Adapting texts for use in the English language classroom


The other day, Jen Artan was asking me about finding authentic reading material for my class that wasn’t too difficult. The comment was from a blog post I had written about Frequency Level Checker and so I thought it might be a good time to go through my steps in adapting material for my classroom. I know there is a lot of debate about adapting authentic material for the language classroom, but I feel there is a balance here that needs to be maintained between giving texts that are too difficult for students and needing students to be exposed to authentic language in use. I don’t believe that adapting a text has to take away from the authenticity and will make it better for students.

Step one: Copying the text

There are a few options here. If you already have the text in a document, there’s nothing more to do than just select the text and copy it. If you are copying from a website or a paper document, there are few more steps involved.

One of the problems of copying from webpages is the extra text you often end up getting due to a number of factors. To reduce, or even eliminate this, you can use one of the following bookmarklets (each page has instructions on how to install and use the bookmarklet with your browser):

Read Now from Readability: This bookmarklet converts the page you are on into a clean, readable page from which you can easily copy the text. Also works well when you have a page that is hard to read due to too many ads, small text, and other distractions. One of my favourite bookmarklets.

Text Only from Textise: This boomarklet converts the page you are on into a text only page. Unfortunetly, it also leaves all of the image tags and other extraneous bits. The nice thing is that it is plain text, so the formatting is completely stripped away which works well for some difficult pages.

Print Friendly from PrintFriendly and PDF: This bookmarklet makes the page you are on into a printable page and leaves you some formatting options as well. One nice thing is the option to remove the images from the page. You can also click on objects and lines on the page to delete them, allowing you to remove image captions and other header and footer data. You can also make the page into a PDF for printing.

Instapaper Text from Instapaper: This bookmarklet is similar to Read Now.

If your text is on a piece of paper somewhere or on a webpage or PDF that is locked, you can always convert the text into an image and then use OCR to convert to text. Here are some options for converting text:

Office Lens from Microsoft: This is a free mobile app for iOS, Android, and Microsoft Mobile devices. This is my favourite app on my phone. I use it for “scanning” all sorts of things from documents to business cards to rewards and membership cards that take up too much space in my wallet. Once the image is taken, Office Lens automatically crops and adjusts the image for clarity. You can then have the image automatically uploaded to OneNote which will take the image and run OCR to find text which can then be searched and / or copied. This is now my go-to app for documenting things.

OnlineOCR: This is a registration-free online app that converts images into a text file. It can also convert to a formatted Word document, but that doesn’t always works as well. The text is amazingly accurate, even more so than what I’ve found with Adobe Acrobat.

Google Drive: You can upload an image to your Drive account and convert the image to text by opening the image with Google Docs. In the new file, you will find the image at the top with the text down below. It works pretty well, but I find I have to strip away a lot of formatting first.

Step two: Highlighting difficult words

Once you have your text ready, go to Frequency Level Checker and check your text there for vocabulary level. Here are some general tips on usage:

  • Set Level 1 as black and then make all of the other options as red (ie. Level 2, Level 3, Outside Levels, and Symbols). This way you can get a quick visual of how many of the words are outside of the main 1000 words we use in General English. If your text is a sea of red, then it may be a good sign that the text is quite high. Even for a higher level class, a text with a lot of words above the first level may make it too difficult to read fluently.
  • Take a screenshot of the page or keep the page open for reference later on.
  • This is only a guide. Keep in mind that a particular word or phrase may appear multiple times throughout the text making the text look denser than it is.

