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.

How to exclude activities from the textivate menu

If you click on the "Extras" tab and scroll down to the bottom, you will see a section called "Exclude activities from menu", as shown in the image above.

By default, all textivate activities are available via the menu screen, provided the resource meets the requirements of each activity in terms of number of words etc. (And obviously, text activities are not displayed for match resources and vice versa...)

You can use this "Exclude activities from menu" section to exclude particular activities from the menu screen. 

Simply select the activities that you wish to exclude, and those activities will not be available via the textivate menu screen.

Your list of excluded activities appears in the "Show all" tab, looking something like this:

###startexclude###
3x5, 4x4, 3x6, 4x5, 4x6, hz6, hz8, h10, hza, par
###endexclude###

Why exclude activities?

Text-to-Speech (TTS) on textivate :0)

Something new has appeared in the "Extras" tab on textivate...

We've added some new Text-To-Speech (TTS) functionality (using a third-party API from responsivevoice.com). It should work on all devices. (See the "Compatibility" section at the foot of this post...)

As you can see in the image above, this new feature allows you to select a language for...

  • The main textivate text. (i.e. the one that is used for text activities)
  • The left and right matching items.
  • The parallel text. (if you have one)

Text-to-speech is optional. You can leave it off; or you can add languages to just the text; or to just the left match, or to just the right match (or to both matches); or to just the parallel text; or to everything.

If your students are using textivate to help them learn their own texts, they can also add TTS to their texts :)
(Although, as I'm sure you are aware, text-to-speech isn't always 100% perfect...)

TTS on the menu screen

If TTS languages have been specified for a resource, you should see little grey speakers appear after each paragraph of text and after each matching item.

Here is a link to the menu screen for the French resource examples provided below: http://www.textivate.com/menu-6ovjn1

N.B. If you are editing or creating a new resource, these will only appear if you are logged in to textivate. 

TTS on activity screens

If TTS has been added to a resource, TTS option boxes should appear on activity screens. (Obviously, if you have a text+match resource and you have only added TTS for the text, the TTS option boxes will only appear on the text activities...).

TTS is available on all but a handful of textivate screens. The ones that don't have it are: Hangman and SpeedRead. (Also, the "no keyboard" versions of some of the activities have no TTS enabled.)

TTS in sequences

If TTS languages have been added to a resource, you should see TTS option boxes for any activities that you add to a sequence (except for those that have no TTS available; see 'TTS on activity screens' above).

You can turn TTS on and off for specific activities within a sequence. Note also the new 'switched' / 'not switched' option (as shown in the above image) available for some of the match activities, which allows you to specify which way round the match items appear in the sequence activity.

TTS specified in URLs

If TTS languages have been added to a resource, you should have the option to fine-tune link urls, embed code etc, to include TTS specification. (except for those that have no TTS available; see 'TTS on activity screens' above).

See this blog post about fine-tuning activity URLs.

Some TTS examples

Things to consider when making a textivate sequence...

Please note that this post was written before the arrival of individual student passwords on textivate. These now make it possible for students to complete a sequence in multiple sessions on multiple devices. With this in mind, many of the considerations regarding time available, devices available etc are no longer so important. That said, many of the points below address other important issues related to sequences, so it is still definitely worth a read.

The "ideal" sequence?

People have asked for suggestions for the sorts of activity combinations they should use for sequences. 

The difficulty with this is that it depends on a lot of factors:

  1. whether it's a text resource, a matching resource, or both;
  2. the length of the text / number of matching items;
  3. how much exposure to the particular text students have already had -- how new it is to them;
  4. whether you want to use it for homework or for classwork;
  5. how long you expect to spend on the sequence (and if in class, the maximum time you have available for all students to complete the sequence);
  6. what devices your students will use to complete the sequence;
  7. what additional support you provide;
  8. what score you expect students to get (do you want a high pass grade, for example?)
  9. the level / ability of the students, etc, etc

Below I'll share some thoughts on some of the above (in no particular order). And in the second part of this post I'll make a couple of general suggestions for combinations of activities, and give a few examples.

(But please don't expect the "perfect" sequence. Too many variables, I'm afraid...)

Textivate terminology

Resource

A resource is a text entered into the "Text" tab, or a list of matching items added to the "Match" tab, or both of these.

A resource may or may not contain extra bits such as a parallel text, or a link to a video, an audio file or an image. It may or may not contain details of a sequence of activities (see below).

A resource is, essentially, the contents of the "Show all" tab on the textivate home page.

You upload this to textivate using the upload icon.

When you click on "textivate now" you go to a menu page for your resource, which has icons for lots of different activities (see the image below). If your students access the menu for your resource, they are free to choose from the activities and attempt them in any order.

