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Twelve Days of Christmas: CRAFT and MAKE

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On the third day of Christmas…something completely different!

Angelo_Gemmi_scissors_silhouette from openclipart.org

CRAFT and its more technological sister MAKE are both the kind of things where most of their target audiences already know about them, but a lot of other people could potentially enjoy them and benefit from them. Check out the blog, projects section, and other parts of the site for more projects than anyone could do in a few years. The patterns and everything are available for free, and you don’t even need to sign up for an account or anything.

Don’t have any preconceptions about what they have there–there’s everything from how to start a fire to how to make an octopus chandelier to how to dry persimmons (Japanese style) to how to make cocktails to, over at MAKE, how to make board game pieces. All sorts of random stuff! Some of the projects are simple enough to do with students, or might be great to use in the classroom (like the game pieces), but mostly these are projects for yourself. Especially nice if you’re on a budget…

What’s next? Well, probably something more education-related….unless I change my mind!

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.)

Twelve Days of Christmas: Google Wave Guide and Invitations

Day One: A couple of Lifehacker editors have written a guide to Google Wave, the amazing new still-in-progress collaboration and communication service that I think could be really fantastic for teachers, writers, people working overseas, and just about anyone.

abstracted-interpersonal-communication by cibo00 at openclipart.org


You can read a version of the guide free online: The Complete Guide to Google Wave (it only costs money if you want to buy the PDF). It can be a little strange to get the hang of, so I plan to read it myself. You can do interesting things that you can’t do in usual document-sharing and chat services, but it’s very hard to explain until you start playing with it! For example, you can insert a poll into the middle of a chat about where to have lunch, mark up a sample student essay together, scroll around and add pointers to your favorite places on a Google Map view of downtown Kyoto, and switch from one mode into another pretty easily.

In addition, since you still can’t just sign up for Google Wave directly, I have six Google Wave invitations that I’ll give out to the first six English/ESL/EFL teachers (or teachers in training) who contact me through my Contact Me page (please don’t leave your e-mail address in the comment box on this post here, because then anyone can see it!). This offer is not open to other people; just TESOL professionals and professionals-in-training, so you need to tell me your specialty and where you are teaching or studying, as well as give me your Gmail address or another e-mail address (you’ll have to set up a Gmail account). Also, keep in mind that your Google Wave account name will use your Gmail account name. If I invite you, I think we’ll automatically become Google Wave contacts, but other than that happening I won’t use your contact info to contact you for anything. And feel free to delete me.

I’ve been having fun with Google Wave and look forward to collaborating on some serious projects using it soon!

(Late start, but making Christmas dinner took longer than expected! It’s still December 25th in California though…well, it was when I was almost done with this! Rats! I’ll try to get ahead on the posts.)

Please let me know if you make use of any of the Twelve Days entries! I’d love to get some feedback.

Use Your Benefits

I need to read my TESOL e-mails more carefully! Somehow I’d been missing out on this member benefit for a while. (I pay a lot for TESOL and rarely get to attend the conference, so I hate to miss out on a benefit…) Apparently, all TESOL members can attend an upcoming online seminar about using web applications, and it’s free. If you miss that one or you’re reading this much later, there should be another one at some point. The topics look interesting, and I think you can put this on your CV under “Professional Development.”

Even better, if you are a “Global Member” you can attend any of the online seminars–not just the featured ones–for free. If you are a Global Member, take advantage of this benefit and sign up for a seminar (if it’s possible to attend given the time difficulties). If you live in another country and have been considering joining TESOL but haven’t due to cost and distance, you might want to consider it. Global memberships are available to those from nations with gross national incomes of US $15,000 or less per capita (as defined by the UN). This list includes China, the Philippines, Thailand, India, Russia, Poland, Turkey, Peru, Mexico, Brazil, and many other countries. They cost $40 or $25 instead of $90. You can read about the details on TESOL’s membership page.

By the way, student members can also attend any of the online seminars for free. For regular, non-Global, non-student TESOL members, other seminars besides the special free ones are $35.

Finally, if you look at the bottom of the virtual seminars page, there’s information about how to access information from previous seminars. Topics include research on teaching reading, vocabulary teaching, English as an international language of instruction, and several more.

If you’re interested in the topics or need to add to your CV, this is a really great opportunity, especially if you can’t get to a local conference. (Soon, though, I’ll write about opportunities for local conferences that international teachers, especially local residents, may be missing out on.)

Temporary Free Journal Access

I received this message on the AAAL mailing list, and as it says “free free to forward to colleagues,” I believe it should be okay to post it here. (If not, I’ll be happy to take it down.)

Here’s the message:

“Get acquainted with SAGE’s journals in Languages and Linguistics now during our free online access period. We are currently offering free full-text access to the following 14 journals until 30th September 2009.
Child Language Teaching and Therapy
Discourse & Communication
Discourse & Society
Discourse Studies
First Language
International Journal of Bilingualism
Language and Literature
Language and Speech
Language Testing
Language Teaching Research
Journal of Commonwealth Literature
Journal of English Linguistics
RELC Journal
Second Language Research

Register here.”

This is a rare opportunity to gain access to these peer-reviewed journals, so I suggest that you check it out. Institutions and libraries who don’t currently subscribe should also go take a good look, too–in this economy it’s important to make sure that your limited subscription money is going to the most useful places possible.

Redefining the Dictionary (Again)

by holder at morguefile

Dictionary upgrade?


