Ideas. Deep down in the depths of our brains are words, the centre of our thoughts; with these words we build conversations, in those conversations we find novelty. In the novelty lies hidden the future of humankind.
Yet It all starts with one word.
Everything starts with one word; the first impression.
We spend hours thinking about how to introduce ourselves in a job interview, on a first date or in a Zoom call. Preparing an elevator pitch takes at least 10 times as long as the actual pitch.
But when it comes to the most important first impression for us, writers, our will to spark interest and desire disappears.
We’re about to let people look into our souls. We’re ready to express deeper feelings than we ever would on a first date; let alone a job interview. And yet, we forget about our first impression.
Our headline is just something we put on top at the end. Not like the cherry on the pie but like the lid on the toilet because our wives tell us to. We don’t want to do it but we know we have to.
It’s about time we gave the headline the attention it deserves.
We should write twenty headlines and stay with the most intriguing one.
But how can we come up with so many?
By creating a swipe file. By gathering the lines we like, curating the headlines that intrigue us and eternalising the stories that draw us to the edge of our seats.
I started this essay based on a line by Tolstoy because it draws me in. You tell me if it worked.
“Siberia. On the banks of a broad solitary river stands a town, one of the administrative centres of Russia; in the town there is a fortress, in the fortress there is a prison. In the prison the second-class convict Rodion Raskolnikov has been confined for nine months.”
I’m participating in the ship 30 for 30 challenge. This is the longer version of my first atomic essay, which is limited to 250 words. Follow my journey on Twitter.
I was having a bit of a personal crisis. My productivity website’s not taking off, I couldn’t find new clients and promoting on social media wasn’t going too well.
Enter my lovely wife Fernanda:
“Why don’t you buy an online course and get better at what you do?”
“Are you sure? We’ve got the baby coming up. Should I be spending money on this?”
“Go for it; if it will make you feel better.”
(side-note: this conversation didn’t really happen like this. Fernanda speaks Spanish.)
A few days later, I subscribed for Dickie’s Ship 30 for 30 with three goals in mind: exploring differents topics, getting insights on cohort-based courses and becoming a better writer.
1. Explore different topics
I have a website about productivity and this one about writing. Exploring a range of topics on those websites doesn’t make sense. They will lose focus. But, for me, this challenge is an excellent platform to write about anything that comes to mind.
2. Cohort-based courses
Honesty coming up: I’ve been holding a grudge against cohort-based courses for a while. Some of my Twitter friends know this — even some of my fellow shippers know it already. I feel like the people who pay a lot of money for a cohort-based course don’t benefit as much from the content but more from the community. They’re actually “buying” followers and engagement.
3. Become a better writer
What’s better than writing 30 essays in 30 days to become a better writer? Writing 30 essays in 30 days with 260 peers is.
Two days in
This is the first essay, but we had the weekend to meet and bounce ideas of each other. Here are two things I already learned:
This is the wrong course to test my “cohort-theory”. Ship 30 for 30 is all about community, so community has to be the biggest benefit in this one.
New essay ideas keep flowing in. They tend to be quite philosophical. And that’s fantastic. Who knows, I might come out of this with a different world view and clearer ideas. The only problem: I can’t choose what to write first.
I curated a list of 18 of my favourite articles about writing. Thanks to a mix of content about copy, storytelling and fiction, the quality of your writing will never be the same again after you read all of these.
As a personal challenge, I tried to improve the headline and subtitle for each article.
Julian Shapiro: The one guide that will make writing 10 times easier. A full guide to better writing: idea generation, first drafts, reviewing and creating a writing habit. https://www.julian.com/guide/write/intro
Paul Graham: Why your writing should be useful. Importance, novelty, correctness and strength are the key ingredients for a successful essay. http://paulgraham.com/useful.html
No matter what you write, your writing needs to convince. You always want to convince. Sometimes to sell a product, sometimes to sell an idea.
Writing persuasively is important to sell. Even if your not exchanging cash, every single word you write aims to buy the other person’s time. So whether you write essays, sales copy or an ebook, your writing needs to convince the reader. In first instance, to read on.
Here’s how to make your writing more convincing.
1. Use affirmative language
Tell people what to think about or do.
Avoid telling them what not to think about or do. (This might have the reverse effect).
Tell them to start eating more salad instead of quitting fast food.
