Tagged: readability

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Pocket + Evernote: Easy way for teachers to format news articles and nonfiction

favicon If you’re a teacher, you know this story.

It’s Sunday night, and you have a pit in your stomach because you still haven’t found a good article for your students to read tomorrow.

And then, after perhaps too long, you find it! And then you’re happy. That is, until you realize, again, that you have to spend 10-20 minutes formatting it to make it ready for student consumption.

Despite recent trends that favor readability (including Readability!), the Internet is still a mucky place for typography and design. There are ads, weird spacing, and random things that happen.

A quick example. Take a look at this New York Times article on climate change. It’s pretty nifty: It includes a photo essay, a video, and a colorful map. There’s nothing that can replicate the online version. But most teachers want to convert as much of the online experience into print, without taking with them all of the article’s sidebars, comments, and advertisements.

If you press Print on this article (whether from the webpage or your computer), you lose all the visuals. All you get is text. Now, I’m not an enemy of text. Text is my friend. But if I’m a teacher, I’d like at least one photograph to accompany the text. If I’m lucky, I’d also like the body font to be big enough for my students to read. And if possible, it would be great if I could shorten or modify the text (like Newsela does!) for English Learners and students with special needs.

Before going on, an important pause: I understand that some people may find that last sentence controversial. It’s an infringement of copyright (and maybe fair use even?), many say, to cut or modify an article. That might be true. On the other side, there may be people who ask, “Mark, why don’t you just copy and paste to a Word document? That seems easy, right?” Yes, it seems easy, but with many websites, it isn’t. I’ve found that it’s hard to strip away all the distractions, and it takes too much time. That time would be better spent thinking about my lesson.

The past several months, I’ve found a really easy way to render news articles beautifully and to make them easy to modify, if necessary. What’s great is that the process does not require any additional tools. I already use them. You may already use them, too!

My “hack” is Pocket + Evernote. Here’s what happens:

1. If I find an article I like, I save it to my Pocket. It looks like this. (Notice how nice and big and clean the text is.)

Screenshot 2014-05-07 16.47.04

2. On Pocket, I then clip it to Evernote. It looks like this. (Notice that Evernote makes things look similar to Pocket. What’s extra cool is that Evernote prompts you to “view original” in case you want to.)

Screenshot 2014-05-07 16.47.26

Also, you might not get the video on Evernote, but you still keep the photos. An example:

Screenshot 2014-05-07 16.47.41

3. On Evernote, I can also modify the text, as if we’re in a Word document. Because all the craziness has already been stripped away, it’s a much faster process than copying and pasting and cutting.

4. After I’m happy with my changes, I press Print, and that’s that. Seriously, one of the best things is keeping the body font large. Maybe it doesn’t need to be 22-point,  but your students will be so happy if you cranked up the normal 12-point to maybe 14- or 16.

And that’s that! If you’re a teacher out there who already includes a lot of news and nonfiction in your classroom, this Pocket + Evernote tip might be extremely helpful. Even if you don’t yet use Pocket and Evernote, I still think that you should consider it. It’ll save you time and anxiety.

Please let me know your thoughts by leaving a brilliant insight. favicon

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The best tools to keep track of everything on the Internet

favicon What do you do with everything you find on the web?

Like, how do you remember the good stuff you’ve read? And how do you organize it and access it later? What if you want to share it with someone, or a group of people, in a few weeks?

Please tell me! — because these questions have taken over my brain over the past month.

(I’m not alone. Over the past year, content curation — the practice of seeking, sifting through, making sense of, and sharing the best of what’s on the Web — has gotten huge. To me, this new phenomenon is the evolution of social bookmarking.)

I’m happy to report that I’m making some progress, but I still find myself doing the same research more than once, clipping an interesting quotation while fending off feelings of déjà vu, convincing myself that the Internet has reshaped my brain into some Silly Putty of distractability.

This post won’t unveil My Epic Online Reading Flow (still in draft form), but I will share some tools that have saved me from online overload.

Aggregating Content: Google Reader and Twitter
Instead of visiting tons of websites to find good articles, I rely on Google Reader to do the discovery for me. To be sure, this practice prevents me from stumbling upon random good stuff, but most of the time, I don’t have the time. My colleagues on Twitter also share high-quality articles, especially about teaching and reading.

