Free Tools Challenge #29: Share What You Know With


In this Free Tools Challenge, you will learn a little bit about the following:

  1. What Is
  2. How Can You Use It In The Classroom?
  3. How Does Work?
  4. The Challenge!
  5. Extending The Discussion

What Is is an application that aims to make it simple for users to present and share information in an attractive and easily digestible format.  In their terminology, the author creates a “Board”, or permalink-ed webpage, on which they share “Learnings”, posts which contain the knowledge they want to share.  Those “Learnings” can be made up of either the author’s own content or content that the author has snipped from around the internet.’s most interesting and most promoted features are centered around making this content easy to share and collect.  In addition to the sharing buttons you would expect (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and Linkedin), they have created their own specific buttons to “follow” or “like” a Board.  Readers are also able to interact with the content by commenting on individual Learnings and Boards or even suggesting Learnings to the authors of the Board.  To make it easier to share in the creation of a Board, they have made it possible for author(s) to select “Collaborators” who can help to put the Board together

Possible Educational Uses

Here are some ways that you, as an educator, can put to good use:

  1. Aggregating a useful feed.  If there is a website or author that you think regularly puts out good stuff, you can collect and curate that material in one place (like an interactive RSS feed).  This author has collected videos from the NYTimes ‘s Education section.
  2. Tips for teachers.   Share your experience and hard-won lessons with other educators, as in this Board on using in the high school classroom.
  3. Staying on the cutting edge.   Use a Board to keep you and your fellow teachers abreast of innovations in the field and what others are doing.
  4. Putting together multimedia resources.   Want to have a single place where you can aggregate videos, articles, factoids, and images on a single subject?  Use a Board to put it all in one place in an easily digestible format, as with this Board on the  Origins of Basketball.
  5. Collect resources for future use.  Sometimes you find something cool that you can’t use right now, but might need in the future.  With you can collect those nuggets in one place and use them as and when you need them (and share them with others) as with this cool Board of Infographics for the Writing Classroom.
  6. Create tutorials. Use your board to create step-by-step tutorials on how to do just about anything.  Want to learn how to make delicious pour over coffee?

How To Use

To give you an idea of how works and what it can do for you, I am going to go through the steps here of creating a Board.  The first step, naturally enough, is to sign up for the service.   Since they insist that they are still in the beta testing phase, you do not technically sign up for the service, but instead “Request an Invite”:

Click Here To Sign Up.

Click Here To Sign Up.

They will then prompt you to create an account.  To do so, you can either (1) connect your Facebook account to or (2) create an account with your email address and password:

A Screenshot Of The Sign Up.

A Screenshot Of The Sign Up.

After you have entered your information, signed up, and confirmed your email address, will run you through the process of creating your profile.  Feel free to press the “Skip This Step” buttons in each window of the profile creation, as the information is not strictly required to use the service.

Now it’s time to create your first board.  Click on the “+ Add” button at the top of the page, next to the search field, and the following will pop-up:

Create A Learning Or A Board.

Create A Learning Or A Board.

In this case, pick the option on the right to “Create A New Board“.  The other two options are solely for adding Learnings to your existing board(s).   After clicking on “Create A New Board” the following screen will pop up:

Describe Your Board.

Describe Your Board.

Enter the name of the Board you are creating, the category it would fall under, and a description of the Board.  They also invite you to put down any collaborators who might be willing to work with you on the creation of the Board.  Once you press the Save button, your Board is created.  Congrats!

Not so fast.  Although you have created a Board, you now need to add some content to it in the form of Learnings.  Click again on the +Add button we referenced above.  Now we’re interested in those two other options: Add From A URL and Upload Your Own.  To try out the first, Add From A URL, click on that option and you will see a field which prompts you to enter a URL (in this case, we will enter the URL for Wikipedia’s article on lemurs):

A Screenshot Of The "Add From URL" Function.

A Screenshot Of The “Add From URL” Function. will then insert the content from that webpage into your Learning (it takes out some of the website styling, while retaining the page content).  When you press Next, they will display images taken from that page:

Select A Picture To Be Associated With Your Learning.

Select A Picture To Be Associated With Your Learning.

Pick an image to appear with your Learning and proceed to the next step where you will title your Learning, give it a category, and add text:

Add A Title, Category, and Description To Your Learning.

Add A Title, Category, and Description To Your Learning.

Press Save And Add to publish your Learning.  The second option for publishing a learning, Upload Your Own, follows a slightly different path.  Instead of adding a URL and then choosing an image, you skip directly to uploading your own image:

Add An Image To Your Learning.

Add An Image To Your Learning.

To add content to the Learning, you will be taken to the same form that you used the last time to title, categorize, and describe your Learning.  In this case, though, rather than using the text field to add comments on the page’s content, you will add the page’s content there itself.

To see what these Learnings actually look like in the end, check out a sample learning board I created about Lemurs.   In this Board I used each method available for creating a Learning, including one Learning made with’s bookmarklet.

The Challenge!

Create a Board that deals with a subject you are going to be covering in your class in the next couple of weeks.  Make sure that the Board includes three types of Learnings:

  • A Wikipedia article
  • A Youtube video
  • An original text with a picture

Extending The Discussion

  1. How valuable are online tutorials?  Do you think students retain information from online tutorials as well as they do with more traditional means of instruction?  Do you think your students give too much or too little credence to what people say on the internet?
  2. works especially well with Wikipedia and does a great job of working with that site’s content.  How valuable do you think Wikipedia is as a classroom tool?  What do you say to students about its use?  What are its strengths and what are its limitations?

Free Tools Challenge #28: What’s The Good Word on


In this Free Tools Challenge, you will learn a little bit about the following:

  1. What Is
  2. How Can You Use It In The Classroom?
  3. How Does Work?
  4. The Challenge!
  5. Extending The Discussion

Overview: is an online application designed to make teaching vocabulary easier and more engaging.  Whereas Memrise (Teacher Challenge #27) focused on making vocabulary words “stickier” and hacking how people remember things, is all about building retention through testing.  Their website features three major sections that work to build the user’s vocabulary in different, and sometimes overlapping, ways: The Challenges, The Dictionary, and The Lists.

