In two recent posts on this blog, Shelly Terrell listed a number of online resources that teachers can use to interact with their students online and help them learn. I have some more recommendations, with a similar, though slightly different, focus. For the last year, I’ve looked extensively for applications and sites that can help students learn, help teachers teach, and help everyone share and organize educational material. While ESL Library offers teachers lots of great content we teachers can use in our lessons, other sites that are not focused on ESL offer services that an ESL teacher—or any teacher—will quickly find invaluable.
Here are my top recommendations:
—Quizlet is a great site for making online flash cards. If you’ve assigned your students a long vocabulary list, point them to Quizlet, where they can memorize vocabulary quickly, easily, and while having fun. Quizlet lets students create digital flash card sets very quickly and then study with them more easily than even with paper cards, since scrolling and modification options are so easy. Once a user has completed a flash card set, she can study with those “cards” the old-fashioned way—but she can also turn on Quizlet’s audio to hear how words are pronounced in English, or she can use the tests Quizlet creates from sets, allowing her to study in multiple ways from the same set of cards. I don’t know of any better tool for rapid memorization of a lot of words or fast facts. I’ve used Quizlet both to teach English vocabulary and to learn Spanish vocabulary.
—Sporcle is a quiz site covering every topic under the sun. It’s not geared toward English learners, so it doesn’t have ESL-specific quizzes. That said, many of its quizzes can be helpful to English learners. The most important reason I use Sporcle, though, is because it’s fun. A Sporcle quiz is a great way to end a long class, keeping students engaged with English while letting them relax a bit and enjoy themselves. Check out the Language section for all language-related (not just English-related) quizzes. Some of my favorites are “Commonest English words,” “Most common nouns,” “Most common verbs,” “UK-US words” (British to American), “US-UK words” (American to British), and ” ‘And’ idioms.” But don’t stop at my recommendations; there are dozens more good ones.
—Evernote is the perfect organization application for both teachers and students. Evernote isn’t just for taking notes: Its motto is “Remember everything,” and it lets users save text, images, PDFs, other file types, and entire web pages to their accounts. All user data is stored both on users’ computers and on Evernote servers, so a single user can access her notes on her computer (whether its Mac or Windows), mobile device (Blackberry, Android, iPhone, and iPad), or on any computer through evernote.com. It’s perfect for clipping websites, for jotting down ideas, or for collecting resources of all different kinds, since its notebooks and tags make organizing everything very easy, and a quick search will pull up any note and show you exactly where your keyword is in each note. Since discovering Evernote, I’ve started using it for all my data, not just my teaching resources. But everything I use for classes is now saved in Evernote and tagged appropriately: “English teaching,” “English resources,” etc. I’m most grateful for its ability to save (“clip”) entire websites. No longer do I have URLs bookmarked in my browser with no identifying information besides their titles; now entire web pages exist in searchable form on my own computer, even when I’m offline. And, by utilizing shared notebooks and share notes, Evernote makes sharing information with students easy.
—Dropbox will make you angry that you ever shared files with your students (or with yourself) by emailing them. Once you’ve installed Dropbox on your computer, all you need to do to share files of any size with another person or a group of people is to create a shared folder and invite the other users. Any file you drop into the shared folder will, nearly instantly, appear on the computers of all the other people sharing the folder. On top of that, you can download Dropbox to multiple computers, so you’ll never need to email documents to yourself to make them available on your other computer. And if you’re using someone else’s computer, you can access all your files through dropbox.com. I primarily use Dropbox to share e-books, audio files, and other large files that would be impossible to email because of size. Dropbox is a life-saver even outside of my teaching: After my laptop was stolen a couple years ago and I lost data I hadn’t backed up, I started using Dropbox for all my documents. Now I never have to manually back anything up, and all my data is safe from whatever might happen to my computer.
Though these are the applications and websites that I depend on most in my teaching, there are others out there that can make a teacher’s life much easier and help students learn more quickly and effectively. Do you use any similar programs or sites in your teaching? Please share other helpful sites or programs here.