Xtranormal in the classroom

More Posts

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.

Close up

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.

Script editing

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.

Post production

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.

Premiere

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?

José Picardo

José is Assistant Principal at Surbiton High School and a Fellow of the RSA and Naace. He is interested in improving education and the way technology can be used to enhance and transform teaching and learning. José has been curating Box of Tricks since 2007 and holds a MA in ICT and Education.

More Posts - Website - Twitter - Facebook - LinkedIn - Google Plus

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention Technology and Education - Box of Tricks -- Topsy.com

  • http://sabridv.wordpress.com/ Sabridv

    I loved the idea. I will be using this application for my students to create videos about the reader we are currently working with in class. It is called “The Prisoner of Zenda” Thanks for sharing.

  • http://sabridv.wordpress.com Sabridv

    I loved the idea. I will be using this application for my students to create videos about the reader we are currently working with in class. It is called “The Prisoner of Zenda” Thanks for sharing.

  • Kerry

    I think that Xtranormal is an excellent tool for short foreign language exchanges, Jose. My praise would be for the ‘nerve’ of the teacher, who would take two lessons, in order to produce a piece of work which could probably have been done in one. It’s too easy for most of us to resort to the familiarity and ease of the exercise and text book.

    You make the point that teaching with this type of application creates an interested and engaged student, and that his familiarity with web apps allows him to produce this type of work quickly. All good. Won’t it be superb when one day we don’t have to spend that ‘whole’ lesson showing the app first? (The presumption being that the student will have a range of web teaching apps he has learnt since the inception of his education, at his disposal.)

    Bravo! As I’ve said often before – keep the good work coming.

    Kerry

    • Guest

      Dear Kerry,

      Many thanks for your comment. I am very much in agreement with you here. I would. however, like to make a couple of clarifications:

      Firstly, I don’t see spending fifteen or twenty minutes of a lesson as time lost or, worse, wasted. You have to think that, in dedicating this time to demonstrating the app, I engaged the pupils’ attention and engendered a desire in them to complete the task to the best of their ability. This, in my opinion, was time well spent, especially if you take into consideration that the next time we use Xtranormal, such introduction won’t be needed.

      Secondly, I disagree that the work my students produced, given its quality, could have been done in a single lesson. Two lessons – 80 minutes – to produce 2 minutes worth of speech may not seem much but, throughout the lesson, prior to completing the film as homework, the students were working on improving the complexity of their Spanish, discussing with me and each other how to make their Spanish sound both authentic and accurate, using higher level thinking skills in the process.

      They took charge of their own learning and decided, with my guidance, what vocabulary and constructions they needed to learn and include in the script to achieve the level of accuracy and authenticity that they undoubtedly achieved. The result, although only two minutes long, showed me and them that they had met the objectives we had set out.

      They have gained confidence in their ability to produce highly accurate and complex Spanish while at the same time reinforced structures and vocabulary needed to attain highly at their level. This would have easily taken two ordinary text-book lessons, if not more…

  • Kerry

    I think that Xtranormal is an excellent tool for short foreign language exchanges, Jose. My praise would be for the ‘nerve’ of the teacher, who would take two lessons, in order to produce a piece of work which could probably have been done in one. It’s too easy for most of us to resort to the familiarity and ease of the exercise and text book.

    You make the point that teaching with this type of application creates an interested and engaged student, and that his familiarity with web apps allows him to produce this type of work quickly. All good. Won’t it be superb when one day we don’t have to spend that ‘whole’ lesson showing the app first? (The presumption being that the student will have a range of web teaching apps he has learnt since the inception of his education, at his disposal.)

    Bravo! As I’ve said often before – keep the good work coming.

    Kerry

    • http://www.boxoftricks.net José Picardo

      Dear Kerry,

      Many thanks for your comment. I am very much in agreement with you here. I would. however, like to make a couple of clarifications:

      Firstly, I don’t see spending fifteen or twenty minutes of a lesson as time lost or, worse, wasted. You have to think that, in dedicating this time to demonstrating the app, I engaged the pupils’ attention and engendered a desire in them to complete the task to the best of their ability. This, in my opinion, was time well spent, especially if you take into consideration that the next time we use Xtranormal, such introduction won’t be needed.

