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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: 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.

    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.

    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.