2. Only give the necessary details
Keep your writing concise. Delete words that don’t sell.
I don’t need to know your dog’s name if I want to buy your car.
3. Stop hedging, start risking
Avoid phrases like “maybe”, “in my opinion”, “might”. They are full of uncertainty.
People want to be convinced by experts but experts don’t use above phrases.
“Try to” show more confidence. See what I did here?
4. Add new value
Don’t repeat what everyone already knows. Tell them what they know but can’t express.
Same for quotes. Don’t repeat quotes everyone has already read all over the web. Make it better. Use your words. You’re the expert.
5. Make it visual
Visual language takes readers inside your story. Make it easy on the senses.
We can imagine “the sound of the drums”.
But doesn’t “the boom of the drums” make your text come alive?
6. Use parallel constructions
Parallel structures establish balance and flow in a sentence, which supports readability and clarity.
Here’s a famous example you all know: “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills.”
Keep this in mind for bullet lists too. Always start with the same type of word.
Read in your free time
Do not eat much
In your free time, read
7. Write for your ideal reader
Who is your ideal reader? The “avatar” or “persona”? What are their expectations?
Researching your audience is the most boring, yet most important step of all.
Read reviews, read their comments, learn their language.
8. Give one example per point
Select the best example.
If you need more than one, the examples are not good enough and you need to find another one.
9. Assume that your readers don’t know and are not already agreeing
It’s a common mistake to believe that your reader is already on your side. Often they aren’t. They need to be informed and convinced.
What’s obvious to you, likely is not as obvious to them.
Keep it simple. Make your case. Convince them.
If you don’t do it, who else will?
10. Bad grammar does not convince
The message is more important than the grammar. That’s what your average copywriter will say. Them trying to hide a lack of knowledge or an abundance of laziness?
Proper grammar has never dissuaded anyone, so you might as well do it correctly.
Here are a few tips:
Never start a sentence with a number,
Always write the word percent in full (or per cent in UK),
Never write “!?” but write “?!”. Or better, don’t use it at all,
Who for people, that for things,
Stick to a style.
11. Have an “in your face CTA”
In the end, whatever you write about, there is a call to action. You always want people to do something. Maybe you want them to buy, maybe you want them to share a message.
Make it as clear as the Queen’s crystal what you want them to do.
Exploring the purpose of life has led me to a range of controversial conclusions. The best way to sum up my thoughts is a dire conflict between the ethical and the evolutionary purpose of humankind.
To understand my thinking, it’s crucial to consider the purpose of life. Purpose can be looked at from many angles. However, from my atheist point of view, only one matters: the broadest one.
When we zoom out, we’re just an insignificant dot on a tiny planet in a huge universe. Compared to the universe’s history, our time of existence is infinitely small. Our lives do not matter.
From a evolutionary point of view, we have one purpose as human beings: reproduce. Beyond this, our genes have no other purpose.
Yet, zooming out again, even reproduction is purposeless. One day, everything will come to an end. Does it matter whether that’s today, tomorrow or in 1.000.000 years? Once it’s over, we’re not going to witness the future anymore.
The moment your clock stops ticking, everything will stop mattering to you. Whether people will remember your name and achievements 2.000 years from now or not, will literally make no difference.
Understanding that life really has no purpose is simple, yet very complicated. The best way to not give up on it, is by finding your own purpose. But that’s something for another day.
Considering that life is going to end anyway and that once we’re gone, we’re gone, there are a couple of current issues worth philosophising about.
Firstly, there’s climate change. This is were the controversy starts. (Unless you believe in life after death, then it already started for you.)
Ethically, I’m convinced that I should care about the planet. If not for me, at least for my soon-to-be-born daughter and future generations. However, looking back at our purpose, taking care of the climate makes no sense. Whether we destroy the planet in the next 50 years or make a huge U-turn and manage to live on for many more millennia, does not make a difference to the universe. It’s just one more corn popping in a China-sized popcorn machine.
Secondly, it makes me wonder why (in some societies) we take such good care of people who are of little service to humankind. Various mental and physical conditions make it impossible for people to reproduce and take care of future generations. While none of us are important to the future of the universe, these people aren’t even serving the evolutionary purpose of reproduction.
