A warm hello to all readers of this blog!
Hopefully, you’ve had some rejuvenating holidays and are ready to fling yourselves into teaching!
If you wish to teach English through the lens of technology and storytelling this school year, consider trying our free educational App called ‘Dylan& Lydia at the Fortune Teller’s’!
It’s available for all ios& Android devices and it’s ideal for A2-B1 level!
Before starting, download the digital storybook here:
This popular double- path digital storybook may be used separately or as a wonderful supplement to any coursebook or materials, your students are already using in the English class!
The Plot of the Storybook in Brief:
On a day trip to London the endearing 9-year-old twins, Dylan and Lydia, meet Madame Sonya, a famous fortune teller who slyly tries to trick them into her evil plans. The twins have the chance to experience magical moments in ‘Fantasy Land’ or spend an adventurous day with notorious pirates on a real pirate ship! Both adventures teach them important life lessons about the value of true friendship and trust.
For extra photocopiable ELT activities, drawings, games and DIY crafts, browse through some sample pages from the teachers’ handbook I’ve created here:
Dylan& Lydia Sample Pages HANDBOOK
If you plan to use ‘Dylan& Lydia’ at your school to enhance the teaching& learning experience through the use of technology, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, to request the whole handbook of 110 pages filled with a great variety of materials for every 10 screenshots of the fairytale.
I’d love to hear your and your students’ feedback! Please don’t hesitate to contact me for any relevant queries or support you may need while using the App in class. Meanwhile, take a quick look at some users’ reviews of the digital storybook:
I hope our stories will add a touch of magic to your lessons, motivate your students and make language acquisition a fun, hands- on experience!
Wishes for a happy& creative school year!
I’m very excited and proud to announce that our first digital storybook for YLs of English (aged 9 and above) has been recently released on the App store and the Android market! ‘Dylan and Lydia at the Fortune Teller’s’ is a highly interactive, double- path story packed with:
* delightful illustrations
* enchanting background music
* engaging audio narration
* multiple reading modes: Read to me- Read it myself and Record my voice
* charming animations, surprise features & sound effects within each page.
* enjoyable ELT activities
* in-built dictionaries
* fun story-based games
The Plot in Brief:
On a day trip to London the endearing 9-year-old twins, Dylan and Lydia, meet Madame Sonya, a famous fortune teller who slyly tries to trick them into her evil plans. The twins have the chance to experience magical moments in ‘Fantasy Land’ or spend an adventurous day with notorious pirates on a real pirate ship! Both adventures teach them important life lessons about the value of true friendship and trust. You can take a slight idea from the promo video below:
How it all started:
My sister Marina and I have always loved fairy tales and until today we’re big fans of Walt Disney! Writing and publishing our very own children’s book was one of our childhood dreams. Feeling a great need to be creative in a time of deep financial crisis, we came up with Dylan and Lydia’s adventures last spring on a ship to Corfu- a beautiful island in the Ionian Sea.
Why a digital storybook?
Who doesn’t love a good story? A well- told tale can fascinate, grip and engross us in a fictional world no matter how old we are. Both children and adults are drawn to stories in a natural, effortless way. In effect, the pedagogical values of storytelling are unparalleled. It’s the oldest form of education and a fabulous tool in teachers’ hands. Albert Einstein’s quote beautifully describes the unique powers of storytelling: ‘If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.’ 😉
Stories can have a profound impact on foreign language learning too. They are motivating, fun and provide a low anxiety context for language learning. Teachers can exploit stories to introduce or revise new vocabulary, grammar rules, and language patterns as well as to engage students meaningfully.
Digital storybooks are the ‘new generation’ of fairy tales. They combine the multimodal nature of new technologies (text, visuals, audio, music and animations) and the valuable linguistic and psychological features of storytelling. This much promising ‘marriage’ reflects the digital age we live in and is bound to open up new paths in educational practices worldwide.
‘Dylan& Lydia at the Fortune Teller’s’ was created with this rationale in mind. It aims to address the needs of the 21st language learner by offering EFL teachers a brilliant chance to teach English through the lens of storytelling and technology! It can help boost young learners’ language proficiency, spark their imagination and engage them in extensive reading.
The journey from the initial grasping of this idea until its final completion has been wonderful yet sometimes overwhelming! By no means, could we imagine the amount of work and devotion needed when we first ventured into this project.
One of the first things we did was an extensive research on the ELT market for similar products. We also read numerous digital storybooks to spot their main features compared to traditional print fairy tales. Next, we planned the basic structure of the storybook and I set out to write the stories in English as well as design the accompanying activities and games.
