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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 Foundation

This second post in the “Building a lesson” series will give you some general tips for building online teaching materials along with Wikiotics-specific instructions to walk you through building lessons on

Choose a topic

The first step in building a lesson is choosing a topic. Since language covers anything you can express, there are an almost limitless number of potential topics. Honestly it is a bit daunting so we have created a simple curriculum of introductory English topic here on our Last Language Textbook campaign pages (Level 1-Stage 1, Level 1-Stage 2, Level 1-Stage3, Level 2-Stage 1, Level 2-Stage 2, Level 2-Stage 3). If you need some help picking a topic, take a look at those pages for inspiration, or feel free to just use one directly and help out while you build.

Lesson Context

While building a language lesson it is easy to get caught up in what you are building, all the little bits of planning and searching for the right material that will make your lesson effective for students. However, to build a truly effective lesson it is important to remember all the other elements that surround your lesson. One way to do this is by writing a short introduction for your lesson that says who your lesson is written for, what things you assume those students will already know, and what new material you plan to use in your lesson. We call this your lesson’s “context” and writing it out early on is a useful way to focus your lesson building by making sure you’ve considered the basic design decisions and have an idea of who your audience is.

For example, my lesson is an introduction to counting. I am writing for students in their first month or two of English study. I assume students have a small English vocabulary, limited to some basic nouns like man, woman, cat, dog, etc and have some experience with plural nouns. In order to keep my lesson useful to many different students I am going to keep the new vocabulary I introduce limited to common household items, mostly dishes and utensils. Because basic counting is a very simple topic I am also going to use colors to vary the material for my lesson. This will help keep the material more visually interesting, which is very important for keeping students engaged with picture choice lessons.

If I wanted to write for a formal school environment I might consider using something other than household items. For a school setting I could use common school items like writing instruments, books, desks, etc, whereas if I were writing a lesson for adults traveling to the United States I might use US currency or the kind of food and beverages ordered while traveling.

You don’t have to actually write down your lesson context, though that can be very helpful to look back at while you are in the middle of building your lesson, just take a moment and see if you can answer these three questions about your lesson as you begin building it:

1) Who are your students? (Old, young, formal students, or self-directed?)
2) What should they know when starting you lesson? (Vocabulary, other language knowledge, etc)
3) What are you going to introduce in your lesson? (Vocabulary or other language knowledge you will use to illustrate your topic)

Lesson building: step by step

Every lesson on Wikiotics is built with these three steps:

  • Step 1: Go to the new lesson page and click on the type of lesson you want to create.
  • Step 2: Add text, audio, or pictures to your lesson.
  • Step 3: Save your lesson on the wiki.
  • Here I’m going to cheat by pointing you to our detailed “Creating a lesson” page, which goes into more detail on each of these steps.

    Next week we will go over an example of all this as I build a new picture choice lesson and point out some great ones already on the site.

    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.

    Speak and the world will listen

    When Jim and I founded Wikiotics almost four years ago, one of our goals was to make it as easy to exchange native audio recordings as others have made it to exchange flash cards. Our first step towards that goal was adding audio to our existing picture and text “picture choice lessons“. Now, I am proud to say that we have built our first specifically audio focused lesson type, one who’s materials can be collaboratively edited and then streamed from the site or downloaded for offline practice.

    Many of you may already be getting lessons like this from language podcast sites and know the value of the format. Podcast are a widely used source of explanation and new practice audio for students looking to grow beyond language fundamentals. Adding this existing format to the Wikiotics toolkit would, by itself, have been a useful addition but we’ve gone one large step further by making it as easy to create or re-create these lessons as any other wiki page. This capability opens up interesting possibilities for collaborative creation, editing, and remixing.

    For example, what if you like a lesson but want the practice audio in a different dialect, or perhaps from a speaker of a different age or gender? With static files you are simply stuck and have to look for other sources entirely or try and make do with materials that are of marginal use in your studies. If those lessons are in Wikiotics, you can replace just the small bits of audio you want to change and save a new version of the lesson, all while leaving the rest of the instruction and explanation material intact. Similarly, if you want to take a lesson designed for French speakers and give it to students who only speak Hindi, you can replace the instruction and explanation audio while preserving the practice audio and the way that material is gradually introduced and repeated over the course of the lesson, making it possible to directly collaborate and share materials across national and linguistic lines.

    You can see three examples of this new lesson type on the site already. Two (1 and 2) are part of the introductory Mandarin Chinese unit and cover greetings and polite forms of address. Both of these are actually portions of the static audio lesson from this public domain FSI lesson that I converted into our more flexible format. The third lesson comes from a kindred project wiki-babel and covers polite forms of address in French. Take a look and don’t forget to hit the ‘edit’ button to see how simple it is to create and re-create these lessons.

    This makes four basic lesson types and the first to build on top of our new flashcard interface which will be the basic system for creating and editing lessons going forward. As always, please feel free to send any ideas and other feedback straight to me or start up a new conversation about them with the group, and thanks for being part of Wikiotics.

    Crossposted with the Wikiotics blog.