Tech for Teach

Story Dice: Easy and Endless Speaking and Writing Prompts for the EFL Classroom

At the 2015 JALT conference in Shizuoka last year, I attended a presentation that highlighted a variety of online and digital resources for EFL teachers. As a huge fan of teaching tools that are easy and effective to use, Thinkamingo’s Story Dice application for iPhone and Android ($1.99) caught my attention right away. I bought and downloaded the app during the presentation and quickly saw its potential for creating interesting and challenging prompts for speaking and writing in my classes. In fact, I shared it with the attendees of my later presentation in the few minutes before it started, resulting in a short but lively discussion about its possible uses.

Since then I have been exploring how to use the Story Dice app in my classes at Tokai University. In this article, I will give a brief overview of the app and some suggestions for use.

As can be seen from the image above, the white dice with black images appear on a brown, wood grain surface. With a touch of the screen, a new set of dice appear on the screen, accompanied by the sound of rolling dice. One nice touch is that the sound actually corresponds to the number of dice on the screen.

You can easily change the number of dice on the screen from one to ten, and with a selection of over 200 images, the combinations are almost endless.

For the iPhone app, touching the button in the upper right corner labeled “MORE” accesses the settings to change the number of dice that appear on the screen, turn off the sound, or deactivate the “Shake to roll” feature.

For the Android app, swipe left or right to do the same.

The following are some EFL writing and speaking activities that I have successfully conducted in my classes using the Story Dice app:

One die

  • Students create sentences that uses the image.
  • Students create sentences using the image, then share with partner.
  • In groups, each student creates a sentence to share. Group votes on best sentence. Winner writes sentence on blackboard

Two dice

  • Students create sentences that includes or connects two images.
  • Students explain what the two images have in common or how they are different.

Four dice

  • Students divide four images into two groups of two and explain their reasons for their groupings.

10 dice

  • Students create a story that uses all of the images. If the teacher uses a screenshot of 10 dice, an appropriate story can be written beforehand to use after students write their own stories. The teacher’s story can be projected onto a screen or dictated to the students to be written down.
  • Students write the first line of a story using one image.  Their papers are then passed to the next student who continues the story using a different image.  The process is continued for all 10 images. The papers are then returned to their original students, who read the stories to themselves, their partners, or in groups. Groups can vote on the best story.

If you have used the Story Dice app before and have some good ideas, or you can see other ways to use it in your EFL classes, please feel free to comment and share below!

Practical Teaching Ideas

Smartphone documentaries in the language classroom

Norwegian alpine skier Aksel Lund Svindal being interviewed with an iPhone

Smartphones are playing a larger and larger role in media coverage, in some cases functioning where traditional technology has failed. The serendipitous interview above, for instance, was conducted by a journalist during the Sochi Winter Olympics–using only his iPhone.

So, how about student use?

An article in Media Shift investigated smartphone use in university level documentary filmmaking courses. A quote from that article summarizes the reasoning behind the use of such devices. “They are light, unobtrusive and non-threatening for folks not used to media attention,” (MacPhail, 2010).

So, how about the Language Classroom?

In 2013, I designed a course for Tokai University which used documentary filmmaking as a tool to engage native Japanese students with international students on campus. The students in my course were encouraged to use whatever technology was available to them.

The following mini documentary was filmed by some of those students–entirely on an iPhone.

If you are interested in learning more about this course, and perhaps even trying it out, you can find lots of downloadable materials–including a 15 week project guide–at

Tech for Teach

A Christmas Message from Tellagami

Seasons greetings from DMLL.Screenshot 2013-12-19 09.09.13

Thank you for supporting DMLL in 2013. I can assure you that the team at DMLL can’t wait to share the potential of DMLL for your language classroom in 2014.

Like my avatar?

Tellagami is a free avatar app for iOS and Android devices created by a group of heavy hitters who have worked for Apple, Yahoo!, Disney, Universal and Nickelodeon. In short, Tellagami enables you to create a short avatar video (called “gamis”). All the user needs to do is select an avatar and scene, insert a text and the app creates a short video, ready to be shared via email, Twitter, Facebook or SMS.

photo (3)The first bit of fun you can have with Tellagami is customising your avatar. You have a say in the gender, skin tone, hairstyle, eyes, fashion, emotion and background image. Users can also annotate the image and substitute background photos with photos from your camera roll.

The hook for me though, is the choice of accent. You can choose anything from a deep southern drawl to the Queen of England. I teach in an English as a Lingua Franca program and having the opportunity to share different styles of pronunciation with my students is a breath of fresh air from the British and American accents found in most textbooks and listening texts.

How I’ve been using Tellagami in my classes includes: creating a report for my classes and embedding it in my class blog or Learning Management System; sharing a gami to introduce homework tasks at the end of class; and using gamis  for short dictation tasks. Students have used this app to create class reflections and to tell short stories, which they post to the class’ blog or share inside the classroom.

Avatar annimation programs and computerised text readers are not for everyone, but Tellagami’s ease of use, customisation, and choice of accents make it stand out from the pack as a great choice for your language classroom.
Screenshot 2013-12-19 09.09.36

All the best for the holiday season.