Our main aim was to develop an educational App that would combine learning and entertainment seamlessly. For this reason, the storybook includes multiple choice questions, an imaginative writing activity, two in-built dictionaries and a glossary. The reader can then have fun while making sliding puzzles or matching pairs with 3 levels of difficulty. What’s more, 2 mini games (a hidden objects game & a knowledge quiz) are an integral, contextualized part of the plot. In this way, the reader is involved in the action and the overall reading experience becomes more interactive, fun and engaging.
Unlike conventional linear novels, we thought of writing two stories instead of one, with different endings and morals. So, when Dylan and Lydia are in Madame Sonya’s caravan, the reader can choose the direction of the story in the role of the protagonists and create his own reading path.
From a pedagogical scope, the tales have been written in simple yet not oversimplified English both in terms of vocabulary and grammar. The repetition of words and lexical sets along with the two dictionaries contribute to learning and content understanding. Delightful illustrations complement the text and make it easier for less fluent students to understand and follow the story. The user can hear the story read aloud or record his own voice narrating and play it back! This helps improve both his listening and diction skills.
It’s a well-known fact that language learners’ exposure to different accents and voices is beneficial. So, two great colleagues and native speakers of English, Edmund Dudley and Esther Martin, have lent their voices to this fairy tale. The roles of the main characters have been narrated by students of ours (non-native speakers). In this way, when students read the stories, they can relate to other fluent young learners of English.
As for the graphics, we experimented a lot in order to make our characters appealing to young children. The outfits and the overall style of the protagonists have been carefully chosen. We have mainly used bright and joyful colours except for the screenshots at Madame Sonya’s caravan where we wanted to add some extra sense of mystery :-). Every screenshot has been designed in detail and there are many interactive elements and surprises for the learner to discover.
Most importantly, English language learners have been part of this creative process from day one. We had all the materials (texts, graphic designs, games& activities) tested by 10- 12 year old students (boys and girls) from different backgrounds and language levels. Their feedback was invaluable and we actually implemented many of their ideas.
Challenges along the way:
A very common problem with children’s stories written for language learning purposes is the dumbing down of the texts which unavoidably leads to their loss of magic! Therefore, achieving a suitable language level for learners worldwide without sacrificing our stories’ magic was by all means one of the most serious challenges I had to face. Being used to teaching Greek students who usually acquire a high level of English from an early age, my first drafts were pretty advanced. So, I used the valuable help of Hanna Kryszewska and Charles Boyle to grade down the original texts appropriately. Here is just a short sample of the first draft and its final adaptation.
The second biggest challenge was the recording of my students’ voices. To ensure the high quality of sound, we visited the professional recording studio where my sister broadcasts her radio show on a daily basis. My students were more than happy to participate and were thrilled to visit a recording studio! However, they were a bit intimidated by the microphone at first. The tricky part for us was to achieve a satisfying level of performance (good pronunciation and acting) without losing students’ spontaneity by having them repeat their lines again and again. Luckily, with a little encouragement, the recordings were completed successfully ;-). Here are some pictures from the studio:
- Madame Sonya was initially drawn by my sister Marina when she was in high school! While sorting out old stuff, we came across the drawing and decided to craft a story around this mysterious white cat ;-). Look at the following collage and see how the drawing was adapted by the graphic designer to fit the overall look of the storybook.
- The charming music that comes with our storybook is royalty- free music that we found on the Internet. The artist Kevin MacLeod offers a big number of pieces that can be used for educational purposes under a Creative Commons license. Visit his website here: http://incompetech.com/music/royalty-free/
- When my sister recorded Madame Sonya’s lines, she was 9-months pregnant 😉
Seeing the project being completed piece by piece and our characters come to life has been a truly unique experience! With the help of dear colleagues and the participation of enthusiastic English language learners, our personal dream has come true! We’d like to thank each of them wholeheartedly for their invaluable contribution.
Please visit the App store here , the Play store here and Slideme here to install and read our storybook. We’d be delighted to receive your and your students’ feedback! You can also like our FB page for updates and supplementary teaching materials.
We really hope that our stories will touch the hearts of young English language learners all over the world and make language acquisition a fun, hands-on experience!
All the best,
…a fresh blog post about the making of our 1st digital storybook for young learners of English! ‘Dylan& Lydia at the Fortune Teller’s’ is now available for all ios and Android devices!