Again, from an ethical point of view, we all agree that they should have equal rights and possibilities. But the question arises: why? If it’s hardly beneficial to you, me or even humankind?
The same reasoning can be extrapolated to many other areas of life. Why take care of biodiversity? Why try to fight disease and illness? Why fight for racial justice?
Ethically, these matters don’t take a lot of convincing. But in the end, do they matter?
It’s one of the big questions of life. And don’t take me wrong. I am on the ethical side of things. I am just not sure why.
But if something happens to me tomorrow and you have to choose between saving me or not, please do whatever it takes. Not having a purpose here, doesn’t mean I don’t want to squeeze out every possible drop of joy.
Then again, if you choose not to, I’ll never know. And that’ll be it for me. My atoms will live on — somewhere — but I’ll be gone.
Note: I doubted for a long time whether to publish this or not. By no means do I want to cause harm to anyone. I’m just trying to make sense of life and the purpose of humankind. And, honestly, I’m not very good at it.
2020 is coming to a close and so is an important chapter of my life. For three years, I’ve lived in Bolivia and if all goes well, I’ll be living in Peru for the next year. I already moved to Peru yesterday but there’s still some (a lot of) paperwork to sort out.
I’m planning on writing a full year review on topthreeguide.com in the next couple of days. However, I’ve written very little recently, so I just felt the need to do this.
I’ll briefly explore the past, comment on a few things of my international flights in COVID-19 times and I’ll wrap up with a look on the future – on new horizons.
2020 wasn’t too different for me than for you. I spent a lot of time at home, I’ve done zero travelling – until now, and I’ve had a lot of free time. This website came to be in March last year. In June, Top Three Guide followed and in August, I made a third and final website for my private English classes.
There’s little and at the same time a lot to be told about last year. As said, a full review will follow. Earlier, I already wrote about the Perks of quarantine as well.
The last couple of days were extremely exhausting. I went from Cochabamba’s joyfully moderate climate to Puerto Maldonado’s excruciating moist heat. I planned on growing my hair out – while I still can – but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to persist…
Travelling in Corona times
International travels with social distancing measures are just ironic. In the airport, every other seat is covered so no one will sit too close to you. But on the plane, the rows are full. Well, some are three out of three seats taken and others are completely empty. Where’s the logic in that?
And then, the worst part, is the baggage reclaim in the airport. People literally breath in each others’ necks trying to find the best position to check if their luggage is already on the carrousel. If this isn’t enough irony for you, I’ve got more.
People take of their face masks to cough.
Then what’s the **** purpose of those things?
On the international flight between Bolivia and Peru, face shields were mandatory. Another huge irony. When people lifted their shield before take-off they got told off. Yet, twenty minutes later, everyone got their food and we could all happily eat together without shields or masks.
Again, that’s not everything. Everyone got a bag of chips, something which isn’t particularly known for being easy to eat with fork and knife or a napkin. And the alcohol to disinfect our hands? About half an hour after the snack. Great job, LATAM!
There’s a big positive as well, though. Passengers were asked to leave the aeroplane row by row. People who got up too early, were kindly asked to sit back down. I strongly believe this organisation should continue in post-COVID-19 eras.
I’ll close up with a little business idea. Face shields are transparant and hugely annoying. What if they were black? Wouldn’t they protect you from germs and light at the same time on long-haul flights? Perfect to get some sleep. Just thinking out loud here.
The future’s always a big mystery. Three years ago, I jumped into the unknown and I’ve got a similar feeling now. Things turned out pretty well and this time I’ve got a plan. I’m just not sure if it will work out but I’ll assume the stars are with me. Just kidding, don’t believe in that BS. Here is the plan and I’ll work my *** off to make it happen.
Get some kind of visa for Peru.
Grow my writing business.
Become the best possible dad for my baby girl who’ll start her first trip around the Sun in March.
I live in Bolivia. Some form of quarantine started in the second week of March. The rules have relaxed a bit at the start of June, but in July we’ll have another two weeks of strict quarantine. People haven’t cared too much. Some probably still believe that Covid-19 isn’t real.
While I am still locked inside my own house, I see happy friends having drinks all over the world. Restaurants and bars have opened. People can go out and do sports again. It’s pretty much life as it used to be.
I often curse the virus and wish I could do those things. But then, last night, as I was journaling, I thought about all the positives. Since March, I’ve adopted so many new habits and started new projects. It’s actually pretty amazing.
