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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

How to Teach with Technology: Language Arts

Students fire off ideas for using digital tools to learn language and literature.
Sara Bernard
Journalist
Credit: David Julian

Check out these tips from students and educators for high tech teaching:

Video Dialogues

"I think students would retain a lot more information if they made a video about the person they're studying or created an instant message dialogue in which they imagine a fictional conversation between characters, as opposed to just taking a test or writing an essay.

"If every class could use some type of blog or Web page, students could post their questions and the teacher would be able to respond for the whole class to see. This means the teacher wouldn't have to answer the same question multiple times, and students would understand homework better. The class could use this blog in other ways, too.

"For example, students could respond to a prompt on the blog for homework, or students could check their answers on the blog to review for a test. This site could also help a lot with students who are absent. In my math class, the teacher created a Web site where students can access all the worksheets. This is a big help to students, because they can complete makeup work more easily, and kids are always losing their worksheets."

Read more about creating a blog for your classroom.

Every Picture Tells a Story

"With Photo Story, you tell a story with pictures. You get pictures for your story, you add voice, and, as an option, you can put in effects or music. It helps me with voice and dialogue in my writing, which you need to keep your listener interested."

Photo Story is a free application within the Windows XP operating system that allows users to create a digital presentation of sounds and images. Fifth-grade students at Denton Avenue School, in New Hyde Park, New York, use the program as part of the language arts curriculum.

In a recent project, students wrote narratives about the teachers at their school. The added layers of images, timing, visual effects, and music help students think critically about narrative and audience.

Global Brainstorming

"Last year, my teacher used Skype in a different way. We read the book The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, by Chris Van Allsburg. We had to come up with a story about each picture in the book, and we worked on the stories with a class in Florida! We were able to work on stories with kids in an entirely different state without even getting on a plane."

Skype is a simple way to conduct phone and video calls free of charge through the Internet. For a free download, visit Skype.com.

Give Bios a Backbeat

"Students could use Apple GarageBand to come up with a song for English class about their lives, instead of writing in a journal. If I were a teacher, I would first ask the students to write an entry about their life. Then I would ask them to add in words to make the song rhyme. I would also show them how to add beats, change their voice, and remix a favorite song and add it to their song.

"This would give the students freedom, and it would help them work on their grammar skills. I would also advise teachers of other subjects to use this idea. For example, in social studies, we could use GarageBand to come up with a song about a famous historical person and write it as if the person were speaking during a year in which he or she lived. We could then take all the songs and burn them onto a CD so every student had a copy."

Give-and-Take Storytelling

"When I'm writing a story by myself in a Word document, I'm usually at a loss for what to say. I'm always going back and changing things or messing around with fonts. But when my friend and I use the online chat tool Google Talk, we make a story. Line by line, going back and forth, we add on to our crazy plots.

"See, when you chat, you're not alone. Someone is always there to add on. Also, you cannot go back and change things. It keeps the story moving forward, and it's great for rough drafts. I think people could definitely use this in the classroom for creative writing.

"Once you've made your chat, it can be automatically saved and you can easily print it out. When you want to edit the story, all you have to do is copy and paste it into a Word document. It's a way to work together, get out your ideas, and use technology."

Thinking Aloud

"I would use VoiceThread to record responses to poems. Kids think about poems differently than adults. VoiceThread helps kids express their thoughts easily and record their feelings, emotions, and understanding."

VoiceThread is collaborative slide show software that allows users to contribute audio, images, and video. Students in Lisa Parisi and Christine Southard's fifth-grade class at Denton Avenue School use VoiceThread to recite poetry and voice their responses to literature as well as to connect with students around the world. For example, an ongoing project on their class Web site uses VoiceThread to share common phrases in dozens of languages.

Credit: Sega

Study Homer with a Hedgehog

"If we're studying Homer's Odyssey, I would like the opportunity to learn about it in ways other than just reading. For example, an opportunity to use movies, photographs, or games (such as Sonic Odyssey, which takes Sega's Sonic the Hedgehog character through Homer's Odyssey) would make learning more enjoyable and easier.

Students could relate to the events a lot better and maximize what they get out of it. The option to create a digital presentation (a movie, cartoon, drawing, or online debate) for testing and homework purposes would make it even better."

Comic Relief

"For drawing, I use Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Flash. (I am not much of an artist, but they are the ones I like the most.) I recently found Doozla, and my five-year-old cousin loves to draw with it. For cartoons and comics, I use an application called Comic Life."


Credit: Apple.com

The Mural of the Story

"In art class, we made murals in groups. We wrote down a script about different aspects of our mural and then recorded audio tours using GarageBand. Then, we loaded the recordings onto iPods. We're going to display the murals with the iPods so people can listen to our audio tour."

GarageBand is free software in the Macintosh operating system that encourages users to learn the basics of piano and guitar. It also allows you to record, mix, and edit multiple audio tracks. Visit GarageBand online for explanations and tutorials.

Sara Bernard is a former staff writer and multimedia producer at Edutopia.

Go back to the main article, "How to Teach with Technology."

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