Dec 29, 2013

Top 3 web tools of 2013

As the year draws to a close it’s time for various top 10, 20 etc lists. I am going to limit myself to 3 and share the web tools that have undoubtedly been my favourite this year. Three different tools - three different uses.

Lyricstraining Listening

Listen to various songs and complete gaps in the lyrics.

I first learned about this tool at the IATEFL conference in Brighton in 2011 – interestingly, it was mentioned during one of the Pecha Kucha presentations in the evening. I found my notes from the conference about a year later and this year it has been one of my favourite tools. I hope my students enjoy it as much as I do!

How it works     
Choose a song. Then choose one of three available levels (Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced) and click on play. As the song plays you have to complete the gaps in the lyrics. The difference between the levels is the number of gaps. Regardless of students’ level I always recommend starting with the Beginner level where you have on average 20 random gaps (they change every time) in a 4 minute song. Advanced level is all blank and you have to write all the lyrics yourself. The best thing about this tool is that the song stops playing until you supply the correct answer. You can go back and listen from the beginning of a line or give up and have the missing word displayed for you. This quick help guide shows the main functions:

Besides obviously being a great tool for practising authentic listening, a lot of gaps can be filled in by predicting what comes next using the knowledge of language (grammar and vocabulary) or what is known as bottom-up processing. Also, a recent study confirms what I've always believed in - language learners who listen to songs in a foreign language and sing along make faster progress, particularly when it comes to the phrasal lexicon.

Some suggestions
(personal choices - mainly ballads)
Adele – Someone Like You (medium difficulty) 

Quizlet – vocabulary

Learn vocabulary in a variety of modes on the computer, tablet or smartphone

Most of you will be familiar with Quizlet. It’s a website for creating online flashcards: a word (known as “term”) on one side; translation or definition on the other. However, if approached creatively, Quizlet can be used to practise chunks of language as well.

Some examples
Have a look at some of the sets I’ve created:
Everyday phrases:
Politicians & embarrassing situations: - In this set I don’t give definitions at all. Instead, students are given the first letter of a chunk we learned in class.
Delexicalised verbs and their common collocates:

How it works
You have to create an account or sign in with Facebook. Click on Create at the top of the screen to create a new set. Give your set a title, for example Travel or Health. Then start entering the items you want your students to practise. After you’ve finished, click on Save at the bottom and your set is now ready to be shared with your students. To create a set of collocations, enter the first word (e.g. solve) in the right column under Definitions and the second word (e.g. the problem) in the left column under Terms. See example HERE

When your set is ready, click on Share (1) in the top right hand corner of the page to get a short link (like the ones listed above) which you can send to your students.

When your students open the link they should start with Flash cards. This is the first mode which allows them to simply browse through the list of new items. I usually ask my students to select Definition under Start with. To check if they remember the word they should click anywhere on the card to flip it over.

After your students have gone through the set, they can choose one of the following review modes at the top of the screen. The modes are listed here in order of difficulty, i.e moving from mere recognition of new items (receptive knowledge) to being able to recall them (productive knowledge).

The terms and definitions (or whatever you entered under these categories) are scattered on the screen and you put them back together. If matched correctly, they disappear from the screen. Perfect for matching parts of collocations.

As the name suggests, it’s good for working on spelling. You type in the words as they are spoken.

This mode generates a graded quiz. Questions can be open-ended, multiple choice or true/false. Possibly  more suitable for teachers and for words with definitions / translations.

tests students’ active knowledge of the items. They have to type in the answers themselves.

Space Race
Or simply Race is the most difficult game. You have type in the correct answer as the definitions shoot across the screen.

Advanced features
Some of the excellent extra features include the following:
- You can add images to the definitions.
- You can “adopt” sets created by other teachers and modify them. (click on Copy - 2)
- You can combine your sets. (see under More tools - 3)
- You can print sets or combined sets and use them for paper-based activities in class. (4)

But this isn’t all. You can also create folders and organize your sets by levels or courses. You can create classes and assign a few sets to the same class or the same set to different classes. These two options are available from the home page after you’ve logged in.

Finally, if your students have smartphones – most of them do - they can install the Quizlet app. Then they have to find you (give them your username) and select one of the sets or classes you have created.

For other lexical tools, check out Essential Lexical Tools on this site.

