Technology is like electricity: it’s pervasive, it’s everywhere… it’s useful. We ignore it at our peril. We wouldn’t expect our pupils to read by candlelight or to write on wax tablets. Equally, we should be encouraging them to use the tools they have available, the tools with which they are familiar if we are to ensure they remain engaged and motivated.
Xtranormal is a text-to-movie website which allows you and your students to create short films with your own scripts using very clever text-to speech technology. This means your students write a script and then feed it into Xtranormal to produce films with characters enacting it. The free version of Xtranormal allows for a maximum of two characters, so dialogues, which are much beloved by us language teachers, are not a problem.
Although some of my colleagues and I had used Xtranormal before as a starter in a lesson to introduce a topic and reinforce vocabulary, this time I decided to let my students do the work and produce their own scripts and films in Spanish as a means to elicit creative writing, which would then be assessed for quality of language. So how did we do it?
Setting the scene
My pupils, 16 – 17 year olds, were first introduced to Xtranormal, a web application with which they were not familiar, in one of our new Digital Language Suites – two ICT suites with specialist language software. This specialist software, incidentally, was not needed for this activity, we simply needed a word processor and an internet connection.
I projected a ready made sample film on the Interactive Whiteboard and quickly managed to engage my students’ attention: it soon transpired that this was an activity they really wanted to do.
Despite their unfamiliarity with this particular web application, I was counting on their familiarity with social networking sites and other web applications we had used in the past, such as Glogster, Go!Animate or Animoto) to quickly figure out how to use Xtranormal. I was not disappointed.
I allowed my students a few minutes to sign up (free) and explore the application before I set out the task to them: to produce a 1 – 2 minutes long film script based on a dialogue between two people on the topic of La Salud (Health), using appropriately complex vocabulary and grammatical constructions, which would then be turned into a short feature film using Xtranormal.
My pupils were then given the rest of the lesson, around 25 minutes, to start planning and writing their scripts, using a word processor. I was then able to monitor each individual’s work and intervene, advising, correcting and discussing my pupils’ scripts with them to ensure I was getting the best Spanish possible out of each one.
An additional 40 minute lesson was spent editing the script in this way, all the time reinforcing valuable grammatical constructions and eliciting creative use of the target language.
Once we were all satisfied the script was finished to the best of each pupil’s ability, they were then set the homework: sign on to your Xtranormal account, choose two characters, assign Spanish as your language and create your film. Once the film was finished they were to send the URL link to me using Edmodo or email (incidentally, they all opted to submit the work using Edmodo).
At this stage I would like to emphasise that I only possess a very nebulous understanding of how Xtranormal works, and that it was my pupils who, essentially, taught themselves how to operate the application to produce the films, an example of which you can see above.
The films have now been received and have been published, we would like to think, to a world audience in our departmental website, which you are most welcome to visit and view the other films our pupils have created. You may even wish leave a comment for them to see!
The plan is to use these pupil created films as a starter in our lessons after a two week long half-term holiday, allowing my pupils to revisit the vocabulary they had learned prior to the break and take advantage of such a wonderful opportunity to engage in peer assessment.
What do you think? How have you been using Xtranormal?