Step three: Adapting the text

For words or phrases that are outside of the lexical range of my students, there are four options available to me: define, delete, simplify, or leave alone:

  • Define: If I feel the word is important for the student to know (eg. an important word for the story, or a word I think would be important for them to learn at this point), I can create a glossary of sorts for the story. This glossary should not be long, maybe in the 5-7 word range for a news article. I tend to just put the glossary in the story and will highlight the word (eg. make it bold). I may do something before the student starts reading as a pre-reading exercise, but I don’t find it makes much of a difference and often takes up more time than necessary.
  • Delete: This is a bit trickier since it often means re-writing a section of the story. Often times, I will take out a sentence that has some difficult phrasing if it doesn’t really add much to the story.
  • Simplify: This is what I primarily do to the difficult sections. I find easier ways to say something in order to make the story more readable. I know that there are some who say this takes away from the authentic reading experience, but that would only happen if I end up re-writing a large part of the text. I am only advocating for modifying a small percentage of the document in order to gain some fluency for students. If a text is 85% within the reading ability of my students and I can modify 10%, that makes it much more readable for the students.
  • Leave alone: There is a lot of debate over the ability of students to define words from context. I think there is a balance here and I often look for places where I can leave difficult words in a text knowing that students can make good predictions on meaning based on context and situation. This requires me to take time to think about the word in that context and whether or not there are enough clues to make an inference. Done well, this can be a really positive thing for students.


Here is an article I found in a local free newspaper. The article happens to also be online, so I don’t have to scan it in. “Toronto scientist sharing research in real-time”

Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 2.21.58 PM

Since there is a lot of images, ads, and other things on the page, I used the Readability bookmarklet to strip all of the extra parts away.

Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 2.21.19 PM

I then took the text and ran it through Frequency Level Checker, highlighting only the words that weren’t part of Level 1.

Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 2.24.03 PM

Glossary words:

  • Publish
  • Research
  • Lab
  • Data
  • Online
  • Blog
  • Academic

I chose these words since I’m teaching an EAP course and we are looking at the validity of online research. I would then go and either create definitions or link to the online definitions. I tend to not just use definitions when introducing new vocabulary since it takes the word out of the environment in which it is used. Collocations, variations in form and definition, and so on are all things that affect the meaning of a word and need to be taken into consideration. In this situation, some of the words appear in various forms (eg. research, researcher, researching) and alongside other words (eg. academic research, academic science).

Deleted words / text:

  • Breaking scientific ground
  • Lay language
  • Access
  • Real time
  • Inspire
  • Take note
  • Avoid duplication
  • Huntington Protein
  • Cognitive
  • Physical decline
  • Huntington’s Disease
  • Glory
  • Create collaboration
  • Speed up
  • Openness
  • The norm
  • Sustain
  • Tied
  • Incremental breakthroughs
  • Obviously
  • Scooping
  • Super competitive
  • Out-compete

Many of these words were not that important to learn at this point, so I simply took them out. Some of these words could be quite useful to learn, but maybe at a different time. The goal here is fluency and some increase in vocabulary. Having too many new words and phrases takes away from the reason for the reading in the first place.

Learned from context:

  • Biomedical
  • Risk
  • Goal
  • Community

I felt that these words were important enough to leave in, but not really necessary to define. In most situations, if the student is unable to figure out the meaning from context or from using logic to piece it together (eg. Biomedical), then it doesn’t hurt the story. In these circumstances, if these words were simply taken out, the story still makes sense. I’m also making a guess that words like goal will already be known from another situation (eg. sports) and can be easily applied to this situation. This builds on their scaffolding.

The end result:

As researcher Rachel Harding works away in her Toronto lab, she’s doing something that hasn’t normally been done before.

She’s publishing her lab notes and data online along with blogging about her work in a simple way at She’s believed to be the first biomedical researcher to blog about her work as she is working on it rather than waiting for experiments to be completed or their results published.

When other researchers see what’s she’s doing, they can choose to build on it, use it to help their own work or simply make sure they are not doing the same thing as her.

“One of the biggest problems in the way academic science is done is everyone is kind of sitting in their own corner, not really talking too much to each and not sharing with everything,”

“Everything is being duplicated, and it’s the person who gets to the one point where they can publish first who becomes famous.”

The movement toward open access to scientific data movement is meant to help scientists and researchers around the world work together to make discoveries more quickly. But, this isn’t normal in the world of academic research. That’s because the money that’s needed for the work often goes to making big discoveries instead of the smaller pieces those discoveries are built upon, Harding said.

“The biggest risk about being open from the beginning is someone can come in, see what you’ve done, leave out all the experiments that didn’t work—which is going to happen—and they can reach the end goal more quickly than you” Harding said.

