What are authoring tools?
Authoring tools could be defined as ‘tools for creating materials for interactive media’. In laymen’s terms, they are exactly what the name suggests: tools that you can use to author your own activites. They help you create interactive or e-learning content by means of word-processor style interfaces, predesigned templates and Wizards (computer programmes or scripts used to simplify complex operations for an inexperienced user). Again, as is the case with most cyberworld lexis, this sounds much more complicated than it is. By ‘interactive or elearning content’ I don’t necessarily mean complicated Web pages, but rather simple activities such as word searches, scrambled words or sentences, quizzes, interactive readings, surveys, treasure hunts, crosswords, worksheets with pictures, quiz busters and bingos. We’ll look at some examples of each later in the article.
Why and when should we use them?
Word searches and memory games are a good way of practising vocabulary, especially given that students often need to go over the same words again and again to learn them. Students can do self-study tests which help to foster learner autonomy, as they can choose which areas they feel they need more practice in. Extra reading practice can be gained through treasure hunt activities and sentence structure and word order can be reviewed by scrambled sentences.
There are numerous ways we can integrate interactive activities into our syllabus. For example, we can generate cultural-related activities for festive times of year such as Christmas and Easter. We can use them for extra-curricular lessons or as extra homework for students with special needs. We can even use them as the basis for extra activities for those students who stay at school while others go on school trips.
What features can we find?
Most tools are easy to use and provide ready-to-use templates with step-by-step instructions. They offer the choice of creating online (interactive) or offline (printable) activities. Sometimes activity hosting is offered. This means that the materials you make can be stored on the site and accessed by logging in.
What are the advantages and disadvantages?
Authoring tools are fun, motivating and provide a welcome break from the routine of the coursebook even though their prime function is to supplement it. They are interactive and as such offer immediate feedback. They can be personalised and the topic can be chosen by the teacher. And above all, they’re free! However, they can be time consuming to prepare and they rely on a fast connection, although the printed version is always a viable alternative.
Aspects to consider when choosing which site to use
There are so many websites out there that the words ‘needle’ and ‘haystack’ easily spring to mind. Here are some factors to take into account.
Registration is usually easy, with a username, password and an e-mail address to confirm registration being the only typical requirements. A verification e-mail is then sent to you to confirm that you wish to sign up. As these sites are educational in nature, signing up does not usually mean receiving spam in your inbox.
By output, I mean how the activity is going to be delivered to students. Some sites (such as Teachers Direct) give you a choice of making your materials interactive or printable.
Once you have created the activity, does the site offer you free hosting, ie can you save the activities you have created onto the site? Or do you have to download software to make the materials? This is more inconvenient, as the materials you make will not be accessible online and the software download may not necessarily be free. Ideally, once an activity is created, you should be able to bookmark the page (with Internet Explorer this means adding it to your Favourites) so that it can be recalled at any time.
Type of activity
The type of activity you wish to create should govern your choice of site, not the other way round.
Where can I find them?
Now let’s look at some examples, starting with a couple of directories where you can find comprehensive lists of sites containing authoring tools. There is an ‘authoring tools’ section in Christine Bauer-Ramazani‘s site which lists activities according to category (quizzes, surveys, puzzles, etc) with brief descriptions, and there is a similar list on my own site.
Word searches or word soups are a favourite for vocabulary revision, so why not create an interactive one? Teachers Direct allows you to do this very easily. This link will take you to the ‘free resources’ section where you will find three options: Quiz-Busters Plenary Quiz, a searchable Educational Internet Resources section and Wordsearch maker. (Alternatively, if you want to go straight to the word search section, click here. There’s a step-by-step guide you can follow to create a puzzle with your own topic and word list. You can print off your final version, or students can interact with it directly online. Each correctly chosen word is highlighted when the cursor is dragged over the letters. Puzzlemaker does not have an interactive element but it creates printable word searches along the same lines. Neither site requires you to register.
Here are two sites that create anagrams of words in a chosen lexical set. In Abcteach, as a non-member, you have access to a pre-set list with over 20 categories (both topic and phonic based). Signing up as a member allows you to author your own set. Superkids allows you to create your own word set directly, but with a maximum of ten words. In both sites you can print out your activity.
Flashcards and game boards
Educational Press contains a variety of activities catering for both Primary and Secondary teachers. Included is a set of tools which enables you to create flashcards, ‘game boards’ (bingo sheets and matching activities), study sheets, etc. The Language Menu also allows you to create flashcards.
Although not strictly a teaching tool, Zoomerang can be a useful tool in the English classroom. It is a site designed for professional survey makers that offers packages with different degrees of sophistication. The ‘Basic’ option is free. Students can create online, interactive surveys on any topic.
Finally, you can generate your own worksheets on this site. Categories include Alphabet, Alphabetizing skills, Writing, Vocabulary, Parts of speech and Numbers and Words. Each of these categories contain several options. A user-friendly, step-by-step guide is given for each, allowing you to choose different options along the way.
Like all new resources, web tools can be daunting at first, but once you have tried a few of them you will be amazed at what an excellent resource they are and at how easy they are to use. With new sites regularly appearing and technology constantly changing, we need never be stuck for ideas for extra activities again.
Visi Alaminos teaches at the Escola Oficial d’Idiomes d’Osona. She is the creator and webmaster of www.visi.es.