If your resource is uploaded to textivate as a 'shareable' or 'public' resource, you can share a link to your resource either via the home page (edit screen) or the menu page, by clicking on the "Share" icon at the top-right. (This will provide a link to the home page or the menu page, depending on where you copy the link from.)

Activity / Textivity

Activities (A.K.A. textivities) are the many games and exercises that are (mostly) automatically generated by textivate based on your resource.

If your students have access to the menu page for a resource, they are free to choose from the activities and attempt them in any order.

If your resource is uploaded to textivate as a 'shareable' or 'public' resource, you can provide a direct link to any activity. To do this, go to the activity page and click on the "Share" icon at the top-right. (You can also embed activities on other web pages, blogs etc via the same "Share" icon.)

Sequence

A sequence is an optional addition to a resource, added to the resource via the "Sequence" tab.

A sequence consists of a list of activities from your resource, with target scores and various other parameters set, and students have to complete the sequence of activities in the order specified.

At the end of a sequence, after completing all activities satisfactorily, students can upload their sequence scores to textivate so that their teacher has a record of the time taken, scores, repeats etc.

Sequences do not have a time limit, although sequence scores are only stored for 30 days.

If you want your students to access your sequence, you need to provide them with the sequence URL. First, make sure that the resource uploaded to textivate as a 'shareable' or 'public' resource. Then click on the "Share" icon at the top-right of the home page, the menu page, or any activity page; click the "Link to sequence" option, then copy the URL from the URL box and share this with your students.

(You can also get an embed code for your sequence via the "Share" icon on any of the activity pages.)

(Only Premium and Group subscribers can use sequences.)

See this blog post on sequences (and see the other related links at the bottom of that post) and this blog post on the differences between sequences and challenges.

Challenge

A challenge is completely separate from your resources. (It is saved separately and is not part of an existing resource.)

A challenge is a scoreboard competition for individuals or teams based on one or more of your own resources.

When taking part in a challenge, students are free to choose from all of the activities on the menu page for your resource and they can attempt them as many times as they like and in any order. After completing each activity satisfactorily, points are added to the scoreboard. Students can go back and look at the scoreboard at any point to see how they are ranked.

You create challenges using the "Challenge" icon (the trophy) on the textivate home page.

Challenges have a time limit (5 mins to 30 days) and students can take part in them in class, at home, or wherever.

If you want your students to access your challenge, you need to provide them with the challenge URL. To do this, click on the "Challenge" icon on the home page, scroll down to the challenge that you want to share, then copy the URL from the URL box and share this with your students.

(Only Premium and Group subscribers can use challenges.)

See this blog post on challenges, and this blog post on the differences between sequences and challenges.

Textivate icon reference

New resource

On the home / edit page. Click this icon to clear the contents of all of the tabs on the home page before embarking on a new resource.

Upload

On the home / edit page. Once you have created your resource and are ready to upload it to the textivate server, click this icon to add the name of your resource, extra information, tags etc and upload it. You need to have a full (teacher) log-in in order to upload resources.

Local storage

The shared student password on textivate

What is the shared student password?

On textivate, when your subscription is set up, you are assigned just one student password shared by all of your students.

How do I get a shared student password?

If you have a Premium or Group subscription, you will already have a student password. It was sent to you as part of your account activation email.

If you have a Basic subscription, you don't get a student password.

How do I get individual student passwords?

Since July 2017, if you have a Premium or Group subscription, you have a "Manage classes / students" area which allows you to create classes, add students to classes and create individual passwords for your students.

When do students need to log in to textivate?

A student password is only needed for the following 4 scenarios.

  1. Students submitting sequence scores -
    Students need to be logged in with your username + either the shared student password or the individual password that you have set up for them, in order to submit sequence scores.
    • Shared student password: if logged in using the shared student password, scores are only submitted at the end of a textivate sequence, and students need to add their name and class so that you can identify them.
    • Individual student passwords: if logged in using a password set up for them by you, students' scores are automatically submitted at the end of each activity, even if they didn't complete it successfully.
    See this post on sequences on textivate.

  2. Students accessing password-protected challenges -
    If you have created a challenge for your students and have specified that a password is required, this means that it can only be accessed by you (with your username + password) and your own students (with your username + the shared student password). They also need to add a scoreboard name so that they can be identified on the scoreboard. See this post on challenges on textivate.
    Note that if a challenge is not password-protected, students do not need to use the student password to log in.

  3. Students textivating their own texts -
    Many schools use textivate primarily for this: so that students can put in their own text and use all of the text re-construction, gap-filling and text-entry activities to help them learn its content or memorize it. (See the next question, which deals with this issue.)

