Not-quite translation: transforming L1 notes to L2 text

Today I read a blog post on the Language Teacher Toolkit blog by Steve Smith entitled "Google Translate beaters". 

(Here is a link to the blog post.

In it, Steve suggests a translation activity based on providing students with an L1 and L2 text, each with different words missing. (Think 2-part information gap, but with each text in a different language). The gaps in each text are dashed to indicate the number of letters required, so only the correct translation will fit. Steve suggests this as a way of providing 2-way translation which, because of the chopped up nature of each text and the dashed gaps, is practically impossible to complete using translation tools such as Google Translate. An excellent activity! :o)

Translation in textivate works in a similar way to Steve's example because it specifies the letter gaps to be completed. i.e. it will only accept the pre-defined translation. This makes it difficult to google translate because GT will only work as long as the GT translation matches the pre-defined L2 text provided by the teacher.

Textivate translation into the L2 is a useful activity to push students to practise particular language; particular words, chunks and expressions that we think they should be able to say / write. However, it occurred to me that we could make the activity slightly more challenging and even less google-translatable by providing L1 notes rather than the "Full English" (as it were...).

See the image at the top of this post for an example of this.

For this sort of activity to be successful, ideally we should make sure our resource complies with the following:

  • the L1 notes should be easy to understand
  • the L1 notes should be as close as possible to the order of the L2 text
  • the L2 text should consist of precisely the language items that your students should be familiar with, having been exposed to them consistently in prior lessons / teaching

Provided the above conditions are met, there is no reason why we shouldn't be able to use a whole range of translation-like tasks (such as many of those suggested in this blog post) with various levels of difficulty, using L1 notes as the stimulus rather than a full English L1 text.

If you can make the L1 notes include abbreviations etc that GT will not be able to translate, even better!

Try "no letters" (as shown above): no letters resources with 1 in 2 words affected

Try "jumbled words": put the words of each sentence in order

Try "next word": rebuild the text 3 words at a time

Try "no vowels": fill in all of the vowels

Try "no consonants": fill in all of the consonants

Try "initials": only initial letters are shown

Try "anagrams": 1 in 2 words affected

Try "space": click to insert the spaces in the text

Try "tiles 4x4": put the blocks of text in the correct order

Go the menu: from here you can try out all sorts of other activities


Textivate now served via https (secure site access)

At the end of December 2017 we migrated textivate to new servers, and the site is now also served via https only. 

The pros

The benefits of this are:

  • Secure log-in
  • You can now embed textivate activities on other sites served via https. (Over the latter half of 2017 many sites became available via https only, which meant that they could not display content served via the unsecure http protocol.)

The cons

Well, there shouldn't really be any, to be honest. Video embeds now need to be via an https url, but textivate will automatically convert all of your old urls.

The only thing that has come to our attention after a couple of weeks of the new site being live is an issue with locally stored resources. Read on...

Local Storage

If you are someone who had resources stored locally as part of your browser's local storage (via the filing cabinet icon on textivate), you will see that, following the change to https, none of your locally stored resources appear when you click the filing cabinet icon.

Here is a solution to that problem:

Using the computer and browser on which you have textivate resources locally stored, go to the page linked below. It will automatically transfer your locally saved resources to https and make them available again via the new textivate site:

N.B.: The page should show one of 2 things:

  1. a list all of your resources in text boxes, with a message at the top confirming that your resources have been transferred; or
  2. a message saying that no locally stored textivate resources were found

If you have any problems, please get in touch via the contact form on the textivate website.


Create Challenges based on Textivate Plus resources

Somebody said it would be nice if they could make Challenges based on Textivate Plus resources. So we added that functionality :)

(What is Textivate Plus? See here.)

The vast majority of Textivate Plus resources are in French at the moment, and are primarily aimed at UK KS3 and KS4.

Note that Textivate Plus resources require a textivate log-in. With this in mind, you may want to make any challenge based on Textivate Plus resources require a password.
(It doesn't really matter whether or not you do this though, to be honest. If they aren't logged in when they land on a Textivate Plus resource, they will be asked to log in anyway.)

Hope you find this a useful addition.


(By the way, you can already make Sequences based on Textivate Plus resources, using the process described in this blog post.)

Parameters for Challenges :)

If you edit an existing Challenge or click to add a new Challenge, you can now set some parameters for the activities within your Challenge.

("What's a Challenge?" you ask? -- see here.)


This affects the Tiles, Horizontal, Gap-fill text activities and the Shuffle match activity, and determines whether or not textivate checks answers as soon as tiles or gaps are dropped into place.
The default setting is "On".
(The default for existing challenges is "not specified".)

Split text by...

This affects the following text activities: Tiles, Horizontal, Multi-choice, Million.
Split by word count means that the words in the text are split into roughly evenly sized chunks.
Split by sentences / chunks means that, where possible, text chunks will be based on sentences and/or line breaks.
The default setting is "not specified".
(The default for existing challenges is "not specified".)

Show word list for gap-fill

This affects the 2 gap-fill activities: random and user-defined.
The default setting is "Yes" (i.e. word list is shown).
(The default for existing challenges is "not specified".)

