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WebQuest: a collaborative strategy to teach content and language

on the Web
Isabel Prez Torres
University of Granada
WebQuest is an educational strategy designed by Bernie Dodge in 1995 that has been
widely used in the last ten years to teach any subjects and at all levels. From the
perspective of learning and teaching a second or foreign language, the WebQuest model
is related to content-based and task-based learning, as students have to deal with a large
amount of specific information on the Web and perform a final task. WebQuests offer
good, internet-based, language learning opportunities because they provide learners
with exposure to authentic material, meaningful content and possibilities for real
communication in the target language (Stoks, 2002). Other advantages that count when
we decide to use this strategy for second / foreign language and content learning are that
it provides a clear structure and requires collaboration and cooperation among students.
All this suggests that the WebQuest model offers a good scenario for content and
language integrated learning, and that will be our topic in this paper.
1. Introduction
Since the beginning of the nineties CALL has been widely influenced by the advances
in multimedia and the advent of the World Wide Web. Warschauer called this phase
Integrative CALL a perspective which seeks both to integrate various skills (e.g.,
listening, speaking, reading, and writing) and also integrate technology more fully into
the language learning process (Warschauer & Healey, 1998:57). This phase is related
to a socio-cognitive learning approach that emphasizes the use of language in authentic
social contexts. According to these authors task-based, project-based and contentbased approaches are the type of activities that are used more at this stage of CALL
because by using them in the classroom we seek to expose the students to authentic
environments and also to integrate all different language skills (Warschauer & Healey,
1998). As we will see in this paper, the model of WebQuest constitutes a meaningful
learning activity that is closely related to pedagogical approaches such as project-based
learning and problem-solving. Furthermore, when it comes to using WebQuests in the
context of second language learning and teaching, they are related to Content-based
learning (CBL) and Task-based learning (TBL) (Pinilla Padilla, 2001; Stoks, 2002;
Hanson-Smith, 2003):
Both approaches have in common the provision of a great quantity of input in the
second language, usually by means of authentic materials. As we know, the Web is
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WebQuest a collaborative strategy to teach content and language on the Web

especially rich in all kinds of authentic text, audio and video resources. Indeed, Crystal
(2001) pointed out:

Whatever complaints there may have been in the past, over the lack of
availability of authentic materials, there must now be a general satisfaction that
so much genuine written data is readily available, with spoken data on the
horizon. (Indeed the pedagogical problem is now the opposite to evaluate and
grade what is available, so that students are not overwhelmed). (Crystal,

Crystals remark in relation to the excess of material which can overwhelm students is
what makes a WebQuest the perfect strategy as the teacher selects the resources and
guides students in the use of the Internet, with a final task in mind.
Taking into consideration all this, the WebQuest model seems to be a useful strategy to
work with in Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL), where students have to
deal with materials referring to other subjects and, at the same time, use and learn a
second language.
Throughout this paper we will first examine the concept of WebQuest as it was defined
by Dodge and its collaborative potentiality. Then we will focus on the advantages it can
offer to teaching and learning a second language and the problems which may arise
when it comes to real practice, as well as the solutions. Finally we will analyse the
connections between the WebQuest model and CLIL.

2. What is a WebQuest?
Based on some previous experiences of using digital resources (Dodge & Muoz, 1997;
Dodge, 1996) Bernie Dodge designed the educational strategy called WebQuest in 1995
(Dodge, 1995). Since then, this model has been widely used in all areas and levels of
education, especially in secondary education and subjects such as social studies or
Dodge first defined a WebQuest in his seminal article as an inquiry-oriented activity in
which some or all of the information that learners interact with comes from resources on
the Internet (1995:1). If we do not read further, we could say that many other activities
using the Web are also WebQuests (Starr, 2000b; Fiedler, 2002). However, this model
is more precise and we have to complete this definition with the rest of attributes
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University of Granada
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WebQuest a collaborative strategy to teach content and language on the Web

described by Dodge. According to this author (Starr, 2000), the key feature that
distinguishes a WebQuest from other web-based activities is the promotion of high level
cognitive processes as stated in the following definition given by Dodge in an interview.
A WebQuest is built around an engaging and doable task that elicits higher order
thinking of some kind. It's about doing something with information. The thinking can be
creative or critical, and involve problem solving, judgement, analysis, or synthesis. The
task has to be more than simply answering questions or regurgitating what's on the
screen. Ideally, the task is a scaled down version of something that adults do on the job,
outside school walls. (Starr, 2000b:2)