The Challenges: When a user visits the site, they are immediately presented with a vocabulary question.  Depending on whether the user answers the question correctly or not, they are then served another word which is either more difficult or less difficult than the last one.  In this way,’s algorithm constantly adjusts the questions served to the user to ensure that students are challenged enough to make progress, but not so overwhelmed that they become discouraged.  The constant challenge also works to create a certain competition in the mind of the user and can make even the task of learning vocabulary curiously addictive.

The Dictionary: also provides an excellent dictionary function that, much like Memrise, is specially designed to  make the looked-up word “sticky”.  It does this in two ways.  First, in addition to displaying a basic definition and example for the word, they provide their own auxiliary definitions and examples which can be surprisingly clever.   These definitions and examples also include a discussion of the etymology of the word and a suggestion for a mnemoic that will help the student to remember it.   Second, they include a function which helps you to look up the word in, a sister site of  By seeing how the word connects with other words and meanings, the student is better able to contextualize the word and therefore remember it.

The Lists: If the students are tired of the challenge questions track, they can also build their knowledge with vocabulary lists.  There are plenty of lists available that have been created by other users and itself, but you can also create your own lists using the dictionary’s list builder and another function we will discuss below. These lists cover a wide variety of different subjects, topics, and purposes. Some examples include: Spanish Borrowings Into English250 Words From The Domain Of Diplomacy; and 100 SAT Words Beginning With “A”.

Want to see it in action?  Check out this How-It-Works video from itself:

Possible Educational Uses:

For teachers looking to get the most out of this application, the real value is in the ease with which you can create or find vocabulary lists. If you want to target subject/topic/class-specific vocabulary, you can either make your own vocabulary lists from the texts that you are currently using with your students or find existing vocabulary lists that apply to the material.

On the other hand, if your interest is in improving the quality and size of your students’ base vocabulary, there is also a lot of value in getting students to use the machine learning function for self-study.  In this case, though, I suspect the biggest challenge  might be to get them to do it in the first place.  Extra credit, anyone?

How To Use

The Challenge function is pretty self-explanatory (just answer the questions), The Dictionary function is, well, a dictionary (look words up there as you would normally), and finding a Vocabulary List is really just a matter of entering your search terms in their search field.   The only tricky bit is the process of creating your own Vocabulary List, so I will take you through that step-by-step now.

A Screen Of The Create A Vocabulary List Box.

The “Create A Vocabulary List” Box.

As you would expect, the first step is to create an account with  The service is free, so all they require from you is an email address (you can also do a one-touch login with Facebook).

Once logged in, click on the the Vocabulary Lists tab and find the square box that lets you Create A Vocabulary List. When you press on the button, you will be directed to the interface you will use to create your vocabulary list.  First, you have to give a name and description to your vocabulary list, as well as decide whether you would like your list to be for general use or just for your own:

Name, Describe, And Set The Privacy Level For Your Vocabulary List.

Name, Describe, And Set The Privacy Level For Your Vocabulary List.

Now you can begin entering words in the vocabulary list you have just named.  Using the section directly below the one you used to enter the title and description, you can enter words One At A TimeAll At Once, or From Text.

This Is The Portion Of The Interface Where You Add Words To The List.

This Is The Portion Of The Interface Where You Add Words To The List.

The first two work in roughly the same way.  Once you enter the word (or with All At Once, the words separated by commas) they present you with a few more options: you can Add NotesAdd Example Sentence, and Choose Definition.  The first option just creates a text area in which you can add notes.  When you click on Example Sentence, you get the following:

Example Sentences That Generates.

Example Sentences That Generates.

When you enter the word, you can either enter in your own example sentence or choose from one of their example sentences.  Their sentences are snipped from an internet search of the word as it appears in a variety of reputable publications.  Once you have chosen the example you like, you can then click on Choose Definition to grab the definition:

Choose The Definition For Your List Word.

Choose The Definition For Your List Word.

When you have the words that you want in the list, you can just press Save List and it will be ready to use.  Students can be tested, or test themselves, with the list as they would any other words or lists. will generate the practice sentences for you and grade the results.  If you choose to enter words From Text, the process is only slightly different:

Their Tool For Pulling Vocabulary Words From Texts.

Their Tool For Pulling Vocabulary Words From Texts.

Simply copy your text of any size (it can be a few sentences or a hundred pages) and’s program will both snag the most interesting words from the passage and grab the sentences which contained those words.  After you have picked the words you would like to include in your list, you can save it and use it like any other.

The Challenge:

  1. Take a page of a text you are working with in class
  2. Create a vocabulary list from the page’s content.
  3. Test your students on that vocabulary list.

Extending The Discussion:

  • Do you think that constant testing (’s approach) or sticky memes (Memrise’s approach) do a better job of getting a student to retain information?  In the short-term?  In the long-term?
  • How important is learning vocabulary in a programmatic fashion?  Is it more important to have students know the definition of a word precisely or to have the skills to be able to infer the meaning of a word from context?
  • Is there a way to get students curious about vocabulary and interested in looking up words on their own?   What causes you to look up words you don’t know?

Free Tools Challenge #27: Get A Rise Out Of Memrise

Let’s face it, we all love free stuff!

So we’ve decided to add to new tools to our Free Tools challenge series.

Over the next few weeks, we will present more of the best free web tools for educators and students as we possibly can. We’ve got tools and websites of all types that you are going to love.

Your challenge:

  1. Follow this blog closely and read about any new tool you haven’t yet tried out – there is sure to be many!
  2. Do your best to carve out a few minutes each week to really try out one or more free tool each week with your students. Then, come back to the blog and share your experience by writing a post about your experience or leaving a comment.


