Summer homework: Talk to your iPhone!

Travis Cote

Our newest, newest blogger, Travis Cote, also hails from Tokyo.

Just before the summer holiday, in late July, I prepared a short Haiku Deck (topic of my next blog posting, by the way) presentation for my students suggesting various ways they could practice English during the summer break.  I structured the slides around the four skills: Listening, Reading, Writing & Speaking.

Most of us would probably agree that listening is the easiest skill for our students to practice since they have access to thousands of EFL/ESL websites and MP3 files, not to mention the audio materials included in most textbooks.  As for reading, finding appropriate and diverse material in English is likewise not very difficult.  Writing, either via keyboard or pen and paper is also quite simple to practice outside of the classroom. But what about speaking?  Unless the student has an English-speaking girlfriend/boyfriend or is enrolled in a conversation school, the only immediate option is to talk out loud to yourself.  Finding opportunities to speak English is very limited, and in some cases, simply embarrassing. This is where Videolicious comes in.

videolicious logoVideolicious is a free app currently available only on iOS devices.  The app, as the slogan suggests – “Make great videos! Just talk and tap.” – is very easy to use with only 4 steps required to produce a fantastic video.  Step 1: Choose your shots; Step 2: Tell your story; Step 3: Select your music, and Step 4: Enjoy your video.

What’s unique about this “video” app is that it wasn’t actually designed to record video and audio like a typical video camera. Instead, you select pictures (landscape orientation preferred over portrait) or video footage from your photo library (selection limited to 10, unless you upgrade) and then narrate the photos (or video) you’ve chosen, tapping each thumbnail icon as you push the story along. If you decide to use a video from your library the audio from that particular footage is not carried across.  In other words, you can see the video you’ve chosen to import but you can’t hear it. Which for my purposes is great because it forces the app user to narrate their selections. You can add music as background ambience to your narration and personalize the look of the video with a handful of simple filters during the final step. There is also the option of using the mic coupled with the built-in camera on your device to record yourself either introducing your video or wrapping it up with a final message and mug shot at the end. I should note that the video you create with the app is limited to 1 minute. Once completed, 2 things happen: a copy of the video is saved directly on your device in your photos album and a URL link is generated with a share option.

I first experimented with the app earlier in the semester when my students were tasked with role-playing a homestay scenario in Australia.  As my students took turns acting the host parent and a Japanese exchange student, I walked around and took photos of them on my iPhone. Later, during a short break, I selected the 10 best photos, narrated the previous role-play activity by pointing out positive things I observed, slipped in some fun and funky background music and assigned it a URL address.  Presto!  When the students rejoined 5 minutes later I put the video on the projector and showed them their first starring role in Videolicious. By the time the class finished, 6 students strolled out of the room with a new app on their phone and I was struck with a new idea.

So in late July, when I was preparing that Haiku Deck presentation and putting together suggestions on how to practice English over the summer holiday, a Videolicious video was top on the list of speaking ideas. By this time all my classes were aware of the Videolicious app and I personally had found other opportunities to incorporate it into my lessons. Now it was time to invite students to make their own Videolicious video over the summer break.  Towards the last week of classes I asked all students with an iOS device (about 70% including iPhone and iPod Touch) to download the app and try to make at least 1 video documenting something they planned to do over the summer. It was the easiest homework assignment I ever had to sell.

Recently some of my former students asked me how they could practice speaking English over the summer break, and you know what?  They all had iPhones.

* Here’s an example of my student’s Videolicious video.

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