Two more definitions by Dodge and March will add some more details about what a
WebQuest is:
[].an inquiry-oriented activity in which most or all of the information used by
learners is drawn from the Web. WebQuests are designed to use learners time well, to
focus on using information rather than looking for it, and to support learners thinking
at the levels of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. (Dodge, 2001)
[] is a scaffolded learning structure that uses links to essential resources on the
World Wide Web and an authentic task to motivate students investigation of a central,
open-ended question, development of individual expertise and participation in a final
group process that attempts to transform newly acquired information into a more
sophisticated understanding. The best WebQuests do this in a way that inspires students
to see richer thematic relationships, facilitate a contribution to the real world of
learning and reflect on their own metacognitive processes. (March, 2003:43)

This idea of transformation of information is represented by March in the following


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WebQuest a collaborative strategy to teach content and language on the Web

The box was where newly acquired information underwent a transformation into new
understanding (March, 2003:42), so transformation is the most important feature of a
According to this, many of the activities that we find on the Web named as
WebQuests are not actually WebQuests because the task ends before any
transformation occurs.
Being aware of this, Dodge provides a list of tips to detect whether we are creating a
WebQuest or not1:

If you're going to call it a WebQuest, though, be sure that it has all the critical
A real WebQuest....

is wrapped around a doable and interesting task that is ideally a scaled down
version of things that adults do as citizens or workers.
requires higher level thinking, not simply summarizing. This includes synthesis,
analysis, problem-solving, creativity and judgment.
makes good use of the web. A WebQuest that isn't based on real resources from
the web is probably just a traditional lesson in disguise. (Of course, books and
other media can be used within a WebQuest, but if the web isn't at the heart of
the lesson, it's not a WebQuest.)
isn't a research report or a step-by-step science or math procedure. Having
learners simply distilling web sites and making a presentation about them isn't
isn't just a series of web-based experiences. Having learners go look at this
page, then go play this game, then go here and turn your name into hieroglyphs
doesn't require higher level thinking skills and so, by definition, isn't a

From (a web site on WebQuests by Bernie Dodge)

To summarise, we could say that a WebQuest is a constructivist learning activity that

uses resources from the Web and presents an authentic task in context which implies
transformation of the information, and encourages students participation in an
autonomous and collaborative way, in groups where normally each student plays a
different role incorporating the advantages of cooperative learning.

From (a web site by Bernie Dodge)

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WebQuest a collaborative strategy to teach content and language on the Web

2.1 Elements of a WebQuest

Formally, a typical WebQuest has 5 parts: the introduction, the task, the process
(resources, scaffolding), the evaluation (rubric), and the conclusion. These are
considered critical elements by Dodge (1995). In more detail:

the introduction establishes the context in which the WebQuest takes place;

the task represents what the students have to carry out; and must imply some
kind of high order thinking, not only simple search and copy and paste activities.

the process describes the steps to follow and includes the web resources to find
the information and, also, a very important element is what Dodge calls the
scaffolding, that is, a series of activities or materials to support the students in
the completion of the task;

the evaluation, where the teacher establishes the criteria to evaluate the final
task, usually in a rubric format;

and the conclusion, which recapitulates everything and encourages students to

research further about the topic.

Dodge also defined some non-critical elements concerning motivation, group work and
inter-disciplinary content. This last element will be significant when we talk about

2.2 WebQuests and cooperative learning

Working in a group and playing different roles was not one of the critical elements of
WebQuests in Dodges first article. However, in the following years, he started to
consider this almost necessary as practical considerations lead to group work being
more common than not (Dodge, 2001). According to Johnson et al. (1998) there are
five critical attributes that should take place to promote actual cooperation:

positive interdependence, so that students perceive that success will depend on

each of them;

individual accountability, that is, each individuals performance is held

accountable and is assessed individually.

promotive interaction, so that students collaborate, applaud and help each other
as they do the assigned task;

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WebQuest a collaborative strategy to teach content and language on the Web

social skills, which means that most of students need to learn how to work in
collaboration and this should be part of the learning process.

and group processing, that is, discussion on how to improve work group should
be part of the process.

According to Dodge (2001:8) A well-orchestrated WebQuest has these qualities as

well. Assigning roles to each member is necessary for a successful task because, as
Dodge points out, creating situations that force students to depend on one another is
one of those things that distinguish great WebQuests from merely good ones (Starr,

2.3 Attributes and factors which recommend using WebQuests in education

To summarise, the general advantages of using WebQuests in education are:

It has a clear structure and promotes effective use of time.

It provides motivation, partly because of the use of authentic material and the
development of tasks connected with reality and partly because of the promotion
of autonomy and creativity.

It requires collaboration and cooperation among students, what implies they

have to attain interdependence and responsibility.

It promotes high order thinking processes (analysis, synthesis, evaluation, etc.).

It promotes interdisciplinarity and this can facilitate learning different subjects at

the same time.

3. WebQuests and second language learning and teaching

Besides all the pedagogical attributes and advantages described in previous paragraphs,
from the point of view of second language learning, WebQuests are connected with the
methodological approaches of Content Based Learning (CBL) and Task Based Learning
(TBL). From both perspectives, a WebQuest provides students the opportunity to deal
with authentic material in the target language.
WebQuests offer good internet-based language learning opportunities because
they provide learners with exposure to authentic material, meaningful content
and possibilities for real communication in the target language. (Stoks, 2002:1)

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WebQuest a collaborative strategy to teach content and language on the Web

The most important part in a WebQuest is the task (Dodge, 2002) as it represents the
final target where all the process culminates. The task focuses learners on what they
are going to do - specifically, the culminating performance or product that drives all of
the learning activities (Dodge, 1998:2).
Dodge proposed a taxonomy of tasks (2002) describing twelve models that could help
in the creation of a WebQuest. These tasks include retelling, compilation, mystery,
journalistic, design, creative product, consensus building, persuasion, self-knowledge,
analytical, judgment, and scientific. Obviously, in the case of a WebQuest for languages
we have to design the task in accordance to communicative objectives rather than to
formal ones, but all these frames are useful, as well.
A final consideration in relation to both approaches, CBL or TBL, is that they easily
allow the integration of the four basic skills in one activity (Brown, 1994). The
combination of skills will vary depending on the task in each case, and that will be
applicable when designing a WebQuest for CLIL. It is obvious that there is the
opportunity to practise reading, writing and listening by using multimedia resources, but
even speaking can be integrated by means of voice tools or simply by proposing a task
where the outcome involves some kind of oral interaction or presentation.

3.1 Obstacles and solutions in relation to WebQuest for second languages

Taking into consideration what we have said until now, the WebQuest seems to be a
useful strategy to promote content and language integrated in one activity.
However, both designing and implementing a WebQuest in a second language is not an
easy task. The first difficulty may appear when selecting the appropriate resources for
our students level of language (McDonell, 2003). Their linguistic competence to use
language when completing the task might be another obstacle.
Not only are the resource sites far less transparent, but producing something in the
target language- thinking in the target language- takes some getting used to. (Benz,

Obviously, when students are using their first language, the situation is very different; in
that case the language is an ally, while in the case of a second language it could be a
barrier that may cause misinterpretation as well as discouragement. Besides, carrying

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out the task, that is, transforming the information and producing the final outcome, is
more complex in a second language.
To sum up, the main difficulties could be stated in four conclusions (Prez Torres,
1. When doing a WebQuest in a Second Language, the L2 is more a barrier than an
2. The thinking processes in an L2 are more complex.
3. Students spend more time in the comprehension of an L2 and the coordination of
ideas than in their L1.
4. This lack of command and comprehension may imply a decrease in the
motivation of the students.
5. Lack of direct language instruction, which will help accelerate the learning
process (Willis, 1996) and focus in language.

