I’ve heard about xtranormal.com a few years ago and tried it out. I have to say that students enjoyed using it and watching some movies from the site. Mostly they enjoy using it because it’s easy to use and straightforward with the tools it gives you (animations, expressions, looks, sounds, etc.).

I enjoyed using it because it really gets the creativity of students working. It can bring them together while working on a project and it can teach them many important skills they definitely will need in their future jobs, such as teamwork or target-oriented interaction when working on a project.

Here are video tutorials on how to start using xtranormal.com and some tips on how to use it:

How to start

How to create

How to save

How to preview

Inside the classroom

  • you could prepare a movie on the topic of your lesson and use it as a lead in.
  • you could make a movie only by adding expressions or animations to it and let the students add the dialogues to the movie. They watch the movie created by you and discuss what the actors might say.
  • if your class is equipped with at least one computer for a student, you can ask them to work together in groups or pairs and create a story, a dialogue focusing on different points, such as: small talk, turn taking, debates, agreeing and disagreeing, giving advice, etc.
  • you can ask them to create dialogues for different books. If you give your students some books to read then ask them to retell the story of the book in the form of a movie with dialogues. Students will practise their summarizing skills in this activity.
  • tell them to choose a famous historical conversation(you can look for some before the activity and give them some support by giving them some examples) and role play it with two actors in xtranormal. The conversation should give the public the feeling that it’s really similar to the original one (they could watch some on youtube before engaging into the activity)

Outside the classroom

  • ask your students create a feedback movie on the lesson. They could give you feedback in the form of a conversation. They could try to predict what your reactions to their feedback would be and then give them feedback whether they got it right or not.
  • you could ask them to create a movie on a certain topic you would like to discuss the next lesson. Let’s say you want to talk about ‘Generation gap’. Ask your students to use their creativity and create a movie based on the topic. Award them for the movie closest to the topic.
  • ask them to work in groups and create a movie made up of at least 2 or 3 parts. You can extend this to a short TV Series with students giving them a title and subtitles to all of the episodes. They could create a TV Series based on their classmates and their weekly learning experience (they could create an episode every week or maybe twice a week).  This really strengthens their abilities to interact and to work in teams making decisions together for the project. In the end, after finishing the TV Series, they could share their experience with the others on how they managed to work together and how difficult or easy it was working in teams on a long-term project.

Where would first look for a picture or song if you wanted to insert it into one of your presentations, blogs, websites or anything done by you? I think most of you would go to google images or download a song from the internet. This could have its consequences though. Many don’t know the rules of copyright on the internet and because of this lack of interest in the rules of copyright many could face severe consequences.

One great way of avoiding copyright issues is Creative Commons (http://creativecommons.org/).  Here is one video which is quite self-explanatory (there are 2 and I will show both of them because they give different information but I’ll begin with this one because I think it more fun and it’s easier to understand what Creative Commons has to offer):

The main idea is that Creative Commons can tell you what you CAN and download legally and how you can use it for personal use.

This is a video with a more general explanation of Creative Commons:

It’s really easy to embed a Creative Commons license to your blog, website or to any of your work. I’ll just refer to how you can do this on your blog and give further links to other blogs and sites where you can find more information on how to get a license.

How to get a Creative Commons license on your blog (on wordpress – I will research how to do it on blogspot also in the upcoming days and post about that too)

How to start?

First you have to have your blog ready for use. So you have to have it up and running.

The next step is to visit the Creative Commons site (http://creativecommons.org/). On the right side of the site you will see the word ‘License’ – now click on it.



After you’ve clicked on the button this site will appear:

As you can see for yourselves the steps towards creating your own license are pretty straightforward.  There are two main questions asked from you. Do you allow commercial use of your work? If yes, it means that people can sell your work and make money out of it….if they can 🙂 The other questions is whether you allow people to modify your work or not. If you allow them to do this, they are given permission to use it, cut it, ‘remix’ it (as said by the folks at Creative Commons), share it and so on. However, for further specific information about the different types of licenses watch the first video in the post or if you want something more serious then you should read the information on the following site carefully: http://creativecommons.org/about/licenses

After you carefully read the types of licenses go back to the 2 questions, answer them accordingly to your copyright intentions and  press ‘Select a License’ button at the bottom of the page:

