Macmillan Sounds

/ S aʊ n d z /

This week our “Featured  App” is Macmillan’s critically-acclaimed Sounds: The Pronunciation App, which has a number of possibilities for targeting pronunciation in the EFL classroom. In the space below, we will briefly discuss background on the product, specific tips for teaching pronunciation, features included in this software which build on these, and how one might utilise the programme as an additional classroom resource.


The phonemic script above has substantial relevance for teachers and students alike, with perhaps the greatest opportunities available for autonomous study. While the prospect of learning an additional alphabet may sound daunting, since 1982, Adrian Underhill’s now ubiquitous Phonemic Chart has assisted teachers worldwide with this task. Nowadays, phonemic script is not relegated to dictionaries alone, as course books frequently make efforts to incorporate these symbols into their materials (New English File has a particularly easy-to-understand set of pictorial representations for each sound in their offerings), although teachers may still find themselves pondering how many students actually take the time to learn it; and due to limited time constraints within the term structure, it is difficult to justify an extensive focus on the chart itself, in place of other pressing demands.

/bɪnəfɪtz  ɒv  ti:ʧɪŋ  prnʌnsi:eɪʃən/

However, there are a number of reasons why teachers should consider “making time” for this valuable task, as Underhill extensively covers in his book Sound Foundations. The author suggests that doing so provides learners with opportunities to:

  • identify their own problematic sounds
  • strengthen the aural perception and muscular sensation involved in making each sound
  • recognise sound/spelling relationships within words
  • improve written and spelling skills through greater pattern awareness
  • increase dictionary usage while learning new words
  • focus on the effects of connected speech
  • become more fluent through ear training, awareness-raising and practice

Instructors may facilitate the above by highlighting individual sounds, words in isolation, connected speech or as a general part of the holistic language learning experience, as Underhill explores both within his book and through the additional electronic resources included in the app.

/ti:ʧɜ:  sentɜ:d/?

While there is potential for pronunciation-focused lessons to evolve into teacher-centred affairs, there are methods which empower students to be more proactive in their recognition and production of Standard English, albeit requiring some level of teacher-guidance beforehand. Generally, this involves encouraging students to develop a basic familiarity with phonemic script and the layout of the Phonemic Chart, facilitating self-access at a later date to reinforce classwork. Underhill’s suggested model involves a basic two-stage process of introducing, then integrating the chart, while moving from teacher-led instruction with modeling / drilling, to autonomous controlled practice via student-student interactions. In the following hypothetical examples one may observe the progression from teacher to learner-led instruction:

1.)    Target: distinguishing between two sounds in isolation: /ɪ/ and /e/

Stage: introducing the chart


  • Teacher models each sound several times, one at a time, pointing to it on the chart. Learners listen and repeat each time.
  • Teacher points to each sound to prompt learners to speak.
  • Teacher models each sound again and learners point to the sound on the chart.
  • Learners point to each sound to prompt teacher to speak (to clarify their understanding and receive sufficient modeling).
  • Learners pronounce each sound and teacher indicates what they said using a pointer (e.g. teacher points to the boundaries of the two sounds if they produce an utterance bordering on correct pronunciation, or a non-native English sound).
  • Learners repeat this activity with each other in pairs / groups.

2.)    Target: distinguishing between similar vowel and consonant sounds at word level: “chair, share, chore, shore, cheer, shear”

Stage: integrating the chart


  • Teacher writes all words on board and asks learners how they think they’re pronounced.
  • Teacher points out each individual sound in the first word, chair: /ʧ –  e –  ə/, showing formation of diphthong /eə/ from two vowel sounds.
  • Teacher points again to each individual sound in succession, pausing to hear students’ pronunciation.
  • Teacher repeats procedure for targeted sounds (consonant or vowel) until all the phonemes in each word have been elicited in this manner (e.g. share: /ʃ – e – ə /, chore: /ʧ – ɔ:/, shore: /ʃ – ɔ:/, etc.)
  • In pairs, learners point out different sound sequences for the words on the board, using the chart and eliciting the correct word pronunciation from their partner.
  • Teacher points to a word on the board, a learner pronounces it and teacher traces the sounds (correct or not) produced by that student on the chart. Learners correct themselves if needed.
  • A learner selects a word on the board, another pronounces it and a third student traces the sounds on the chart with a pointer, in place of the teacher.