“But the goal here is that it isn’t a fight and we work as a community”

Text adapted from original news article written by Jessica Smith Cross

Sentence complexity, paragraph and sentence length, and text length remain about the same. There is plenty for the student to deal with here without adding too much to their plate. This whole process took a bit of time on my part, but in the end, it was much easier than trying to locate something that was perfect. I also have the flexibility of using texts that fit my students’ needs in content and language.


Create an online resource library with students using Send Ape

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 11.05.38 PM

One of the workshop sessions I have given over the past few years in on the creation of a resource library with students, a place for them to find reading or listening material that they can use outside of the classroom. Getting students engaged in extensive reading and listening is critical in their language learning process. The more they are exposed to the language in use, the more they are able to comprehend and make important connections.

I am also an advocate of students taking control of their own learning. They are only with me for a short time each week in comparison to time outside of the classroom. They need to learn how to learn on their own, a skill that many students have not yet been exposed to in a more traditional learning environment. Allowing students to choose their own reading and listening material is important since they will become more engaged in the process and also will learn the vocabulary necessary within the environment they plan on using English (ex. their major in university, their work environment, travel).

A large part of them taking control of their learning is in finding and creating content that appeals to them and then sharing that with others who may also find it helpful. This is simplified through the use of social sharing online, a cloud-based approach to the traditional library. This allows students to create audio or video content for listening, and also the creation of text-based material for reading. Even photos can used to share signs, newspaper articles, and anything else students find throughout their day that can be useful in learning language in context.

There are a number of ways of doing this, but there are certain obstacles that need to be overcome. One such hurdle is the use of online sites that require registration. If it at all possible, I try to use online tools that don’t require that students give up their personal information. Also, the site needs to be accessible from multiple devices, not just laptops or desktops.

One such site that works very well for this purpose is Send Ape. Send Ape is a file sharing site that allows for video and audio playback, document and image viewing, and multiple users without having to sign up or deal with advertisements. Here is how it works and how it may be used as a resource library:

  • Go to Send Ape and click on ‘Create new page’.

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 12.00.36 AM

  • Send Ape will give you a page with a unique name. From what I can see, there is no way to change this. In the middle of the page, you will see a dotted box that says, “Drop your files here”. You can either drag and drop your files into the box, or you can click on the box and you will be prompted with a file manager where you can choose your file.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 11.05.38 PM

  • Once your file is loaded, depending on the file type, you will see it appear in a box on the righthand side.
  • Video files can be played in a window or fullscreen by clicking on the ‘Preview’ button. You can also click on the ‘Share’ button to get a direct link to the video in a new window. This is a great way for students to upload video they have taken on their mobile devices without having to sign up for YouTube. Lastly, students can also archive the video by clicking on the ‘Download’ button and adding it to their own device for offline viewing.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 11.25.06 PM

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 11.25.27 PM

Video pop-up window


Direct link shared video file window

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 11.26.29 PM

  • You can listen to the audio files by clicking on the ‘Play’ button. You can also click on the ‘Share’ button to get a direct link to the audio file in a new window. This is a great way for students to upload audio they have recorded on their mobile devices without having to sign up for any site. Lastly, students can also archive the audio file by clicking on the ‘Download’ button and adding it to their own device for offline listening.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 11.28.54 PM

  • Most documents, including PDFs and Microsoft Office documents, can be viewed directly in File Ape. Click on the ‘Preview’ button and a pop-up window will appear with the document.
Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 11.28.16 PM

Document pop-up viewer

  • Click on the box icon with an arrow in it in the pop-up window and File Ape will open the document in a Google Document viewer that you can share with others.

Google document viewer

  • All items are shared in a “page” that can be shared with others. You can create as many pages as you would like, although there is a 4GB limit if you use the unregistered option. Sign up and you will be given 10GB of storage and a login ID. Unfortunately, you will need to use a Google or Facebook account to register. There is not email option available.
  • To create a new page, click on the ‘+Add page’ button on the left side of the screen.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 11.06.26 PM

  • There are a number of options available for each page.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 11.06.35 PM

  • The far left button pops out the share options. The best choice is the link available at the bottom of the box. You can share this page with anyone using this link. It is also useful for when users switch computers without an account. More on that in a minute.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 11.07.09 PM

  • The second button changes the view from ‘Blog’ view to ‘Thumb’ or ‘List’.