I really want Wordnik, a new web-based “dictionary,” to work. Although I love an old-fashioned, unabridged, doorstop of a dictionary, traditional dictionaries are not that great for my students. Their examples are archaic and stilted, their definitions use words that are just as difficult as the word being looked up, they include too many almost-never-used synonyms, and they don’t include connotations. Learner’s dictionaries are better–for example, they may note that “childish” is insulting while “childlike” is neutral; they use simple definitions; they highlight most frequently used words in red or blue; they often include collocations such as which prepositions are usually used with a verb; and they use easier/shorter sentences. The definitions are more realistic, too. You’ll note that in the example below, several traditional dictionaries link the word “awesome” with the word “awful.” Really? Now, outside of the Bible or Tolkien, when was the last time you heard or wrote “awesome” and immediately thought “awful”? I wonder. I’m aware of the “awe” connection, but we just don’t use it that way on a day-to-day basis anymore. That’s why the Longman Dictionary of American English (the closest learner’s dictionary) says “very impressive, serious, or difficult” and “(spoken) extremely good.” It doesn’t mention “awful.”

Wordnik looks like it might be even better than learner’s dictionaries, someday, although possibly just for advanced learners. On the FAQ page, it says “Wordnik is based on the principle that people learn words best by seeing them in context.” Ah … hmm … sound familiar, teachers? It pulls examples from novels and Twitter, definitions from several dictionaries (no learner dictionary, alas, since there aren’t any free ones online), images from Flickr (since let’s face it, that’s a much better way to define things like food items, colors, items of clothing, types of buildings, etc.), pronunciation files from American Heritage, and the thing I think is the coolest, statistics. The statistics function really fell down on the first word I put in, “awesome.” Check out the cool timeline under statistics–and notice how it says you might expect to see this word once per year. Hmmm. I don’t think that’s right!

Well, things are still under construction, so the statistics feature has the potential to be cool. When English learners are writing an e-mail or essay and are trying to pick the right new word, one thing that often trips them up is that they inadvertently pick a rare or archaic word, and it sounds out of place. (OK, I do this in Japanese and Chinese too–trying to pick the appropriate word out of an electronic dictionary, in particular, is like throwing darts at a dartboard!) Being able to look at a chart and tell that a word was often used in the 1800s but is rarely used now would be pretty nifty, I think. I hope this function gets up to speed soon.

Another nice function mentioned on the About page is collocations and associated vocabulary: “For instance, cheeseburger, milkshake, and doughnut are not synonyms, but they show up in the same kinds of sentences.” That would be really neat, but if you view the entry for “cheeseburger,” it hasn’t been implemented yet (though a LOLcat does currently appear in the Flickr entries).

Wordnik is collaborative and, since it’s brought to you by a group including Erin McKean, the speaker in the the TED talk on lexicography I linked to previously, they’re not picky about what’s considered a “real word.” If you’d like to contribute, sign up! Otherwise, keep an eye on it and we’ll see how it develops. I’m not going to link to it yet on my blog for students (ReadableBlog), but I’m hopeful–especially if someone can develop a CC-licensed learner’s dictionary. (Maybe I can get a grant…I’d actually really love to work on a project like that.)

Not Just Another Peer-Reviewed Journal

In terms of free, high-quality online language acquisition research, we have an embarrassment of riches (now there’s an idiom for you!). There’s a wonderful new addition to the hoard: L2 Journal, and it comes with an excellent pedigree. L2 is a “fully-refereed, interdisciplinary journal” that’s being offered online at no cost via the University of California’s eScholarship Digital Information Repository, supported by the UC Consortium for Language Learning and Teaching and the Berkeley Language Center Website. The editorial board and executive committee contains familiar names like Claire Kramsch and Rick Kern. The journal will be addressing a broad range of second-language acquisition topics, including “pedagogy, bilingualism and multilingualism, language and technology, curriculum development and teacher training, testing and evaluation,” etc.

Photo of dictionary open to 'education,' notebook, pencil by cohdra at morguefile.com

No excuse for not keeping up with the research!


With that kind of backing, this is likely to become one of the most reputable free online journals. Although you need to sign up for a free membership to access the articles (and they’re all PDF), it should be worth it to get access. This is the kind of thing for which you usually need access to JSTOR, etc., and is usually difficult or impossible to get to as an individual, a public school teacher, an overseas volunteer teacher, or (often) an EFL teacher at all. As far as I can tell, there are no restrictions on who can make an account–I left “institutional affiliation” blank, since I work for myself, and was able to register with no problems.

Because it’s coming from the UC system (and is headed by Dr. Kramsch), I expect it’ll have a number of heavily theoretical papers that may turn off some teachers. I encourage you to give those papers a try–sometimes they pay off!–but also to look at the other papers. There are three articles available so far (all PDF), and I think all of them have practical elements. The one I’m currently reading, “Corrective Feedback and Teacher Development” (Rod Ellis), is very practical as far as I’m concerned–an article need not have a lesson plan to be applicable to what I do in my lessons. So while the journal may not be light reading, I think its high standards will pay off for teachers who take the time to sit down and read it.

Interestingly, the journal is being conceived as a one-issue-per-year model, but with articles published as they are ready–so it sounds like it’s really a year-round publication. You can read about the submission guidelines and also, because they are a little more technologically advanced than most journals, receive alerts when L2 publishes a paper on a topic in which you’re interested. That’s an excellent service to offer.

I’m very excited about L2! What an excellent resource for us to have. (I’ll be adding it to the Free Online Journals post, of course.) As always, if you have another one to suggest, let me know.

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?