In this Free Tools Challenge, you will learn a little bit about the following:

  1. What Is Memrise?
  2. How Do You Use Memrise?
  3. What’s Memrise Good For?
  4. The Challenge!
  5. Extending The Discussion


Memrise is an online application that is focused on teaching vocabulary to language learners (you can learn vocabulary from dozens of languages, including English), but is actively expanding to other subjects and topics.  Its approach is based on what they call “Mems”:

our natty word for the morsels of interesting and relevant information you see beneath every word on Memrise. Mems can be mnemonics, etymologies, amusing videos, photos, example sentences: anything which helps connect what you’re learning and bring it to life.

Mems are used with the purpose of making words, and their associated concepts, “sticky” .  Not content to let “stickiness” do the job of implanting the word in your memory, Memrise also has a four-part method for reinforcing the learnings:

  1. Memrise teaches the word for the first time and it is entered in short-term memory.
  2. Memrise tests the user on the word again and again, in the same session, to reinforce and consolidate it in short-term memory.
  3. Four hours after completing the initial learning, Memrise gives a test to ensure the word is transferred to long-term memory.
  4. Periodically, Memrise sends reminders to users that encourage them to be tested on the word again.

This system has been designed to move as far away as possible from simple “cramming” or rote memorization and is instead intended to create long-term retention and contextual understanding of vocabulary.

Memrise is not only the only provider/creator of vocabulary lists.  Memrise actually functions as a Wiki and allows users to create their own publicly available vocabulary lists that function just like those that Memrise provides (you can also associate Mems with them and test users).  For a fuller discussion of what Memrise is and does, check out this article from TheEdublogger by yours truly.

How To Use Memrise:

Here we are just going to focus on how you can use Memrise, as a teacher, to create a course that you can give to your students (and the broader educational community).  This is just a brief summary, though, so for a more detailed guide on how Memrise works, click here.

Step 1. Create An Account.

To be able to create a course, you will need to create an account (link here) with Memrise and log in.  They only require a username and password, but if you would like to make it even easier on yourself, you can simply use their Facebook integration to create an account.

Step 2. Find Your Topic.

The Memrise Navbar.  Click on Topics.

The Memrise Navbar. Click on Topics.

To create a course, you first have to find an appropriate Topic for it to be housed in.  Memrise is divided into topics which feature courses (vocabulary lists) that are designed to teach that topic’s vital vocabulary.  They divide it into two searchable categories of topics: Languages and Other Topics.

The languages topics are divided by language (Chinese, French, Spanish, German, etc.) and inside each language you can find multiple courses with specialized vocabulary sets.  English is a little bit different as it also has other sub-topics like SAT Vocabulary or ESL, but within each sub-topic there are specific courses, as with the other languages.  The Other Topics cover all of the other, non-language subjects for which people have made vocabulary lists.  An example below:

A Screenshot Of The Memrise "Other Topics".

A Screenshot Of The Memrise “Other Topics”.

Step 3. Name Your Course.

Create Your Own Course Button.

Create Your Own Course Button.

Having found your Topic, it is time to create your course.  In the right hand sidebar you can see the button that allows you to create your own course.  In the page that pops up, you will be required to enter course information: the name of the course, a short description of the course, a course image (optional), and the topic it falls under (it’s a drop-down menu).

Step 4. Type of paste a list of words and press “Add”.

Once you have created the course description, it is time to create the course itself.   You can enter the words that you would like to add to your list either one-by-one or by simply pasting a list into their editor.  Once the words are entered, Memrise will search through their Wiki/database to find definitions, parts of speech, audio samples, and mems that match your word. You can then use that information to make sure your list is as complete as possible.  If they do not have the word in their Wiki, you can enter the definition of the word yourself.

How To Add Words To Your Course.

How To Add Words To Your Course.

Step 5. Publish and Edit.

After you are done editing, simply press the big green “Done Editing” button and your course will be published.  You can then grab the URL and share it with your students.  There is one thing I didn’t mention in the last step, though.  If the word you enter is not in the Wiki, you are able to enter the definition, but not any parts of speech, audio samples, or mems.  To do that, you will have to access it (click on the big, green Plant Seeds button) as your students would, and add those in manually.  The form below is the one you would use:

Click On The Plus Button To Edit.

Click On The Plus Button To Edit.

Possible Educational Uses:

Here are two of the more obvious uses for Memrise:

  • For those of you who teach either ESL or non-English languages, you can begin introducing your students to vocabulary with tools that will help them to understand the word without having to resort to their native language (ex. a picture of a frog, rather than the the Japanese word for “frog”).
  • If you are teaching SAT-level vocabulary, you can add context to the meaning of the word, so vocabulary that might not be encountered frequently can still be understood and examples readily recalled by the student.
 And those are only two subject fields.  Memrise can readily be applied to any number of different subjects and fields where memorization could be helpful like History, Biology, Art, and Geography.

The Challenge:

  1. Create a Memrise course for your class.
  2. Add Mems and other information to your course.
  3. Assign it to your students.
  4. Quiz them on that information.

Extending the Discussion:

  • How valuable is memorization in the educational process?  Should it be a first-order element, or something done in the background?  Is the best form of memorization just learning the thing in the first place?
  • Are there subjects where memorization is more important?  Subjects where it is less vital?
  • Are there ages where memorization is more important or less?  Should younger students be using memorization to build important foundations or does it stunt their curiosity?

Free Tools Challenge #26: newspaper for twitter and QR codes?

This is the 26th post in the “30 days to using the best of the web’s free tools for educators” series. Be sure to subscribe to the Teacher Challenge blog by RSS, like us on facebook, and follow us on twitter to keep up with future challenge posts as they are published.

This guest post was written by Linda Straube.

In this activity you will

  • Expand your Personal Learning Network (PLN) through an online newspaper;
  • Discover an easy way to read and “manage” a Twitter feed;
  • If you wish, create your own personalized online newspaper

Overview: What is

According to their web site, “ organizes links shared on Twitter into an easy to read newspaper-style format. Newspapers can be created for any Twitter user, list or #tag.