Thumb view


List view

  • The third button along the top is the sort button. Click to change it from most recent to alphabetical.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 11.07.27 PM

  • The fourth button is the security button. Students can choose to add a password to the page before sharing.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 11.07.37 PM

  • The fifth button along the top is the availability option. Users can set a date when to make it available and when to stop making it available.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 11.07.46 PM

  • The last button is an important one. You can choose if visitors can add files to the page (great for students to have others give their input), can allow others to view their page (ie. make it private), or if visitors can delete items from the page (probably best kept off). Students can also delete pages here.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 11.07.55 PM

So how would this work as a resource library with students? Have students create their own pages and then share them with the rest of the class with the option available for others to add content. Maybe one student is interested in computers. That student could make a list of reading and listening material that they have found or created and then share it with their classmates. Other students can then add files they find related to that topic to the page. This can be collected on a class website or a shared document. This becomes the reading and listening resource library for the class.

There are a lot of other great uses for Send Ape such as sharing videos with students, having students share their presentations on a page so the teacher can get them all lined up and ready when students are ready to present to the class. Teachers can share listening files with the class for those who missed class. Teachers and students could give feedback on writing assignments.

Here is a printable guide to creating a page as a resource library.

Here is a sample page you can add to. Please keep it clean! 🙂

Let me know what you think about Send Ape!

Co-create an animated dictionary for language learners

The idea of having a video-based dictionary for action vocabulary isn’t anything new, but I thought I would do a short guide on how to co-create an animated dictionary with your students using animated GIFs and Padlet.

Creating animated GIFs

  • You have two choices here: create your own videos or find royalty-free / public domain videos that you can use freely.
    • You could have your students create videos using cameras or phones and then upload them to a computer to play back. This can be a bit tricky since each device will have it’s own system of uploading videos, but if you have your own set at school or students know how to use their own devices, this can be a very effective way of having students negotiate the language or to discover new words on their own.
    • Public domain and royalty-free videos can be found online, but some sites are not as safe as others. Here are a few I recommend:
  • Once you have the video on your computer, you can start creating an animated GIF using the instructions I created here.

Creating your animated dictionary using Padlet

  • You will need to have a Padlet account. For more information on using Padlet, I have written a guide here.
  • Create a new pad using the instructions from the guide and give the link to the students.
  • Students visit the page and upload their GIFs.
    • They can either double-click anywhere on the Pad and then click on the up arrow button to choose the file from the computer.
    • They can also just drag-and-drop the file onto the Pad.

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 12.30.25 AM

  • Once uploaded, students move their mouse of the GIF to bring up the pencil icon at the top of the GIF. Click on the pencil to add the action name in the title box and a sample sentence showing its use in the description area. They then can click anywhere outside the GIF to get out of edit mode
  • Students can move the GIF by simply clicking-and-dragging it anywhere on the Pad. You could organize this any way you like.
  • Students can resize the GIF by dragging the corners of the image.
  • People can see the full-size image by clicking on the GIF.


I have created a sample page that you can use to play around and try this out on your own. Please keep it clean. 🙂

Sample Padlet

No document camera? No problem! Use your smartphone, Dropbox, and PicMonkey to do even more!

Image courtesy of Cushing Library Holy Names University

Image courtesy of Cushing Library Holy Names University

One of the tools I use quite a bit in my English for Academic Purposes (EAP) classroom is a document camera. While I tend to use a lot of computer based tools, it is still easier (and in some ways better) to have students work in pairs and groups on writing projects with pens and paper. This allows the entire group to be active during the writing time instead of staring at their screens or letting one person do all of the typing. Also, I find it helps me see what problems they have with their writing since they aren’t relying on autocorrect or spell checking. Lastly, it also allows for a level of creativity that you don’t normally see when they are using the computer. I know, I know. It is possible with tablets and apps, but I am dealing with a situation where things are not equal with the students in regards to technology, so this allows for a level playing field.