You can probably see that there are also some optional fields you might want to think of filling in. I filled in all but the last two (I put nothing to ‘Source work URL’ – because I don’t use anyone’s work for the basis of mine and no ‘More permissions URL’ either)

1. At the 1st section (the Format section) choose the type of your creative work. In this case you should choose ‘Text’ because I’m referring here to a blog. If you’re licensing a song, video or anything else…well then just choose that 🙂

2. You could also give a title to your work if you haven’t got one yet

3. You might want to enter your name so that the person who uses your blog will attribute the work to your name and not his/her’s.  This will appear in your license. This is what appears in my blog under the CC license:

‘Technologies inside and outside the classroom by Straub Roland is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.’

4. You can add the URL to your site and your work will then be attributed to that URL and if you have your name typed in also then both will appear in the license description.

5. Here you can just insert the URL of your work’s source. It means if you used someone’s blog to create your work then you should insert the URL of that blog into this section.

6. This section is quite self explanatory. Just by clicking the information button on the right side of each of these section you will get a short explanation for each of them. This is what it says for this section: ‘A URL where a user can obtain information about clearing rights that are not pre-cleared by your CC license.’

The text for the license

When finished, you should get a text (code) which you will have to copy into your blog. The code will look something like this:

You will get a clear description of the license of your choice. In this case (as an example) you can see that it says ‘Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License’. You can have different types of combination between the licenses…it really depends on how restrictive you want to be (read about the types of combination you can have or watch the first video in the post).

Now go to your blog and press the dashboard button on the top of your screen in your wordpress blog:

When in your dashboard go to your widgets. You can find them under the ‘Appearance’ section:






When you press on the widgets button you should be able to see different types of widgets which you may embed into your blog. Find a Text widget such as this (see picture).

Drag the widget to the right side of your screen and drop it unto your sidebar. When ready, open the widget, type in a title such as ‘Creative Commons License’ and copy the text/code that Creative Commons has generated for you when choosing your license into the text widget.


Copying the text

Just select the text in the Creative Commons site by pressing Ctrl+A (to select all) on your keyboard – or select all the text with your mouse, right click and select Copy – and then go to the Text widget, click on the blank space and press Ctrl+V (to paste the text/code into the blank space) – or click on the blank space, press right click on your mouse and press Paste. When finished, press the Save button on the widget and close it.

This is how you should see the Text widget in the dashboard in the sidebar without text:

And with text:

That’s it! 🙂

And this is how you create your own CC license 🙂

As you can see it’s easy to make and you can rest more easily from now on knowing that your works can’t be used for any reason you don’t want it to be used.

In case you’re using your blog for educational reasons it is good to know that your work can’t be transformed into a circus show without your permission:) So feel free to experiment on using Creative Commons as a search engine whenever you’re looking for new photos, songs, videos or anything else you want to use legally. You could also share this with your students and make them aware of all the copyright issues they could have if downloading things from the internet illegally.

Have fun downloading carefree 🙂

Tweet or not to tweet?

Posted: November 3, 2010 in Twitter
Tags: , ,

Many teachers ask themselves why they should use twitter. Even some of my students asked me why they should use twitter if they already have a facebook, yahoo messenger account. Frankly, you don’t HAVE TO use it if you don’t want to. No one will oblige you to create an account on it.

However, there are some advantages of using twitter for both teachers and students, despite the whole skepticism about it.

For those who don’t know it yet, twitter is a micro-blogging site where you can post any time what you are doing and if you follow someone such as your friends, family members or colleagues you will also know what they’re doing.

Here is the official explanation by twitter:

Why is it called a micro-blog? Well, first of all, you are not allowed to write more than 140 characters in one tweet (entry). This can be very refreshing for many but also kind of annoying for some of us.

When I want to read about something on a blog then I prefer not having to read the entire post because I’m probably not interested in everything the person has to say about a topic (of course it depends on the topic) so I’m just going to skim for the most important pieces of information. On the other hand, when you are on twitter you don’t have to read thousands of words or skim through the entire text just to find something useful. You can read the entire entry because it’s that short 🙂

Therefore, it’s more motivating to read short pieces of information thus finding out about many things in shorter time than reading for hours about one certain topic.