I originally learned about this from a colleague and mentor, Judy Gressel who has her own personal Judy Gressel Daily. Judy has been advocating the use of Twitter and while I have an account, I wanted a fast way (without scanning all of the feeds) to stay aware of what professional news and ideas people were sharing. helps me to accomplish that goal. My favorite is The #edchat Daily, shared by over 500 people.

Your Challenge

Choose which format you prefer: follow an existing OR create your own.

If you wish to follow an existing, such as The #edchatDaily, then simply go to that page and subscribe (on its upper right hand corner) for a daily reminder in your email or just bookmark the page – it should be updated every 24 hours or so.

Creating your own personalized paper is almost as easy:

  • You do need a FaceBook or Twitter account (see Edublog’s earlier post here about creating a Twitter account)
  • Login to and create a paper – supplying the Twitter account name – so that it summarizes those you are following. You will also be given the option to create other types (hashtag, custom, etc). You can choose to have your paper updated once a day, twice a day or weekly.

If Twitter is blocked at your school, you will probably be able to access and still learn from professional colleagues during the day. Struggling with ideas of whom to follow? Try web20classroom or choose someone else whom you respect and look at those they follow.

For this post, I made a called ChallengeTrial Daily by creating a Twitter account and then using it to follow anyone who had contributed recently to the Teacher Challenges at Edublogs and for whom I could find a Twitter feed. I added a few more feeds (Edublogs and ReadWriteWeb, for example) since the more one follows, the more articles and variety one will see. As your PLN grows, your will grow, too.

Your REAL Challenge

This is where the “fun” begins. The challenge is for you to regularly (daily, weekly, whatever works for you) review a and to then add value as you re-Tweet or blog or otherwise share something interesting that you find there with your PLN. Here are just a few examples I found from reading the EdChat daily last weekend:

For example, I read this great idea about using QRCodes to “showcase” student videos and multi-media projects; saw some basic information about creating QRCodes; and discovered that there is a QRCode daily. I forwarded those to teachers who are working with QRCodes in our school so that they can utilize these resources.

QR Code for

QR Code for

Another article talked about 5 Collaboration Tools for the iPad so again, I sent that off to a different group of teachers who will be piloting iPads with their classes next year.  The list goes on… motivating language learners, copyright issues, YouTube Teaching Channel (there is always some video links in your or How Science Works from Berkeley – and that is just from checking the for a day or two.

Some sources I knew – like Seth Godin’s Blog – others become a new way to expand my PLN.  Over time, as I have commented on various “articles”, the original authors sometimes were in contact, expanding my PLN.  I tend to explore a new blog and find other posts of interest, too. It is easy to find one idea each time you review a In fact, it is hard to find only one new idea.

I think it is great to have the feed in a “newspaper” format – particularly if you will be using an iPad and want to quickly “flip” though the headings. Flipboard is a social magazine app and there are others, too, if you prefer a different format.

Help and Tips: FAQ’s

About the Author:

Linda Straube is a high school librarian who blogs at New Trier Library Blog and AM Exchange.

Free Tools Challenge #25: Using Jog the Web in the 24/7 Classroom

This is the 25th post in the “30 days to using the best of the web’s free tools for educators” series. Be sure to subscribe to the Teacher Challenge blog by RSS, like us on facebook, and follow us on twitter to keep up with future challenge posts as they are published.

This guest post was written by Susan Oxnevad.


In this activity you will learn:

  1. More about JogTheWeb
  2. How to create a free account.
  3. How to use JogTheWeb to create a guided lesson for students.
  4. Additional ways to use JogTheWeb in the 24/7 classroom.


JogTheWeb is free Web 2.0 tool that allows users to assemble tidy packages of web content. For teachers it can be a tool for providing students with easy access to guided learning.

The websites within a Jog are live and can be explored right within the page frame, which solves problems related to students getting lost within multiple windows.

Even better, Jog authors can annotate pages within the Jog and also create original pages with unique content. This appears to be a very promising tool for education because it’s user-friendly, engaging and interactive.

Uses in the classroom:

The chart below features examples of some different ways to use JogTheWeb for teaching and learning.

Let’s Explore the Nervous System
Probably the best use for this tool is to create guided activities for students. Choose websites that allow them to access information through a variety of media. This Jog is featured in the video tutorial.

View this jog

Ten Minutes of Tech for Busy Teachers

A quick jog through some user-friendly Web 2.0 tools for teachers to use right away.

View this jog

3rd Grade Whiz Kids – Class Portfolio

This jog is used as a portfolio to showcase the work of one 3rd grade class.

View this jog

Using Glogster to help students construct knowledge

This Jog is a tutorial designed to help teachers design a lesson to use technology as a primary tool for learning.

View this jog

How To

JogTheWeb has a simple user interface that can be mastered by following the step-by-step video tutorial linked below. Beyond that, the most difficult task is in designing flexible activities to help all learners succeed. It’s a good idea to make a plan before creating your first JogTheWeb activity.

Tips and Tricks to Get Started: Make a plan

  1. Start by identifying the learning task. What do you want to teach and how can the Internet help you teach it better?
  2. Are you including flexible means of accessing and acquiring information?
  3. Examine each of the chosen websites, then write some questions or directions for students to guide them through each of the websites or steps in the activity. What do you want students to do when they are on the website? What do you want them to learn?
  4. If needed, put together resources to include on your own page with additional information that isn’t available on the web to introduce the topic or expand the learning after students have jogged through the websites. You can include images, text and video to create your own page so have them ready to go. How can you introduce the activity? What would you like students to do when they have completed the Jog?

Video Tutorial:

Watch this step-by-step tutorial to help you build your own JogTheWeb activity:


  1. Create your own JogTheWeb activity.
  2. Start with something simple to guide student learning, then share it with your students.
  3. Consider assigning it to students as homework prior to a class discussion, then see if it is an effective tool for front-loading the learning.
  4. After you’ve put JogTheWeb to the test, write a post to reflect on the effectiveness and ease of use of this tool.
  5. How can using the tool help all learners succeed? What other ways can you use this tool for teaching and learning? What are some of the obstacles associated with using the tool?

