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.


#ELTchat Summary for September 23, 2015


Most of the Twitter chats I participate in are hosted in North America and I have a few I try to catch regularly. #ELTchat is UK-based and it took a long summer hiatus; consequently, I missed the first week. I came across the #ELTchat by chance yesterday because of @juliacphang’s #ELTchat comments appearing in my news feed. The chat time alternates between morning and mid-afternoon, my time; therefore, I was able to catch most of the chat during breakfast.

#ELTchat differs from most chats I participate in, since there are no questions posted in advance for discussion. The topic for each chat is chosen from submissions by popular vote. You can view the open forum for topics here on Saturdays and the topic is selected by followers on Sundays. Chats take place on Wednesdays, alternating each week between 12:00 and 21:00 BST, or 7:00 and 16:00 EST.

Yesterday’s topic piqued my interest: Using Online Resources for Listening and Speaking in the Classroom, moderated by @Marisa_C, @angelos_bollas, and @Shaunwilden. The resources mentioned included:



Details Comments/Suggestions for Use Recorded global conferences

“Ideas Worth Spreading”

Used over the summer; a little dry @angelo_cullos

Good, but might be a bit long for class @Marisa_C

Likes it as a resource @EmmaSegev

Choosing talks based on students’ interests @juliacphang Read, listen, and learn in English Likes it because it’s small, although there haven’t been new additions recently @cioccas  
Game-based learning tool Likes to use it with class @DARLnamic


Today Programme Enjoys the short clips @JennyLewin-Jones

Has used BBC Radio clips as well @juliacphang Randall’s Cyber Listening Lab Lessons for class or self access @Marisa_C Lessons designed around short films Good length and good for discussion @HanaHainsworth

@cioccas, @angelos_bollas agreed

Podcasts on iTunes Various “Obsessed” with podcasts @Shaunwilden

Uses as content for distance ss @patrickelt Online voice recorder Ss record written work as listening source for others @angelos_bollas, @Marisa_C Open source, recording software Recording podcasts @patrickelt Podcast hosting Free publishing @patrickelt Learning English through music videos and songs Great for listening to and writing down lyrics; multi-levels @Marisa_C; @GlenysHanson Podcast-creating audio platform Suggested by @ambartosik to record podcasts and as an alternative to vocaroo, which isn’t available for mobile phones

@cioccas agreed Gathering place for digital conversations Good for speaking/listening; can play truth or lie; links to Action Research  @cioccas Conversation starter with difficult choices Promoting discussion with older students @EmmeSegev Templates for make-your-own gameboards Competitive games in class, vocabulary practice @DARLnamic Voice-based e-learning tool; message board for the spoken word Generate online stories; good for analysis and peer review as well @Marisa_C Conversations in different accents of English Good for unscripted interviews @GlenysHanson

Different accents of English @ambartosik People’s real stories Good for encouraging discussion @EmmaSegev Lesson plans for listening activities First day with a new class @cioccas


Videos for different English learning Good for self-assessed pronunciation, too @iatefl_ltsig Does it need an explanation?? Can use for “speaking” where Internet is limited @angelos_bollas

Has many things in common with speaking, like informality @patrickelt 3D virtual world Place for conversations <tongue in cheek> @Marisa_C

Uses too much bandwith, unfortunately @cbsiskin


Still photos of New York residents Images for discussion @EmmaSegev
Google Hangouts or Skype Connect with another teacher for a Mystery Skype @ambartosik

Use for guest speakers @Marisa_C


Word learning game Uses it in the classroom @DARLnamic

(an aside: @Marisa_C said that this was a slow chat. I can’t imagine collating all the suggestions in a busier chat; look at this list!)

These blogs were also mentioned in the chat:

“Would you Rather” activity shared by @EmmaSegev

Teaching Students Persuasive Techniques shared by @patrickelt (connected to TED talks)

VoiceThread for Students shared by @cioccas

And this link to a podcast blog, thanks to @iatefl_ltsig and @cioccas

Here is a link to my Storify of the chat so that you can follow the conversation thread as it unfolded.

I consider myself knowledgeable about online resources and edtech, but there are a few suggestions in the table above that I have not tried before. My mind is buzzing with ideas and possibilities. I definitely need to go update my Live Binders with some of these great online tools and apps for listening and speaking. I’m especially interested in Voxopop – students don’t have many opportunities for practicing speaking online, and this one gives students authentic spaces in which to practice. Putting it on the must-try list immediately.

Thanks to everyone who shared their suggestions and for participating in the chat. @juliacphang, I wouldn’t have written this summary had it not been for you.

Not Just another Bad Blog

Just listening to @dougpete on the Jisc podcast and he has forced me to write when I don’t have any time to write. He says there’s no such thing as a bad blog.