3.)    Target: word level pronunciation for new target vocabulary: “thunder”

Stage: integrating the chart


  • Learner selects an unknown word from a new text and writes it on the board. e.g. thunder
  • Teacher asks each learner how they think it is pronounced, one at a time.
  • Whole class listens to the different opinions and decides on correct pronunciation.
  • Teacher confirms, improves or corrects pronunciation by pointing out correct sequence of sounds on the chart, pausing on each sound to elicit it.
  • Learners repeat each sound slowly at first and then at normal pace.
  • Teacher says whole word to confirm pronunciation and learners repeat.
  • Learners work in pairs, pointing to each target word, while eliciting the correct word pronunciation from their partner or tracing the correct sound sequence on the chart.

 /fi:ʧɜ:z   ɒv   ði:   æp/

Now that we have some background on pronunciation-themed activities and their relevance, the next two sections will focus on how the new Macmillan app can be used to assist in building familiarity with phonemic script.

From the outset, Sounds has taken steps to ensure the app has a broad reach into TESOL classrooms. On the initial startup screen, users are given a choice between an American or British English Phonemic Chart and audio recording for each sound. Learners may choose to compare the pronunciation of each sound on their own to broaden their listening skills, although one should be aware that the vowel symbols differ for each dialect. So if one is already familiar with the British version, it may be better (unless based in the USA) to simply point out the different sounds on the British Chart, as words arise in class (e.g. hot: /hɒt/ (UK), /hɑ:t/ (US))

Sounds integrates the four main skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing) into interactive practice and assessment tasks with an easily-understood interface. Users can test their reading, writing or listening skills through either practice or quiz mode, with the key difference being a time limit and set amount of “lives” in the latter, for added challenge. Both modes require a dual knowledge of Standard English spelling and the Phonemic Chart, but can make the task of learning both, much more stimulating for the learner. In listening mode, students must use the phonemic keyboard to type the phonemic spelling of the word they hear. Reading mode prompts students to do the same for a word written in phonemic script, whereas writing mode requires the reverse- transliterations of English spelling into phonemes. Each of these modes is easily understood at a passing glance, thereby reducing the amount of instructions required by the teacher for students to engage with the materials.

Macmillan’s Free version gives users a brief sample of ‘teaser’ games and quizzes (limited to a mere 5 sample questions), but there is far greater opportunity in the Premium version. In addition to a large word bank (both American and British spellings / voice recordings), the latter also includes the option of recording one’s own speech, which can then be compared to a model pronunciation. This feature obviously lends itself to work outside of class, in absence of a teacher’s close monitoring, and it is nice to see that Macmillan has provided a helpful online resource service for educators and pupils, with structural lesson plans or self-study ideas. Additional word banks from other Macmillan course books are also available for download, making the Premium version the only real worthwhile option here, unless one is in truly dire financial circumstances (total cost: $5.99, per download).

/saʊndz   gʊd   dʊrɪŋ    klæs/

Sounds could be used similarly to any other resource which aids pronunciation-focused lessons, except that it has the potential to provide far greater amounts of feedback to students than they might normally receive in a single class. In the space below, two of the same activities discussed earlier are revisited with the inclusion of Sounds, along with several additional ideas designed to make pronunciation practice fun and engaging.

1.)     Target: distinguishing between two sounds in isolation: /ɪ/ and /e/

Stage: introducing the chart


  • Teacher models each sound several times, one at a time and directs students in pairs or groups to their tablet PCs.
  • Learners open Sounds, select the “CHART” function and try to find the two sounds they heard from the teacher. During this time learners will be able to familiarise themselves with the chart as they reach an agreement on what they think they heard.
  • Teacher models each sound again and each group taps the sounds on the chart they hear to play aloud for the whole class. Together, the class negotiates which two sounds were heard. If there is disagreement among them, the teacher continues this activity until they select the correct phonemes on their tablets. Teacher confirms the sounds, pointing to the symbols on the wall chart or writing them on the board.
  • (OPTIONAL): If desired, teacher may choose to assist students with the physical actions required to produce the sounds (lip / mouth movement, jaw and tongue position, voiced or unvoiced, etc.). If the teacher prefers a guided discovery approach, he or she may also consider using mime or gesture to elicit the correct sounds from the students instead.
  • Teacher distributes a deck of 10 cards face down to each pair or group, with either /ɪ/ or /e/ written on them. One student turns over a card (keeping it hidden from the other’s view) and pronounces the sound, while the other clicks the phoneme they hear on the tablet, before switching roles.
  • Teacher combines pairs or groups so that there are 2 tablets between them, and redirects one group to the app QuickVoice (or similar voice recording software on a non-Apple product). Each student in this group makes a recording of themselves repeating the /ɪ/ and then /e/ sounds 5 times in succession. The other group then uses Sounds to play the model pronunciation of the same phonemes. Together the groups decide which student has the closest pronunciation to the model.
  • Students with the most accurate pronunciation are invited to lead the class in drilling with the two sounds.