Order of Match items

This affects the match activities: Multi-match, Jumble, and the Letters activities, and it determines whether or not the items are shown in random order or in their original order.
The default setting is "Random".
(The default for existing challenges is "not specified".)

Switch match order for Letter activities

This affects the match activities: Jumble, Letters, Hangman, Invaders, Snake and Maze.
Our recommendations are:
For match resources with items ordered L1>L2, set this to "No".
For match resources with items ordered L2>L1, set this to "Yes".
This prevents students scoring lots of points on these activities simply by typing in English (L1) words.
(There is also the option to set this to "Do not specify", but this is not recommended.)
The default setting is "No".
(The default for existing challenges is "No".)


Check out the Challenge on the link below, which is set up in the following way:

  • Autocheck on: so all tile activities etc will check scores automatically.
  • Split text by sentences / chunks: this is particularly useful for the resource included in this Challenge, which has been "chunked" as described in this blog post.
  • Show word list for gap-fill = yes: so words can be dragged and dropped into position.
  • Order of match items = random: so each match activity will run through the items in a different order.
  • Switch match order for Letters etc = yes: this is because this resource has matching items listed as L2>L1. By choosing this option, we get the best of both worlds -- matching activities with a comprehension focus and writing activities with an output focus.


Hope you find this a useful addition to Challenges :0)

Dual-language parallel texts for vocab-in-context activities

Just something I was playing around with today, sort of based on this idea on "Using mini dual texts to present vocab in context in MFL lessons" from the TaskMagic blog.

I thought it would be nice to make both the L2 and the L1 text available at the same time as a parallel text along with vocab activities, as a way of drawing students' attention to how the sentences break down (and, conversely, how the chunks of meaning are fitted together to make sentences).

I'm not entirely sure if the end result is worth the effort. What do you think?

>> Here is the 1 in 10 vocab activity shown in the image above << Here, I've fine-tuned the URL so that the vocab appears in the same order as in the text, making it much easier for students.

Or how about the same thing, but where students need to type in the French, as in the image below?

Here are some live examples. You can specify whether the vocab questions appear in random order or in the original order. Original order is much easier as students simply work their way through the parallel text without having to search each time. The examples below use the original order.

>> Fill in the vowels <<

>> Fill in the consonants <<

>> 50:50 (half the letters missing) <<

>> Initials as clues <<

>> No letters, just word shapes <<

>> Anagrams <<


The 1 in 10 activity plus any one of the above would make for a good flipped sequence.


Circling questions (just trying something out...)

Just trying something out: activities based on TPRS-style "circling" questions. What do you think? The plan is to make a tool that can help teachers to generate circling questions based on their text, that can be used in the ways shown here. The image (above) includes a parallel text. The circling questions appear in a specific order.

>> Try it here <<

Or try it below as an embedded activity. It's based on this text:

Hay un chico. El chico se llama Juanito. A Juanito le gustan los gatos. Juanito no tiene gato, pero quiere un gato. Quiere un gato rojo.

Click below to access the activity. (Opens in a new window on touch devices.)
Click here to open the above activity in a new window.

Or how about as a football game with random-order questions? (would only work for a short text such as this one...)

>> Try it here <<


Working with written texts... (inspired by TLTT)

I've just been reading through chapter 10 of the excellent "The Language Teacher Toolkit" by Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti (available here). 

The chapter is called "Working with written texts" and it gives a list of 30 or so different types of activities that can be done with written texts. As I read through the list it occurred to me that many of the activities listed can be automated and can therefore be delivered via textivate. I thought I'd put together some examples :)

The sections below are: 1. Listen and read; 2. Jigsaw reading; 3. Parallel texts; 4. Find the French; 5. Synonyms; 6. Definitions; 7. Question forming; 8. Completing sentences; 9. True, false, not mentioned; 10. Matching tasks; 11. Multiple-choice questions; 12. "Wh" questions; 13. Gap-filling; 14. Changing the point of view; 15. Translation; 16. Dictation; + Other activities.

Working with chunks :)

It was suggested to me recently that it would be really good if textivate could provide text re-build activities based on chunks specified by the teacher. The rationale behind this is that it is better for students to work with words grouped in meaningful chunks rather than in isolation or in randomly generated segments.

Textivate already has re-build activities based on letters, words, sentences and randomly split sections of text, but it occurred to me that there was no way of specifying chunks. 

But then I realised that this actually could already be done, as explained below.

Specifying chunks by line break

If you separate your text into chunks using line breaks as shown in the image above, textivate treats it in the same way as it would treat any text formatted in this way, such as a song or a poem. It treats each new line as a separate section or sentence. So if you then choose the "split by sentence" (rather than by word) option on those activities that have this feature, you sort of end up with what we are looking for: re-build activities based on the teacher-specified chunks of text.

BUT doing this alone has the following drawbacks:

  • Text-to-speech (if used) reads each chunk separately, so there is no way of making activities where a whole sentence is read out and students piece the chunks together based on what they hear.
  • The re-constructed text also appears on separate lines in this way, which is not really ideal... (And the same applies to all of the gap-fill and letters activities.)

