Using avatars & filters to promote speaking & listening skills

A guest blog post by Joe Dale

Using iPads to create customisable video avatars and face filters in the languages classroom can boost the confidence of learners and facilitate their creativity. Avatars allow learners to play a role rather than be themselves in front of the camera. This can be particularly effective with shier students and encourage them to extend their speaking.

Free iOS apps

There are a number of different free iOS apps which make voice recordings fun. They bring pictures to life through multimedia and turn inanimate objects into talking characters. The resulting clips can be saved to the camera roll of the iPad and uploaded to a platform such as Padlet or Seesaw. They can be used for assessment purposes and to give the students a real audience for their work.

AvatarsFor example, the popular Snapchat-like cross platform app MSQRD is great for promoting speaking skills creatively in the languages classroom. You can add live filters over your face and  pretend to be a spaceman, shark or fox, etc.

PhotoSpeak is a similar app which lets you animate the mouth of a person’s face in a still photo. You can also record a voice-over and export the video it produces. Students can animate themselves or the face of a famous person they like and practise speaking as if they were the character in question. For downloading royalty-free images from the web to use in PhotoSpeak, I would recommend the website photosforclass.com. It is a directory of Creative Commons images which when downloaded display the image’s licensing attribution in the footer. This makes them perfect for use in class as there is no risk of breaching copyright.

Chatterpix Kid lets you animate a photo with a moving mouth too and records up to 30 seconds. You could also import a hand-drawn image of a character as a background and add a mouth to this too. This would be perfect for younger learners in particular.

Customised avatars

My Talking Avatar FreeAvatars, BuddyPoke and Kouji are apps which give you the opportunity to create a customised avatar with lots of choices over your appearance and animation style. You can then add your voice as before. With My Talking Avatar Free you can also add your own background produced in an app such as Pic Collage and record for up to 5 minutes of audio! So, you could produce a video promoting both speaking and writing where the Pic Collage is used as a background putting the language learning into context.

Animating several characters simultaneously

Superhero Comic Book Maker is another cool app for bringing to life characters in a still image and making them speak in the target language. But with this app, it is possible to animate two avatars at the same time making it great for pair work. There are a number of default backgrounds you can choose from or import your own from your camera roll. You can even combine scenes together to make a more varied video featuring a range of contexts for your talking avatars to describe.

Other iOS apps which let you animate two or more avatars simultaneously include iFunFace, Toontastic 3D, Plotagon, Evertoon, Puppet Pals 2 and Storyfab. Storyfab is an augmented reality app. It lets you choose different characters such as zombies, knights and explorers, animate them in different scenes in a movie. You can also record a voice-over for each person.

Adding speech bubbles and audio

Balloon Stickies PlusAvatars is an easy way of adding speech bubbles to any image. The image could then be imported into an app such as Adobe Spark Video or iMovie. You can also add a voice-over to promote both writing and speaking. Likewise, the app Sticky AI  uses artificial intelligence to remove the background of a picture automatically. You could use this to make a sequence of headshots with text and then narrated over in a movie editing app.

If you have access to iPads, why not try out some of these apps as a way of enabling learners to present both spoken and written information in different dynamic ways? They can extend their speaking with professional looking multimedia outcomes. Many of the apps are available for Android too, so you can also incorporate them into homework tasks.

Here is some further reading on the topic too:

Joe Dale is an independent languages consultant from the UK. He works with a range of organisations such as Network for Languages, ALL, The British Council, the BBC, Skype, Microsoft and The Guardian. Joe was host of the TES MFL forum for six years, former SSAT Languages Lead Practitioner, and a regular conference speaker. He is also a recognised expert on technology and language learning.

Using Clips™ in the modern languages classroom

A guest blog post by Joe Dale

The Clips app from Apple has proved a real classroom hit around the world since its launch last year. This app is popular with both primary and secondary age learners. Moreover, it is straightforward to use and has simplified the process of movie-making with Instagram-like square videos. That means learners are able to focus on their learning and not on the technology. Clips can be put together with little technical expertise. They can feature animated titles, labels, emoticons, arrows, shapes filters and a soundtrack. These support all learners in producing professional-looking multimedia outcomes to showcase their learning. Check out the hashtag #classroomclips on Twitter to see a plethora of examples.

Multilingual live captions

The killer feature for language learning is multilingual live captioning. Students are able to record themselves speaking in front of the camera. They can also create subtitles in real time over video or stills. These lip-sync automatically with their voice. This is a game changer for easy subtitling. Live captioning is available in an impressive range of languages. It should also provide welcome support to those with hearing difficulties, reluctant writers. It is also helpful for those who like to learn through making sound-spelling links. Please note the Clips app will only work if your device has the latest iOS.