I have been hearing the same question over the past little while: where do you find the time to blog? Briefly, I am: finishing my MA and looking for a supervisor for my thesis; completing a post-baccalaureate certificate in Instructional Design; developing 2 webinars for my professional organization; reading my Twitter feed (this is time-consuming!); setting up my students in a blog and connecting with other educators to share/comment on them; guest-moderating a Twitter chat next week; on a PD committee for our faculty; preparing a presentation for a conference in November

And I still made the time to write this blog.

What I don’t have time for:

  • Television
  • Reading for “fun” – the educational stuff is fun
  • Procrastinating

Why am I doing all of this?

My PLN on Twitter is inspiring, and each exchange leads me to a new perspective or idea. I feel my classroom experience is transforming into a better, richer experience for the teacher and students. I’m an ESL teacher with many years notched in my belt, and I’ve never felt more involved or interested in my profession.

Blogging is just another way to explore and reflect – what worked, what didn’t work, what inspired. I think promoting others’ successes is powerful. Reading someone else’s ideas makes me appreciate their care for their students and their bravery to share publicly. So now I share, too.

What has inspired me:

  • The Syrian refugee crisis
  • My colleagues
  • My students
  • K-12 educators – good golly, can we college educators catch up with them? They are doing some fantastic things in classrooms
  • Doug Peterson’s reflections
  • Twitter chats
  • The myriad of ideas (even ones I don’t agreed with) that I come across every day on Twitter
  • The positive vibe from educators blogging and sharing on Twitter
  • The connections I’ve made with people I’ve only met virtually

I really don’t have the time to edit this blog. But I really wanted to share. Thanks, Doug.

Finding Inspiration while Running – The Terry Fox Run/Walk

Terry Fox Foundation

I went for my weekend run yesterday, and prepared myself for the inevitable change as I move from my neighbourhood to the next where the acknowledgments stop. Anyone who passes me on the trail can’t see me, apparently, except other runners, who nod exhaustedly in my general direction. In my neighbourhood, the overwhelming fear of vergonia prevents anyone from ignoring a passerby – always a good morning, or a good evening.

Halfway through my run, I ran into a gaggle of pedestrians flanked by some runners, and realized that my path had intersected with the Terry Fox walkers/runners. We walked/ran along side each other, since I wasn’t part of the walk and didn’t have my requisite sticker. Scanning the quiet crowd, hoping to offer words of support, I didn’t notice anyone looking in my direction.

Then I noticed a young girl being walked/dragged by her mom on the walkers’ side. I slowed down and asked her if she would run my kms back home because I was feeling a bit tired today. She grimaced and complained that she was tired of walking. I smiled and asked her if she would consider running instead, and I picked up my pace as I waved goodbye and wished her luck in finishing.

Except she caught up to me and was skip-running, trying to continue the conversation. So I slowed down and skip-ran with her. Her name is Megan and she is in grade one; she has 19 kids in her class and she likes her school. I turned back to her mom and commented that I admired her for bringing her daughter along, but asked if her school was not hosting a Walk for Terry event, since I know my kids’ school is holding their walk this week.

Mom pointed out to me that because of the work-to-rule situation, there would be no walk at the school this year and that was why she had brought her daughter. I asked them if they had sponsors, and they said yes. We finally reached the point where I had to break away from the crowd and continue home, so we said goodbye and Megan was happily run skipping her walk for Terry, completely forgetting how she had felt a few blocks ago.

It saddened me to realize that there will be kids this year who will not be introduced to this awareness raising and community building event – some kids will be new to school, some new to this country. Walk for Terry embodies so many lessons that educators cannot teach in the classroom. My ESL adult learners often comment that Terry Fox is the first Canadian they learned about, and how he serves as an inspiration for their English learning and how he embodies Canadian grit and how big people’s dreams can be in this country. I remember watching Terry’s funeral on TV, and how moved I was as a child that a teenager had had the idea to run across this country.

I’m glad mom took Megan on the walk to make her aware.

Photo credit: Gail Harvey & The Terry Fox Foundation

It’s all been done before…but you did it better last time, Canada

My tears choke and shame me as I write. When I heard the news this morning about the Kurdi family, I tried to avoid opening any online newspapers because I knew the images would be visible immediately. Then, of course, on Twitter my eyes caught the photo of the dead boy lying on the beach, his face pressed into the tide and little foot crooked against the sand. I tried to scroll up again quickly but the image stuck. I had not wanted to see this image. I knew it would make me uncomfortable. This doesn’t sit well with us in our ordered world.