Textivate – pre- and post-reading 

Break the text apart and get students to put it back together

How it works 
Copy and paste a text and then choose one of the modes / activities: tiles, shuffle, fill in the letters or the hangman. I usually use short texts from CBBC News Round or Tiny Texts  Recommendation: 18 tiles for a text of 1000 words – anything longer that gets a bit confusing. Reconstruction activities of this kind force the learner to move from semantic processing (when they mainly pay attention to the message) to syntactic processing (when attention is paid to how the message is constructed). 

See other ideas for revisiting texts (not involving technology) in my article on the TeachingEnglish website - click HERE

Unfortunately, as with all good things, Textivate didn’t remain a free app for long. At the end of March this year they introduced various pay plans. A free version was still available but it didn’t allow you to save the activities and send them to your students so that they could review the text at home.

As I was writing this, I realised that even the basic free plan had been discontinued. So even if you want to use Textivate in class using a projector or IWB you need to pay a subscription fee. A teacher on the in-service course I taught earlier this year recently told me that she’d got so hooked on this tool and it saves her so much time in class that 10 pounds per year is really worth it. So perhaps, considering there are not so many language-focused tools on the web I’ll fork out 10 pounds next year so that it stays my favourite app in 2014 too.

Are you familiar with any of the above tools? What tools have been your favourite this year? Looking forward to your responses in the comments below.


  1. Good list, Leo. My list would include:

    1) Rewordify:
    2) Curiyo (Chrome extension):
    3) Awesome screenshot: Capture & Annontate (Chrome extension):

    1. Thank you, Tyson.
      I have to admit that I am not familiar with any of these - and I use quite a few Chrome extensions. Are these for personal or educational use?

    2. I've been recommended rewordify as well. Looks really useful. A similar app also recommended to me is

  2. Thank You so much for your useful recommendations.

    1. Thank you for your comment, David !

  3. I certainly agree with numbers one and two!

  4. I'm a heavy user of Quizlet for all sorts of things: high frequency vocab, useful expressions, dialogues, etc.

    I've also been using a variety of online apps for text analysis, but Lextutor is best known and most comprehensive.

    I see myself recommending and to my students for graded online reading but I guess that's for next year.

    1. I'll look for you on Quizlet, Tom - I'd like to see you how you use it for dialogues, if you don't mind. Feel free to use my sets too.
      Re newsinlevels it looked good when I first saw it but upon closer inspection I realised how seriously flawed Level 1 is. Unfortunately it is often simplified to the point of absurdity.

      Thank you for dropping by.

    2. My 3rd for 2013 is Sweetsearch (

    3. Yes, probably Level 1 isn't very useful. Level 2 with the audio and exercises seems alright but I haven't used it enough to be really sure.

      As for Quizlet, I use it for my own language studies by simply pasting in the dialogues (eg., Chinese characters to English/pinyin) to practice reading, writing and pron of phrases embedded in those (Class:

      For my sts, eg., I teach workplace English with common exchanges for small talk, requests, refusing, complaining, etc. (Join class: It's mostly phrases with some question-response exchanges.

  5. Thanks, Leo. There's more coming and going all the time. Great that you're updating us about this year's favourites

    1. Thank you, Judih. It's amazing how various tools appear and disappear. I am getting ready for a workshop tomorrow and not finding the websites I used to use, e.g. Xtranormal

  6. Few days ago I came across a site that is very like as lyricstraining, but it's not only focused on music, but also you can listen to some movie scenes as well: The site is

    And for instance you can watch pulp fiction scene:

    Or listen to Queen:

    The other site that helps me a lot is, but I assume that everyone knows that site.

    1. Thank you for your comment!

      lvlapp looks good - and new! It reminds me of another website where you can watch clips and do gap-fills:

      I am familiar with (not a big fan of it though) but thanks for suggesting it anyway for the sake of other readers of this blog.

  7. Quizlet is great! I'd like to recommend the Lex Flashcard Game app which uses quizlet sets in a fun boggle/mahjong/crossword-style game.

    No other apps feature this kind of game plus pedagogical tracking/review, important for actually learning from games.

    You can try it online (including a widget version) at



    For iPhone:

    For Android:

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  9. To complement the functions of Quizlet, I've also developed an online/mobile game called 'Phrase Maze' using their API so that you can use Quizlet sets in the game. It offers various engaging game modes, giving both receptive and productive practice (see options in 'Settings'), and tracks their progress - you can try it here with the online widget version:

    At the start of semester I give my class access to the semester's vocabulary in my Quizlet sets, and show them how to use it. I also show them how to use Phrase Maze. We have a test each week, and they can prepare however they like (some use Quizlet, some Phrase Maze, some paper printed/handwritten lists, or a combination of all these).


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