Thursday, 22 March 2012

MyBrainshark -- A Concept of Online Presentation

MyBrainshark (
The interface of the web page

What is MyBrainshark?

My Brainshark is is a free website for you to add voice to your static presentation document, which realises the concept of online and distant presentation.

It is easy to create, share, and track!

Just upload the presentation documents (could be a Microsoft PowerPoint file, a Word document, or pictures, etc. ), then you can start recording your vivid voice explanation and creating your multimedia presentation document.  It's really easy and quick.

What's more, after regiestration, your online presentation can be shared in several ways:
  •     shared through social networking (such as Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
  •     embeded into personal web page or blog
  •     emailed to friends and teachers
MyBrainshark also has a smart capability to track the viewing information of your document. In other words, you can check who/when/where your presentation is viewed. And the detailed information will drop into your email inbox automatically.

The reasons for choosing MyBrainshark
  • It is cloud-based, and very user-friendly.
  • The static documents are enriched by audio explanation, thus self-evident.
  • The students can use MyBrainshark to practice their oral English. Further, they can keep record of every piece of work for tracking their speaking advancement in the future.  
  • It is motivating for the students, especially those introverted ones,  to practise speaking but avoid the embarrassment and anxiety of public speaking.
  • Teachers' presentation can be downloaded and kept by the students, also they can be played and replayed for many times.
  •  With tracking capability, the teachers can check the students' participation condition.
  • The students can comment on each other's piece of work. It is a part of collaboration.
  • The Brainshark presentation cannot video the presenters' speaking. Without 'eye-contact', facial expressions and body langauge, the presenter can easily lose their audience attention. In other words, the teacher cannot check how much the students are engaged in the presentation, even though they can check their physical participation situation by tracking function.
  • It may cost much time for teachers and students to get used to speaking to a machine rather than humans who can constantly give feedback by their nods, eye-contact, or questions, etc.
Suggestions for Teachers
  • The teachers can use MyBrainshark to create their personalised teaching materials.
For example, the teachers can do some vocabulary instruction (with pronunciation, explanation, picture demanstration, etc. ) before the class, and send them to the students, so that they can learn the useful words and expressions before they attend the class.

Also, the teacher can pick up some grammar points ( the key grammar points or the ones which he/she find the students are confused with) and develope them into a Brainshark presentation, so that the students can learn and review them after the class.
  • The teachers are also suggested to ask the students to do their own Brainshark regularly as a record of their life and study.
In this way, the students can practice their speaking frequently, and after a period of time, they can trace their process of language advancement and their life stories. As a 'bonus', through sharing each other's regular Brainshark diary, the students can know each other better and build up their trust and sense of unity through this 'social networking', which benifits their collaborative learning from the perspective of constructivism.
  • In a task-based speaking class, the teacher can group the students and ask them to make a Brainshark presentation as a goup work.
The students can discuss for their language accuracy when they record their voices. And through all they creation, they can negotiate with English, thus their speaking skills and interpersonal skills are practised.

The following is a demonstration of using MyBrainshark to do a self-introduction presentation.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Learning About the World While Learning English -- Breaking News English

News reports are commonly considered as one of the most useful English langauge learning resouces, because reading and listening to news are basic skills in routine life, also from the news, we are informed of the latest things happend in the English-language speaking countries and districts and get connected to their life and culture with ease. 

However, training the students to news listening and comprehension is always boring and torturous for both teachers and students.

Here comes a fantastic website Breaking News English, which makes teaching and learning news easily and funky!

What is it ?

Breaking News English is a up-to-date website providing free English teaching and learning resouces. Generally, every three days, there is one piece of news updated, more importantly, with a corresponding and comprehensive lesson plan as well as many interesting quizes. Teachers can use it via computer and internet or print out the lesson plan of great layout.

The reasons for choosing Breaking News English
  • Two ways of teaching/learning the same piece of news
Every piece of news in this website is designed into both reading tasks and listening tasks. It's up to the teachers' choice. And both the PDF format file and the mp3 format audio file of the news is downloadable for free. Therefore, the students are facilitated with audio materials if they want to listen to the original native speaker's pronunciation and intonation after they finished the reading tasks, and supported by the transcription if they find some difficulties in listening comprehesion.