      Secondly, I disagree that the work my students produced, given its quality, could have been done in a single lesson. Two lessons – 80 minutes – to produce 2 minutes worth of speech may not seem much but, throughout the lesson, prior to completing the film as homework, the students were working on improving the complexity of their Spanish, discussing with me and each other how to make their Spanish sound both authentic and accurate, using higher level thinking skills in the process.

      They took charge of their own learning and decided, with my guidance, what vocabulary and constructions they needed to learn and include in the script to achieve the level of accuracy and authenticity that they undoubtedly achieved. The result, although only two minutes long, showed me and them that they had met the objectives we had set out.

      They have gained confidence in their ability to produce highly accurate and complex Spanish while at the same time reinforced structures and vocabulary needed to attain highly at their level. This would have easily taken two ordinary text-book lessons, if not more…

  • http://librarytechmusings.blogspot.com/ Gwyneth

    AWEsome blog & posting! i hope you don’t mind, but i’m gonna quote & link back to this on my Xtranormal Intro wikipage! i’d love to use this with my kids but they’re 10-14 and we don’t allow kids of that age to sign up for anything requiring an email addy….BUT…i will prolly use it with direct supervision (& my account) with my TV studio, GT, & special project kids!

    of course, however, i’m waiting for this site to be firewall blocked by my school district any day now…i declare, anytime i find a cool site & share it with others (twitter, flickr, & animoto) it gets blocked in my school district :-( which is so discouraging! /rant

    great blog, great posting & splendid work!
    Cheers!

  • http://librarytechmusings.blogspot.com/ Gwyneth

    AWEsome blog & posting! i hope you don’t mind, but i’m gonna quote & link back to this on my Xtranormal Intro wikipage! i’d love to use this with my kids but they’re 10-14 and we don’t allow kids of that age to sign up for anything requiring an email addy….BUT…i will prolly use it with direct supervision (& my account) with my TV studio, GT, & special project kids!

    of course, however, i’m waiting for this site to be firewall blocked by my school district any day now…i declare, anytime i find a cool site & share it with others (twitter, flickr, & animoto) it gets blocked in my school district :-( which is so discouraging! /rant

    great blog, great posting & splendid work!
    Cheers!

  • Kristen

    This seems like a great resource, especially when teaching a foreign language. I currently teach 8th grade science and feel that this would be a great tool to help my students understand specific vocabulary that we use in class. I also just finished a course on multiculturalism and think that this would also benefit the English language learners I have in my classes. Did your students find it easy to figure out the program? Do you think your students are benefitting from using this program in class? Can you make the characters move and “act” or is the program mainly used for dialogue purposes?

    • Guest

      Many thanks for your comment. My student’s motivation certainly improved Kristen, so yes, I think they benefitted… and they do too! As regards the operation of Xtranormal, I have to admit that I do not know much about it. It was my students who experimented and were able to produce films within the first 5 minutes!

      I do know, however, that the app can be made to do everything automatically – zooming, close-ups, changing camera angle etc. – but you can, if you chose, exert more control over all of the above and other things such as body movement, pauses, scenes etc.

      I hope that helps you. Give it a go, it’s free!

      • Kristen

        I actually took some time to play around with the program earlier today and I have to say that it is very user friendly. I did everything manually and struggled a bit to get the timing of the avatar’s motions to correspond to their speech, but with a little practice I think my students could be successful with this. I am going to give it a try at the start of our next science unit. Thank you for this great resource!!

  • Kristen

    This seems like a great resource, especially when teaching a foreign language. I currently teach 8th grade science and feel that this would be a great tool to help my students understand specific vocabulary that we use in class. I also just finished a course on multiculturalism and think that this would also benefit the English language learners I have in my classes. Did your students find it easy to figure out the program? Do you think your students are benefitting from using this program in class? Can you make the characters move and “act” or is the program mainly used for dialogue purposes?

    • http://www.boxoftricks.net José Picardo

      Many thanks for your comment. My student’s motivation certainly improved Kristen, so yes, I think they benefitted… and they do too! As regards the operation of Xtranormal, I have to admit that I do not know much about it. It was my students who experimented and were able to produce films within the first 5 minutes!

      I do know, however, that the app can be made to do everything automatically – zooming, close-ups, changing camera angle etc. – but you can, if you chose, exert more control over all of the above and other things such as body movement, pauses, scenes etc.

      I hope that helps you. Give it a go, it’s free!

