Monthly Archives: December 2012

Web 2.0 Tools For Engagement and Learning


Web 2.0 Tools and Uses

The Internet is exploding with new tools teachers can use to engage students. The tools have multiple uses, often, so that they have applications for the classroom, but for other uses too. As mentioned in an earlier post, signing up for Diigo and joining a group will enable users to benefit from the social aspect of bookmarking–sharing sites with like-minded users.


Another site that helps users learn vocabulary is Lexipedia, “where words have meaning.” The site is located at . The opening page begins with the word welcome and defines it using a word web wheel. See the picture above.Users can also translate words into English, Dutch, French, German, Italian, and Spanish, so the site serves to provide definitions, synonyms, and translations. By typing a word into the box, users will see a new word wheel appear. By pointing to each word in the wheel with the cursor, users see a definition of that word. The site is interactive enough to engage users.


Lingro bills itself as “the coolest dictionary known to hombre!” Found at, Lingro turns any Web page into a clickable dictionary. Simply go to Lingro and enter a Web address. Choose from eleven languages. The chosen Web page then becomes an interactive dictionary. Users can also hear most words pronounced. Those learning another language can use the site to translate words. By creating a free account, users can keep a word list, so teachers could use the site to help students improve vocabulary and pronunciation skills. Students can create their own word games from the lists of words they make. Lingro will make flashcards from the students’ word lists; the games become another way the site is interactive and engaging.

Sweet Search

Like Instagrok, Sweet Search provides an alternative to Google as a way to search for material on the Internet. On the home page, we learn that Sweet Search “teaches Web research skills to educators and students.” The site is much more, however. it provides biographies of important people, is a search engine, and offers new material every day. The site searches only 35,000 Web sites that research experts, librarians, and teachers have examined and evaluated. Watch a YouTube video about Sweet Search at this location: . Read a blog about Sweet Search and why it is effective for student use at this location: . Sweet Search offers a search engine for elementary students at SweetSearch4Me. To find credible sources, Sweet Search offers an excellent place to begin. Certainly using Sweet Search does not absolve the teacher from teaching students how to evaluate sources, but it does provide an excellent way to reinforce evaluating sources.

Look for another blog on a variety of other Web 2.0 tools and their uses.Instagrok


The Beauty of Language


The Beauty of Our Language

lemony The picture of the book comes from Amazon.

Terry Gross interviewed Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket, on Fresh Air, December 10, 2012, and the questions turned to language. Gross mentioned that Handler revives old slang in his books for kids. She identified specifically roadster, ruffian, and gimcrack. Handler laughed at one point and said “if one child refers to the car in his/her carpool as a roadster, I will have won.” Handler and Gross went on to discuss the language that children pick up from the Lemony Snicket books.

Their discussion of words made me think of ones I like. I went to college at Louisiana Tech, Ruston, LA, at a time when women students met their dates in the parlor of the dorm. Parlor is an old fashioned word that has fallen out of fashion. I have revived it somewhat! I teach Comp I and II at Tulsa Community College. My classes meet in a large computer-equipped classroom, but one side of the room forms an ersatz parlor or living room with three mini-couches and two matching chairs. By taking chairs from the computers and placing them with the couches and chairs, the class can discuss assigned readings comfortably. When I ask the students to move to that section of the room, I call it our parlor.

Before long in a class, I notice that even the fresh out of high school students are calling our informal seating area “the parlor.” In several of the evaluations for the course, students mentioned their enjoyment of our discussions in the parlor. I think the students enjoyed the fact that we all sat together, no one standing as in a lecture and no one taking a lead–we were equal in our opportunities to share ideas about a given assignment. If the discussions should lag, I have questions prepared to use, but I have found that I rarely have to resort to my questions. Because I have created the informal atmosphere, students feel safe in voicing their opinions and enjoy asking their own questions. I do not have to answer the questions either; their fellow students are eager to answer.

Occasionally, during some of our discussions in the parlor, I use some discussion toys that add a bit of fun to the sessions. I have a set of foam objects that lead to ideas in discussion: a heart, an eyeball, an ear, a question mark, a brain, and a light bulb. I am always pleased with the creative ways that students can use these objects and relate them to an assigned reading. Also, we pass the items around so that everyone has an opportunity to use the object to relate to the reading. They always rise to the occasion and each person comes up with something new–none of the “what he said” or “I agree with her.”

My train of thought about the parlor started from hearing the interview with Handler. I’d like to return to that interview because Handler and other children’s writers gently nudge children into learning and using new vocabulary through the books. Handler told about hearing children use ersatz and penultimate correctly. When I hear people say they don’t read fiction because they want to learn something when they read, I point out to them they are learning from reading fiction as well as nonfiction. Daniel Handler just proved it!

A Variety of Search Engines


Search Engines

“Let’s google it” has become part of our vocabulary. We use the search engine’s name as a verb in a variety of instances. Google has become the search engine of choice for any number of people, including many students. I rely on Google for quick searches myself. However, I am annoyed when I click too fast on one of the first items in the list only to remember those are ads, not the information I am seeking, in most instances. Because of those ads and because I would like students to refine their searches more closely, I have chosen several search engines which I require students to use in researching their subjects:  InstaGrok, Infomine, iSeek Education, Sweet Search, Virtual, and Google Scholar.