Saving content to read later: Pocket
One problem with excellent content is that I don’t always have time to read it. That’s why a read-later service is crucial. There are many excellent ones, including Instapaper and Readability. But my (recent) favorite is Pocket. It’s beautiful, has excellent phone apps, and saves video as well as text.

Pocket is sort of my information headquarters. Most everything goes there for quality inspection and processing. Most articles get deleted, but the lucky few make the cut.

Annotating content: Annotary
“You take notes?” people ask me, “of stuff on the web?” Yes. I do. (Not all the time.)

It all started several years ago when Diigo came out. Diigo took the social bookmarking trend Delicious began and added an annotation feature to the mix. I became a little obsessed. After all, if they’re called web pages, doesn’t it make sense to take notes? I thought so.

Unfortunately, over the past two years, Diigo has become bloated, not very pretty, and not maintained particularly well. But a new annotation tool, Annotary, has filled the gap. Its bookmarking and annotation toolbar incorporates sharing options, too, which is a plus.

Publishing content: Bundlr
After spending time seeking, sifting through, and making sense of tons of information, it’s time to share it. Most items go to individuals through email. Then there are the select few that get shared on Facebook, Twitter, or Google Plus. My favorite articles, though, deserve to be preserved and published to a wider audience.

As many of you know, I’m pretty excited about Bundlr and Iserotope Extras. There are at least 40 other tools that do the same thing (including Annotary), but Bundlr, in my opinion, does it best. I’m finding that people appreciate reading articles recommended by someone who has read them already and written a blurb to offer some context. That’s why I like Dave Pell‘s NextDraft, an excellent daily newsletter, and that’s why (at least some) people like Iserotope Extras.

Update, December 2012: I now prefer Snip.it over Bundlr!

Archiving and saving content: Evernote
The last step is making sure that I don’t lose anything. Too often, parts of our online lives find themselves in different places. My photos, for example, are backed up on Dropbox, while my important work documents stay on Google Drive.

But for online content, I’ve decided, after years of trying my best to stay away, that Evernote is the best way to go. Click a button from Pocket, and the clipper strips away formatting and saves articles in plain text, all in one step. No, Evernote is not going to display my articles beautifully like other tools, but it’s robust enough to keep everything all in one place.

* * *

Wow, that was a lot — and that’s just the beginning! I’m really interested in hearing how you manage your online lives, find high-quality information, and make sure it’s organized. (It’ll help me stay sane.) Please let me know! favicon

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Longform + Readability: One-two punch for finding great articles

favicon I love reading nonfiction and current events. On my Kindle, I get The New York Times, The New Republic, The Economist, The Nation, Fast Company, and Wired. I also subscribe to Time and The Atlantic in print.

A lot of my reading, however, is online.

In addition to Google Reader, I rely on Longform, which I consider the best curator of excellent nonfiction articles. The editors do a wonderful job selecting only high-quality, in-depth articles.

Sometimes, I get frustrated with Longform because I can’t seem to skip any articles. They’re all good. The articles come from varied sources, which prevents me from sticking to my tried-and-true.

The downside is that there’s never enough time to read all the articles, especially in one sitting. That’s why I’m happy that Longform has teamed up with several read later services, like Instapaper and Read It Later. From Longform’s website, you can immediately save an article for later.

My favorite of these services is Readability. Like Instapaper and Read It Later, Readability lets you save articles for later reading. You click a button, and the service compiles a list of articles for you that you can read on your computer, phone, Kindle, or tablet. I also like that it’s free.

The most impressive aspect of Readability — and the feature that sets it apart from the others — is that it’s beautiful. The service converts web articles into a distraction-free reading experience. Gone are the ads and other annoying pop-ups that clutter up the screen.

I’ve even found myself using Readability with Diigo to annotate the articles I read. Readability provides the clean reading experience, while Diigo lets me highlight and take notes.

As a big-time nonfiction reader, I highly recommend Longform and Readability. Instead of worrying that I’m missing key articles, I trust that I’m getting the best the web has to offer. favicon