Rationale: The lesson becomes learner-centred as before, with the key difference being the additional model available from the app recordings. This allows the teacher to individually monitor groups without having to provide a constant model to help students confirm their responses. Another advantage of this software is the potential for students to continue checking their own pronunciation against the model recordings whilst at home (if they also have a tablet or smart phone).

2.)    Target: distinguishing between similar vowel sounds at word level: “chair and cheer”

Stage: integrating the chart


  • Teacher writes both words on board and asks learners how they are pronounced. Class listens to each student’s pronunciation together.
  • In groups or pairs, learners open Sounds, click “WORDLIST” and select the two words on the board from the list, listening to the model pronunciation. Each student presses the record button and then playback to compare their own pronunciation to the model. They continue practicing this until they are confident their own pronunciation is equal to the model.
  • The whole class listens as each group plays their own model pronunciation for each word. Teacher provides a model pronunciation or plays the one from Sounds again, and the class pick the group who pronounced the words closest to the model.
  • Learners select “CHART” again and try to remember the order of the phonemes in each word, clicking on them individually, and orally repeating each sound (e.g. chair- /ʧ/ + /eə/. If students have noticed the diphthong, teacher may individually ask them which two individual monophthongs create it: /e/, /ə/).
  • Teacher provides students with a new set of words on the board which share the same vowel sounds (e.g. share, chore, shore, shear, etc.) and asks them to determine the phonemic spelling of each, using the “CHART” function, which they transcribe onto paper (or using the “TYPE” function with the phonemic keyboard to do the same, then copying and pasting into another supported word processing programme).
  • Teacher elicits answers from students and asks them to provide model pronunciation for each word. The class agree on the correct responses and decide who has the best pronunciation. Alternatively, the teacher or the best group pronounces a word while the rest of the class try to choose what they heard from the list on the board.
  • Students repeat this procedure in their own groups with students from the best group and the teacher monitoring.

Rationale: The benefits are the same as those for the previous activity, with the additional advantage of effortless transcription available with the “TYPE” function. 

3.)    Target: controlled practice with minimal pairs /p/ and /f/

Stage: integrating the chart


  • /p/ and /f/ are written on the board. The teacher demonstrates the physical actions required to make the two sounds (mouth, jaw, tongue position, etc.), then holds a piece of paper in front of his or her lips and makes a series of unvoiced /p/ sounds. The paper moves back and forth from the lips after each utterance. Teacher then models the /f/ sound with an extended breath, such that the paper moves forward and stays there until the air stops flowing.
  • Learners repeat the same task, alternating between /p/ and /f/ sounds. Teacher directs the action by pointing to the /p/ and /f/ on the board in a random fashion.
  • Learners remove the paper from their lips and repeat the task.
  • Teacher elicits several words which begin with the /p/ and /f/ sounds, which learners write on the board. Teacher then repeats the task, eliciting other examples containing the /p/ and /f/ sounds in the middle or towards the end of words.
  • Learners are asked to divide the words into syllables, then to slowly pronounce each word, syllable by syllable. Teacher elicits various responses from individuals, and then asks for the full word, acknowledging appropriate pronunciation by asking successful students to repeat it several times for everyone to hear. (or providing a personal model in the absence of any acceptable responses)
  • Learners in pairs or groups open Sounds and select “PRACTICE”, then “READ”. They type the /p/ and /f/ sounds into the word bank generator and then attempt to type the English spelling of the words displayed in phonemic script. Learners are asked to transcribe each correct response onto a separate piece of paper (e.g. learners see: /ɒpəreɪt/, and type/write: operate).
  • Learners turn their tablets off and pronounce each word on their written list, syllable by syllable and then as a whole word (e.g. learners say: /ɒ  –   pər  –  eɪt/, then: /ɒpəreɪt/).
  • (OPTION A): Learners open Sounds again and select “CHART”. Working from the words on their list, they attempt to tap the phonemes in the sequence they occur within the word (e.g. learners see: operate, and type: /ɒ/, /p/, /ə/, /r/, /eɪ/, /t/).
  • (OPTION B): Learners open Sounds again and select “QUIZ”, “READ” and “3 MINUTES” or “3 LIVES”. Trying to gain a high score as quickly and accurately as possible, they put /p/ and /f/ into the word bank generator and attempt to transcribe the phonemic spelling of each word into Standard English spelling.