  4. Students searching or browsing public resources -
    Students need to be logged in using your username + the shared student password if they want to search or browse the thousands of public resources uploaded to textivate (via the spy glass icon).

If you simply want to share a resource or a particular activity with your students, they don't need to log in using a student password. You can simply provide a URL to the resource or activity, or you can embed the activity on your website or blog.

If you have created a challenge for your students that is not password protected, there is no need for students to log in. They just need to key in their scoreboard name and start playing.

Can students upload their own texts using a student password?

No. But they don't need to anyway.

If your students are using textivate to help them to learn a text, they have 2 options regarding how they store and access their info.

  1. Copy and paste -
    If students are using textivate, they have to be online. So it's easy for them to access email, webmail, google docs, one drive, etc etc. There are plenty of ways of copying and pasting to and from another source. At the beginning of a textivate session, students copy from their source text and paste into textivate. At the end of their session, if they have made any changes to the resource, they can copy all of the text from the "Show all" tab and paste it to wherever they are storing it.

  2. Local storage -
    If students are using the same device each time they access textivate, they can save their resource into local storage (by clicking on the filing cabinet icon). At the beginning of the next session, they can open it from local storage. At the end of the session, they can save any changes to local storage again.

So students really do not need to upload their own texts. 

(Nor is there any need for you to upload their texts for them. It simply is not necessary. And it's a waste of your own time.)

If you are thinking that you would rather get around this by giving your students your own teacher password, or by assigning one of your Group subscription username + password combinations to your students, please read on...

Should I let my students use my teacher password?

No. You definitely should NOT give your students access to your own teacher password, or assign them one of your Group subscription username + password combinations.

Here are a number of reasons why:

  • They can change your account settings -
    If a student has your username and password, they can change the email address linked to your account. Once they have done that, they can change the password for your account, locking you out of your own account.

  • They can delete your resources, challenges, sequences, gradebook, classes etc -
    Even if they do not change the email or password for the account, they can still do all sorts of damage. If you have uploaded any resources to textivate, any student with access to your username and teacher password will be able to modify them or delete them.

  • They can upload inappropriate content
    If you give teacher account access to your students, they can upload resources just like you can. They could upload inappropriate or offensive content and you would have no way of knowing who was responsible.

  • Log-in problems / Automatic log-outs -
    Bear in mind also that only one person can be logged in at one time with a teacher password. This means that if several students are using the same teacher log-in, they will constantly be getting messages telling them that someone else is logged in, and being automatically logged out of textivate. And if you want to use the account too, the same will happen to you. This is not the case with the shared student password -- all of your students can use it at the same time.


Adding accented characters to textivate...

OK, so there is no textivate-specific way to add accented characters or special characters to textivate.

Note that most textivate exercises DO NOT require the student to type in accented characters. The only exception to this is the Gap-fill (and user-defined Gap-fill) activity, and only when no word list is provided. 

But as a teacher creating your own resources, you will want to make sure that all the special characters are included in your resource.

If you are using a smartphone or a tablet, there shouldn't be a problem inserting accented characters either, as in most cases it's simply a case of long-pressing the un-accented version of the character and then selecting from one of the accented options.

If you're using a desktop computer, laptop, or notebook, it can be a bit trickier.

Personally, I use a Spanish keyboard, which makes it s-o-o-o much easier, but if you don't have that option, read on for solutions for Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox.

Google Chrome - "Special Characters - Click and Paste"

This Chrome extension is a really neat solution to the problem of inserting special characters for French, German and Spanish. You can get capitals by using the shift key. And it does things like upside-down question marks and exclamation marks ¿¡

It adds an á icon to your chrome browser, and clicking this gives you a list of accents to choose from. Click the desired character and then paste into the text box on textivate (or use the ctrl+v shortcut).

https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/special-characters-click/fkjbliednplpohojfpgnbpcppgdnhklb?hl=en

Mozilla Firefox - "abcTajpu"

Install this add-on to Mozilla Firefox, then add accented characters by right-clicking into any text box, you should then see an "abcTajpu" context-specific option, which gives access to hundreds of accented and special characters.

You can modify the add-on via the add-on options menu, to add the letters for the languages of your choice. For example, if you add French and Spanish, your context-specific right-click will produce a list with "abcTajpu" (ie. the default), plus "French", plus "Spanish".

https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/abctajpu/

:0)

How to make a reading comprehension with textivate

A simple How-to guide for making a variety of reading comprehension exercises on textivate.

1. Start by adding a text

Clear the text box on the textivate home page by clicking on the "New" icon. 

Then, in the "Text" box, type or paste in the text for your reading comprehension. e.g.:

2. Add questions and correct answers as Match data

Then click the "Match" tab and add matching items (in this case questions and answers) separated by ==, with each new pair on a separate line, as in the image below: