Thinkport Annotator Tool: A simple annotation tool with multiple highlighters

Image courtesy of Philippa Willitts

Image courtesy of Philippa Willitts

There are a fair number of ways to annotate a document with software or online tools, but Thinkport’s Annotation Tool is a simple, online tool that allows for teachers and students to markup and annotate a text using a number of coloured markers. The best part is it is free and students don’t need to give their personal information to use it. Here is how it works:

  1. Go to
  2. Choose either Teacher or Student .Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 2.47.44 PM
  3. Select either to Create a new project or Manage an existing project.
  4. If you create a new project, give your project a unique name and then type in a password for you to manage the project. If the name already exists, you will get an error and you will need to rename it.
  5. If you manage an existing project, you will be asked for the project name and password.
  6. Once you are successful in either creating or logging into a previous project, give your project a name, a subtitle (could be a simple one line instruction), the author of the text, and a citation. Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 2.51.25 PM
  7. Type in or paste your text into the Text to Annotate box at the bottom of the page. There are some font, text, and pasting options in the toolbar at the top of the box. Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 2.51.47 PM
  8. There are a series of highlighters along the left side of the page. Label the colours to match what you would like the students to use that colour for. Only the colours you label will be available for the students when they log in. Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 2.51.36 PM
  9. At the top of the page, there is a Project Instructions button. You can use that to enter instructions for the students.
  10. Once you are done editing, click on the Save button. You can also choose to Save and Send Email, but I wouldn’t suggest it.
  11. Once you are ready to have students annotate the text, give them the main page link along with the project name.
  • Students who visit the main page, click on the Student button and then select Begin your assigned project. They can then enter the project name you have given them and create a new username and password for themselves. This can be used to log back in to edit the project at a later time.  Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 3.01.25 PM
  • To highlight a word, students choose a colour and then just click on the word. You can’t click and drag lick other programs. If you want to highlight multiple words, you click on the first word and then click on the last word. Everything in-between will be highlighted in that colour.
  • Once you highlight something, a box will come up and give you a chance to label your annotation with text. Student can either just save the project to edit later, or can save and submit to the teacher for review.
  • The teacher can then log in and click on Student Submissions to review them and add comments. If you do add comments for the students, make sure to click on Save Comments before leaving the page. Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 3.12.09 PM

While this isn’t the most comprehensive of the annotation tools I have used, it provides a safe place for students to use without having to give any personal information away (ex. email address). I also like the labels for the various colours. It’s also quite simple for students and teachers to use.

You can also find hundreds more webtools that don’t require student registration on my list here.

Let me know what you think and share your ideas for how you might use it in the classroom by adding your comments below. Thank you!


Automate document conversions using EasyPDF Cloud and Dropbox


There seems to be no end to the places you can convert documents online. Some work well, others are a disaster when it comes to output quality. Another problem is registration and options when it comes to input and output. An intriguing site is EasyPDF Cloud which offers users the option of using workflows to automate their conversions. You don’t need to register to have access to some of the conversion tools, but the real magic happens once you complete the free registration. EasyPDF Cloud can be connected to Dropbox to automatically convert documents from a single folder. Set up a workflow to convert Word documents to PDF, PDFs to Word documents or images, or merge PDFs. Here is how it works:

No Registration use:
  1. Go to and click on the conversion type you would like.
  2. Choose the file you want to convert.
  3. The Output Files list will appear. Click on the checkbox beside the new file and then click on Download button at the top.
  1. Go to and click on Sign Up button at the top.
  2. Choose a username, enter your email address (necessary to complete the registration), and password. Click on Sign Up.
  3. You will get an email with a link. Click on the link and you are done with your registration.
  1. Once you are signed in, click on the Create Workflows button and you will see three sample workflows. You can edit those workflows by clicking on the Configure button on the workflow. Make your changes and then click on the Done button at the top.
  2. Create a new workflow by clicking on the New button at the top. Then choose your options of input, conversion, edits, and output by clicking and dragging the modules into the workflow space to the right. Order, re-order the modules as you see fit.
  3. You can link to your Dropbox account by clicking on the Dropbox Input module and then authenticating using the yellow button on the right. You will be directed to Dropbox where you can choose to accept or reject this connection. EasyPDF will create a new folder with two subfolders in Dropbox by default.
  4. Once you are done creating your workflow, you need to start it. At the bottom of each workflow box is a play button. Click on it and the box will go black indicating it is in use. The Dropbox workflows will monitor the designated Dropbox folder for files every five minutes. Just drop a file in the input folder and the file will be uploaded and converted before the output file is put into the output folder. NOTE: the file in the input folder WILL BE DELETED. Make sure you use a copy instead.