Rationale: A definitive advantage of using Sounds in this case is the potential for controlled practice without the teacher providing direct feedback (by virtue of the model recordings). The game format of the quiz mode is stimulating and engaging, and the above sequence could be replicated for the other two skills modes (listening and writing) with essentially no procedural alterations. 


As can be seen in the activities in the previous section, Sounds (Version 2) has a wealth of potential for the educator, but there are certainly some features which would make it far more dynamic.

One of the main issues with the app is a lack of flexibility in selecting the content learners will practice. While the ability to choose focal sound for the two activity modes is certainly convenient, it would be vastly improved if the wordlists included with the software could be sorted according to phoneme (e.g. words that start or end with /i:/, or which have the /i:/ sound in the middle). It would also be helpful if teachers or students could manually edit wordlists. These customised lists could be used to generate and design practice or quiz modes, which would have direct relevance to whichever course books or materials are used in each class.

Another unfortunate missing feature is the inability for spoken output to be saved within the programme for later usage. Of course, getting around this feature is possible with some foresight and creativity (i.e. the use of QuickVoice in /saʊndz   gʊd   dʊrɪŋ    klæs/ Activity 1 to record and save student responses), however, an integrated option within the Sounds software would continue to assist with tailoring the word lists for each class or learner, according to the teacher’s preferences.

An example of the feature described above might be a lesson where students select several unknown words from a text (such as the procedure outlined in /ti:ʧɜ:  sentɜ:d/?, Activity 3). They could then attempt to transcribe the phonemic spelling, while recording what they think it sounds like onto the app. After exploring these words in greater depth, with the teacher’s guidance, having the ability to compare their previous beliefs and then rerecord the word correctly (if needed) would assist them in “noticing” the difference, and consolidating their understanding of various sounds through conscious examination of any inherent spelling patterns.

Perhaps most lamentably, while there is a phonetic keyboard which produces text that can be copied and pasted into supported software, there is no current capability to hear a vocalisation of a random combination of sounds written together. This feature would assist someone struggling to hear the difference between an incorrect and correct pronunciation of a consonant cluster. As an example, learners who mistakenly write “twelth” for the word “twelfth, could be asked to type: /l/, /f/, /θ/ to hear the difference between that and /l/ and /θ/ alone. Another example might include typing the /ʧ/ and /t/ to hear the regular “-ed” ending of “watched”. These actions are currently possible in “CHART” mode, if one’s skilled hand/eye coordination enables them to quickly tap any desired combination of sounds, but most lack the required dexterity. This may in fact be the single most detrimental omission from the app, as learners have no aural feedback from their incorrect answers during the practice or quiz modes.

Finally, it should be noted that learners may become a bit confused by the fact that several of the consonants’ programmed recordings are followed with an extra “schwa” sound (/ə/). This is most notable on the /l/, /r/ and /w/ sounds, (they become /lə/, /rə/ and /wə/) which is slightly disappointing for accuracy’s sake.

Dedicated users might hope that these features (and needed corrections) will make their way into Version 3, if an update looms on the horizon. For now however, Version 2 offers plenty of opportunities for teachers looking to give pronunciation a more visible role in their teaching approach. The ease of tablets and their portability means that even if Sounds does not have a frequent place in the syllabus, it could certainly be a helpful extra resource for students outside of class. 

/saʊnd  ədvaɪs/ 

Anyone who is serious about teaching pronunciation should definitely consider bringing phonemes into their students’ everyday experience. Thankfully, Macmillan’s well-crafted app has made something slightly intimidating a little more engaging; and while the prospect of learning another alphabet seems uninspiring, sounding more fluent and comprehensible seems to be a fair trade-off!