Nevertheless, many are still skeptical about twitter because of its quick flow of information and its, sometimes, overwhelming tweets. However, this might occur only if you have hundreds or thousands of followers – which is not easy to accomplish. And even if, by any chance, you get bored of getting the tweets of someone you’re following, you can easily get rid of them by clicking ‘Unfollow’ and henceforth you won’t get any tweets from that person again – if you change your mind you can always follow that person again.

Despite this skepticism about this rush of information, I think that this is something positive. Nowadays, you have to try to stay up-to-date with everything new that’s going on in the world. Why? Because your students are doing the same thing and you might find yourself not knowing what they are talking about or what students are into these days thus lowering your chances of making your lessons interesting. And if you can’t motivate students nowadays they will get bored of your lessons or, even worse, of you or your lack of interest. But this is almost a different topic that I might talk about another time. Let’s get back to twitter:) The main idea here is that, the more information you get on twitter the better. Of course this depends on what kind of tweets your receiving and this depends on who you’re following. Now these are all your choices to make. Who to follow, what to read and what not to read. You can have two separate accounts: one for work and another for personal stuff. However, I personally think this is unnecessary…it’s just one too many passwords to remember but as I said it’s a personal choice.

Outside the classroom

Lately, I’ve been hearing teachers talk a lot about twitter and how to use it to their advantage in their professional lives. I’ve been hearing about what a great way twitter is if you want to make new professional acquaintances and find out about new activities, links, conferences and many more and this is true, however if people are looking for conversations on twitter then it’s the last place to go. Yes, IF you follow the right person on twitter then you can see who that person is following and follow maybe some of them and then look at some of the people that person has as his/her followers and follow some of them and so on and so forth. After a while you will start getting lots of tweets about different stuff relating from day-to-day activities to professional ones. Then you can start filtering out the ones which are important for you and use them in your field of expertise.

  • you can stay in touch with some of your colleagues in a different country or continent and post new websites, software or activities that you have used or see what they are currently using. This is a fast and easy way of sharing experiences and different ways of approaching teaching.
  • I also found on Digg.com some interesting ways of using Twitter. Here are some of them:


A fine use of Twitter which helps us learn a new word each day and replace the colorful adjectives we normally use at traffic snarls. Follow @artwiculate on Twitter and use the word they broadcast in one of your tweets. The more ‘likes’ or retweets each reply gets, pushes it up the popularity charts on Artwiculate. The prize: An enriched vocabulary which we can use to sound more intelligent than we actually are.





Solve user created puzzles via Twitter or create your own. The fun is in the off the cuff bizarre answers that get generated. The site could do with a boost as the responses seem to be flagging off. If you have a sense of humor, play this Twitter game which is short and funny.


Outwit.me has a lineup of seven games based on Twitter. You can join and play anytime once one game is over and another begins. For instance, in Tweet Hangman you have to guess a secret word or phrase by replying with letters. Tweet Quiz is about guessing all the multiple answers that may exist for the quiz asked. Each correct guess that matches the majority earns a point.

Tweet Bricks

This Twitter game is the equivalent of the classic game of Bricks, except that the bricks come from Tweets. Stack up your Tweets as they fall down with the arrow keys. You can choose to play with your own Tweets, with other users, friends or followers, with your mentions, or with all Tweets posted with a Hash tag.

Chess Tweets

The idea to play chess with a remote opponent is nothing new. Chess Tweets just takes the idea onto Twitter. You don’t need to register separately. You can play against one or against the entire community by moving the set pieces and sending chess moves via your Twitter account. Depending on the responses, this game can be slow at times.

As you can see there are some ways to use these outside your classes with your students by motivating them to use twitter not only to say that they are washing the dishes or watching their favourtite TV series but also to use it as a useful tool.

Inside the classroom

Now, this is depends very much on whether your students have a mobile device (such as a smart phone or tablet/pad or  a laptop) that supports a twitter application. If not or they don’t like carrying it with themselves into classes then you pretty much can’t use it when teaching in the classroom. If they do have these gadgets and are happy to use them in class you might use twitter to:

  • receive feedback from your students on the lesson. They just have to hash tag (which is this sign #) the topic of discussion and send you a tweet on the lesson. They can then start a discussion on why they liked certain aspects of the lesson and why not. Students can vote on which part they thought was the most useful in the lesson by tweeting and retweeting each other.
  • you can ask them to give examples of sentences where they use some of the newly learned vocabulary. They could use one new word they’ve learned during the lesson in their tweets.
  • you can ask them to drill some grammar points. They could tweet a question using a particular tense and ask the others to answer the question using the same tense. In order to make it a bit more interesting you could tell them to tweet about a personal experience so they have an incentive to start with. You can always reply to their tweets adding some feedback on their tweets.


