Smashing Breaking News Generator Tool with Capzles, an Online Timeline

Following our successful edtech PD event at work; a summary of my presentation

App smashing refers to the process of using two apps together because, even though everyone says “there’s an app for that,” in edtech, gaps often exist between what can be done and what a teacher wants to do.

This was the case when I came across these two apps as my advanced reading and writing class was reviewing tenses. I had been thinking of digital timelines, but wasn’t motivated to try one until Breaking News Generator and Capzles showed up separately in my Twitter feed one morning.

I began the activity with my class in the computer lab that day.

Breaking News Generator

Breaking News - blog example template
Breaking News Generator Template

This is a how one of three screens in Breaking News Generator appears. It is a static tool that you can personalize to suit your needs. The screen capture news page changes as you type your desired content on the left side of the screen. Images can be uploaded and positioned as well, although I have had a lot of fun keeping this particular image and using it for examples. The “date” information is key, since it will be used to arrange the news stories later on.

Encourage students to think of a historical event, a story that is in the news at the moment, and a possible news story that might take place in the future. For demonstration purposes, I found it best to begin with a familiar  event that is recognized by students. Show students creative commons sources for images, and demonstrate how to find images according to topic by using the search option on most websites. I have used in the example below, but other sources can be found in my Live Binders under the tab Stock Images for Videos and Presentations. As you circle the lab, you can assist students by showing them the difference between writing sentences and writing news headlines/tickers, such as grammatical changes and word omissions. Remind them that, even though they might be writing about past events, their news stories should be written as though they are “new” news; for example, a headline about the Great Wall of China might read “Wall running through China finally completed,” and dated 1644.

Students produce examples that they can then download as images, save and share with you. Students can send these images to you via email or in a shared environment, such as or in Google Docs. You now have a collection of these news stories that can be used for the second part of the task.

Breaking News - blog example
A completed Breaking News Generator Story Example Photo Credit

How to adapt this part of the lesson for multi-level classes or tech-novice students:

  • Give students a number of news stories to create. The quicker students will create more stories than the ones who are not as adept at using technology, but everyone produces at least one news story (the teacher can circle the lab and assist learners in this process, but oftentimes, classmates willingly help their neighbours)
  • Challenge the students who have grasped tenses faster to generate news stories that have, for example, repeated over the course of history; this way, you have student-generated content that can be used as present/past perfect examples for the writing portion of this task later

I liked this news generator tool a lot, but needed to augment it to review of tenses with my advanced English learners. For lower levels, using this tool alone might be enough of an activity to review past, present, and future time. You could share each image with the class and have students compose statements about the news that they see using the present continuous, since the news is always reported “live.”

I need to meet several outcomes in my course, and combining outcomes into a task is more relevant to students than solely producing assignments. I wanted to combine a review of tenses with writing narratives and exposing my students to the concept of blogging and collaborative writing. Enter Capzles.


Capzles is a virtual timeline. It is free and requires registration, but beyond a user name and a password, little else is mandatory. Once you’ve created an account, you can begin to build your timeline:

Capzles screen capture
Creating a New Capzle

You can be as fancy or as simple as you like. A title and description are a good idea, but tagging your Capzle is optional. These will be public Capzles unless you change your privacy settings. The content part is exciting: photos, video, audio, and text can be added. You can select from different design templates and add background music as well. For the purposes of my lesson, I uploaded the news images chronologically and then shared the link with my students by clicking “Share Your Capzle” and copying the link provided.

Groups of three students work well. Each group is responsible for writing a narrative paragraph by summarizing events in the Capzle within a past, present, or future time frame. The students work collaboratively to compose the paragraph on paper, in Word, or asynchronously in Google Docs, according to your time/lab restraints, or access to technological tools. The final draft needs to be a typed text.

You can:

  • share the user name and password with your students and have them upload their text as a blog on the timeline; or
  • have students email you the paragraphs and you can upload them as individual blogs on the timeline

How much prep time is involved?

I found both these apps on the same day, got inspired, and used them in my lab that very afternoon. We were able to create all the necessary Breaking News Generator stories in the lab within an hour. I assigned the narrative paragraphs as work to be completed outside the classroom. The completed Capzle was available to the class two days after we had begun the activity.

Why I liked it:

  • all the content was student-generated
  • it was a task-based activity that combined tense review, narratives, and collaborative writing
  • I found and was successfully able to use these apps on the same day
  • students wrote some funny news stories – they started getting creative
  • I met a number of my course outcomes in a way that was meaningful to the learners
  • I was available for assistance, but students were drawing on collective knowledge to work through this task
  • everything did not have to be completed in class on the same day; it was easy to break up this task into parts
  • it is adaptable to different levels and abilities

I can see this working:

  • in a business communications class when students have to develop resumes – Capzles would allow students to track their past accomplishments in a chronological manner and they can add to the timeline when they recall another event
  • as an artefact for an ePortfolio if students develop the timeline with their own personal words and creations
  • as a review of tenses when students are contrasting two or more tenses in lower levels
  • to unscramble a narrative and post the correct order of the story in a Capzle
  • to plan a narrative paragraph or essay using the blogging tool in Capzles
  • to curate an online memory book of a class’ progress throughout the semester; this can be captured with text, photos, field trips, videos of guest speakers, etc.

I hope this inspires you to try some, or all, of this in your classroom. Maybe you can do some smashing of your own.



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