Help and Support

You can find plenty of additional support by visiting the JogTheWeb Blog

About the Author

Susan Oxnevad
I am an instructional tech teacher leader in Chicagoland whose goal is to empower educators by helping them develop a tech toolkit of resources for facilitating innovative learning experiences that embrace the 24/7 classroom and transform teaching and learning for the digital age.

I am passionate about using Web 2.0 in the classroom and regularly publish a blog featuring educationally appropriate tools called Cool Tools for 21st Century Learners.

Follow me on Twitter or email me directly.

Free Tools Challenge #24: Accessible Content with Wikipedia’s Simple English

This is the 24th post in the “30 days to using the best of the web’s free tools for educators” series. Be sure to subscribe to the Teacher Challenge blog by RSS, like us on facebook, and follow us on twitter to keep up with future challenge posts as they are published.

This guest post was written by Dierdre Shetler.


In this post, you will explore:

  1. The benefits of using Wikipedia’s Simple English section
  2. How Simple English works
  3. Ways you can use it in the classroom


Simple English WikipediaIn this day and age, the vast majority of teachers have had a student who was an English language learner. Oftentimes, this creates a situation where teachers need to work double-time to assist these students in accessing the grade-level content in language that is meaningful to them.

Wikipedia’s Simple English feature is one of a number of solutions for this challenge.

This is a side project of Wikipedia, focusing on those learning English. Standard Wikipedia articles don’t run through a translation “engine” for this (which can create many headaches), but users submit their versions of articles in basic English.

Having taught middle grade English-learning students for several years, I was always on the lookout for texts that were about relevant content, but that were written at a lower level. Too often, teachers are forced to either give these students relevant texts that are way over their head so all meaning is lost or to give them books that are at their reading level, but that are five years below their developmental level and not content-related.

Simple English Wikipedia ( is the beginning of a solution to this problem.

According to the Simple English homepage,

Simple does not mean short. Writing in Simple English means that simple words are used. It does not mean readers want basic information. Articles do not have to be short to be simple; expand articles, add details, but use basic vocabulary.”

Not only does Simple English address the needs of those learning English, it functions as accessible content for students with learning disabilities who may need simpler wording and syntax to grasp the content. In addition, it can function as a comprehension tool for students with a more complete understanding of English, since they can submit basic articles to add to Simple English’s collection.

How To Use Simple English Wikipedia

Wikipedia has articles in dozens of languages, which you can see as you scroll down the left side of any article on Wikipedia. As you go down the list, many times you’ll see a “language” listed as “Simple English.”

While it doesn’t have a simple version for every article on Wikipedia, it has over 70,000 articles, which is a good starting point. You’ll find many basic topics covered, including things like the desert, Michael Jackson, World War II, and Jupiter.

Getting To simple EnglishYou can get to the Simple English Wikipedia by either “translating” the article from the standard Wikipedia with the link in the language list, as depicted in the image; or you can go to the Simple English homepage to search for a particular topic.

Some articles are quite extensive covering many angles of a topic, while others may only be a paragraph.

Again, this can be useful in both respects, depending on who is looking for the information. I had 7th grader looking for information on World War 1, and was just overwhelmed by the technical description of war strategy and it’s impact, and the Simple English version literally had him breathing a sigh of relief at something that was much more comprehensible to his English-learning brain.

To help your students who have a higher comprehension of a topic, submitting an article to the Simple English Wikipedia is an excellent extension activity. Entire classes could even participate, all researching an animal, a historical event, or just editing/lengthening existing articles.

I created this article on the rock cycle, which my 7th graders were learning about. It’s not particularly in-depth, but it gives a basic understanding of the concept, without using too many big words or overly-complex syntax.

When you click the “Schools Gateway” link under the search bar on the homepage, it directs you to create an account from an IP address that should be acceptable to most school web-blockers.

Simple English website

It then points you to a brief set of kid-friendly instructions on how exactly to create an article. Should you want to include formatting such as bold, italics, links, etc., there are a few rules to follow, which may seem a bit intimidating, but are as basic as adding a few punctuation marks (i.e., to add a link to a Wikipedia article, put the [[word]] in double brackets).

In addition, if you’re a bit nervous about trying your hand (or your students’) at creating/editing articles, they can try it out first in the “Sandbox” mode, which allows you access to all the editing features which can show you the final product (and any potential errors), before actually publishing it to the web.


Try writing a Simple English Wikipedia article about a new topic that isn’t covered already on the site as follows:

Step 1: Create an account in the upper right corner of the homepage. (You will have to verify the account through an email link.)

Create an account

Step 2: Choose a topic to search. If no article exists, you’ll see this: Click the red link to create the new article.

No article found

Step 3: Research and write your article in the text box. Use original words, a neutral point of view, and of course, simple vocabulary and syntax. Use the student tutorial for basic instructions. Try the Sandbox first, if you’re unsure of yourself.

Step 4: Click “Show Preview” to check what the article looks like. When you’re satisfied, click “Save Changes.”

Step 5: Share the link to your finished article in a blog post, describe your experience, and explain if it could be useful in your classroom.

Can you think of a student that you have had at some point that could have benefited from the Simple English feature? Leave a comment on this post describing the circumstances.

Help and Tips

  • The formatting/link tools can be a bit scary, but if you bite the bullet and do it following the directions, it’s no harder than learning the keyboard shortcuts for copy and paste.  Here’s an excellent set of starter links for help.
  • A simple way to get started might be to have students edit an existing article by adding more information.
  • Be aware that any work submitted to Wikipedia is a wiki, and is therefore available to be edited by others.
  • Have students create pages for various places (cities, landmarks, etc.) They could be local or distant. If they are unknown to students, they could write business letters to the places requesting information.
  • Have students compare and contrast a standard wikipedia article and a Simple English version. With older students, have them discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each.
  • Have students write articles on related topics (e.g., important people, places, events, etc. from the Civil War) and then have them complete a scavenger hunt about the information from the articles they wrote.
  • Have students create or add to existing articles about authors. This could be a good place to practice the “neutral point of view” that Wikipedia encourages it’s authors to use.