Posted: October 31, 2010 in Grou.ps
Tags: , , ,

I’ve been thinking lately a lot about how to motivate students to work with enthusiasm not only inside the classroom but also at home when they don’t have anything better to do than watching TV or being on Facebook.
Teenagers spend quite a lot of time in front of their computer nowadays and if they are active on a social network then most probably on facebook. Social networking is just another way for them to interact with their friends and family. However, I think a teacher can use this to make a learning tool out of it.

Ning is a very famous and popular social network where you can create a private social network and administer everything on it. However, Ning is not free anymore so I had to find an alternative to it. Moodle is great but it just gives me a strange feeling…it just has such a bureaucratic look to it…anyway, this is just my personal opinion. Nevertheless, I think I found an appropriate alternative for Ning at which is Grou.ps.

On Grou.ps you can create your private social network, strictly for your class but also for anyone whom you invite.

To find grou.ps just type in the name in Google and the first page that pops up is what you need. This is what you’re supposed to see when you first open the page:

In order to start your own social network, you have to give it a name:) If you get a green tick on the right side of the name then you may continue….if it’s a red X then you have to try a different name. When you’re ready typing in the name, just click on create social network and 6 steps will appear on your screen for creating the network:

In the first step you just have to give it a name and a title. And make sure you tick Private if you want it for your class only. If it’s private, it means that only people whom you invite may enter the network.

Step 2:

Just choose a template which you like best. You can click on their names to see how your network would look like.

Step 3:

Step 3 is more for people who want to make their network as personal as possible. Here you can customize your the look of your network from fonts to colour…anything. Of course you can always choose to leave it as it is and make absolutely no changes in this step.

Step 4:

At this step you can get to know your students a bit better right from the moment when they join the network. You can type in a question for anyone who joins the network. You can choose to make the questions mandatory therefore each of your students will have to answer the question:) You can add more than one question….you can actually add as many questions you want.

You can also use this as a questionnaire at the beginning of a course if you want to because you can choose the types of the answers the students can give. Your options for the answers are:

  • one line answer
  • longer answer
  • multiple choice
  • date
  • or even a website address

Step 6:

The sixth step is for your profile information. You can enter your name, birthday, nationality, gender and a picture if you want to.

When you’re finished just click on the ‘Finish’ button under the picture.

Now the real fun can begin:)

When you’re network is finished you should see this:

In order to start working with your network properly, you should add some modules to it. Modules are the places where you can upload videos, music, files, wikis and more. To do this you have to add them by clicking on the ‘Plus’ sign next to the ‘Invite’ button:

When you do this you will get 3 options of what to add:

The option that is important for you is ‘Modules‘. If you click ‘Modules‘ you can choose from a list of modules to integrate into your network.  You don’t have to add anything if you don’t want to and you can choose which one to add. I personally think that you should have a module for files, videos, wikis, music, links and maybe events and blogs. These are the ones that I added to my network.

After adding these modules your network should look like this:

When you’re done with adding modules you can start using your network as a virtual classroom.

Inside the classroom:

  • you can ask your students to upload a video, picture or music for their presentation in the class. They can then talk about the video/picture/song in the class…why they’ve chosen it and what importance it has for their presentation.
  • if each students has a laptop, you can ask them to work on a project together using a wiki.
  • they could also practice some language skills for comparing and contrasting. You can upload a video/picture/song and ask your students to comment them by using appropriate language for comparing and contrasting.
  • you can ask them to upload their favourite songs onto the music section and play it in class while their working on a project or other similar task which don’t require absolute silence in the classroom.
  • IMPORTANT: If you want the students to upload something, you have to make them admins. However, you can always make them only members again and take away their admin rights. In order to make them admins, just go to the ‘Members’ section by clicking on ‘Members’ in the top right corner of your screen:

In the members section just change the members rank to administrator. When the students are finished uploading stuff you can always change their status back to members only….or you could leave them admins.