The biggest draw for me is the ability to convert documents using Dropbox. I only found this last night, but I am already thinking about how I could use it to make it easier to convert all of my old documents to PDF. I only wish it read Pages documents as well.

Got any ideas on how to use it? Add you comments or send me a Tweet. Thanks!

Simply create a beautiful webpage with Tackk

ImageThere are various ways to put content on the internet including blogs, websites, and online documents. These are all great in their own way, but what if you just want to quickly create a single page that looks nice and is simple to make. One way to do that is with Tackk, a user-friendly, cloud-based webpage editor. Tackk even works on mobile devices. Here are some of the highlights on using Tackk in the classroom:



  • Registration isn’t required to build a Tackk page, but an unregistered page is only available for 7 days.
  • Registration is free and requires either an email and password. You may also connect through your Twitter or Facebook account. Note: I was able to create an account with a fake email address making this available for students who do not want to give their personal information away.
  • An account allows you to create multiple Tackk pages and keep track of them on a ‘My Tackks’ page.
  • A unique page address is created upon arriving at the site. This cannot be changed, but can be freely shared with others.
  • To create a unique URL, you need to register first.
  • There is a share toolbar at the bottom of each Tackk. This allows users to Like, share via many social media sites, email, print, or embed.
  • This is a place for people to browse through the shared Tackks. You do not need to share your Tackk on the Tackkboard. It is also set to not be posted by default.
  • While I haven’t found any Tackks that questionable in content or nature, it is possible that one might appear before being taken down by the administrators.
  • There are a few Tackk templates that can be found by clicking on the Themes tab on the lefthand side of the page.
  • All edits are automatically saved.
Adding content:
  • To add any content to the page, hover your mouse over any content area and a blue plus put-on will appear on the left. Click on that button and a content selector will appear above that area. Choose the content you would like to add and the editor for that section will appear.
Moving content:
  • Hover your mouse over any content area and two arrows will appear to the left along with a blue plus sing. To change the position of the box on the page, click on the two arrows.
  • There are three ways to add text to a Tackk page: as a headline, as body text, or as a bulleted or numbered list.
  • Click anywhere in the text to start editing. Beside the text will be a context-sensitive editing box that appears with buttons to change the content style. This includes colours, fonts, font size, alignment, links, bullets, and bold or italics. Click on the button multiple times to rotate through the options and the changes will happen on your page.
  • Tackk allows you to add pictures, videos and audio hosted on some cloud-based sites, and Instagram photos.
  • You can also add a rounded or square button to the page that will link to any other site.
  • There are 5 areas under the Editor palette:

1: Colors – Changes the background and font colours.
2: Fonts – Choose from 20 unique fonts.
3: Backgrounds: Choose from 20 different backgrounds.
4: Features – There are 5 different components you can add to your Tackk page:

  • 1: Corners – Toggles the corners of the centre page between square and rounded.
  • 2: Contact – Requires registration. Allows users to create a simple contact section to the page.
  • 3: Money – Requires registration. Allows users to sell things or take donations through PayPal.
  • 4: Maps – Add a Google Map to your page set to a specific location.
  • 5: Comments – Allows users to take comments via the reader’s Facebook account.

5: Tags – Here you can set your Tackk to be shared on the Tackkboard and add tags to make it easier for people to search for it.