In previous research, Prez Torres (2006) proposed some solutions to these obstacles
together with a series of principles that, once applied to the creation of WebQuests for
second languages, proved to be useful to enhance language acquisition through

The following table summarises the problems and the solutions we can apply:



Lack of command of language / complexity Selecting

of thinking processes




Adapting the complexity of the task

Difficulties with the comprehension and Adding background information

coordination of ideas

Integrating the WebQuest in the context

of a bigger learning unit

No direct language instruction

Incorporating a new instructive element:

the language workshop where learners
have the opportunity to practice and learn
vocabulary and learning strategies.

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WebQuest a collaborative strategy to teach content and language on the Web

Principles to be applied in the design of a WebQuest for L2 (Prez Torres, 2006):

1. A WebQuest for second languages must promote the significant use of the L2, by
using authentic materials from the Web.
2. The level of linguistic knowledge of the students will be crucial for the design of
both the task and the process. Less knowledgeable students should be asked to do a
less complex task or should be given more linguistic support.
3. Linguistic and non linguistic goals should be clearly stated and the task should be
designed to attain those goals.
4. The result of the task should be a product that implies significant and
communicative use of language.
5. The process of the WebQuest will be supported by abundant scaffolding,
appropriate to the students needs and it will include:
o A Background activation phase to speed up the comprehension and
coordination of ideas.
o A Language workshop, with all sort of activities to help students learn and
improve the lexical, syntactic and language use aspects, as well as practise
the strategies related to different language skills.
o All kinds of support and guides so that the student can carry out the task
effectively and attain the anticipated goals. This will include lexical and
syntactical support, such as lists of words, guiding questions, grammar help,
6. The WebQuest must be integrated into the syllabus as a continuity or part of another
unit or activity.
7. The WebQuest should be planned to practise the language skills that we want
students to improve.

4. What is CLIL?
Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) refers to situations where subjects,
or parts of subjects, are taught through a foreign language with dual-focussed aims,
namely the learning of content, and the simultaneous learning of a foreign language'.
(Marsh, 1994). Obviously, CLIL approach is related to Content Based Learning and
Content Based Instruction.

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WebQuest a collaborative strategy to teach content and language on the Web

The increasing interest in CLIL has to do, on one hand, with the Globalisation
phenomenon and the expansion of technology - the world has become smaller; access to
information and communication in other languages are increasing everyday and
therefore being a literate person means knowing at least another language; and, on the
other hand, with the fact that multilingualism has become a priority in European policy.
This has motivated many countries to initiate CLIL programmes with different
characteristics and under different circumstances, but with the purpose of improving
specific language competence of learners so that they are prepared for future studies or
working life, as well as conveying to pupils values of tolerance and respect vis--vis
other cultures, through use of the CLIL target language (Eurydice, 2006).
It is only over the last 4 years that research on CLIL has started to evolve, as stated in
a recent special issue on this topic (Dalton-Puffer & Nikula, 2006), and most of the
research initiatives are work in progress. However, we can say, together with Marsh
(2000), that a CLIL approach can be very successful in enhancing the learning of
languages and other subjects, and developing in young people a positive can do
attitude towards themselves as language learners.

3.1 Principles of CLIL

Some of the basic principles in the CLIL classroom are:

Language is used to learn as well as to communicate.

It is the subject matter which determines the language it is necessary to learn.

Fluency is more important than accuracy.

Furthermore, according to Coyle (2002) a CLIL lesson should promote the combination
of the following 4 key principles (4Cs): content, communication, cognition and culture/
Content: This first principle places successful content or subject learning and the
acquisition of knowledge, skills and understanding inherent to that discipline at the very
heart of the learning process (Coyle, 2002:27), that is the target content is the target in
the process of a CLIL activity.
Communication: implies that language should be used to learn the content while
learning the language as well, being the content that determines the language. In this
respect, what it is relevant is that CLIL serves to reinforce the notion that language is a

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University of Granada
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WebQuest a collaborative strategy to teach content and language on the Web

tool which to have meaning and sense needs to be activated in contexts which are
motivating for and meaningful to our learners (Coyle, 2002:28).
Cognition: A CLIL lesson should challenge students to develop thinking skills.
Therefore, the activities proposed in CLIL practice should promote cognitive processes
by requiring them to link concepts, understanding and language.
Culture/ Citizenship: CLIL should expose learners to varied perspectives, so that they
become aware of cultural issues; this leads to tolerance in a plural society.

