In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of online resources and apps available to help teachers manage their lessons and assign students homework etc. Find below my top twelve recommendations.
1. TeacherKit: TeacherKit
A really useful free app that helps you manage classes on a mobile device. It caters for a range of data from learner grades and attendance to comments on behavior etc. I like to reassign my class seating every 4-5 lessons so found the seating configuration function really helpful as learner face pics and names could be assigned to moveable icons. Such a function is great for class management and learners always seem to react more positiviely when you can call them out by name (even when it’s to get them back on task..lol).
The only real drawback with this app is that the track attendance function is a bit confusing and difficult to check easily (I ended up going back to paper versions for this). As with all such systems, be sure to keep it backed up and synced. Although I haven’t had any problems to date, I wouldn’t recommend making any major setting changes mid semester. The app also has a paid version with extra functionality although I’ve never had a need for it.
2. Xreading: Xreading
This online extensive reading and listening platform allows learners to choose books based on their level from a huge range of established graded readers. I found it very easy to monitor learner progress (words read/reading speed etc.) and customize different settings (such as deadlines/quiz scores/book restrictions etc.). As reading speeds etc. can be monitored and quiz answers are randomized, it’s practically impossible for learners to cheat (unlike mReader…). Although learner subscriptions are about JPY2,000/year, it eliminates the need for a costly hard-copy graded reader library and learners can access the content anytime from their mobile device or PC.
The only real drawback is that the site has been slow and occasionally unstable in the past (apparently these issues have been addressed) and some learners find it hard to read from a screen for long periods of time (myself included). Probably my first choice for a paid learner platform, and the trick is to keep the learners motivated by incorporating their reading experiences into class activities while periodically following up on their progress.
3. Moodle: Moodle
So much has been said about Moodle, on both positive and negative sides. It is truly such a flexible and customizable platform and is well worth setting up, especially if you have a multiple courses and teachers in the same program. It really is like an open blank book though, with you having to create and upload in all the content, so you want to be sure you will be using it for a few years at least. Two of my favorite features are the chatroom and forum functions. These allow the learners to access specified content (eg. a YouTube video link) and then discuss it online before or after the lesson (their level of contribution can also be also
be graded).It is a free platform but some institutions (like mine) will doubtless be concerned about keeping it updated and learner data protected.
While you need server space and other utilities to set it up (eg. MySQL. PHP etc.), once it’s there it not difficult to add content and there are plenty of free tutorials online.Be wary though, Moodle has many versions and the content you add is often not reverse-compatible (your stuff may not work on an older versions etc.). M-reader (a large collection of graded reader quizzes) can also be incorporated into Moodle to run an extensive reading program (of course you still need hard copy books).
4. Quizlet: Quizlet
This is a free flash-card style quiz site that lets you create vocabulary-definition/example lists or choose from range of existing ones. There are different quiz styles and you can even post pictures on the cards. If you already have your course vocab lists on Excel, just upload them and share the link with your learners for extra practice.
5. Word Engine: Word Engine
This is another online vocabulary-building platform. After a diagnostic test, personalized word lists are created for the learner and they are then periodically quizzed in a variety of ways. Learners can also choose which types of vocab they wish to study (eg. TEFL, TOEIC). The platform is very stable and professionally made, and can be accessed from both PC and mobile device. I found student progress easy to monitor using my “V-admin” access, and really liked how I could get weekly learner target achievement summaries forwarded to my email on Monday mornings. Although their site says subscriptions are JPY4,000/year, institution ones are around JPY2,000. My learners seemed to really enjoy using this platform and it appears to be well designed pedagogically (frequency/range based vocab, periodic recycling etc.).
However, while explicit attention to vocabulary learning is always useful, here it is often introduced out of context making its usefulness somewhat limited. Would be nice to some longer “cloze-type” vocabulary activies and more information on vocab usage/collocations.
6. Vocabulary.com: Vocabulary.com
A very extensive free vocabulary learning/quiz site. Register to create your own flash-card style list or choose a pre-made from a range of topics/genres (including Coxhead’s Academic Word List). It includes a range of functions enabling learners to quiz or review the lists. Clicking on mistaken vocab gives very detailed information on meaning, examples, and pronunciation. Another cool thing is that you can click again and the word in question will go onto a personalized “unknown” word list for the next round of quizzes. It seems there is no limit to the level of difficulty of the lists, so also great for teacher vocabulary too (lol). The only drawback is that the retrieved definitions and examples would be difficult for learners under around mid-intermediate level.
7. TED Education: TED Education
This free site allows lessons to be created around TED Talk videos. Lesson design is easy and resources produced very polished. The only drawback is that most TED talks are a bit difficult for learners under around upper-intermediate level.
8. ER Central: Extensive Reading Central
A wide range of level-based (graded) reading content for learners. These range from short passages to longer stories with both fictional and non-fictional topics. Can also track reading quantity and speed. This site is free which makes it a valuable resource for learners (at least for extra/self-study), and it also has a listening version although the quality of the recordings vary.
9. Sounds: The Pronunciation App: Sounds: The Pronunciation App
Useful and professionally-made (with Adrian Underhill involved) free pronunciation app that includes phoneme (IPA) tables and quizzes testing recognition and production of phonetic IPA symbols. Although learner progress cannot be tracked and pronunication beyond the phoneme level is not addressed,
I found this app to be a very useful classroom resource when addressing issues with difficult sounds.
The “Sounds of Speech” site is also a really useful for dealing with pronunciation issues as it also shows animations of how individual sounds are produced inside the mouth. Looks to have now been made into a paid app but it still seems to have limit access for free online here: Sounds of Speech.
10: Discovery Crossword Maker: Discovery Education Crossword maker
For some reason my learners really like crosswords. This is a simple user-friendly crossword-making tool. Great for vocab review or pair-work activities.
A simple online tool that allows you to write phonetics (IPA) symbols. Great for making resources and adding IPA to word lists etc.
12: A tablet for your classes: A tablet for your classes (for your apps and so much more!)
Until recently I had been a very old-school type teacher (pretty much limited to a white board, paper, and pen). This may seem obvious to some, but a tablet (eg. iPad) is truly an insanely convenient thing for any teacher to have. While a tablet can be pricey, think about all the stuff it can do for you in the classroom (and how much lighter your teacher bag will be). For me, instead of taking the textbook to class, now I just take photos of the pages I’m using. Instead of taking my laptop and a CD player, now I just use a HDMI plug to connect my IPad to the class AV system to show pics and play audio files. Long story short, I now carry a 300g iPad in my bag as opposed to textbooks & CDs, class files, an audio player, and a laptop.
Amen. (now re-read the bit above on Teacherkit)