Free download files

From the perspective of the students' learning motivation, it's quite encouraging for them to know they can get enough help and surpport. Besides, it promotes learning autonomy a lot. The teachers can encourage the students to do the quizes and learning activities by themselves at home if there's time limitation in the class.
  • Various well-designed learning activities and quizes
For each lesson, there designed various learning activities and quizes with different target language skills, namely listening, reading, writing, speaking, vocabulary, grammar, etc.

                                               An example of the table of contents in the lesson plan


Basically, the speaking practices are put in the warming-up (general questions for ice-breaking) and post-activity (more profound questions for discussion) phases. As you can see in the following pictures, the speaking activities includes distinguished modes of problem-solving, debates, peer-interviews, etc., which promotes both cooperation and competition. Besides, students critical thinking and interpersonal skills are also practised.

Two examples of speaking tasks

Listening/ Reading

Listening and Reading are two core target language skills in the lesson plan. Aimed to practise listening/reading skills, there designed a blank-filling task which can be done either by listening to the news article or reading it.

Besides, for better preparing the students with their main tasks and activate their schemata, a couple of pre-activities are offered for choice.

Also, in the post-activity phase, there are more discussions concerning the listening/reading comprehension and social issues related to the news content. It reinforces the students' understanding of the materials and expand their thoughts to the surrounding issues.


In every lesson plan, there is a 10-minute's writing tasks related to the topic.

An example of the writing task

As you can see in the example above, the instruction of the task is very simple and not appealing to the students. However, it is worth using this task very much as a post-reading/listening activity in the class: after the heated discussions and comprehensive input of the language and knowledge, they students deserve 10 minutes to write their thoughts and points of view down. It is also a chance for the students to think about the language accuracy since they probably only focus on the fluency in their oral tasks. Thus, their piece of work becomes a perfect record of their thoughts as well as the language for future reference.

Another highlight of this activity is that it involves peer-feeback. The students can get their peer students' feedback after they finish, and they can learn from each other at the same time, which can be very collaborative and motivating.
Vocabulary and Grammar:

In every lesson, there are differetiated types of vocabuary and grammar tasks and quizes for the students. Following are some examples.

Traditional grammar practices: multiple choices, blank filling, etc.

Multiple choice


There are also some interesting online quizes, for example fill-in-the-blank, matching, hangman, flash cards, sentence jumble, missing words, no letters and crossword.

   Different types of vocabulary/grammar tasks and quizzes

Flash cards and Crossword are advised to make into exciting word guessing games as post-activities in the class.

 A brief introduction of the usage of Flash Cards

  • Time efficiency
The most obvious and direct reason for choosing Breaking News English is time efficiency. Almost all the lesson plan and the activities and homework are offered for free. And every three days, there will be one new lesson updated. Thus, it is very convenient for the teachers to adopt some of them and they don't have to waste a lot of time preparing the teaching materials. However, it is also risky and not recommended to employ the whole set of the lesson without taking the class and students' situation into consideration.

  • The genre of the teaching/learning resouces is limited to news. In other words, the students cannot get access to other genres, such as short story, argumentation, exposition, etc.
  • It is risky employ the whole set of the lesson without taking the class and students' situation into consideration.
  • The layout of the web pages is not neat and organised enough.
  • The ads scattered around are annoying and distractive.
Suggestions for Teachers
  • The Breaking News English is suggested to be employed both in the listening and reading class, and outside the class as students' homework/ autonomous learning resources.
  • Teachers are strongly advised to evaluate and filter the materials before bring them to the class, because the amount of the resources is too big to squeezed into one class.
  • The vocabulary quizes in Breaking News English can be developed into exciting guessing games either as the post-activity or as a warming-up activity of the next class.
  • To futher motivate the students, the teachers can also look for some concerning pictures or videos.
  • The practices provided can also be made into a mini test of reading/listening.

Here is a sample lesson plan provided by Breaking News English.