Ideas for using Clips™ in the languages classroom

  • Record a one stop animation with the iMotion app in portrait mode so it produces a square video and add a voiceover in Clips. If you choose the time-lapse option it makes the process even quicker.
  • In the app PicsArt Animator, choose the square format and draw an animation using the duplicate slide feature where you add a new element in each new slide. Export results as a video and add a voiceover in Clips with live titles.
  • Take a selfie with a filter. Then, pinch the picture with thumb and finger. This moves it to the right or left of the screen so a black column appears. Add animated text labels in the column and edit them with short phrases.
  • Use Photosforclass.com or Flaticon.com to find royalty free images you can add to Clips.
  • Use Autodraw.com to draw images with the square template, turn them into clip art and import them into Clips.
  • Video different shots of a town plan and add arrows and speech bubbles with a voiceover for the topic of giving directions.
  • Use emojis with speech bubbles or import videos made in avatar apps such as My Talking Avatar Free to practise dialogues.
  • Add speech bubbles to photos using Balloon Stickies Plus, combine them into a grid in Pic Collage and import the photo story into Clips where you can add a voiceover while planning from frame to frame in the grid.
  • Add different text labels on to one background for some vocabulary or verb conjugations, import the video into the IMGPlay app so you can turn it into a gif and upload it on to a Padlet wall where it will loop forever reinforcing the content through animation.
  • Use iOS11 screen recording to capture simple animations made in Keynote, trim them in the photos app and import them into Clips.
  • Ask your class to upload their Clips to Padlet or Flipgrid so they can be all watched in the same place and commented on.

Exploring more ideas

For further ideas on using Clips in the classroom, I would recommend you download the eBook Using Clips in the Foreign Languages Classroom by Rachel Smith and Short Film in Clips by Simon Pile from The iBookStore. For Android users, I would suggest the closest equivalent to Clips would be the app InShot although this doesn’t have live titles. It is also available on iOS.

Joe Dale is an independent languages consultant from the UK. He works with a range of organisations such as Network for Languages, ALL, The British Council, the BBC, Skype, Microsoft and The Guardian. Joe was host of the TES MFL forum for six years, former SSAT Languages Lead Practitioner, and a regular conference speaker. He is also a recognised expert on technology and language learning.

Using QR codes in the languages classroom

A guest blog post by Joe Dale

QR codes, or Quick Response codes to give them their full title, are black and white codes similar to barcodes. When scanned on a mobile device, they perform such actions as take the user to a website, display some text on screen or play back some multimedia. Marketers have been incorporating QR codes in their advertising campaigns for many years as a shortcut for the general public to find out more information from film posters, billboards, glossy magazines or television ads.

If you have access to iPads, or your students are allowed to use their smartphones in your classroom, QR codes can be a great time saver for transferring web links and short texts quickly and easily from your teacher tablet or class PC to your students’ devices.

You can turn any URL into a QR code using the iOS share extension QuiQR, a site like QRstuff or install The QR Code Extension by Manuel Braun from the Chrome Web Store. Simply project a QR code as large as possible from your screen. Then, tell your students to scan it using their device instead of asking them to type in an address. If they are too far from the board, they may have to move forwards to be able to scan effectively. However, this process should still save a lot of time when you want your class to access a web link.

So how can we use QR codes in the languages classroom?

Well, here are some of my suggestions:

  • Promote speaking skills by recording a video or grammar screencast in Seesaw and place the QR code it automatically generates in exercise books as evidence of student work or display it as part of a ‘talking wall’.
  • Ask students to use Vocaroo for speaking HW, choose the QR code option when exporting and send you the code. Please note the QR code will only working for a couple of months before the link expires. For audio recordings which don’t expire unless you choose to archive them or delete them, try Seesaw or the forthcoming app ClassQR.
  • Draw a sketch with the web tool Sketchtoy.com and turn the URL into a QR code. When you scan the QR code, the sketch will play back as an animation. This may describe a grammar point, reinforce vocabulary or show understanding of a speaking activity.
  • Create an animated short phrase using Gzaas.com and share the link via a QR code as above. The links could also be posted to a Padlet wall and commented on individually.
  • Build an e-portfolio in Padlet over a school year and stick its QR code in an exercise book. This will serve as evidence of an individual student’s multimedia learning outcomes.
  • Start a TodaysMeet session to promote class collaboration and share via the inbuilt QR code. TodaysMeet can serve as a backchannel which runs alongside your lesson. It gives students the opportunity to ask questions and share reflections all in the same place. The free web tool can also be used for quick translation activities, Q&A instead of mini-whiteboards and building a dialogue as a model.
  • Print out an A5 sheet with a grid of QR codes pointing to revision sites such as Kahoot! for HW and ask students to glue them into their books
  • Make a text-based QR code of a short reading comprehension. Provide accompanying questions in plain text on a worksheet, or instructions to draw.
  • Build a Google Form for a vocabulary test then share it via a QR code and mark it automatically with the Google Sheets add–on Flubaroo.
  • Use Russel Tarr’s QR Treasure Hunt Generator to make a text based QR code treasure hunt in the target language

Choosing a QR reader

To make life easier, in iOS11, there is now an inbuilt QR code reader which you can activate via Settings/Camera. You can also install the Chrome app and add the Chrome Quick Actions widget which includes a QR code scanner accessible via the Today View. I’d also recommend i-nigma which is the fastest QR code reader I know and which works on iOS and Android. For more ideas on using QR codes, check out this article I wrote a few years ago by way of introduction.

How do you use QR codes in the languages classroom? Leave a comment to share your ideas. 

Joe Dale is an independent languages consultant from the UK. He works with a range of organisations such as Network for Languages, ALL, The British Council, the BBC, Skype, Microsoft and The Guardian. Joe was host of the TES MFL forum for six years, former SSAT Languages Lead Practitioner, and a regular conference speaker. He is also a recognised expert on technology and language learning.