ABC Pocket Phonics

ABC Pocket Phonics

To begin with a confession: I have not used iPads with Young Learners as much as I could have or possibly should have. The idea of using them with a class of 6-7 year-old absolute beginners was not one I would have entertained until I recently started to make a more concerted effort to become ‘digitally engaged’.

ABC Pocket Phonics is an app I found that teaches YLs to identify, form, say, and blend phonics to form short words. I was attracted to this partly because teaching phonics is something that some people find challenging and partly because I wanted to try out a different kind of classroom resource.

In ABC Pocket Phonics children are taught to write each phonic by touching the screen before learning to blend by listening to prompts and choosing the right letter to form words.

You can choose between American and British voices, you can decide to focus solely on sounds or words or both together, and you can choose different writing styles

.ABC Pocket Phonics demo

How can it be used in class?

The first thing to say is that it doesn’t have to be used in class as the app seems to be designed for parents at home. When I used it with a class of fourteen YLs recently, we focused on review and blending as the students had met the sounds before. The children took turns to write and blend using the app before repeating the same activity with paper and a pencil and my own verbal prompts.


Variety – it’s good to have another resource to choose from – especially a multi-sensory one such as this

Responsibility – the children I taught took turns to use the iPad and behaved very responsibly as they did so

Motivation – the children enjoyed forming letters on the touch-screen and interacting with the sounds and pictures

Things to consider 

Longevity – I haven’t used this app in its entirety but it seems that the phonic blends tend to be the same each time even if the order can vary 

Groupings – the order of the phonics presented may vary from the order you have taught them in which means it may be most useful for students who have already encountered most of the phonics in class. 

I won’t use ABC Pocket Phonics in every lesson but I will use it from time to time and recommend others to try it out. If anyone knows of any other useful phonics apps out there, it’d be great to hear about them.

Using iPads with 6 year olds?  Why not give it a try?



Popplet is a simple application that has the basic function of creating boxes of varying sizes for text, photos or drawn pictures. These can be linked together by lines if necessary or stand alone. The application lets you choose colours for the backgrounds, boxes and text.

How can Popplet be used in an ELT classroom?


My first impression of Popplet was that it just glorified what a pen and paper can easily do. However, after playing for a short while it became apparent that it has wider capabilities in terms of tasks and engaging students.

Some of the tasks or activities I think Popplet would be ideal for producing are;

  1. Comic books or story boards with either drawings or photos taken by the students
  2. Brainstorms, mind maps or food chains etc. all interconnected
  3. Information posters
  4. Presentations
  5. Treasure hunt or scavenger hunt style activities that include students following clues or finding items and taking pictures and placing them in order. For example; an A-Z scavenger hunt to practice vocabulary.


Advantages of Popplet

Unlike some applications I have used where the students work really hard then produce something that isn’t very pleasing to the eye, Popplet has the opposite effect. With only a few minutes spent using the simple and intuitive functions it can make ideas look very professional and eye catching. Another positive was how speedy it was to send your work through email in a variety of formats (jpeg or pdf).

My students learnt how to use this amazingly quick and when I set them off on a group task moving from ipad to ipad with a different task at each table (think circuit training at the gym!), it really got them focused and encouraged them to get their ideas down quickly. Once done, we emailed it and printed it off and it then served well as a poster and revision tool.

Consider this skeptic converted!



 doceri 1

Doceri allows users to combine voice and photos in a presentation. The app is simple to use, though the layout may seem daunting at first. Click on ‘from my iPad alone’ and you will be taken to a new page. Click on the plus sign on the bottom left of the page to start a new project.

doceri 2

You will be taken to a new screen with various menu options on the top of the screen. The one that looks like a landscape will allow you to add photos from the iPad photo library.

doceri 3

              Photos can then be adjusted for size or positioning.  You can also choose from pens on the top to draw on top of the picture and focus attention on a particular part of the picture. Clicking on the right arrow at the top right hand of the screen adds a new page to your project.

doceri 4

Once you have chosen all of the photos, you can record voice and slide through the pictures in real time. Clicking ‘Stop Recording’ will take you to this page and allow you to access your project. Clicking ‘My recordings” will take you back to this page.

How to use in class:

I used this app in conjunction with Google image search. Students used lexis they learned in class to create a presentation describing a city of their choice. Students worked in pairs to choose a city and write a script. Next, students searched for photos using Google image search to add to their presentations. Students then added the pictures on the slides in Doceri and recorded their presentations.