  • You can move the Editor by clicking on the top of the Editor palette and dragging it to where you would like. You can close it by clicking on the X in the top-right corner.
  • You can comment on any Tackk page use your Facebook account. This comment can also be shared on your Facebook page. There does not appear to be any other ways to comment without using your Facebook ID.
  • Students can share one account, but only one can be logged in at a time.
  • If students use a fake email address, the contact page won’t work since it is based on the profile email.
  • This works on iPads and tablets, but there are some problems with screen keyboards taking over part of the screen and the buttons have to be hit twice sometimes.
  • The map can only have one marker on it. It would be great it you could add more than one.
Classroom application:
  • Use it as the ‘showcase’ portion of a student’s e-portfolio.
  • Create mini-lessons for students.
  • Create a biography page for a historical or significant individual.
  • Students create a ‘how-to’ document such as how to make or do something.
  • Invitations for graduation or any other significant event.
  • Business English classes can create a business webpage selling an idea. Could be combined with a presentation.
  • Students create an individual page to introduce themselves to the others in the class.
  • Groups could use it to research an idea by sharing a page.
  • A reading text could be combined with audio and pictures to make it more understandable (scaffolding).
  • Videos could be combined with pictures and words to make a pronunciation exercise.
  • Have a class weblinks page.
  • Create a visual dictionary of new words.
  • Online self-access library using links to videos, audio recordings, readings, etc.

I created a sample Tackk using the content of this blog post here:

Do you have any other ideas? Add you comments below or send me a Tweet at @nathanghall. Thank you!

PDFZen: Upload, annotate, and share documents online without registration

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There are a number of places to upload and share PDF, Word, and other documents online. A new site that I came upon today uses HTML5 instead of Flash making it more mobile friendly. PDFZen allows users to upload documents and then comment, add text, highlight, and draw on them and then share it with others who can do the same. All of this is done for free and without registration. Here is how it works:


  1. Go to PDFZen and click on ‘Open File’.
  2. Drag a document from your computer on the screen or click on ‘Select a File’ and select a document from your computer.
  3. Once your document has loaded, you will see a series of tools along the top of the page. They include a type tool, a comment tool, and a drawing pencil. Click on any of the tools and add your annotations to the document. You can even resize the annotation and move it around afterward.
  4. Once you are done making your annotations, click on the ‘Download’ button in the top-right corner to download to your computer. If you don’t sign in. If you create a free account, you can store your document on their server. You can share the URL with others.

I tried this out on a number of browsers and devices and had luck with most of them. There were a few small problems (such as the Uploading indicator), but it was pretty slick with my iPad, Mac, and even Windows 8 (not all browsers, though). I am not sure if there is a file limitation since I haven’t tried to upload anything really large as of yet, but it worked with everything I threw at it and the rendition of the viewer in the browser was excellent.

This is a great way for students to share documents with one another and it enables them provide peer feedback as well as collaborate on projects. Since it is mobile friendly, students can read and make annotations and comments wherever they are and on the devices that they are most comfortable using. I can see this being used for self-access learning materials where students can interact with the material instead of just using receptive skills.

What about you? How would you use this in your classroom. I always appreciate comments and suggestions. You can add your comments here or you can send me a Tweet at @nathanghall. Thank you!

VideoANT: Online video annotation and commenting

Screen Shot 2013-05-29 at 5.39.08 PM

About a year ago, I stumbled upon VideoANT and was interested in its use in the language classroom. VideoANT is a University of Minnesota project that allows users to annotate videos with long comments and can share those annotations with other people. At the time, I struggled to get it to work correctly and was turned off by the heavy use of Flash. Today, that all changed. I just received an email from VideoANT stating that they have changed their platform and tool completely on the back of HTML5 making it mobile and multi-platform friendly. I have just finished playing with it and I am excited to put it into use in my classroom. Here is how it works:


  1. Go to VideoANT and click on ‘Launch VideoANT’ (you could also link directly to the secondary site, but the main site gives you an overview of the tool and what it can do).
  2. You can start immediately by pasting in a YouTube URL without registering and clicking on ‘Load Video’, but if you would like to archive your projects, it is recommended that you register. You can use your Facebook or Twitter account along with an email address.
  3. You can change the title of the video if you want, otherwise, click on ‘Start Annotating!’
  4. Your video will appear in a window on the left with a timeline along the top and an ‘Add an Annotation’ button on the bottom. To begin, press play beside the timeline or on the video.
  5. When you get to a point where you would like to make an annotation, click on the ‘Add an Annotation’ button and the video will pause with a ‘New Annotation’ box appearing on the right. Type in the subject or title of this annotation, add a annotation, and then click on ‘Save Annotation’ to create that annotation at that time marker or click on ‘Cancel’ to leave.
  6. The video will start up again from where it paused. Continue to add annotations and they will continue to appear on the right-hand side. To skip ahead in the video, click anywhere on the timeline to move the video forward or back.
  7. You may edit or delete any annotation by clicking on the dropdown arrow on the right of the comment.
  8. You can move to the spot of the video where the annotation belongs by click on the annotation itself. The video will automatically move to that spot.
  9. To share your video with the annotations, just copy the URL from the top of the browser and share it with the people you wish to join into the conversation. Anyone who has the link can watch, annotate, and comment on previously made annotations.

Here is a screencast on how to use VideoANT:

Screen Shot 2013-05-29 at 6.03.57 PM

Note, you do not need to enter an email address or register to annotate or comment. Anyone with the link can simply go to the page and start editing it. Be careful with whom you share this URL. Don’t post it on a public forum or social media page if you want to keep others from seeing or making comments.

This is a wonderful tool for students to view and make comments on YouTube videos without registering. Teachers can have students view videos and add their thoughts. Students can share videos with their classmates on a project. Teachers can make a mini lesson out of it by providing more information alongside the video. The videos with comments can even be embedded in websites or places like Edmodo.

As a language teacher and teacher trainer, I can see a lot of uses for this. What do you have to add? Share your thoughts in the comment section or send me a Tweet at @nathanghall. Thank you for visiting!

Using archived TV news broadcasts in the English language classroom

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I was visiting the Internet Archive the other day for my class and came across the TV News archive. This is a searchable database of over 437,000 TV news broadcast video transcripts and the corresponding videos with them. I think this has a number of uses in English language learning. Here is how it works:


  1. Go to the TV News Archive of the Internet Archive website.
  2. Type in a word or phrase search in the search box labelled ‘Search captions through 24 hours ago’ and click on ‘Search’.
  3. A series of videos with their transcripts will appear along the bottom of the screen. The first video will start immediately, so you may need to click on the pause button. All the videos will start a little before the word or phrase that you have searched for and will continue to play for a total of approximately 30 seconds.
  4. After the video has finished playing, it will automatically move on to the next video or until you pause it. If you would like to see a larger version of the video, click on ‘More/Borrow’ at the top of the small video. This will give you a larger version of the video along with a ‘Share’ button to get the video’s URL. Close the large video mode by clicking on the red X in the top-right corner of the video. Use the back arrows of you browser to go back to the search results.
  5. In the search results area, you can scroll right and left to see more videos and transcripts.
Here are some ideas on how this could be used with English language learners:
  1. Students could search for word collocations such as searching for ‘take’ and seeing and hearing the words that normally go together with it. This would take the role of a corpus.
  2. Have students search for a video on a particular word to see if they can figure out what it means in context.
  3. Since the video is fairly short and starts in the middle of a conversation, see if they can guess what happened before this section of the video or what is coming up next. This could be followed up with a research project on the topic mentioned.
  4. Students can listen to the pronunciation of a word along with the possible intonation or rhythmic usage in different contexts.

These are just a few ideas that come to mind. If you have any ideas that you would like to contribute, please share them in the comment section below or send me a tweet at @nathanghall. Thank you!

Draft: A fantastic collaborative text editing tool


An important tool in teaching writing is the ability to give and receive feedback from fellow students and the instructor. There are a number of tools, both offline and on the cloud, that allow someone to do that including Microsoft Word, Apple Pages, Open Office, Google Drive, Zoho Writer, TitanPad, and so on. Many of these tools are far more complicated or difficult for this task. This is where Draft comes in. Draft is an online collaborative writing tool that is clean and easy to use and integrates with Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, and Evernote. It is also free and has a simple registration that can be overcome quite easily. Instead of typing out all of the features and steps on how to use it, I did a simple screencast to demonstrate:


Please feel free to add your comments or send me a Tweet at @nathanghall. Thank you!