I started doing all these things:
In March, I started writing articles for this blog again.
In April, I started journaling every evening.
In April, I also started doing exercise at home on a daily basis.
Also in April, I started practising Portuguese every day. I’m on a 77-day streak in Duolingo now. I even started learning Arabic along with Portuguese some weeks ago.
In May, I started watching an educational or inspirational video first thing in the morning.
In June, I started meditating every evening. It’s something I’ve often tried and I never persisted. Now, I can easily sit down and relax for 10 minutes. I don’t think I need more. I even look forward to it now!
Since March, my drinking habits have changed. I wasn’t a big drinker, but now I drink less than 3 units per week.
Since March, I haven’t eaten any street food. Every single meal has been home cooked.
This is what I’ve learned:
I’ve learned how to make home-made pasta. So far, we’ve made lasagna, cannelloni, ravioli, pizza dough and linguini.
I’ve learned how to make home-made bread. Although I keep struggling to make it rise well, I’ve made many delicious breads.
I’ve learned to stop and relax. I’ve learned to appreciate the here and now. I’ve learned to enjoy the small things even more, such as the warmth of the sun on my face.
I’ve learned the importance of family and friends. Although, I still don’t contact them enough, I care more about their well-being than ever before.
Yes, quarantine isn’t fun. Especially when you see other people enjoying life. However, it’s also full of potential and opportunities. Use the time to improve. Become a better person. Read what you’ve always wanted to read. Learn what you’ve always wanted to learn. Become the person you’ve always wanted to be. Enjoy! Make the best of it.
Start the project you’ve always wanted to start. Now may be the best time. I’ve been using my time to start my personal project. I’ve been working hard and I’m proud of the results. I’m proud of all the positive changes that I’ve made in the last few months. So quite ironically, thanks Covid. This would not have been possible without you.
I started journaling a bit more than a month ago. I write one page in a small notebook every night. Every Sunday, I revise the past week and prepare the next week. How do I prepare? I write one gratefulness question per day and three on Sundays. Reflecting about this helps me be more present and mindful.
These are the questions I use. I rotate the questions randomly. Some, I use almost weekly. Those are my favourites. They are in bold.
What made me feel bad today?
When was I at peace today?
What is the best thing that happened today?
What made me feel happy?
What did I enjoy most today?
What made me smile today?
What made me feel sad?
What amazing things happened today?
What did I enjoy doing today?
Personal Development Questions
What did I learn today?
What could’ve made today better?
What positive habits did I do today?
What obstacle/problem did I overcome?
What strengths did I apply today?
What should I do again tomorrow?
What could make tomorrow better?
What can I do better tomorrow/next week?
When was I in the flow?
How can I become more creative?
Which steps did I take towards my goals?
What makes me happy to be alive?
What am I grateful for?
What simple pleasure did I enjoy?
What is the best thing that has happened this month/year ?
Do you have any gratefulness questions that you would love to share? Leave a comment.
Una selección de herramientas útiles para estudiantes que tienen clases virtuales.
If you prefer the English version, click here. If you are a teacher, read these tips and tools.
Las clases virtuales son una nueva realidad para muchos alumnos de primaria y secundaria. Mientras estudiantes de la universidad tal vez estén más acostumbrados a este entorno, es algo completamente nuevo para muchos alumnos menores.
Profesores en todo el mundo ya se adaptaron a esta nueva realidad. Los estudiantes deberían hacer lo mismo. Sin duda, tus profesores encontraron muchos recursos para ayudar con la enseñanza en línea. Sin embargo, hay muchos más recursos gratis que te podrían resultar muy útiles.
Si buscas en Google, encontrarás un sinfín de páginas con recursos o páginas interesantes para estudiantes. Lamentablemente, muchos de ellos no son gratis o no son de mucha ayuda. También te darán toda una lista de páginas en inglés y no creo que busques eso. Por ello, investigué bien los recursos que les voy a aconsejar aquí.
Los recursos están divididos en varias categorías. Por categoría hay de dos a cuatro opciones. Todos tienen una versión gratis en español y con pocos límites.
Los idiomas forman parte del currículum en casi todos los países. Es importante practicar todos los días para aprender bien. El internet puede ser de gran ayuda. Lamentablemente hay pocas aplicaciones que son útiles y gratis. Los dos siguientes sí lo son.
