SoftChalk: Create Interactive Activities for iPadsSebah Al-Ali
As I pointed out in a previous post, for a while, I had thought that providing students with static PDF documents was an effective utilization of iPads in class. However, once I stumbled on SoftChalk activities that were created by Sean Dowling and Noura Al-Zarouni for our Online Learning Zone, I gave up PDFs, for life.
In my first semester of using SoftChalk, I was so addicted to it after I saw its magic in class that I created more than 200 SoftChalk sets of activities for my students to do in class. And, believe me, once you try it, you’ll do the same too! –well, maybe not as crazy as I did!
What is SoftChalk?
SoftChalk is a program (software) that you can download on your computer (PC or Mac). It looks like an old Microsoft Word, and is designed to help you create interactive activities that are iPad-friendly; by iPad-friendly I mean these activities nicely utilize the touch feature on iPads, and at the same time, they’d work perfectly on a screen that doesn’t support touch. Think of it as a-way-cooler HotPotato, one that is a LOT easier to deal and handle.
With SoftChalk, a practice PET listening test was easily adapted into an independent learning activity. Each one of my students completed it at her own pace and got immediate feedback, which allowed her to identify her mistakes and try again till she got it right. An example can be viewed here: PET practice.
What does it produce?
With SoftChalk, you can create stand-alone lessons which include text, videos, slides (PDF), and audios. You can also create sets of activities covering grammar, writing, listening, vocabulary and reading skills. And with its recent update, you can create e-books.generated on a webpage with a pre-set format (with different designs that you can choose from). This webpage can be accessed using a web browser on any device: Internet Explorer, FireFox, Chrome, Safari, etc.
This is an example of a SoftChalk set of activities: Telling Time. Although this was originally created for Pre-Foundations 02, I still find it very useful and helpful for other levels as extra handy activities for students who finish earlier than others, regardless of their level.
You can upload these activities to your own website, or publish them to BlackBoard, your own course. This way, grades can be traced and added to your records.
Using SoftChalk, you have two kinds of questions or kinds of activities you can include: a quiz group, and an activity. A quiz group is the best way to include a set of traditional BB9-like questions: MCQ, short answers (fill in blanks), true/false, matching, and ordering. To get there, “Insert” menu -> Quiz Group. Give it a unique name, and then choose the type of question you want to add.
What’s wonderful about these quiz groups is that you can set them so that students can check their answers, and get instant feedback. They can also retry and do the same set of questions again, until they get that full mark. This an example of an activity created using quiz groups only: Steve Jobs video.
You can add these questions individually, i.e., each question will be checked on its own. It’s more time consuming, but it is useful for some kinds of listening activities where students might need to repeat their answers many times. This is an example: Names.
This is the fun part in SoftChalk. Activities are learning items that utilize the touch feature and add a creative twist to boring questions. To get there, from the “Insert” menu, go to “Activities.” A long list of activities will pop up. You can click on any one you find interesting, and then click on the “how to” tab on top. This will show you a sample of the activity and will lead you to a tutorial on how how to do it right. –although they are self explanatory.
Some of the very cool activities that I always use are:
- Sequence (shown in the picture above) is amazing for reordering words to form a proper sentence/question.
- Sorting will create a set of cards that should be placed into categories that you name. I almost always use this. I’ve used to sort parts of speech, to sort verbs with s/es/change to ies, to sort kinds of sentences, etc.
- Labeling will allow you to add pictures with text labels (of your choice) to be placed on the picture. Used it with basic vocabulary and timings.
- Seek A Wordcreates a random word search web for students to spot a list of words. All you need to do is add the words. Everything else is automatic.
- DragNDrop is a nice activity to match pairs. It’s useful to for compound and complex sentences.
- Pairs lets you create a table of up to 12 words (6 pairs), and requires students to match each pair.
….and many many others.
Want to try it out?
At HCT, we do have access to our own SoftChalk licenses. But, if you want to just try it out before you contact your local ed-tech, you can download a free-trial and play around with it for 30 days (link).
To view tutorials that can break the ice and help you with any/every aspect of the program, visit this page: link.
To view a few do’s and dont’s to keep in mind when creating SoftChalk activities, browse these slides: link. The slides also include instructions on how to publish SoftChalk activities to BB9.