In the meantime, take a slight taste from the short video below:
Stay tuned 🙂
All the best,
In 2012 I attended a very useful online EVO session on ‘Digital Storytelling for Young Learners’. Among other things, I became familiar with a variety of web tools used to create comic strips and explored the ways to incorporate them in my EFL lessons effectively. In this post, I’d like to share some of the things I learnt as well as reflect on the use of comics in language teaching from my personal experience.
To start with, I’ll suggest 6 great comic creation tools! The first four are simpler to use and there is no need to sign up in order to employ them. The rest two are a bit more sophisticated, thus more appropriate for older students or very competent computer users.
1. Dvolver is one of my favourite tools! Completely free and straightforward! Just select your characters, different backgrounds, add your lines and music to create a comic strip in the form of a digital movie!!! You can e-mail your movie as soon as you’ve completed it!
2. Professor Garfield: Who doesn’t love this lazy, fat cat who hates Mondays and diets :-)?! Your students will have loads of fun while making their short storylines with Garfield and his friends Jon and Odie! They can then print or save their strips as a jpg or png file to their PCs! The site offers some nice tips and videos about the secrets of writing comics that your students will find very handy before moving on to the creative process! Check out the strip two of my intermediate students created with my help after a session on how to stay safe online.
3. Phrase.it This is a lovely tool to add cartoon speech bubbles to your own pictures! It also lets you import FB images or use a random stock photo! It’s ideal both for very young learners and older ones! It allows you to post your creations to FB, tweet or pin them, download or e-mail them! Take a look at the three images below to see what you can do with it!
4. Makebeliefscomix.com: That’s a neat, free tool to create comics with! However, the site doesn’t store your comixs! Thus, you should e-mail, print the out or use Jing (or another screenshot tool) to capture and save them to your computer!
5. Toondoo Learners can create wonderful strips with Toondoo! There is a variety of characters, backgrounds and inbuilt clipart! Signing up is free and students’ work can be embedded, e-mailed or printed! The comment feature is also available in the free version! You can also create private Toon spaces for your class/ school at a low rate. Here is a lovely Toon my 12 –year- old students Achilles and Elizabeth made the other day:6. X-treme Comics is a powerful visual writing tool! Teachers set up an account, add students (with or without e-mail) and can easily moderate their actions! Students can create very elaborate strips that will then be printed, downloaded, embedded or shared on the web!
- Comics are a great way to inspire and motivate students of all ages! Even yourself ;-)!
- It helps learners get a clearer understanding of how to develop a story in a logical sequence (Beginning- Middle- End).
- Students learn how to convey an idea precisely in a few words! Trust me, it’s more difficult than it sounds!
- Learners get the chance to practise the dialogue aspect of comic stories.
- They practise creating& designing characters with different personalities (nice, mean, funny, heroic, goofy e.t.c), giving them emotions as well as picking the setting of their stories.
- Students can understand the differences between traditional narratives and comic strips more easily. (more dialogues, images, use of punch lines, funny words or ‘pantomime’ e.t.c)
Here are some ideas on how to use comics in class! Ask students to make comics:
- On Internet safety rules.
- On road safety rules.
- On Facebook manners or other useful social media habits.
- To describe ways to stay healthy or happy.
- To create an autobiographical comic strip at the beginning of the school year.
- To change or go beyond the ending of a book you have just read in class.
- To build their plot based on a given prompt. This is a cool website for story starters for kids: http://www.thestorystarter.com/jr.htm
- To comment on a current social or political issue.
- To describe or summarize their feelings about a personal experience (e.g a school trip, holidays, cheating or failing a test, been lied to by their best friend…).
- To present a recipe or make an instruction manual.
- To practise on a new grammar rule or new vocabulary words.
Tips to get the best out of comic strips:
- Make sure to familiarize yourself with the comic creation tool(s) before introducing it/them in class. Explore their capacities, how they function as well as their weaknesses/ limitations.
- Choose the tool or website that best suits your students’ age, level as well as their computer skills! Some of these tools can be quite complex and may discourage the less tech-savvy students. Collaborative work is preferable!
- Give students time to experiment and play with your chosen tool.
- Learners should always plan their comic strips before they start creating them.
- If you want to challenge your students a bit, why not give them 5 specific words they ‘must’ use in their strip?
- From my experience, this whole creative process can be pretty time-consuming. Nevertheless, it’s very worthwhile if anything, for the sheer fun of it :-).
Have you ever tried using comics in your ELT class? What were your students reactions? Did you face any problems?
I’d love to hear your experiences!
All the best,