Digital Tools for ELs: Summary of TESOL 14 Session

The TESOL 2014 Convention in Portland was a great place for teachers to learn new ideas, feel inspired, and network. TESOL always has plenty of great sessions to choose from, and on March 28, I attended a valuable session called “Digital Tools for ELs: Constructing Language and Content Knowledge” (EL = English Learner). Since many teachers couldn’t make the convention, I decided to share what I learned at this session on our blog because I know many teachers are interested in using technology in the classroom.

This session was put on by some lovely ladies from the University of Alabama and Etowah County Schools. The ladies, including DeAnna Ruhl, Amanda Foss, and Holly Hubbard, gave an excellent presentation where they explained the pros and cons of various apps, which I’ll recap for you here.

  • Students can upload slides/photos and narrate each slide
Pros:
  • Easy to comment on and easy to share
  • Can be embedded
Cons:
  • The free version is limited to 5 uses
Advantage for ELs:
  • Teachers can use this tool with ELs if they can’t keep up with other learners in the class
  • Choose a collection of art
  • Drag and drop
  • Write a story or caption
  • Share stories or collaborate
  • Students can use it as a journal or portfolio for the whole year (to see progress in their writing)
  • $35 per 100 students; there’s also a free version
Pros:
  • Easy to use
  • Students can receive more language support
  • Students can be artistic
  • Teachers can create student accounts under the teacher’s email
Cons:
  • Pictures can only be chosen within a collection
Advantage for ELs:
  • Even the most limited speakers can use it
  • Virtual puppet theater—allows students to create puppet shows
  • Basic = $2, Better = $5
  • Students can choose backgrounds, characters, narration, animation
  • Characters can move around and talk
  • For iPad
Pros:
  • Students can use it for summaries of novels/stories, instructional videos, historical summaries, creative writing, etc.
Cons:
  • Only eight characters to choose from
  • Can’t rerecord each scene, so keep the show short in case they make a mistake (because they’ll have to start again from the beginning)
Advantage for ELs:
  • Students can email the files to share with family and friends to demonstrate their progress in English (note: keep the puppet show short because they won’t be able to email big files)
  • One of the top 60 education apps
  • Students can include text, narration, pictures, and videos
  • Students can store their books in iBooks
  • Books can be printed as a PDF
  • For iPad
Pros:
  • Students can use it for writing, alternative assignments, vocabulary, summaries of novels, etc.
  • Teachers can use it too—e.g., to collect photos from a field trip that all students and parents can access, to make a digital class library of all students’ books, etc.
Cons:
  • Requires an iPad
Advantage for ELs:
  • Students can show their books to family and friends to demonstrate their progress in English

How can you get started?

The session wrapped up with some great tips on using these tools for the first time:

  1. Start with one or two new tools and practice at home.
  2. Think of a concept or theme.
  3. Plan which resources you’ll use (iPads, computers, etc.).
  4. Approach other teachers who would be open to collaboration.
  5. Pull out one or two students to create a project. They can be your “experts”.
  6. Go for it!

DeAnna, Amanda, and Holly kindly shared their program’s website, where teachers can find videos and other professional development resources.¬†You can also follow their Pinterest Board for more ideas.

Tanya Trusler

Tanya is a freelance editor and writer with an extensive background as an ESL teacher. She edits lesson plans, creates new materials, and writes weekly blog posts for ESL-Library and Sprout English. Her company is Editing to a T. Follow her on Twitter (@tanyatrusler) and Google Plus.

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