Tool Review: Storybird, a storyboard tool that gives wings to the creative mind.

Teaching, like many other skills, is a something that requires constant improvement. A teacher, like many other professionals, needs to remain aware of the new techniques and the new tools provided by the evolution of technology to ensure such an improvement in his/her teaching methods. Finding new innovative and creative ways to have the students participate actively in their learning process is of the essence nowadays: One must find ways to create a dynamic learning environment while making sure that the theory is well understood by the students. Many students can get fed up of the same old routines, and who can blame them! When the time comes to write a text, a story or any creative writing, some students cringe to a point where they get writers lock. A good teacher should be ready for such occasions and since  »an ounce of prevention if better than a pound of cure », he/she should have a bag of dynamic tools ready to make writing activities more diverse and original. And in this bag there should be Storybird.

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This tool is cloud based, easy to use and free. Stodybird offers a great choice of artistic themes for creating original online story-books. So how does it actually work? Very simple. First, you go on the website and you sign up. Second, you select an artistic theme comprised of a number of preset images that you will be able to use in order to create your story. Third, when you’ve decided on a theme, you simply start with your cover page by dragging one of the available images onto the blank slot, add a title and voilà! Thereon, You keep on adding empty slots that you can fill with images and texts that will suit your imagination. By dragging the images on the blank slots, an interactive shadow shows you where the image will land. With the help of this shadow, you can choose whether the image will take half a page, a quarter of it or if it will be on the lower or upper half of the page.

Some critics say that the provided images limit creativity but I disagree. What’s truly interesting about Storybird is that it effectively reverses the usual creative process. Usually, you build a story in words and ideas and then add pictures to it. Here, the opposite is done, and it is very stimulating. Having the images already given to you in no order makes you wonder about which images to select and this sparks the imagination on a whole other level. It can help those students who often have no idea of where to start with their story and kind of gives them something already there to build on.

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Teachers who wish to use the Storybird can create a teacher account and then add their students to share and work on their stories together in class but also while at home, due to the could-based system. From there, the variety of activities one can build with this software goes beyond regular! As a language teacher, you can use it for simple grammar activities by using images to build humorous examples for the taught rules. Still as a teacher, you can use it as a derivative from power-point to create more original presentations. As for the students, you can have them create a side story from a piece of literature reviewed in class, make original book reports, have them come up with an act and use Storybird as a storyboard draft. Some teachers like Stephen Davis even allowed one of his students to use Storybird as draft brainstorming tool for an essay. So you see, there are many possible applications to Storybird for a language teacher to stimulate his/her students to engage in writing.

In sum Storybird is one of those tools that may come in handy for sparking up the imagination of less motivated students and get them working on their writing and idea-planning skills. Storybird can be used to introduce students to writing and can hide the laborious task behind an original and personalized creative process. It can also serve indirectly as a mean to have students reflect on the creative process itself and the amount of work needed to come up with a work of fiction for example. With Storybird, students can be taught to enjoy literature, writing and even dreadful grammar!

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Lastly, Storybird also provides the opportunity to get hard copied of picture story-books projects for under 30$. You can register your mail information online and have a number of copies of your choice sent to you in a matter of weeks. This would be a great motivation for younger students, to have them make a presentation or simulate a book publication activity.

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Tool Review: Socrative, customizable quizzes for all intents and purposes!

With being a teacher comes the inevitable task of having to make quizzes, exams or tests. This article’s purpose will be to expose a new way of making quick and dynamic quizzes with a particular attention as to how this great online tool could be useful in an ESL classroom.  The tool that is being reviewed today is called Socrative. Socrative is a great way of introducing student with ICTs by making them take tests on their tablets or with the help of a computer. It is also a tool that can help teachers with their correction as it does the correcting automatically, saving both time and effort for the teacher and expels all misinterpretation or wrong counting of points. So with no further due, let’s begin by describing the tool itself shall we?