Duolingo es mi aplicación favorita; es divertida y estructurada. La única desventaja es la limitación de vidas. La app está disponible en varios dispositivos. En cada uno varían un poco los ejercicios. Se puede practicar muchos idiomas, incluso el Klingon y High Valyrian. not yap wa’ Hol (un idioma nunca es lo suficiente).
Tal vez te aburrirás por las muchas repeticiones en Duolingo. Sin embargo, eso es importante para la retención del vocabulario. Necesitas escuchar, ver o leer una palabra en un mínimo de 7 contextos antes de poder añadirlo a tu vocabulario activo.
Lyricstraining es mi otro favorito. Es muy divertido y se puede jugar sin límites. Practica tu idioma favorito con las mejores canciones. También es más competitivo. Tiene su tabla de clasificación por canción. Está disponible en 13 idiomas, incluso unos menos hablados, como el neerlandés, el catalán y el finlandés.
No hay otras aplicaciones que aconsejaría, pero sí daré unos trucos.
Sigue figuras públicas, periódicos, influencers o expertos en idiomas de otros países en tus cuentas de TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, etc. Así estarás cada día en contacto con el idioma que quieres aprender.
Cambia el idioma de tu celular, computadora y de tus aplicaciones al idioma que quieres aprender. Mi lengua materna es el neerlandés, pero todas mis cuentas están en inglés, español o incluso francés.
No tengas miedo de hablar! Aprende con tus compañeros. Ellos también están aprendiendo. Se pueden ayudar mutuamente.
Plataformas online para estudiantes.
En español Khan Academy me parece la mejor herramienta. Esta plataforma ofrece videos gratis sobre temas como matemáticas, ciencias, artes e ingeniería. Haz clic en el botón ‘cursos’ a la izquierda para empezar.
Otra buena opción para videos es TED-Ed. Muchos videos son en inglés con subtítulos en español. ¿Prefieres videos en español? Encuéntralos aquí en el canal de Youtube en Español.
Lenguajes de programación
Saber escribir código es una herramienta importante para el futuro. El sector de tecnología sigue creciendo y el empleo de desarrollador de software sin duda te garantizará trabajo.
¿Recién estás empezando? No hay problema. Descubre lo básico con este doodle de Google. Jugando, aprenderás como funcionan las secuencias de instrucciones.
Una vez que entiendas lo básico, puedes avanzar con Hourofcode. En esta plataforma seguirás aprendiendo sobre las mismas secuencias con juegos. Haz tu propio Floppy Bird.
La tecnología obviamente no solamente se trata de lenguajes de programación. Hay muchas más herramientas que te servirán en el colegio o para encontrar trabajo más adelante. En esta página de Microsoft encontrarás cursos sobre sus diferentes programas como Excel.
Ideas para tareas originales.
¿Quieres hacer unas tareas diferentes y presentaciones más divertidas? Usa una de estas herramientas. Te aseguro que tu profesor será feliz con tu esfuerzo. No tienes idea de lo aburrido que puede ser ver la misma tareas más de 40 veces.
La primera idea es crear un cómic. Hay muchas páginas para crear unos cómics gratis y originales. Storyboardthat, por ejemplo, tiene una versión de prueba. Aquí hay un ejemplo de un cómic que hice para explicar una tarea:
¿Quires hacer presentaciones más divertidas? Usa Prezi! Esta manera de presentar información es más interactiva y dinámica que una presentación normal. Sé creativo!
Si te gustan los videos o presentaciones animados, recomiendo Powtoon. La versión gratis dispone de cientos de dibujos para crear tu propio video animado.
Canva es otra de mis aplicaciones favoritas. Con esta aplicación puedes hacer unos diseños buenísimos. Además, es súper fácil. Lo usé para muchos diferentes motivos y tu puedes hacer lo mismo. Crea un poster o tríptico para el colegio o un currículum como yo:
Herramientas para escribir
Escribir es otra parte clave del currículum. Pero no tiene que ser muy difícil, ni muy aburrido. En páginas como www.wattpad.com puedes leer cuentos o historias de otros escritores apasionados; o publica tu propio cuento, si te atreves.