To make this activity communicative, students evaluated their partners’ presentations on a separate worksheet. To end the activity, students decided in groups which cities they’d like to visit the most based on their evaluations.

Though I did this activity with Pre-Intermediate students, it seems like it would be useful for all levels. Besides vocabulary, using Doceri may be a creative way to exploit a grammar point or to induce deeper thoughts on a particular topic. The jigsaw nature of individual presentations lends itself to various other ways this app can be exploited in class.

Potential issues and solutions:

While students generally enjoyed the activity, some issues did occur. One issue is time. Explaining the app, having the students write scripts, search for pictures and record, then doing the subsequent communicative activities can take a long time. I’d allow at least an hour to accomplish all of this. The activity could also be split in to two classes. Another issue was the volume of the recording. Some students complained that the presentations were difficult to hear even at full volume. To ensure students are using loud voices to record, sending certain groups to another classroom or the hallway to record will help to avoid this problem.

Generally, the app and activity were very well received and the students rated it high on fun and usefulness. It’s useful as a skills based activity allowing students to practice speaking, writing, and listening as well as exploiting a teaching point.

Sounds Right

What is it?

Sounds Right is the British Council’s first pronunciation chart for learners and teachers worldwide. This app is for the iPad (only). You can think of it as an interactive version of the phonemic chart that decorates the walls of our classrooms.


  • Pure vowels are arranged the same way as in the IPA chart: according to mouth shape (left to right, lips wide / round – top to bottom, jaw closed / open).
  • Diphthongs are grouped in rows according to their second sound.
  • Learners are provided with the pure sound, along with three sample words that model the pronunciation
  • Downloadable for free from the iTunes app store
Have a learner with an iPad at home? Have them scan this code to download the app directly.

How can I use it in the classroom?

Unlike some of the other applications we’ve featured here, we’re suggesting that the use of this app need not “take centre stage” in your lessons. Rather, it can play a supporting role to be accessed ‘online’ during a lesson at an individual learner’s needs dictate. For example, BC Korea’s India Cranna has reported great success using the app to support her Elementary learners as they are introduced to the phonemic chart for the first time, as well as in subsequent ‘integration’ into the course. After a brief introduction (perhaps following Adrian Underhill’s suggested procedure on pages 99-110 of “Sound Foundations”), the iPads running SoundsRight could be brought to subsequent lessons to allow the learners access to the sounds associated with the symbols of the chart, without being dependent on the teacher for correct modeling of the phonemes. In this way, use of SoundsRight can both encourage students to learn the phonemic chart, as well as improve their overall learning independence.




In this post we look at Toontastic in an audio interview format with BC Seoul teacher Ailsa Mantelow.


To accompany Ailsa’s interview, we’ve provided an in-depth look at how Toontastic can be utilised

Toontastic markets itself an educational aid which allows early learners to develop linguistic and creative skills. As one might reasonably speculate from the name of the app, Toontastic allows children to create their own animated cartoons. Budding Walt Disneys get the chance to choose sets, characters, and music and bring their creations to life using animation and dialogue.

What’s in it?

Toontastic starts by providing five story scenes to animate. Each of these scenes is given a title such as background, conflict, and resolution. These will most likely go way over the heads of our students, and should probably be ignored, as should the rather annoying instructions which accompany the initial setup.

For each scene, the user needs to make a number of choices before beginning their animation.

Firstly, they need to choose a location for the scene. There are four attractive preset locations provided including a castle, a lunarscape, and a pirate ship. Children also get the option to paint their own scene on screen, though the likelihood is that, like mine, their set will appear as an unsightly blob. My criticism here is that with only four preset backgrounds, users should have the option of copying and pasting sets from another location or of accessing a bank of different sets.

Next, children get to choose what characters and objects they will place in their scene. Most of these are what might be expected to match the sets provided, such as a space alien, a shark, and a Princess. Others are a little more bizarre, such as a giant clam and a showjumping fence. Once again, children get the chance to draw their own character, but this is likely to be rather difficult for younger learners to manage. The characters are fun and children will enjoy using them, but again there is simply not enough choice.

Now we are ready to make their animation. This process is fairly straightforward. In real-time, users move the characters around the screen while speaking their dialogue or narration into the iPad’s microphone. This software automatically records the audio and visual action. Although this is a very simple way to allow young learners to make their own animation, is also rather difficult to master the technique of moving characters and speaking at the same time, especially as the microphone is at the back of the ipad.