InstaGrok,, bills itself as “a new way to learn.” See the illustration from InstaGrok.  Users should create a free account in order to keep track of searches. Having the account allows the user to save searches and keep a journal. As you see below, the search returns a graph; pressing each circle in the graph yields additional results. The journal allows users to keep track of sites to revisit, but more than that, users can type their own notes into the journal. Doing so allows the researchers to think about the topic as they research. They can return and edit the notes and then copy their work into their own documents. InstaGrok is visually appealing and returns useful results.

Infomine,, returns scholarly Internet resources. Users can choose a subject from a list or simply type a subject into the search bar. Choosing a main heading such as “Social Sciences & Humanities” brings up a screen on which you enter your subject. You can also refine your search through keywords, type of source and so on.

The third search engine to explore is iSeek Education, As with InstaGrok, users in iSeek Education can create a free account in order to keep track of sources. The site also provides a tutorial on using the search engine: .  This search engine returns editor-reviewed content. Its target audience includes students, teachers, administrators, and caregivers.

Virtual “Indexes thousands of the best academic information Websites, selected by teachers and library professionals worldwide.” As a result, students and teachers can rely on the sources from this search engine. Access the site at

Another search engine designed for students is Sweet Search, The site proclaims “every Web site in Sweet Search has been evaluated by our research experts.” Find the site at  The site’s sub-title is “a search engine for students.” Sweet Search has a widget users can put on the task bar. It also provides profiles of “1,000+ significant people” and “SweetSearch2Day where students learn something new every day.”  Clicking “SweetSearch2Day” takes the users to a page with a variety of topics including brain teasers, cartoons, an interview of the day, and a poem of the day along with much more.

Google  Scholar is the last search engine profiled here. From the site, we learn users can use Google Scholar,, to “search through theses, articles, books, and other academic literature to find relevant and credible research sources.” For those who like Google, turning to Google Scholar will be a natural step, but the sources found will be more credible than those found on Google alone. Google will continue to be a force in the world of search engines, but students do need to learn other search engines too.

Students should also learn to use their schools’ library databases. The databases provide reliable information on any topic imaginable. For students, the added bonus is that these sources are easier to cite through Modern Language Association Style or American Psychological Association Style, or many other professional citation styles because the database provides a sample citation.

In summary, using the search engines described here will not absolve students from using their own critical thinking skills and from evaluating the sources they find on these search engines. However, they will have fewer problems finding reliable sources by using these search engines. Happy researching!

Guidelines for Writing About Literature


Guidelines for Writing About Literature

If you are required to write about literature for a composition course or literature survey course, you will find helpful tips here. This article focuses on writing about short stories, but the ideas here relate to other forms of literature a well. Start by reading the short story at least twice. Read the first time for the pleasure of reading and to see what happens. Then read again to help you identify the theme(s), symbols, foreshadowing, point of view and/or other literary devices. Once you have read the story twice, you have a better understanding of what happens as well as why the characters act as they do.

Give your essay a creative title, not the title of the short story alone. You may wish to write the essay and return to the title, but remember to add this vital element. The title, like a newspaper headline, functions to attract the readers’ attention and hint at the subject to follow. If you were writing about “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner, you might consider a title like this one: The Mad Woman in “A Rose for Emily.” Another title for an essay on Faulkner’s story could be like this one: Emily’s Madness. In the actual title, omit the period. Do not put your own title in italics, all capital letters, bold, or underlining. If you do include the author’s title, put that title only in quotation marks.

When writing an essay about a short story, identify the story by author and title early in the introductory paragraph. Put the title in quotation marks. Give the author’s first and last names the first time you identify the author. Thereafter, refer to the author by the last name, never the first name alone. Be sure you spell the author’s and character’s names correctly. If we misspell a person’s or a character’s name, we no longer refer to the same person or character. For example, Michael Meyers is not the same as Michael Myers even though the difference is one “e.”

In your essay, give relevant details, but do not retell the story. If you were writing about Alice Munro’s “An Ounce of Cure,” you could identify the unnamed, teen narrator’s plight with a sentence somewhat like the following: Munro’s narrator suffers from her first heartbreak when Martin Collingwood tells her he is breaking up with her. The narrator follows this heartbreak by making bad choices which lead to long-term consequences. Then use the story itself to support your assertions. What bad decisions does the narrator make? What happens as a result of her poor choices? How does she resolve those problems? Or does she?

Other Technical Points

Write about the literature in the present tense. EX: The narrator follows, the narrator chooses, Alice Munro indicates….. Avoid the second person, you. Write in third person, using third person pronouns and any noun such as character, student, and author. Avoid contractions; write words out: do not, cannot, and will not, for example. Always weave quotations into your text; they should never sit by themselves. EX: In “An Ounce of Cure,” the narrator sees the alcohol Mr. Berryman has left on the counter. In retelling the incident, the narrator explains, “Now here is where my ignorance, my disastrous innocence, comes in” (Munro 18).

Use these guidelines to help you write the essay, but they can also help you in the proofreading of the final draft. Good luck!