Para evitar errores de gramática o ortografía, pones tu texto en Spanishchecker. Esta aplicación te da retroalimentación sobre tu texto para evitar todo tipo de errores.
Apps que todos los estudiantes necesitan!
Estas últimas dos herramientas no encajan en ninguna categoría anterior. Son aplicaciones que aumentarán tu productividad.
Primero, debes descargar Evernote en la computadora y el celular. Esta aplicación te ayudará a tomar y organizar todos tus apuntes. Descarga también la aplicación acompañante Scannable para poder subir documentos escaneados con facilidad.
Otra herramienta poderosa para mejorar tu productividad es la técnica pomodoro de Francesco Cirrilo. Funciona así: trabaja 25 minutos y descansa 5. La aplicación Forest es una excelente herramienta para poner está técnica en práctica. La página no parece estar disponible en español, pero la aplicación misma sí lo está.
Tips para el aprendizaje en linea
No importa si ya vas a volver al colegio o si seguirás tomando clases virtuales por unos meses, la enseñanza en línea siempre formará parte de tu futuro. Esta situación se podría repetir por cualquier motivo. Encima es muy posible que más adelante tengas que tomar cursos online para tu trabajo o carrera universitaria. Estos tips y herramientas siempre te servirán.
Toma pequeños descansos. Aléjate de la pantalla y haz algo de ejercicio, habla con un familiar, come un poco de fruta o toma un vaso de agua.
Evita distracciones. Siéntate en un lugar tranquilo con el celular en silencio o en modo de avión. No te dejes llevar por los medios sociales.
Aprovecha todas las ventajas del internet. Salvo cuando tus profes te piden por tu opinión, no hay excusas por no encontrar la respuesta correcta. La sabiduría del internet no tiene límites. (Y tampoco su ignorancia. No confíes en todo lo que encuentras. Investiga bien.)
No hagas plagio. Puedes buscar inspiración o información, pero no copies sin mencionar tus fuentes.
Toma apuntes. (Por ejemplo, con Evernote.)
Beneficios de la enseñanza a distancia
Nos sentimos solos y todos pensamos en las cosas negativas relacionadas con esta situación causada por el coronavirus. Sin embargo, hay muchas ventajas.
Aprenderás a ser más responsable y disciplinado.
Aprenderás cosas importantes sobre planificar y tomar apuntes.
Puedes ponerte lo que te da la gana y sentarte en un lugar cómodo en tu lugar favorito.
Es súper fácil encontrar información para tus tareas.
No pierdes tiempo en el transporte al colegio.
Siempre tienes agua y comida a la mano.
Puedes comer, tomar agua o ir al baño sin pedir permiso.
¿Quires compartir otras herramientas o consejos? Deja un comentario!
A carefully researched selection of distance learning tools and apps that will give you a big boost as an online student.
If you’re a teacher, also have a look at these tips and tools for online education.
Online education is the new reality for many primary and secondary school students (k-12 students). Whereas university and college students should be more accustomed to using the internet and its many tools, it might be a very new environment for younger pupils.
Teachers worldwide have adapted themselves to this new reality. You shouldn’t stay behind. Your teacher has without a doubt found many useful apps and websites for online learning. However, there are many more free online tools out there that will help you during this distance learning experience.
There are many websites and blog posts out there that give a whole list of tools or must-have apps for all kinds of subjects. I think they are often not well-researched and, excuse my French, promote a lot of crap. So, in this blogpost I tried to make a selection of apps and tools that will really help you. It’s not just a list of things I quickly searched for in Google. I have used most of them or did careful research on them.
I’ve divided these interesting resources for online learning into a few categories. In each category I will discuss my 3 or 4 favourite tools.
Languages are part of the curriculum in most countries. Languages require daily practice. This means that you need a few extra resources to keep learning at home. There are many online language apps and tools but few are free of cost. Even fewer are worthwhile.
Duolingo is my go to app. It’s fun and structured. However, the limited lives can be a huge restriction, that’s why I actually recommend the paid version. This app is available on all devices and on the internet. Exercises may vary across devices. It is available in many languages, even a few fictitious languages, such as Klingon and High Valyrian. not yap wa’ Hol (One language is never enough in Klingon).
Duolingo trains all your skills (reading, speaking, listening and writing) with short sentences. There is a lot of repetition and this may be boring but it is important for vocabulary retention. On average, you need to see or hear a word in at least seven different contexts to add it to your active vocabulary.