Extending the Discussion

Wikipedia is sometimes considered an “invalid source”.  Yet educators and students can gain from using it.

Please leave a comment so we can all reflect on our feelings about Wikipedia:

  • Why is Wikipedia sometimes considered an “invalid source?”
  • How is it that studies show that Wikipedia is just as reliable as a print encyclopedia?
  • When is it appropriate to use Wikipedia? When is it not?
  • How can we have this discussion with students?

About the Author

Deirdre ShetlerDierdre Shetler is a traveling middle school technology teacher in Phoenix, Arizona.

She took on this job after five years in the regular classroom with 6th and 7th graders.

She completed a Master’s of Educational Technology last year at Northern Arizona University and is passionate about helping teachers find ways to integrate technology into the content and online learning. She tweets at @dierdreshetler and writes the Lessons Learned blog.

Free Tools Challenge #23: Go wild with Wikispaces

This is the 23rd post in the “30 days to using the best of the web’s free tools for educators” series. Be sure to subscribe to the Teacher Challenge blog by RSS, like us on facebook, and follow us on twitter to keep up with future challenge posts as they are published.

This guest post was written by Elizabeth Christophy.


In this activity you will:

  1. Introduced to what is a wiki
  2. Explore ways to use Wikispaces in your classroom
  3. Begin your own Wiki
  4. Plan a way for students to contribute to the Wiki.


When people hear the term “wiki”, their immediate thought is Wikipedia and its sometimes dubious content.  But Wikipedia is only one example of a class of websites known as “wikis”.

Wiki comes from the Hawaiian word for “quick” and a wiki is a website that can be modified quickly and easily. What makes Wikipedia so controversial is that anyone can modify any content at any time.

Using Wikispaces, the control of the website is kept in the teacher’s hands. When you set up the wiki, you can control whether anyone can view and edit the pages (public), anyone can view the pages but only members of the wiki can edit them (protected) or only wiki members can view and edit (private). (This last option does have a fee.)

I usually use a protected wiki – anyone can see the pages, but only my students and I can edit them. One of the reasons to put student work on the internet is to give them an authentic audience, so I feel there is no reason to use a private wiki .

Getting Started

1.  To begin, go to Wikispaces.

2.  Choose ‘Wikis for Individuals and Groups’.

Signing up for a wiki

3.  Enter your username, password and email address then click ‘Join’.

Joining wilkispaces

4.  Check your email and click on the link to confirm your account.

5.  Next click on ‘Create a new wiki’.

Click on create a wiki

6.  Add your wiki name, selected Protected (free) so you can control who can edit, select K-12 if you are a primary or secondary educator and then click ‘Create’.

Creating your new wiki

Editing your Wiki

Once you’ve set up the wiki, you click on “Edit” to add your own content.

Editing a wiki

Their user-friendly interface allows you to type in content, add links, upload files to insert, embed media….

Adding your content

Changing your theme

Click on Manage Wiki > Look and Feel to change your wikis color and appearance.

Changing your theme

Adding New Pages

Adding a new page is as simple as clicking on ‘New Page’.

Adding a new page

Requesting your free K-12 plan wiki

If your wiki is going to be used exclusively for K-12 education, then make sure you go to Manage Wiki > Subscriptions and click on requestion your free K-12 plan Wiki.

They upgrade you to a Plus wiki, which has no advertisements and includes a User Creator tool for creating student accounts in batches of 100 without needing email addresses.

Upgrading to a K-12 wiki

Adding users to your wiki

If you want your students to be able to edit the wiki you’ll need to add them as users.

If you are using a free K-12 plan Wiki then go to Manage Wiki > User Creator and create your student accounts for them.

Alternatively get your students sign on to wikispaces, and click the “join wiki” button at the top of your wiki.

Joining a wiki

You’ll receive an email with their request to join.  All you need to do is click ‘Approve’.

Wikispaces Help

You’ll find all the Help for setting up your wiki here!

Ideas for use in the classroom

Once the wiki is set up, there are many different ways to use it.

You can create as many pages as you need, with a menu appearing on the left. Each page has a “history” tab, so you can keep track of changes that you and your students make to the page.

There is also a discussion tab, that allows for questions to be asked and answered on each page.

Here are a few examples:

  • IWBChemistry – I use this page to collect all my interactive whiteboard files, so students can easily find them and use them when needed. I have also had students post their own whiteboard files to the page.
  • SHANuclear – This page is completely student created. I assigned groups of students a topic in nuclear chemistry, centered around the recent incidents in Japan. The students took the initiative, created several pages per group, and created a comprehensive site about nuclear energy.
  • SHAcrucible – The site belongs to one of my colleagues, and illustrates a way to use Wikispaces in a discussion class. Each page is devoted to a character in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Students have added their impressions of the characters, with quotations from the story to back them up. They also have opportunities to ask and answer questions in the discussion tab.

Here’s some resources to help you:

  1. The wikispaces help page
  2. A tutorial with ideas for using wikis in the classroom.
  3. Educational Wikis – A site dedicated to using wikis in education.


Think about how you might use a wiki in your classroom to:

  1. Collect resources for your students.
  2. Have your students learn about a topic and display what they have learned to an authentic audience.
  3. Create a place where students can interact with each other about a subject, work of literature or artwork.

Then go to Wikispaces and get started!

Please leave a comment to let us know:

  1. How you are going to or how you use Wikispaces?
  2. What’s your tips for getting the most out of using Wikispaces?

About the Author

Elizabeth Christophy is a chemistry teacher and assistant director of technology at Sacred Heart Academy in Connecticut. She is enthusiastic about integrating technology into classrooms to help students with engagement and critical thinking.