When talking with teachers who are limited in their technology resources, such as not having a document camera, I try to find alternatives that do basically the same thing without the expenditure of another tool to buy. In the case of the document camera, I have used my smartphone plus Dropbox and PicMonkey to do something that even adds to the experience. Here is how it works:

  • Students work on their projects with coloured pens and white paper. I tend to use markers instead of pens and pencils for many reasons, mainly it is easy for others to read.

2013-10-07 14.16.39.jpg

  • Once they are done, I take a photo with my smartphone of the project. On my phone, I have installed the Dropbox app and have the settings set to automatically upload images to my Dropbox account. For those not familiar with Dropbox, this is a ‘cloud-based’ storage site that synchronizes whatever you put in there with all of your devices. Example: I have Dropbox installed on my Macbook, by Android phone, my Windows 8 laptop, and my iPad. When I put a file in my Dropbox folder on any of those devices, it automatically copies that file to Dropbox’s online storage site which then sends a copy to my other devices. Therefore, I don’t have to use a USB drive to copy my files between my devices and, in this case, I can use it to store photos from my smartphone and have those photos automatically appear on my computers as well.

2014-04-02 11.09.21

  • After taking photos of all of the paper-based projects my students have been working on, I go the computer hooked up to the projector at the front of the class and I go to the PicMonkey editor which does not require an account to use. From there, I open my Dropbox folder (after giving PicMonkey permission. This only has to be done once) and open the photos I just took with my smartphone. With PicMonkey, I can edit the photos (brighten, crop, zoom in, etc.) and I can also annotate them (type in titles, add arrows, etc.) on the projected screen while the students give me their feedback as a class.

2013-10-07 14.16.39

  • Once I am done with each photo, I can then download it to my computer or I can save the edited version back on Dropbox. I normally choose Dropbox since I can then get a link to the photo to post for our class on Edmodo. If I don’t, I will save it to the computer and then upload it to Edmodo. Either way, the students have access to the edited/annotated image for later.
  • If this sounds really complicated, it isn’t. Do it once and you will find it is very quick and streamlined. Students like to be able to access all of the projects, not just their own and it allows from a lot more discussion in class. The only thing you have to sign up for is a Dropbox account. You can do that here for 2.5GBs of free storage.

If you use this idea, post a comment below and let me and others know how it worked (or didn’t work) for you and what you used it for. Share your ideas! Thanks.

“Weighing the evidence”: Using online tools to encourage critical thinking

Image courtesy of Julia Manzerova

Image courtesy of Julia Manzerova

In the last month, I have spent a good deal of time developing the curriculum and material for a new EAP program at our school. A major focus of the course will be developing critical thinking skills, especially in the area of research for writing academic papers. For some of the students, this isn’t anything new, but for a section of the group, this is a skill they have never been encouraged to develop. I am having students work in pairs or small groups to form a research question or hypothesis and then research the opposing sides of the argument before making a final decision and supporting that opinion. Since most of the work will be online, I am encouraging students to use online tools to share the information they find and to write up their charts.


  • Critical thinking: Students are required to think and read about various viewpoints and then develop their own opinions.
  • Summarizing: Students need to condense what they are studying into shorter pieces which helps them developing better writing skills.
  • Framework: It gives students a starting point from which to work from when writing their research papers in university.
  • Collaboration: Students need to work together to brainstorm, debate, and talk about how to interpret the information they have gathered.


  • Online Document: I have often used TitanPad as my registration-free real-time collaborative document tool, but for this exercise, I am using the rich text function of Kl1p to make a table that the students can fill in.
  • Annotator: I have blogged about a number of online annotation tools, but for this exercise, I will use Markkit as an online highlighter.