      • Kristen

        I actually took some time to play around with the program earlier today and I have to say that it is very user friendly. I did everything manually and struggled a bit to get the timing of the avatar’s motions to correspond to their speech, but with a little practice I think my students could be successful with this. I am going to give it a try at the start of our next science unit. Thank you for this great resource!!

  • Amy Hampton

    WOW! What a great resource! I teach middle school special education in an inclusive classroom. Xtranormal will be a really fun and creative way for my students to use and understand dialog. Dialog is a topic they generally struggle with, but this will highlight the topic in a very creative way. In the future, I can also foresee using this tool in conjunction with our creative writing unit. My students generally struggle with organizing their thoughts while writing, but this tool will allow them to story board their narratives before writing. Thank you for the great resource!

  • Amy Hampton

    WOW! What a great resource! I teach middle school special education in an inclusive classroom. Xtranormal will be a really fun and creative way for my students to use and understand dialog. Dialog is a topic they generally struggle with, but this will highlight the topic in a very creative way. In the future, I can also foresee using this tool in conjunction with our creative writing unit. My students generally struggle with organizing their thoughts while writing, but this tool will allow them to story board their narratives before writing. Thank you for the great resource!

  • marilyn

    I have been using this to create video to introduce topics in my science class. Some of my students make them at home too. I upload them to youtube and then I download them to my computer as a quick time video with keepvid.com. The only problem is that they take a long time to render even if they are short. But it is fun and I am going to be teaching a class at the University next term and will have the pre-education students use this tool.

    • Kristen

      Marilyn,

      What grade do you teach and about how long does it take your students to complete this activity? I teach science as well and would love to try this at the beginning of our next unit.

  • marilyn

    I have been using this to create video to introduce topics in my science class. Some of my students make them at home too. I upload them to youtube and then I download them to my computer as a quick time video with keepvid.com. The only problem is that they take a long time to render even if they are short. But it is fun and I am going to be teaching a class at the University next term and will have the pre-education students use this tool.

    • Kristen

      Marilyn,

      What grade do you teach and about how long does it take your students to complete this activity? I teach science as well and would love to try this at the beginning of our next unit.

  • http://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.com/ Lisa Nielsen

    Thank you for sharing this. I love Xtranormal and have written about it a few times on my blog. I recently wrote about using Xtranormal in this post, “Innovative and FREE Strategies to Support English Language Learners in Becoming Information Consumers and Producers” at http://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.com/2009/09/innovative-and-free-strategies-to.html. I have just updated my piece about Xtranormal to include your post as suggested reading and I replaced the Xtranormal video I had embedded with yours. Look forward to sharing your insightful use of the tool with other innovative educators.

    Lisa Nielsen
    The Innovative Educator
    Writing about educating innovatively at
    http://TheInnovativeEducator.blogspot.com

  • http://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.com Lisa Nielsen

    Thank you for sharing this. I love Xtranormal and have written about it a few times on my blog. I recently wrote about using Xtranormal in this post, “Innovative and FREE Strategies to Support English Language Learners in Becoming Information Consumers and Producers” at http://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.com/2009/09/innovative-and-free-strategies-to.html. I have just updated my piece about Xtranormal to include your post as suggested reading and I replaced the Xtranormal video I had embedded with yours. Look forward to sharing your insightful use of the tool with other innovative educators.

    Lisa Nielsen
    The Innovative Educator
    Writing about educating innovatively at
    http://TheInnovativeEducator.blogspot.com

  • Carlos

    Hola José,

    Gracias por t magnifica página. He utilizado muchas de tus sugerencias y los alumnos se muestran más que agradecidos y motivados. Una pregunta sobre esta aplicación. ¿cómo puedo cambiar el idioma? sólo me ofrece la opción de Inglés y Francés. Muchas gracias.
    Carlos

    • Guest

      Hola Carlos,

      Gracias por tu amable comentario. Me alegra muchísimo queencuentres mis sugerencias útiles. Francés e inglés son los idiomas en los que puedes leer la página web de Xtranormal. Para cambiar el idioma de la película hay que seleccionar el idioma correcto para cada personaje. Esto se hace al editar la película, en la parte de abajo de la página.