Lyricstraining is my other favourite. It is a lot of fun and can be played without limits. Learn your favourite language while listening to your favourite songs. It is also more competitive as it has leaderboards per song. There are 13 available languages, including a few smaller ones like Finnish, Dutch and Catalan.
These are basically the only two language tools I frequently use or recommend. Most others are either paying, have bad user experience, or just don’t have what I’m looking for. Do you think differently? Let me know in the comments.
On the other hand, there are a few others tricks you can apply at home to practise languages. Follow public figures, language teachers or newspapers from other countries on social media. This will help you to get into touch with the language you’re learning on a daily basis.
Another way to practise on a daily basis is by changing the language of your devices and apps to the language that you’re learning. My mother tongue is Dutch but the majority of my apps and devices are in English or Spanish.
Finally and most importantly: don’t be afraid to talk. Find friends who are learning the same language or join online communities. I practise French with above-mentioned Nelson.
Online learning platforms for students
There are many online platforms with thousands of educational resources. I’ve made a selection for you of four learning platforms that have a wide range of activities.
Khan Academy focusses mainly on maths, science and engineering. However, they also offer courses in other subjects, such as arts and personal finance. The majority of the courses are in video-format. Click on the ‘courses’ button in the top left corner to get started. This is the perfect starting point if you are a visual and auditory learner.
Wolfram Alpha also offers mostly maths, science and technology courses. Other subjects include society, culture and personal development. This platform is more text-base. It gives step-by-step solutions. I recommend this for read/write learners like myself.
Futurelearn is a platform for advanced learners. It partners with universities and specialist organisations worldwide to offer top-quality courses. Topics range from business and economics over personal health to politics. The courses are free for the duration of the course. This is usually two weeks.
TED-Ed, finally, caters videos for a wider public. The riddles and educational videos about science, history, nature and technology speak to middle school pupils as well as college students. The mostly animated videos are usually between 4 and 6 minutes long.
Learn how to code for free
Coding is part of the future. The tech-related job market is growing rapidly. Especially, software developers are in high demand. The sooner you get started, the better. Here are three free options to get started, organised by difficulty.
Once you get the gist of it, it’s time to move on to a next level. On Hourofcode you can learn how to code with games. The idea is a bit similar but things move just a bit faster. If you are a primary or middle school pupil, this is the perfect starting point to learn how to write code.
Codeacademy is the next level. They offer free and paid courses on basic programming languages such as CSS and HTML. Advanced learners can also choose more challenging courses. Python is only one of the 10+ programming languages you can learn online at Codeacademy.
Free sites for original assignments
Do you want to make your presentations or assignments more fun? Use one of these tools. I’m sure 99% of the teachers will appreciate the effort. You haven’t a clue how boring it is to see the same thing 40+ times.
For starters, what about creating a comic? There are plenty of websites that let you create free comics. Storyboardthat, for example, has a free trial version that let’s you create short comics with lots of options. Here’s one I created for my class:
Are you tired of normal Powerpoint presentations? Try Prezi! It’s a lot more interactive and its visuals are better. It’s not a slide by slide tool. You move things around as you wish. Zoom in, zoom out, move forward, go back. It’s all up to you.
Do you want to make an animated video for you next assignment? Use Powtoon. It’s free trial version let’s you create a beautiful animated video with thousands of character and background options. Don’t like Prezi? Powtoon also lets you create animated presentations.
Canva is a personal favourite. I’ve used it many times for a wide range of purposes, such as social media posts, a resume that stands out, business cards, posters or leaflets. Whatever you want to create, you’ll get a beautiful design in no time! What about this fantastic football resume I made last year?
Websites for students that love writing
Whether you like writing or not, you’ll have to write plenty of essays, summaries and book reviews throughout your studies. I’ll start with the writing apps or tools that will help all. Then, we’ll dive into a few apps for those who love writing fiction, poetry or whatnot.
If you’re struggling with spelling or grammar, use Grammarly. The Chrome add-on follows you along your online writing journey and gives live feedback. It even gives you an idea of how your text sounds — careful, happy, serious.
Students who are more concerned about the readability of their work, should use Readable. Copy your text into the app to receive detailed feedback about grammar and sentence length. It even gives you readability scores and grades based on 10+ matrices. And that’s not all! Click on ‘reach’ to learn how personal, positive and formal your text is.