  1. Create a Kl1p site for each group of students. Make a rich-text page and add a table that has two columns: ‘Supporting Evidence’ and ‘Opposing Evidence’. Along the top of the page is the hypothesis or question and below the table is the ‘Conclusion’ and ‘Reasons’ sections.
  2. Add the Markkit bookmarklet to each browser that the students will be using. This makes it easy for students to highlight and share their findings with the rest of the group.
  3. Have students look for articles that support and oppose the hypothesis or question. When they find a statement for one of the two sides, they should highlight the sections, click on the bookmarklet, copy the new URL, and then paste the URL in one of the table columns along with a summary of the information.
  4. Once students have collected what they believe to be enough information, have them discuss their findings and then draw up a conclusion along with the reasons for making this decision. This should be written in the proper sections at the bottom of the page.
  5. Have students share their page with another group. Each group should comment on the other groups’ pages and should look for potential holes in their arguments.
  6. Students read over the comments and then address any issues raised by the other groups.
  7. Once everyone is done, students can then write up a short essay based on their information.

Having students use an online document allows students to work independently and yet still collaborate on their work. Using an online annotation tool keeps students from losing where they found their information and can allow others to check on the authenticity of their findings.

I would appreciate any feedback you might have regarding using this exercise in an EAP setting. You can add your comments below, send me a Tweet at @nathanghall, or you can email me using the comment page on this website. Thank you.

“Is that the write time?”: Timed writing using MinutesPlease


A while back, I wrote about using a teleprompter as a timed pre-reading tool. Using a timer to help students improve their writing is nothing new and has been shown to be an effective method of assessment. Writing is one of the most difficult tasks for L2 learners to master and can cause them to get caught up in trying to perfect. There are a number of reasons for implementing timed writing in the language classroom.


  • Generate ideas: Students use this time to create ideas that will be used in a longer, more complete writing task.
  • Recalling information: Students are using previously learned information to write instead of relying on what others have written.
  • Planning: Students create a structure that can work as the foundation for later writings.
  • Develop fluency: Students need to write without the aid of a dictionary or translation tool causing them to develop fluency in their thought and writing.
  • Creative thinking: Students need think ‘outside the box’ which causes them to be more creative in their writing.
  • Timer: There are a number of timers that can be used from a simple sand timer to a stopwatch. MinutesPlease is an online tool that closes a webpage after a pre-determined period of time. This causes students to stop together instead of trying to coax them to finish.
  • Online document: There are a number of places to write online for free without having students sign-up or give over personal details. I prefer TitanPad since a class can be set up where individual pages can be password protected.
  • Projector or large display: Anything from a computer and data projector to an IWB can be used.
  1. Go to TitanPad and create a new group by clicking on ‘Get your own private space’, give your site a name, type in your name and email, and then ‘Create team site now’. The site will now email you a link. The link will take you to a page to set a password. Once you click to accept, you will be taken to an admin page where you can click on ‘Create a new pad’ to create a new page for each student. Make sure to set the security to ‘Public’ and give it a password.
  2. Create a new page for each student
  3. Create a class page and copy/paste the URL for each student beside their name on the page. Edit the URL by putting directly after the http:// of the page url. You change the 1 to any number of minutes you want them to write for. Here is an example with the TitanPad group name as nathanhall and the student’s pad name being timed:
  4. Give each student a writing prompt based on a topic you would like the students to write on in length later on. This could be done by typing up a short introduction onto the class page. You could give a link to an image or project at the front of class.
  5. Inform students that they are to write as much as possible without stopping or editing the text until the time is complete. Tell them that the purpose of this exercise is to generate ideas and the first stage in a longer, more refined writing task.
  6. When you say go, students click on the link beside their name and it will open up two tabs or windows in the browser. One tab or window will be the countdown clock and the other will be their writing pad. Students should start writing as soon as the document opens and the page will close once the time is up.
  7. Once the page closes, students should not go back to their writing pad until everyone is done. Once all of the students have completed, put them into pairs or groups to share what they have written. Students could read their writing out loud or students could read their partners’ writing silently. Students should provide feedback to the other students either orally or written. If students are providing written feedback, have them use the chat function on the right side of the pad instead of changing things directly on the page.
  8. Students can then work on writing a more polished piece using the feedback they received.
This task incorporates a number of valuable skills including peer-feedback, listening, writing, and creative thinking. Some students may find the task too stressful, so make sure that you provide detailed instructions and purpose at the beginning of the process. Doing this activity a number of times over longer period will help students gain a better understanding of why they are doing it.