Solution?: ###chunked###

Add ###chunked### to the top of your text (as shown above).

This instructs textivate to chunk your text only for those "split by sentence" activities. Note that it removes ALL line breaks from the text, assuming that all line breaks are in fact chunk-separators. Note also that double line breaks are kept in the text, so if you really want your text to appear as paragraphs, simply hit the return key twice between paragraphs.

AND it makes sure that text-to-speech ignores the line breaks too.

The result...

See the embedded examples below.

Manage classes and students for individual student log-ins and sequences which can be completed on multiple devices

The shared student password:

As explained in this blog post, students have always been able to log in to textivate using their teacher's username plus a shared student password. This allowed them to take part in Challenges, Sequences, etc.

One downside of this approach was that a Sequence had to be completed on the same device on which it was started. So a student who didn't finish a Sequence in class time would not be able to finish it at home (unless they took the device they used in class home with them...).

Also, because students were only required to identify themselves at the end of a Sequence, this meant that Sequence scores were only ever submitted for fully completed sequences.

NEW Individual student passwords:

If you click on the "Manage students / classes" icon (as shown in the image above), you'll see a screen which displays a list of all of your classes. You won't have any at first, so just click on the "+ New class" button...

New optional text activity: Trapdoor :)

If you open a text resource or type in some text in the text tab on the textivate edit screen, you'll see a new "Trapdoor" button. Click this to add a Trapdoor activity to your resource.

A Trapdoor activity is a multiple choice activity where students click their way through the options to (re-)build the text. It is called Trapdoor because if they get a section wrong, they fall through the trapdoor and they have to start again.

Two types of Trapdoor activity: Random & Fixed (Update November 2017)

1. Traditional Trapdoor : Random or "guessing game" mode:

Many language teachers will be familiar with Trapdoor as an activity done in class using a text with several multiple choice options, such that many different versions of the text can be created by selecting from the multiple choice options. In class, this is typically played as follows:

  1. The teacher selects a route through the text, making a note of his / her selected options.
  2. Students take turns to read the text, guessing at the options chosen by the teacher, and they continue until they make a wrong guess, at which point they fall through the trapdoor. It is then another student's turn to start again from the beginning, remembering the progress so far.
  3. The activity requires students to listen carefully, paying close attention to which answers are correct and which are wrong. It is also good speaking (at least pronunciation) practice. 

On textivate Trapdoor is similar when played in the default random (guessing game) mode. It is essentially a guessing game and a memory game combined. Students have to guess their way through a series of equally valid multiple choice options to rebuild a text. If they guess correctly, they proceed to the next option. BUT if they make a wrong guess, they fall through the Trapdoor, which means that they have to start again, remembering their progress so far as well as where they went wrong. They keep on playing until they reach the end of the text.

Each time textivate loads a Trapdoor activity, it picks a different random route through the multiple choice options that you have specified. (So it's important that all options are equally "correct".)

Traditional (guessing game) Trapdoor works best with short, simple texts, consisting essentially of a series of substitution tables, where most of the text has been turned into traps, preferably with no more than 10 or so traps in total. See the embedded example at the bottom of this post - a French "guessing game" trapdoor activity with 8 traps.

2. Fixed or "original text" mode:

In "original text" mode, the game is essentially the same as above, except that the correct answers are ALWAYS the options that come from your original text. This makes the activity a sort of sudden-death gap-fill activity with multiple options, rather than a guessing game, and it tests students' recall of the original text.

Creating "traps" in the text:

Select words in the text on the Trapdoor edit screen to create traps. Traps appear as ||-underlined-|| on the Trapdoor edit screen (and with ||-these symbols-|| around them on the textivate edit screen). Your traps can be based on single words or multiple words. (Click and drag to select multiple words.) 

Once you have made a trap, click on it to add your options (see image above). You need to add 1, 2 or 3 options. Remember that, if making a traditional "guessing game" Trapdoor activity, all options must be equally valid, because textivate selects a random route through your options each time the Trapdoor activity loads.

You need to have a minimum of 3 traps (each with 1 - 3 options) for your Trapdoor activity to be made available. 


1. Random / guessing game:

A short French text. All answers are equally valid. Students guess their way through the text.

Click below to access the activity. (Opens in a new window on touch devices.)
Click here to open the above activity in a new window.

2. Fixed / original text:

The same French text as above, but this time there is only one correct answer for each option. The others are grammatically incorrect or misspelt.

Click below to access the activity. (Opens in a new window on touch devices.)
Click here to open the above activity in a new window.

Additional thoughts...

Trapdoor in "guessing game" mode does not require students to make judgments based on correctness of grammar or vocabulary. It provides lots of repeated exposure to a simple, short text, and it tests students' memory.

In "original text" mode, however, you can choose to make activities where the "wrong" answers are either grammatically or factually incorrect, or which simply deviate from the information in the original text.

Also, in "original text" mode, you have the option of a Trapdoor-translation activity, with the L1 as a parallel text! In "guessing game" mode this is not possible because the "correct" text is different each time. See the screenshot below of a "trapdoor-translation" activity:

(And here is a link to the above activity.)

Let us know what you think.