A useful feature of the animation is that characters legs move a walking motion as you manoeuvre them around the screen. Their arms are also movable, and they can be viewed in front or side profile.  However, moving the characters around is rather awkward as they rarely seem to go the way you want them to. This is especially frustrating as you are animating in real-time, so you have to start again if you make a mistake.

The final addition to a scene is the music. Musical choices are displayed as emoticons on the screen, so for instance, the user will tap the happy, sorrowful or a angry face to access the appropriate music. This visual display makes the process of choosing music easier and more fun for young learners. However, most of the music is either classical or cinematic and may not appeal to a child’s tastes.

Students repeat this process for each scene, until they finish their movie. They then add a title and credits to the finished animation. Children can then choose to upload the video to the Toontastic online video sharing site called ToonTube. This is a very professionally laid out and engaging site where students can watch videos made by children from all over the world. Alternatively, your students can just watch it in class with their friends.  There does not appear to be a Social Media sharing option which is a pity

Uses and Misuses

To get the most out of this software, it is better to be prepared in advance.  There are so many options, that younger children may become frustrated and confused. For this reason, it would be better if you learnt to use the software before introducing it to your students. It would also be helpful if you gave them an initial 15-20 minute playtime with the software to allow them to become more familiar with it. Showing them a movie which you made yourself or one from ToonTube would also help to generate enthusiasm.

For best results, students could make the animation as a project over 3 to 4 classes. This would give them time to think of characters, draw storyboards, and write dialogue. Though, it would also be perfectly possible to make a basic 1-2 scene story with in one class.

One thing that I would not recommend, is using this app as an impulse activity to take up half an hour when you have nothing else to do. It takes at least 15 to 20 minutes for children to work out even how to use the software, so trying to create something meaningful without preparation in a short space of time is likely to produce a complete turkey.

In Short

Toontastic does have its limitations, it is probably too difficult for younger children to operate (although they might have fun trying), and perhaps too limited in its resources to maintain the interest of older children for a length of time. However, if well prepped and used sparingly, this app may well encourage the fun and creative use of language in the classroom, gives children something tangible to show their mum and dad after class.

What’s in a webquest?

So, what’s in a webquest? Before starting, though, let’s take a minute to consider some of the following questions. (You might jot down some of your own ideas if you’re truly ambitious!)

  • What is a webquest? Is it the same thing as doing online research?
  • What is the purpose of a webquest? What sorts of language skills are they meant to develop? What about thinking skills?
  • How should a webquest be structured?
  • Are there any resources available online for finding, adapting, exploiting or creating webquests?

Alright, enough with the questions. Let’s get to some of the answers.

What is a webquest?

Bernie Dodge, largely considered the father of modern webquests, has defined webquests as “…an inquiry-oriented activity in which some or all of the information that learners interact with comes from resources on the internet“.  Tom March went further, offering this definition:

“A WebQuest is a scaffolded learning structure that uses links to essential resources on the World Wide Web and an authentic task to motivate students’ investigation of a central, open-ended question, development of individual expertise and participation in a final group process that attempts to transform newly acquired information into a more sophisticated understanding.”

Ok, great! But how does it work in practice?

Structuring a Webquest

It turns out, webquest enthusiasts have largely agreed on a fundamental structure that most webquests can employ. The stages are:

  1. Introduction: where the overall theme of the quest is introduced
  2. Task: where the learners are instructed on what they have to do
  3. Process: the activity stage that the learners work through
  4. Evaluation: a final stage which is designed to encourage learner self-evaluation and reflection

If you’re interested in more details about these stages, check this article on the BC’s Teaching English page.

Skills Development

One of the criticisms launched against webquests is that they develop/promote low-order thinking skills (copy & pasting answers from websites). Advocates of webquests disagree, suggesting that webquests are a constructivist, inquiry-oriented learning process that develop higher order thinking skills–not simply “internet scavenger hunts.” The fault, they suggest, lies in poor design. In terms of language education, poor webquests encourage learners to simply copy/paste answers from a text, whereas a well designed webquest will require learners to respond to newly encountered information in a meaningful, productive task. (For more on this, consider listening to this podcast interview of Bernie Dodge)

Moving Forward with Webquests

Are you interested in seeing more examples of ‘good’ webquests? Consider visiting the following sites:

Questions? Please post them in the comment thread below this post.