How to change member to admin and vice versa:

Make sure you save the changes by clicking on ‘Save Roles’. If you want someone out of your virtual class, just select a member and click ‘Kcik Selected Members Out’ and he/she is out:)

Outside the classroom:

  • A private social network has of course more advantages for home use. You can ask your students to discuss and plan an event by using the wiki module on the network. This allows them to work on it asynchronously. If some of them have other more important things to do on the day other students are working on the plan of an event, they can edit the plan the next day or hours later until the deadline for the event.
  • you can ask them to send any written homework on your private network by uploading them in the file module. This way you have their homework stashed online. You can always give them feedback on their homework on the network and you get to keep each piece of their homework without having to keep an actual printed version of them stashed up all around your desk in your home or at your workplace.
  • you can upload a video/picture/song and start a discussion or a debate on them as a lead in to the topic of your next lesson. Students will feel more safe talking and learning about a certain topic after having already shared some thoughts on it.
  • you don’t have to create an email group anymore. You can send any messages or reminders on the newsfeed which is the start page of your network.
  • you can ask them to start a class blog by writing about what they’ve learned every week in your lessons.
  • you can ask them to share any interesting links they might have used and feel they’re interesting for the class. You could ask them to write a short review of each website they upload so the person who sees it can decide whether it’s important for him/her or not. You can then grade or rank the reviews in class.
  • you can add a subgroup module to your network and create a groups inside your virtual classroom. You can then give different tasks to different groups when working on a project. This way not everyone in class can see what the others are doing…this is the difference between posting something in your group or posting something on the newsfeed. When finished, the ca add their work in a wiki and compare what they’ve done

Personally, I think this tool can be a very nice alternative to other social networks and if you don’t want them to be a total outsider from facebook, grou.ps still allows you to add facebook applications (but if you want more information about this then let me know…post a comment).

It’s ad free so it’s great for educational purposes. You can edit almost anything in it thus you can make it as visually attractive as possible:)

Of course, you need to put some time into it at the beginning and administer is maybe weekly by uploading tasks and assignments otherwise your students will get bored of it.

Windows Movie Maker is a free software if you have already purchased your windows operational system. You can use it to create and edit videos, pictures. It creates a kind of slide show as in a power point presentation although the difference is that you can publish your work on WMM directly on YouTube or process it in any other format. Of course there are more differences between WMM and PPT such as video editing options, visual effects and animations, some you might not have in PPT and it’s always visually more attractive to create a movie and not a PPTJ You can find in on your computer just by clicking the start menu button in the left corner of your windows screen and then type in movie maker. Finally, click on the Windows Movie Maker option under Programs. WMM will start and it will look like this:

WMM is a great tool for beginners and also for those with advanced tech knowledge. It’s simple to use.

How to begin

As you can see your options are on the top of the screen. The best way to begin is by adding  pictures or video (pre-recorded or video from any free sites – just make sure that the videos, pictures or music you’re using in your movies do not have a copyright) to your project.

You just have to click the Add videos and photos button and then make your choices. When you add photos or videos your WMM will look like this:

On the right you have a larger version of the first picture or video from the left side. The right side is where you can view what you’re editing. You edit anything you have to by working on the left side, where the pictures or videos are imported and you also have to use the tools that are on the top of the screen.

How to use the timeline

The timeline is the black vertical line that appears at the beginning of your video.

You can drag that line wherever you want to in your movie. As you can see in the sample the timeline is now at the end of the first picture. This is very useful in order to introduce music or text only where YOU want to.

Adding music

If you want to add music to it then you just have to push the Add music button and pick your choice. After adding some music your slide should look something like this:

You should observe that a green line, with the name of the song and artist, appeared on the right side of the screen just above your pictures or videos. You can try to push the play button on the left side of the screen under the larger image to see how it looks like.

