Cristina Cabal, six-time winner of the TeachingEnglish blog award, tells us her favourite apps, sites and browser extensions to make autonomous learning fun.
Language proficiency does not happen within a set time. It’s a long process that requires patience, and practice outside of the classroom.
One way that teachers can encourage learners to practise language autonomously is to provide resources that are fun and effective. Here are a few that I recommend:
Practise two language-learning techniques with a flashcard app
TinyCards is a free flashcard app. You can create your own cards, or use decks made by others. The cards increasingly ask you to do more difficult tasks, and prompt you to more frequently review the information you have not yet acquired.
It combines two techniques that can help learners to remember language in the long-term: retrieval practice (deliberately recalling information) and spaced repetition.
Retrieving information from your memory is more effective than reviewing it, because the act of recalling information strengthens our memory and boosts learning.
Spaced repetition requires that you revise information at increasingly longer intervals until it is safely stored in your memory. In my experience, it is the most efficient way to acquire vocabulary long term.
Another free app you can use for this is Anki.
Create a digital classroom on a video platform
Flipgrid is a free video platform that allows teachers to create a 'grid', which is like a digital classroom.
The teacher creates the grid and chooses the topic. The topic could be:
- Ask a 'wh' question.
Learners can access the grid with a code that the teacher shares. Then, in class or at home, learners can record a short video responding to the theme and post those to the grid:
- Hello, I'm Manuela, and my question is, 'who do you most admire'?
- Hi, my name is Piotr, and my question is, 'what is your best memory'?
Classmates and the teacher can reply to one another with videos, and take the discussion further. You can add an unlimited number of topics, and the learners can post unlimited video responses.
Improve technical language and writing style with a browser extension
Grammarly is the next best thing to having a teacher correcting your written mistakes. It is a free browser extension developed by linguists that you can add to Chrome, Safari or Firefox.
When you write on Gmail, Google docs, Twitter or any other site, Grammarly will analyse each sentence and fix grammar, spelling and punctuation errors. It will also suggest ways to improve your choice of words or style.
Learn at home with music and lyrics
LyricsTraining offers classic, fill-in-the-blanks exercises, using songs.
Learners can search by artist or song, and select between four levels of difficulty, from beginner to expert. The higher the level, the more words you will have to fill in.
If you don’t type the correct word(s), the music will stop and give you the option of listening again, or displaying the answer and moving forward.
Practise grammar with quizzes
Regular quizzes are a great way to learn with retrieval practice. Road to Grammar is a great site to practise grammar and vocabulary doing quizzes.
Apart from the quizzes, I love the 'Games' section. My favourite game is called 'Fluent'. In Fluent, there are twenty trivia categories and challenges. The learner has three 'lives', and if they answer five questions correctly before the time runs out, they go up one level.