d like to recommend Fluxx, a card game with very simple rules that change as you play. Most of the rules are written right on the cards. It’s difficult to explain how much fun and how easy Fluxx is to play, but I think you’ll like it once you try it. I played it today with a Japanese client who has been in the US for about a year and a half, and who previously did not use English. He was able to understand almost all of the cards’ instructions, but had to concentrate pretty hard to try to put it all together. He was having so much fun after the first round that he asked to play again (and again–we played three times and ran over our lesson time by 40 minutes!). For intermediate and higher students, this is a great way to get them talking, reading, and concentrating in English. They’ll also learn some useful vocabulary–we frequently use card-game terms like deal, hand, shuffle, deck, etc.–and a bunch of collocations/phrases like “milk and cookies,” “time is money,” “all you need is love,” “baked goods,” etc. Trust me, it’ll make sense when you play the game! Best of all, it’s compact and you can carry it with you for a game at any time. Your fellow teachers will find it fun, too. (You can also get Fluxx in several other languages. I may get Japanese for my own practice!)

Let me know if you try Fluxx or if you have another game to recommend.