Have you ever used timed writing in the class? How successful was it in helping students formulate ideas? Did you use it as a form of assessment? Please add your comments below, send me a Tweet at @nathanghall, or email me using the contact form found on this website. Thank you!

“Piecing it together”: Reading and sharing in groups

Image courtesy of Ella Phillips

Image courtesy of Ella Phillips

The use of jigsaw reading is nothing new in education, yet it is still an effective tool to help students interact with a particular text in order to understand it at a deeper level. This is done by giving each student in a group a different section of a text or a related text and having them share their findings to the rest of their group. This is often done as a paper-based activity, but this can also be accomplished using computer-based tools to add an additional element of collaboration.


  • Deeper understanding: By having students summarize information orally, learners need to have a greater comprehension of the text.
  • Spoken interaction: Students need to discuss with others on how to share the information with their home group. Students then need to share that information on their own and field questions.
  • Shared responsibility: The burden of understanding the text is distributed amongst others in the group. This helps alleviate anxiety which can aid in comprehension.
  • Different perspectives: By sharing the information with their home group, students can interact with the other students to create a single document that displays their viewpoint. Other students can then compare and contrast these documents as a class.
  • Graphic organizers: To achieve this digitally, I am using the Holt Interactive Graphic Organizers. These are fillable PDFs that can be downloaded, filled in using a PDF editor, and then uploaded or printed.
  • Digital text: This could be typed up or copied from a PDF or website. In order to make it easier to copy text, I would suggest PrintFriendly to convert a website to a PDF. To edit a PDF text, use PDF to Word Online Converter.
  • Online document editor: I would suggest using something like TitanPad to post the URL addresses for each whiteboard.
  • Large display: This can be an interactive whiteboard (IWB) or computer with projector.
  • PDF editor: Most PDF viewers such as Acrobat Reader or Preview allow users to fill in fillable PDFs. These are readily available on almost any computer.
  • Online PDF Viewer: There are a number of online viewers, but I would suggest using PDFZen.
  1. Select a text or multiple texts on a related subject and convert it to digital text if necessary. If it is a text in a book, type out the text in a word processor. If it is a PDF, some PDFs will allow you to copy and paste the text, while others will need to be converted to a Word document using PDF to Word Online Converter. For online text, I would recommend that you first convert the page to PDF using PrintFriendly in order to make sure other text, such as advertising, doesn’t sneak into the article.
  2. If you are using one text, divide that text into sections and copy and paste each section or each document into a separate TitanPad document.
  3. Create a single ‘homepage’ that students can use to get instructions and the URL address for their document. Paste the URL for each document onto this page and assign a group number for each document.
  4. Put students into groups and assign them a group number. Each student in that group reads the document on their own. After each group member is finished reading, the group gets together and talks about how they are going to share this with their home group. Each member share what they thought was important from the reading and students debate on how they will best present this information to their home group.
  5. After a set time, assign new groups that have one person from each document put together. The group members now share their document with the rest of the group without looking at the text.
  6. Have each group download a copy of the Process and Cycle chart from Holt Interactive Graphic Organizers. Have each group piece together the text into a single document by filling in the sections of the chart using a PDF viewer such as Adobe Acrobat Reader or Preview.
  7. Once students have finished completing the chart, they save a copy and then upload their PDF to PDFZen and post the URL to the class document.
  8. Once all the groups have completed the chart, display each chart on the IWB or projector and have the class compare and contrast the different charts.
  • You can assign groups according to speaking and reading levels in order to balance out the groups.
  • Make sure to set time limits in order to make sure students are finishing together.
  • Continually monitor the groups to answer any questions and make sure they are on task.
  • For more extensive tasks, students could create infographics to post and share outside of the classroom.

Have you done a jigsaw activity using computers? What did you use? How did it work out? You can add you comments below, send me a Tweet at @nathanghall, or email me using the contact form on this website. Thank you!