Sunday, January 24, 2010

Teaching Tools: English, Language, and Expression

The teaching aids for reading and writing has come a long way since the simple vocabulary drill programs were introduced. But in many cases, the programs that most useful to teachers lock schools into proprietary tracks that force yearly subscriptions to be renewed over and over again for little more than cosmetic effect.

In this post, I want to enumerate a number of open source alternative applications that cash-strapped teachers and schools can consider.

Digital Comic Strips

Digital comic strips satisfy a whole range of student interests - creating their own short narratives (micro-stories), writing dialog (how does what one character respond to another), and so on. All of this is reading and writing fundamentals with a whole lot of creativity sprinkled in.

The first program is called strip generator and it allows students to add pre-defined characters to comic strip panels and add their own dialog. I've used it in this blog on a number of occasions and its both easy to learn and fun to use.

Another program that's web-based is from ReadWriteThink. And it allows students to choose fixed numbers of panels, drag and drop characters, word balloons and objects into the panels and print out their cartoons. This program is considerably more constrained and elementary than Strip Generator but nonetheless useful.

Open Source Screenwriting Application

I recently discovered Celtx, a program that is intended to be used by professional screenwriters and movie producers. It offers the ability to create storyboards, comics, and more. It has a set of very useful videos to introduce teachers and students to what's available.

It goes without saying that this program is a high school and college level application (this doesn't preclude gifted teachers and students in lower grades giving it a go).

Now, this is a rich product suite that has school pricing options that can be purchased. However, the beauty of this product is that every student can download a free version at home and it works on Windows, OSX, and Linux!

The other feature that English teachers in particular will like is that the characters that students write into their stories can be assigned voices that will play back the dialog. This is often a critically missing component of writing - that is, hearing what your writing sounds like.

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