Free Tools Challenge #22: Create high-quality digital stories with Little Bird Tales

This is the 22nd post in the “30 days to using the best of the web’s free tools for educators” series. Be sure to subscribe to the Teacher Challenge blog by RSS, like us on facebook, and follow us on twitter to keep up with future challenge posts as they are published.

This guest post was written by ed tech specialist Katy Scott.

In this activity you will

  • Get ideas for using Little Bird Tales in the classroom.
  • Create a teacher account on Little Bird Tales.
  • Create a sample Little Bird Tale.
  • Add your students to your Little Bird Tales account.


Little Bird Tales has quickly become my new favorite web 2.0 tool, mostly because it’s incredibly easy to create a high-quality digital story. The site allows users to create narrated slideshows, using their own photos or illustrations and their own voices.

Here’s a sample:

As its name suggests, Little Bird Tales targets young users, and its interface is easy for even 1st-graders to use without much assistance. I’ve seen 3- and 4-year-olds create Tales as well, but they need a little extra help. Still, older students can quickly and easily create some great products on the site (provided they can get over the somewhat babyish name).

Challenge Task

Step 1: Create an account.

Go to the Little Bird Tales website, click “create an account,” and complete the form. Be sure to check “This is a teacher account.” When you check it, you’ll be asked to create a 4-digit school code (or select your school, if it’s already registered on the site).

Step 2: Decide how you’ll use Little Bird Tales in your class.

You’re going to want to create a Tale that you can use as a sample in your classroom. So decide how you’d like students to use Little Bird Tales  – it’s a great tool for publishing writing or creating class presentations. When I first used the site, I wanted PreK-2 students to create a class presentation about a science project.

If you want students to publish their writing using Little Bird Tales, decide whether  they will create illustrations on paper and then take pictures of them OR create illustrations using the website’s embedded drawing tool, “Art Pad.”


If you want students to create a presentation on something like a science experiment, you’ll probably want them to take photos of the actual science experiment. (See the ‘Tips’ section below for more on this.)

Once you’ve decided what you want your students to do, make any necessary preparations for your own sample (i.e., draw illustrations on paper and photograph them OR take pictures of your own sample science experiment).

Step 3: Create a sample Tale.

  • Ensure  you’re logged into Little Bird Tales, and click “create a tale” in the top left corner. First, you’ll create a cover.


  • Type in the title and author of your tale.
  • You can choose to upload a photo or draw a picture using the Art Pad.
  • If you want to record your voice reading the title, click “allow” under “record settings.” Then, follow the on-screen directions to record your voice.
  • When you’re done, click “save and continue.”
  • Repeat the same steps for each page of your Little Bird Tale. If you’d like, you can also add text to each page, to make your Tale more like a digital storybook.
  • When you’re done, click “Preview.”  On the preview page, click “get story codes” to get the url (or embed code) to share your story with others.

Step 4: Add your students to your Little Bird Tale account.

  • When you’re signed into Little Bird Tales, click “Home” (or the birdhouse in the top left corner).
  • Click “Manage Classes.”
  • At the top of the screen, click “Add a Class,” type the name of your class (i.e., Period 1, 2011), and click “save.”
  • The class name will appear in a table on the screen. Click on the class name to get to the class details.
  • By default, students cannot make their Tales public or share their Tales via e-mail. If you want to give your students this privilege, you can click the appropriate permissions boxes.
  • Click “Add student,” type the student’s name, and click “add.” Repeat until all your students are added to your class.
  • By default, Little Bird Tales gives students a username that is six numbers and the password “abc.” You can click on the “edit” link by each students’ name to change these details. When students login, they need to use their username, password, and school code.

Step 5: Have your students create their own Tales.

Show students your sample Little Bird Tale, and invite them to create their own. Give them a slip of paper with their username, password, and school code, and have them glue it into a notebook or folder where they can access it easily. (If they lose it, you can always look this information up on the website.)

Tips and Tricks

If you only have access to a few computers at a time OR if you’re working with pre-literate students who will need more help, make Little Bird Tales a center. Have students rotate through the center in small groups, and have an adult volunteer or older student at the center for one-on-one help.

If you don’t have any (or enough) cameras for your students to take photos to use with Little Bird Tales, have a cell phone drive at your school. Collect used cell phones from community members, and put them to use in your classroom for FREE. You can remove the SIM card from old, used smartphones so they can’t make calls or send texts. But the phones can still be used as cameras or to surf the web via wifi, all without any sort of data plan.

About the Author

I author a blog, titled Stretch Your Digital Dollar, which offers affordable solutions for integrating technology into all classrooms.

From 2003-2009, I taught in low-income schools in Phoenix and New Orleans. There, I experienced first-hand the need for technology integration and the obstacles preventing it. I now work with PreK-12 teachers and students as the education technology specialist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California.

Free Tools Challenge #21: Online Interviews With Wetoku

This is the 21st post in the “30 days to using the best of the web’s free tools for educators” series. Be sure to subscribe to the Teacher Challenge blog by RSS, like us on facebook, and follow us on twitter to keep up with future challenge posts as they are published.

This guest post is written by Lisa Dabbs.


In this activity you will explore:

  • what is Wetoku
  • how to create a narrated video on Wetoku and share it
  • ideas for the use of Wetoku in the classroom

Overview: What is Wetoku?

Wetoku is a web service or web 2.0 tool out of Korea that does one thing very well…it provides a simple platform for interviewing someone via the Internet. Collaborating globally is a must for our students and as result interviewing can be a challenge. Wetoku makes doing an interview as easy as filling out some basic information, creating an interview session and then sending the creative interview session’s URL to the interviewee.

Once the recording is done, the interviewer can embed the copy of the URL into a blog or website. You will need a web-cam to create your show.