Editing music

If you don’t want the music to start from the first picture and you’d rather it started from the second then click on the green line (for music) and drag it while holding the left mouse button on the green horizontal line and drag it to the beginning of the second picture. It will look like this:

You can play the movie to see if you like it like this or not. If not then just drag it back to the beginningJ

Also, if you want to just change the starting point and ending point of your song, you have to click on the Music Tools button on the top of the screen. You will see some new options appear on your screen which are important for editing the song you are using in your movie. The Music Tools looks like this:

As you can see you don’t have that many options but at least you can fade in and fade out the song and add the start and end point of your music. You can choose from 3 types of fading speeds which are Slow, Medium and Fast. As for the duration of the song just type in at what time you want your music to start and at what time you want it to stop.

Now you might have noticed that you have Start time, Start point and End point.

Start time means at what time in the movie you want it to start (for example: right from the beginning of the movie or just from the second picture).

Start point is a nice tool which allows you to start the song at any moment you’d like. With this tool you can cut out the first part of the music and begin directly with the 40th second or jump start anywhere you want.

End point is the time when you want the song to end in the movie.

Music Tools with changes:

As you can see I change the Fade in and Fade out speed and also the Start time, start point and end point. As a result you can see the changes on the left side of your screen.

Adding text

By now you have some pictures and music in your movie(you don’t have to add music if you don’t want to and not even text…it’s always up to you). Some of you might want to add also some text in the movie. In order to do this you have to push the Caption button which is between Title and Credits next to the Add music button.

After you’ve pushed the Caption button a caption for adding text will appear on the left screen, this time under the pictures or videos. This way it’s visually easy to distinguish the music and text timeline.

If you followed the instructions then you should be able to see something similar to this on your screen:

Text editing

It’s as easy as it says under the picture in the text timeline…you just double click the text timeline and type in anything you wantJ However, if you want to make your text last longer or just change the duration of the text you have to start editing it already, but this is easy also. Just double click the text timeline or click on the Text Tools which is on the top of the screen next to Video Tools and Music Tools. This is the first and most important step towards editing your movie. When you click this section you will see that some new options will appear which are very similar to the Word Document editing options. What you have to do here is simply to click on Text duration and insert the length of the time you’d like your text to last.

When done it should look like this:

Of course you can always change the size, format, transparency, alignment and colour of your text simply by clicking on the icons above the picture on the right side of your screen. You can always re-edit your text by clicking on the Edit Text button on the top of the screen in the Text tools section.

Video editing

Editing your video is very similar to editing your music. It has the same options as the Music Tools section. One extra option is the trimming option. If you have a video that you would like to have in your movie but don’t want the entire video because it’s too long or because you just want to use a part of it then you can trim it (cut it up into pieces). Trimming is quite easy in WMM. You have to click the video on the right side of your screen first and then click the Trim tool option in the Video Tools section on the top of the screen.

On the left side of your screen the trimming tool for the video will appear. You can either go to the top of the screen and add the Start point and End point for the trimmed section of your video…


You can drag the Start point and End point on the video where you want to.

In the classroom

–          You could ask your students to make a movie instead of a power point presentation whenever they have to work on a project

  • They could record short or long videos for their project using only their phones or if you have a video camera….well, even betterJ and add these to their movie so it becomes more personal
  • You could ask them to take pictures for their project themselves (so there is no copyright issue anymore)

–          You could ask them to make a movie based on a story. You’d have to ask them to think of the plot of the story together and then devide them into groups (or they could work individually also if you’d like) and ask each group to write one part of the story. Consequently, one group could create the beginning of the movie, the second group could work on the main body and the third group could think of the ending. All this with or without letting the group interact.  They could then come together as a class and put their movie together as one. This can be challenging for them and teenagers or even adults always enjoy a challengeJ they can always publish their work on YouTube if they want to.

Outside the classroom

–          You could ask them to keep a vlog (video blog) for a week or a month about what they have been learning for that period of time or their impressions on each lesson or each week and then edit and produce a movie about it.

–          You could ask them to keep a video diary for a month or so, filming themselves maybe 3 times a week about what they learned. This way they could practice their past tensesJ if you want them to practice grammar. Nonetheless, you could ask them practice any type of grammatical issue through this and they could have some fun with it too in the meantime

–          Whenever you ask them to read a book, you could tell them to choose a picture from Flickr or Google and associate it to each of the chapters in the book and tell the story through a short movie. They could have a slide of each picture and a recording of them talking about why they have chosen that picture for that chapter. This is helpful for letting them tinker about their own perception of the book and how they visualize it.