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The Last Language Textbook – New Delhi workshop

On October 25th and 26th I was in New Delhi running the second workshop in our Last Language Textbook workshop series. A dozen teachers from all over India and I spent two days exploring the capabilities of the Wikiotics tools and building lessons for their students.

You can see all the lessons we built on the Indian workshop page, including our second Panjabi lesson and this great podcast lesson on asking permission, which was written from scratch by two teachers who were completely new to Wikiotics. It was a great two days and I am excited to continue working with the whole group as they build Wikiotics into their classes going forward.

Group of teachers from the Last Language Textbook workshop held at the NIIT offices in New Delhi
Group of teachers from the Last Language Textbook workshop held at the NIIT offices in New Delhi

I want to thank NIIT’s Yuva Jyoti centers for hosting the workshop and our sponsors and the Linux Fund, whose continued support makes this LLT campaign possible. I am particularly grateful to have met all the Yuva Jyoti teachers, who came from half a continent away for the workshop. It was great to meet everyone and I learned a lot about the different challenges and opportunities of teaching in many of India’s regions.

We are looking to run the third LLT workshop over winter break or early in the spring semester. If you are interested in participating in this next workshop, or your school or organization might be interested in hosting that workshop, please send me a note at:

Building a lesson: Picture Choice

This week we are going to build a picture choice lesson, which is an interactive lesson format that combines simple text, audio, and pictures. As mentioned last week, picture choice lessons are particularly good for building vocabulary and explaining easily picture-able relationships like number, size, location, relative position, color and other physical adjectives, etc. There are two basic ways to build a picture choice lesson: to review material or to lead students through new material. Lets see what each of these look like and when they are useful. I’m going to link to the edit view of all these lessons so you can see how they are put together. If you want to see what they are like as lessons, just remove the “?view=edit” part from the url.

Review Lessons

Review lessons are basically just decks of multimedia flash cards. You can use almost anything you want to review and the elements are put together in any order. Some examples of this include this adjective lesson and this one on irregular plurals. Each row in these lessons has a sentence to be studied and a picture that clearly illustrates the sentence. Those sentences are roughly arranged in the lesson by topic but the order is not very important for the lesson to be effective at review. However, these lessons are unlikely to be effective for new students who will have a hard time picking up all the different things to learn without a guiding structure or a clearer focus.

Teaching Lessons

I call lessons that are designed to lead students through new material “teaching lessons”. These lessons have a clear focus and present new material in a structured way designed to let students build their understanding gradually. Our intro lesson is a short example of this. In the first group, lines 1-4, the basic vocabulary is introduced with simple sentences. The next group builds on that simple vocabulary to introduce slightly more advanced terms. Having learned the terms for “Man” and “Woman” in the first group you are then asked to pick out the pictures “The man is sitting” and “The woman is sitting,” reinforcing the earlier vocabulary while introducing the term “sitting” and its use. In each of the four groups, new material is built on top of the old little by little. This approach is designed to enable students to identify new material contextually, without an explanation or formal introduction from the teacher.

The Structured Approach

For a better look at how the structure of a lesson helps students identify new material, we turn to the Colors and Vehicles lesson. This lesson teaches both color and vehicle vocabulary without ever increasing the complexity of the sentences used. In the first group of pictures, all the vocabulary is introduced at once with four pictures presenting vehicles of different colors. This first group looks much like a review lesson but from here the structure starts to guide things. In Groups 2-5 (lines 5-20), the sentences continue to use both vehicle and color vocabulary with phrases like “This is a green boat” but each group of four focuses on only one type of vehicle so that the only changing element that students have to base their picture choice on are the color words. Then in the rest of the lesson students are asked to choose between groups that always include two items with the same color or of the same vehicle type. This tests their mastery of both sets of vocabulary and provides some diversity of choices and visually appealing pictures.

This kind of lesson structure makes for a very engaging picture choice lesson and a solid foundation for additional, more complex material. Best of all, because this is a wiki, if you have an idea on how to build on this lesson material, you can copy the lesson and make your own version. I built a version that introduces the “and” conjunction after the first two thirds of the lesson. Try making your own version of the original lesson by clicking it here: Colors and Vehicles (copy) and entering a new page name in the title box. Or you can copy my version from here: Colors and Vehicles – Ian (copy).

Later in the week we will take a look at Podcast lesson format and keep building up to this October’s NYC workshop on October 13th.