Inklewriter is an amazing tool for creative writers. Did you see the interactive Black Mirror episode? It’s time to create your own interactive story. Write, add options and create an adventurous story for your readers.
Want to practise your creative writing? Join the Story Wars community. Participate in hundreds of stories by adding words, sentences or entire paragraphs. This site requires you to create a free account. It’s also available as a Chrome add-on and mobile app.
And finally, a good writer needs useful vocabulary. But be careful. Don’t focus on fancy 20-letter words that no one understands. Learn adjectives and action verbs with deeper meaning. Freerice is a fun way to expand your vocabulary. There are five levels. Don’t use level 5 for your writing. I bet less than 1% of the world population knows what those words mean.
Online educational games
The world wide web is full of free games. But how many are educational and free? I made this short selection of online educational games for secondary school students.
In Newsfeed Defenders by iCivics you take the roll of a news website moderator. New items come in every day and you need to select what’s on topic, what is real and what is fake. It will help you to learn more about newspapers, online news feeds and fake news. Check out the other games by iCivics as well.
LittleAlchemy2 is one of the old age. As you combine different basic elements, you’ll discover new advanced elements and learn about science and logical thinking.
Brainpop is a website with many games in different areas. Learn about maths, social science or even engineering while playing. It’s recommend for kids up to grade 8, but honestly, we all like getting distracted with fun and simple games. I could’ve finished this post in half the time if I hadn’t taken as many gaming breaks.
Freerice again! Check out this page with all the different categories you can learn about while quizzing! Don’t forget that you’re helping out people in need while playing. Every answer earns you about 10 grains of rice.
Apps all students should have
We’ll finish the online tools for students section with three recommended apps. Read on afterwards for a sneak peek of tips for online learning and benefits of virtual classes.
As soon as you enter secondary school or high school, note taking becomes extremely important. Evernote is probably the best tool for this purpose. The free version is more than enough to get started. Read Forte Labs’s PARA Method (I use a slightly tweaked version which I will explain in a future article) and download the Scannable app to get the most out of this note-taking app.
I already mentioned Grammarly and I mention this app again because you really need it. You have no idea how annoying it is for a teacher to see the same mistake time and time again. Grammarly will help you avoid these errors while working online. Install the add-on and you’re all set up. It also has a useful plagiarism check tool. Very handy for teachers, but also for yourself to avoid problems. You’ll find it here.
Finally, you should avoid distraction while learning or doing assignments. Have you ever heard of the Pomodoro technique? Probably not. Francesco Cirrilo’s invention goes like this: work 25 minutes, take a break for 5. Forest is a beautiful app that will help you put this into practice. Set a timer for anywhere between 10 and 120 minutes. A tree will start growing on your phone but beware, if you leave the app, this tree dies. While using it, you earn coins which can be invested in real trees!
Tips for online learning
Whether you’re having online classes now or are getting ready to go back to school, distance learning will always be part of your life. Situations like the Coronavirus might return. Employers might ask you to take online courses. You might want to take a course on Coursera or Udemy. A world without online learning has become unimaginable. So use these tips to make the best of it.
Take regular short breaks away from your screen and do some exercise, chat with a family member, eat a piece of fruit or drink some water.
Avoid distractions. Sit in a quiet space with your phone on silence or in airplane mode. Avoid social media at all cost!
Use all the advantages of the internet. Unless you teachers ask about your opinion, you have no excuses. The wisdom of the internet is limitless.
Avoid plagiarism. It’s fine to find inspiration and answers on the internet. Everyone does it. It’s not ok to copy or take over information without mentioning your source.
Don’t forget to take notes.
Benefits of online classes for students
We all think of the negatives associated with virtual classes and distance learning. However, there are many online learning benefits for students.
You’ll learn how to be more responsible and disciplined.
You’ll learn important things about planning and note taking.
You can wear whatever you like and sit in a comfortable position in the room of your choice.
It’s easy to find extra information for assignments.
You don’t lose time in the bus or car commuting to school.
You always have water and snacks within reach.
You can eat, drink or go to the bathroom whenever you want.
Do you know any other online learning pros and cons? Do you have any favourite apps that you would like to share? Join the conversation in the comments.