And then I became uncomfortable because I had looked away. It is shameful that we cannot look at someone else’s tragedy and see it. That is what’s happening in Hungary this week. Armed riot guards advancing to greet a train arriving with refugees, only to corral them into camps. Out of sight, out of mind. In Canada, we might have felt a little smug this summer as the refugee crisis in Europe unfolded, comforted by our record of welcoming people from around the world to settle in our country. Vigorously we insist that we are so compassionate, so accepting, so aware of rights, but sometimes, not where it counts.

A story came up in discussion with my class this summer: we talked about Conrad, the poor raccoon who had the misfortune of keeling over in the middle of a Toronto sidewalk on his last day. No one had come to dispose of the body, and a memorial began to grow as a way to draw attention to this injustice. My students and I had a great time discussing the situation and talked about what “first world problems” refers to. Someone in class offered a different take on the story, however. Canada is a rich country where all opportunities exist, one student said. Dalal went on to say and how wonderful it is that we are so rich to celebrate the life of this raccoon. You Canadians care so much, she said, that you will light a candle for a dead raccoon and acknowledge its passing. In Jordan, Dalal continued, the refugees will not get this treatment from other people, because there is tragedy everywhere.

Dalal Al-Soutary is from Jordan and Canada is lucky to have her and her family. She is an inspiring student; her perspective and observations provide a rich level of discussion for our class. Dalal writes her citizenship test this month, and I have no doubt that she and her family will do wonderful things in Canada. She is a woman full of optimism and gratitude for the opportunities this country offers people here. But today, I’m not sure Dalal should be so optimistic about Canada’s generosity. We’ve failed a refugee family and we’re sporting a black eye on our reputation for compassion. And it’s not like we haven’t faced this type of situation before. Or perhaps we just don’t want to see it this time.

Where is the Canada who opened her doors to 100 000 Vietnamese refugees forty years ago? A group of desperate people setting foot on foreign soil, generously sponsored by Canadians to help them get established in a new country, has been the story promoted this year commemorating the anniversary of the Vietnamese arrival. Today, our country is noticeably richer because the contributing members of Canadian society are comprised of this strong and vibrant Canadian community.

My valued colleague Huong Lu and her family arrived in Canada via this refugee sponsorship program. Forty years after her family arrived here, she teaches newcomers English and how to adapt to Canadian life. Huong talks about her family’s refugee experience with her students in order to connect with them, but more importantly, to show how far you can come in this country even when you arrive with nothing. I count Huong among the proudest Canadians I know. It is difficult for me to imagine an alternative ending to her story. Would her lucky students have an equally exemplary teacher had she and her family been turned away, I wonder. The tragedy of the Kurdi family could have been her family’s had their boat not made it to shore on every island they came across before landing in Malaysia and coming to Canada. I think she’s earned her keep. But her family was afforded the opportunity that Canada didn’t offer to Alan Kurdi and his family.

Our minister of citizenship and immigration cut short his campaign to return to Ottawa and do his job today. Please don’t disappoint us, Mr. Alexander. Show the same level of concern Canada offered our valued citizens 40 years ago. Mr. Cameron is probably regretting some of the comments he made earlier this summer. And Iceland is showing you up.

Thank you to my dear friend @huongtlu, and student @Dalal_sotary, for being Canadian inspirations.

Expanding My Students’ PLN through Mine – on Twitter

This weekend, in addition to summertime enjoyment, I participated in some Twitter chats connected to @edcampGlobal. Thanks to @raspberryberet3 and @s_m077 for their tweets, I joined #globallearning for a chat “Engaging Student Voice,”  moderated by @JenWilliamsEdu The chat included teachers from elementary to higher education. Some of the questions during the chat included why teachers feel it is important to connect students globally, what tech tools encourage global collaboration (blogs were mentioned), and what are ways that we hope to inspire a global view this year in our classrooms.

Other teachers had tweeted that the purpose for using blogging  was their students’ need to be aware of a global perspective and reflect on what they learn. I commented that my students are already global citizens (mostly international students) but that communicating globally was a goal for them to achieve. My class has expressed resistance to blogging their reading reflections because they are afraid “their” stories don’t reflect “our” Western views or values.  I also mentioned my ESL students had expressed reluctance about blogging because they were worried about their voices being misinterpreted by English-as-a-first-language ears. @MrsDruffel, an elementary school teacher, mentioned her classroom blog and she suggested that our classes connect via their blogs. She shared her blog link with me. The public chat had developed into a conversation with another participant.

And then she asked how old my kids are. I realized that we were in two different worlds – higher education adults and elementary school children. I mentioned, with a sinking heart, that I have adult ESL learners. She thought it was wonderful and was all for it. Our exchange was noticed and commented on by the chat moderator and, come September, we have made plans to have our students blog together. They are elementary school students looking for world perspective; we are adult ESL students with a global perspective and seeking confidence in our writing voices.