Building a lesson: The Lesson Types

On October 13th we will be running our first workshop, “Wikiotics and Dimsum”, where we will be working with a number of first time lesson builders. To help all of them, and all of you reading this who want to help but have never built a language lesson before, I am starting this series of “How To” blog posts giving you an in depth view of how to build each of the four Wikiotics lesson types: Picture Choice, Podcast, Phrase Choice, and Storybook.

This week I’ll introduce you to the foundation of lesson building on Wikiotics. Today we will look at each of the four lesson types and what their various strengths are. Then tomorrow we will go over how to physically create a lesson and some general lesson building considerations that are useful with any type of lesson.

Over each of the next four weeks I will devote a blog post to one of the four lesson types until we have covered them all and are ready to get together and eat some dim sum.

The Lesson Types

Picture Choice

In a picture choice lesson students must choose one picture from a group of four based on a text and audio prompt. The other three pictures in each group are the answers for other questions in the group so that eventually the students will identify every picture used in the lesson. Because every element in the lesson ends up being the correct answer at some point it can be useful to think of the material in a Picture Choice lesson as a deck of flash cards.

As a lesson designer your role is to arrange these flash cards in a way that shows students what each one means as they move through the lesson. Students must correctly answer each question in a group of four before proceeding to the next group. Within each group of four questions are presented to students in a random order and pictures are randomly ordered in the group.

What are they good for?

Picture Choice lessons are particularly useful for building vocabulary and explaining easily picture-able relationships like number, size, location, relative position, color and other physical adjectives, etc.


Podcast lessons are pure audio lessons that students can either stream online or download for use offline or on mobile devices with expensive data connections. Podcast lessons come in many forms, from lectures, to explanations for bits of practice audio, traditional “repeat after me” drill tapes, or any other audio-only lesson format you can imagine.

A note on editing podcasts

Non-Wikiotics podcast lessons available online are generally produced as a single audio recording. This makes them difficult and time consuming to edit.

Our podcasts are composed form a series of short audio snippets that we combine into a single recording for playback. That means that means that lessons can be edited on the site like all our lessons, enabling easy collaboration, reuse of materials, and personalization.

What are they good for?

Podcast lessons are particularly good for teaching how to interact conversationally in a new language and for learning how to discuss concepts that are hard to visually illustrate.

Phrase choice

In a phrase choice lesson students must choose a text answer from a group of four based on a text prompt. Much like a Picture Choice, the other three answer choices are actually the correct answers to other questions in the group so students will eventually use all answers in the lesson. Students must correctly answer each question in a group of four before proceeding to the next group. Within each group of four questions are presented to students in a random order and individual phrases are randomly arranged in the group of possible answers on the page.

What are they good for?

Phrase Choice lessons are particularly useful for issues related to word order, punctuation, and words that have similar written or spoken forms. Because this lesson type does not use pictures or audio illustrations for the phrases it is the most drill-like of the lesson types and also one of the fastest lessons to create.


Storybook lessons have a picture in the center of the screen with a text and audio element underneath it. Each row in your lesson creates one of these “pages” and students move back and forth through them as if they were navigating a book.

What are they good for?

Storybook lessons are particularly good at illustrating concepts that involve movement, a sequence of events, complex mental concepts like emotions, cause and effect, etc. Storybook lessons work very well in conjunction with other lesson types that can reinforce and clarify material presented in a storybook, for example a Phrase Choice lesson might ask students which character in a story book caused a certain event described in the story.

Wikiotics is having a workshop!

As part of our ongoing Last Language Textbook campaign we will be running a daylong workshop this October 13th to build introductory English language materials to send with the newest Kids on Computers computer lab deployment, to a rural Junior high school in Mexico.

During the workshop we will expand and customize existing lessons, adding our voices, pictures, and experience with English to help some great kids begin their studies. Native English or Spanish speakers, photographers, language teachers, students, and general open education supporters welcome. Lunch of vegetarian dim sum will be provided to participants and the cameras and microphones we use during the day will be given out by lottery at the end of the workshop.

Saturday October 13th
Adelphi Manhattan campus
75 Varick Street, Second Floor, New York, NY
RSVP to so we can coordinate food ordering.

Update September 25, 2012
In addition to the camera and microphones mentioned above we have also secured one of the new 7″ Google tablets for use during the workshop and for one lucky participants to take home after a day of lesson building.