How to produce a Wetoku

  1. Set up a personal or classroom Wetoku account.
  2. Take some time exploring the Wetoku’s that have been created on the site
  3. As the teacher, practice creating a show alone and/or with a colleague so that you are comfortable using Wetoku, including using the URL to invite and embed.
  4. The link can be shared Globally, so don’t be afraid to reach out as you practice.
  5. Be sure to use headphones for your interviews or shows…Highly recommended.
  6. Be sure to practice using the “private” URL feature first, before you go public.
  7. Create a show! Make it public, or keep it private for now.
  8. Share your examples of “shows” with students.
  9. Walk them through the steps of producing a “show”.
  10. Have them work in pairs. Let them practice creating single shows of themselves alone. Then have them interview classmates, you, and school personnel like their principal.
  11. Have them save the best interviews to post to your class blog!

Wetoku in the classroom

Here are some ideas for using Wetoku in the classroom

  1. Produce a co-hosted live podcast with your students. For this project, make it a regular occurrence. Set a date and time every week, every two weeks or once a month and schedule it around certain topics. Make it interactive and fun!
  2. Invite guest speakers to be interviewed for student or class blog. This could be something that is done privately first. Interview people such as authors, community officials, and others that are centered around a specific curriculum topic of study. Then when you are ready…Post to your class blog.
  3. Invite local school community to interact with you. Students can have a real-time conversations for fun – not recorded. They could do a Wetoku Live chat with students from other classrooms or schools worldwide. This allows for global engagement and interaction. You can see in the image below that Wetoku allows sharing the link to create the LIVE chat show. ( I haven’t tried this feature yet, but have seen it used.)


Here are 2 examples of ways I’ve used Wetoku:

1. Single show around a topic that I embedded on my blog

2. Interview of an individual…also for a blog post

As you can see in the small print, your account name, show title, date and time as well as number of views are displayed on the top of the screen. Your full name and that of your interviewee are displayed live on the bottom of the screen.

There are many more ways to use Wetoku for both the teacher and the students:

  • Teach a lesson and post it to your class blog.
  • Provide directions to explain and/or demonstrate how to do something.
  • Narrate a book, poem, share songs, review a website for your students.
  • As students prepare to graduate, do an interview with them as to their future hopes, dreams, goals.
  • Do an interview of yourself to share with parents as a first day of school introduction.
  • Students can do all of the above.
  • The list goes on and on!


  1. Start your own Wetoku account.
  2. Create a Wetoku show/interview using the private link that demonstrates how you may use it in your class.
  3. When you are ready…share the link, publicly in the comment box below.
  4. Embed your Wetoku show in your classroom or personal blog.
  5. Come back and tell us how you used it with your students!

Extend the Learning!

How can you use Wetoku as an educator?
How can students use Wetoku?

Leave a comment below and let us know your thoughts!

Support for using Wetoku

As you experiment with Wetoku you may have more questions. I have not found the site to be very un-responsive. However, a few of our global PLN community have used Wetoku and can answer questions that you might have going forward. Send us a shout-out!

The Feedback button on the left of the screen has some past questions and answers.

The pixelation can be a bit grainy at times so take time experimenting with what looks best before posting on your blog or website.

If you have a Blog, you can’t automatically use the Wetoku link. You will need to use the Wetoku embed feature, as well as Take the HTML code from your Wetoku show and cut and paste it into your vodpod. You can then use the short link from VodPod to embed into your post. (There may be another way around this, but so far VodPod works best.)

Hope you enjoy this fun tool!

About the Author

I’m a former Principal and an Educational Consultant. My passion is to support and mentor new teachers. I’m excited to be supporting new teachers by facilitating the New Teacher Connections group on The George Lucas Educational Foundation Edutopia website here.

In addtion I founded (and moderate) a chat for New and Pre-Service Teachers on Twitter: #ntchat. The chat occurs every Wednesday at 5PM PDT/8PM EDT. It’s supportive and practitioner focused with discussions that resonate with new teachers in the field. In case you are interested…Here’s the wikispaces for the New Teacher Chat.

I also blog at where I share and pursue my passion which I refer to as IMET: Inspire, Mentor & Equip teachers… to “teach with soul“.

Free Tools Challenge #18: The Powers of Jing

This is the 18th post in the “30 days to using the best of the web’s free tools for educators” series. Be sure to subscribe to the Teacher Challenge blog by RSS, like us on facebook, and follow us on twitter to keep up with future challenge posts as they are published.


In this activity you will explore:

  • possible uses of Jing in education.
  • how to capture, annotate, save, and share an image on your computer screen.
  • how to create a narrated video of anything on your computer screen and share it.


Jing is a screen sharing tool. It allows you to capture anything on your computer screen either as a still image or as a video up to 5 minutes long. It is an excellent tool for narrating and sharing what is on your screen. Watch this video for an overview of Jing.

There is a free version, but there is also a paid pro version. Click here to see the differences.

Possible Uses in Education

Here are three examples of ways I use Jing:

1. Self Introduction Using Jing Combined with Prezi

2. Elementary Student Storytelling Example Using Jing Combined with Kerpoof

3. Feedback to Papers

There are many more possible uses of Jing for both the teacher and the students.

  • Take an image of part of a site and annotate it.
  • Pronounce and define key vocabulary.
  • Provide directions to explain and/or demonstrate how to do something.
  • Narrate an Internet path, a site, or a series of pictures.
  • Create an online book or comic strip and then narrate it.
  • Use in math or science to show and describe the steps in an equation or process.
  • Here are some additional suggestions for using Jing. I highly recommend viewing Russell Stannard’s videos and examples for uses here. He also demonstrates how he gives student feedback in these videos.



  1. Capture a screen image, annotate and save it.
  2. Create a video using Jing that demonstrates how you may use it in your class. Share a link to it in the comment box below.
  3. Embed or link your Jing image or video to a blog.

Discussion Questions

How can you use Jing as an educator?
How can students use Jing?

Help and Support

In addition to support in the Tasks section above, help and support can also be found on the Jing blog.

About the Author

I teach courses for the ESOL and Bilingual Education endorsement in the College of Education and ESOL to adult English language learners at a local university. I blog with another teacher at where I explore technology as a tool for instructional purposes and for professional development. Feel free to visit to see other ways I continue to learn and incorporate Jing and other web 2.0 tools into the classroom.