I am still amazed with the real connections educators make on Twitter. Teachers are very willing to share and make these unexpected partnerships. @s_m077 and @raspberryberet3 are great connections for me; I met them both at an EdTech Sandbox meeting and discovered the endless possibilities of networking with elementary school teachers (I would like to write about that in another blog – they deserve it).

As I prepared to write this blog, I asked for permission to use Twitter handles and everyone chimed in almost immediately with rousing yeses and offers of more help or support. The immediate positive response I received from these teachers inspires me to blog more, think more, expand more…

I wish I could tell you that these teachers are special, but they’re not. They’re just average.

They are just like everyone else I’ve connected with.

I once mentioned on Twitter that I work at Sheridan and a teacher I had never met reached out and asked to meet me for coffee. I was asked to be a keynote speaker at a conference, tweeted the poster, and another person who had been a keynote speaker at the global edcamp I had just attended reached out to me and offered support and suggestions over coffee. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve been touched by the generosity of time and support offered to me. None of this would have been possible if I just relied on old fashioned methods of attending conferences to learn and network. Face to face connections are wonderful, but meeting a Twitter connection in person is wonderfuller (sic). People who don’t know each other on Twitter are willing to put egos aside and establish connections for the benefit of their students. Creating global perspectives through Twitter. Unbelievable. Thank you Mrs. Druffel.

I look forward to making even more connections for my own PLN and now, for  my students.

@MrsDruffel classroom blog

@JenWilliamsEdu blogs here.

To read @raspberryberet3 blog click here.

@s_m077 has a site here.

Link to the #globallearning chat where I made this connection for my students can be found here.

What are You Afraid of?

image (1)
      What ARE you afraid of?
       If you are connected to higher education, especially in the field of English teaching or ESL, you are afraid of technology. Don’t deny it. I’ve seen you, I’ve heard you, I smell your fear.
       I am asking sincerely. What is it that you are afraid of?
       At a conference I attended recently at an institute of higher learning, one teacher confessed that, although wifi is readily available where she works, students are forbidden by the program manager to use mobile devices for any reason in the classrooms. She sheepishly admitted that she allows them to use their phones for translating, and quickly added that I not mention her name or institution to anyone, for fear of reprisals.
      I think the change must begin with teachers. Teachers must be encouraged to have a minimal presence in online class environments.
      I said encouraged, not forced.  Teachers who are unfamiliar with using mobile devices, apps, and the like can’t be dragged through a tech minefield by well-meaning but over-enthusiastic tekkies. How we learn about technology should mimic how our students learn English, and that doesn’t happen in a vacuum. First of all, a desire to learn is essential. There needs to be an objective for learning to teach with technology; there needs to be a supportive network for that learning in place; there needs to be access to mentors; there need to be ample opportunities for practice and questions. All of these things need to be in place in order for confidence amongst educators to flourish.
      Our schools do not provide us with consistent support, and this is problematic for teachers. Some schools have technology departments devoted to teacher inquiries; some schools have no CALL staff to support the desire amongst staff to learn more about incorporating technology into teaching. Those who are intimidated need more support.  But let the shift begin with educators, and allow it to happen because we observe our students daily.
      Our younger learners have their cell phones permanently attached to their thumbs. They don’t know how to disconnect. They eat their lunches in silence together, gaming, chatting, surfing. At the opposite end of the spectrum, some of their teachers think checking email more than once a day is enough technology. How can we pull the two ends of these bungee cords together in order to unite these opposing approaches? The tug-of-war between digital natives and late adopters can’t last forever.
       Advocating for classrooms in Web 2.0 is not realistic or necessarily valuable. Many things that teachers do in class are good things. What if you replaced one of those good things with a small tool that can make a good thing even better?
       Augmenting your classroom activity with a small tech tool, like Socrative, for example, will not change who you are or the materials you use to deliver content. It may, however, give you an insight into your learners – statistical, instant, relevant formative assessment at your fingertips. You may think your learners have difficulty with forming the third conditional, and you may be correct, based on your experience and observations. However, seeing all your students’ answers to one question lined up on a screen will give you an accurate picture of the ratio of understanding to confusion, where the mistakes are occurring, and it’s anonymous. No one gets singled out for not knowing, but everyone benefits from learning. We can’t get those results instantly, daily, effortlessly, without employing technology.
         One of my former students from Venezuela described to me how he and his friends had spent a lot of their student life attending demonstrations protesting government involvement in education and the curtailing of personal freedoms.  He is very familiar with being tear-gassed. He believes in personal freedom and loved his education experience in Canada, where he was free to express himself and learn freely. I asked if he had been afraid at the protests he attended. He replied that he was not afraid of protesting; he thought it was essential, and his friends continue to stand up for freedom in education.
         Let me ask you again: if he’s not afraid of getting gassed or hurt, what are you afraid of?