To make a long story short, Socrative is a free online cloud-based quiz building software. A great description of every feature can be found in the user guide, but for the purpose of this article, let’s keep it simple. Socrative allows teachers to make quizzes with a variety of three question styles. These styles include: true or false questions, multiple choices questions and short answer questions. With this tool teachers can customize their quiz within the boundaries of these three question types to evaluate different aspects of their subject matter. What’s interesting here is that teachers can design their questions however they please. For true and false questions, the process is pretty straight forward: Write the question, then select the correct answer, either true or false. For a multiple choice question, you write the question, you can put up a number of choices and select the choice that suits the right answer. Finally, the short answer question allows teachers to have multiple answers possible for one question by letting them write all the possible answers prior to the test. In doing so, students do not have to get the exact word order in order to get the right answer. And just like that, teachers can invite students to log on to Socrative and begin the test. Upon answering a question, students may be provided with an explanation of the answer if judged necessary by teachers.

What makes Socrative so great for teachers is also the fact that it takes away the chore of having to correct each quizzes one by one. As described in the Thanks to a leader board feature, that only the teachers have access to, all the answers are compiled, evaluated and the grade automatically follows. This leader board can display a wide variety of information. As the students answer the questions, teachers can monitor their progress by looking at their individual names and what answer they give to which question. Teachers can notice if some students are falling behind or if some are done. After the quiz is completed by all students, the leader board can serve as a reference to check how the class did in general. It can also be used to go into details and look at a specific student’s answers or at the answers themselves to see how well the students did on this particular question. But wait, there’s more! One of the leader board’s interesting functionalities is that the quizzes can also be turned into polls. That’s right, teachers can do more than get a quick look at the student’s results.  By looking at a particular question’s statistics teachers can see how many (in percentage format) of their students chose which answer. Let’s say the question was a multiple choice question and that the correct answer B but only a small 25% of the class answered correctly while a large 75% answered A, C or D. Teachers can then notice that out of this faulty 75% a majority of them (let’s say 60% of the total) answered D. In this case, it could help teachers reflect on the level of difficulty of the question and ask the class why so many thought that D was the right answer. As a teacher, one must not lose sight of his own individual flaws and must thrive to improve his teaching skills all the time. Socrative can help with this by taking away correction time and by providing teachers with some quick insights.

As an ESL tool, Socrative could come quite handy for teacher a tablet dominated based classroom environment. It could serve as daily routines, by asking student 2 or 3 questions before leaving the classroom about what they learned during the lesson. Furthermore, like online critics from Graphite have this to say about classroom applications of Socrative:

A digital polling or quizzing tool like Socrative can also help a quiz-happy teacher go paperless and realize the dream of computer grading.

Socrative can greatly benefit teachers by reducing their correction time and letting them put this time to better use. It could be used as a form of trivia game amongst the students in various way. It could be used as a definition challenge for given words with multiple choices questions or as grammar tests with short answer questions for example. Moreover, with Socrative’s space race feature, students can race through the questions with a game-like friendly competitive atmosphere that students often appreciate.

Like mentioned before, Socrative isn’t just a tool for the students but also for the teacher. Katie Lewis testifies that thanks to Socrative’s leader board, she could quickly determine that her students would not make the distinction between a metaphor or a personification. She could tell this by simply looking at the statistics of the answers given to questions evaluating such differences. One could imagine that should could then create new quizzes that would target this specific distinction so that the students would be drilled to recognize each. It can also be used as a passive evaluating system for flipped classrooms. The issue with flipped classrooms is often about making sure your students listen to your audio or video tutorials. With the help of Socrative, a tutorial could be accompanied with a simple quiz asking a few questions that would confirm the student’s understanding.

Socrative truly is a fine tool in it’s kind. With the growing presence of technology in classrooms, teachers may find themselves in an environment where they must adapt to this new reality. This tool will not only help teachers accommodate but also lessen their time over correction and help them assess their classroom’s struggles swiftly and respond effeciently.