      Saludos. José

  • Carlos

    Hola José,

    Gracias por t magnifica página. He utilizado muchas de tus sugerencias y los alumnos se muestran más que agradecidos y motivados. Una pregunta sobre esta aplicación. ¿cómo puedo cambiar el idioma? sólo me ofrece la opción de Inglés y Francés. Muchas gracias.
    Carlos

    • http://www.boxoftricks.net José Picardo

      Hola Carlos,

      Gracias por tu amable comentario. Me alegra muchísimo queencuentres mis sugerencias útiles. Francés e inglés son los idiomas en los que puedes leer la página web de Xtranormal. Para cambiar el idioma de la película hay que seleccionar el idioma correcto para cada personaje. Esto se hace al editar la película, en la parte de abajo de la página.

      Saludos. José

  • Stephanie

    I used Xtranormal for a websafety project with my fourth grade. The account was in my name. I monitored students so I knew what they were creating. The problem is shortly after we completed the project the site introduced a number of new characters. Some of the characters and physical gestures are not very appropriate for younger students. Be sure to check it out closely and determine whether the site and application are appropriate for your students. Don’t get me wrong… it’s an awesome tool, I just see potential liabilities that are worth being aware of. I’m hoping they release an edu site the way Glogster and Pixton have.

    • Guest

      That is a very fair comment to make. I do hope, like you say, that Xtranormal go the same way as the other web apps you mention, it would then become a truly useful tool for education.
      In the meantime, much can be prevented and solved by educating our students and telling them what is expected. For example, Xtranormal allows for farting noises to be added to the films. I don’t wait for students to find out, I tell them it’s there, ask them to try it out but then remind them that it wouldn’t be appropriate to use in the final version of the film.

  • Stephanie

    I used Xtranormal for a websafety project with my fourth grade. The account was in my name. I monitored students so I knew what they were creating. The problem is shortly after we completed the project the site introduced a number of new characters. Some of the characters and physical gestures are not very appropriate for younger students. Be sure to check it out closely and determine whether the site and application are appropriate for your students. Don’t get me wrong… it’s an awesome tool, I just see potential liabilities that are worth being aware of. I’m hoping they release an edu site the way Glogster and Pixton have.

    • http://www.boxoftricks.net José Picardo

      That is a very fair comment to make. I do hope, like you say, that Xtranormal go the same way as the other web apps you mention, it would then become a truly useful tool for education.
      In the meantime, much can be prevented and solved by educating our students and telling them what is expected. For example, Xtranormal allows for farting noises to be added to the films. I don’t wait for students to find out, I tell them it’s there, ask them to try it out but then remind them that it wouldn’t be appropriate to use in the final version of the film.

  • Pingback: | J'aime la technologie!

  • David Montero

    Thanks for the great blog, José!

    Anybody knows if you can have groups of students working on the same account at the same time? I wanted to have my students use one account I created for this project we’re working on and have them all edit and work with Xtranormal at the same time in the lab. Any pointers?

  • David Montero

    Thanks for the great blog, José!

    Anybody knows if you can have groups of students working on the same account at the same time? I wanted to have my students use one account I created for this project we’re working on and have them all edit and work with Xtranormal at the same time in the lab. Any pointers?

  • chalmersensei

    I think what you are doing is AMAZING. You have inspired me!! Mys students will benefit from my new enthusisam for integrating IT into my Japanese lessons!

  • Pingback: Lesson 03 | Techie Brekkie

  • juliecarle

    Here is an example of Xtranormal videos posted on the UK Open University Educational Network site Cloudworks http://cloudworks.ac.uk/cloud/view/4103 Bob and Sue are returning to Higher Education studying Technology Enhanced Learning. Here they discuss many of the frustration that are experiencing.

  • Pingback: Technology is like Electricity « Technology in the Classroom

  • Pingback: 10 Alternatives to the Traditional Slide Show | VOYA

  • Pingback: Technology for Teachers - Video and Audio in Education

  • Halcyondays

    Xtranormal is not free.  It is over $10 a student.

  • Pingback: Xtranormal in Science lessons | The Whiteboard Blog

  • Pingback: Technology for Teachers » Blog Archive » Video and Audio in Education

  • Pingback: Xtranormal – another animation option « MFL Tricks

  • Christopher Kingdon

    Xtranormal is no more. Check out our free trial at http://www.plotagon.com. It does text-to-movie faster and easier than Xtranormal ever did, and it produces higher quality movies.

Do you know of a teaching and learning resource you would like to share? Please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Contact