4. WebQuests and CLIL

After analysing the WebQuest model and its adaptation to teaching a second language
and the basic principles of CLIL, we observe a WebQuest may be a valuable strategy to
fulfil CLIL principles and vice versa, CLIL units can be very suitable for developing
good WebQuests. A quick revision of all the principles stated above will make this
crystal clear.
CLIL, as well as Content Based Learning, places more emphasis on content than on
language itself; language is a means to deal with content of interest and relevance to the
learner. Therefore, students use the language to implement meaningful activities around
a given topic. As we have already seen, the WebQuest strategy in particular is an
excellent tool to achieve this objective.
Further, the task in a language WebQuest should be communicative oriented and this is
also the case in CLIL, language is used not only as a means to learn, but to
communicate. It is true that we can also pursue some linguistic objectives, such as
learning vocabulary or acquiring some reading strategies, but when planning a CLIL
WebQuest, working with the language could also be a requisite to help students
understand the topic. The key is always using meaningful and contextualised activities.
This will focus students on the content even if they are learning some formal aspects of
As for the 4Cs, web environments in general - and WebQuests in particular - seem to be
the perfect settings to promote these principles: It is obvious that content and
communication can be easily promoted in a web environment or in a WebQuest, as well
as culture awareness. But in the case of the cognition principle, the relationship is even
more obvious because, as we said previously, one of the key conditions of a real
WebQuest was the promotion of high order thinking processes.
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University of Granada
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WebQuest a collaborative strategy to teach content and language on the Web

On the other hand, if we go back to the principles we mentioned before in relation to the
design of a WebQuest for second languages, we can see that all principles are also
applied in the case of CLIL except for the last one: The WebQuest should be planned
to practise the language skills that we want the students to improve. Although, it is not
completely inadvisable that students do some concentrated practice in a particular skill,
this should not be to the detriment of content. All other principles are perfectly
applicable to a CLIL WebQuest: using authentic materials, adapting the complexity of
the task, stating clear linguistic and non linguistic goals, setting a communicative
outcome, supporting the process with abundant scaffolding including language activities
in context (e.g. to revise vocabulary, etc.) and integrating the WebQuest in a course
The following image illustrates those factors to take into account when designing a
CLIL WebQuest.


Factors to take into account

Available web
resources (authentic)

Subject content
Learning objectives:

Didactic unit in which

the WebQuest is

Students: level,
language knowledge

linguistic and nonlinguistic

Required vocabulary
And language strategies


Type of texts

5. Conclusion
There seem to be similarities and correspondences between the characteristics and elements of
the WebQuest strategy and the requirements of CLIL activities. However, this is still a field to
explore and research properly. To the best of our knowledge, there are not many WebQuests
specifically oriented to CLIL, probably because CLIL is still in its first steps in most European
countries and also because most of the programmes are taking place in primary and secondary
education and designing a good WebQuest for second languages for those levels is not an easy
task. In fact, in many cases other types of activities will be more appropriate than a WebQuest,
at least for the first time students use the Web in the classroom. We have to emphasise the need
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University of Granada
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to design WebQuests only if we want learners to develop some kind of high order thinking and
not if the task consists of copying and pasting information, answering some questions or playing
games. All these are perfect choices either for learning and teaching a language or for CLIL, but
we cannot call them WebQuests.

CLIL WebQuests are surely appropriate in higher stages of education or when the command of
language is at least intermediate; the availability of authentic resources about every subject, the
collaborative and interdisciplinary components of the WebQuest and the connection between
WebQuest and CLIL methodology confirm that it has a lot of potential and we will see several
examples2 in the following years at all levels of education.

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Dalton-Puffer, C & T. Nikula (eds.) (2006) Current research on CLIL. Special issue of
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You can find a few collected examples at the following url

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University of Granada
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WebQuest a collaborative strategy to teach content and language on the Web

Dodge, B. (2001). "FOCUS: Five rules for writing a great WebQuest." Learning &
Leading with Technology, 28, 8: 6-9.
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University of Granada
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Stoks, G. (2002). WebQuest: task-based learning in a digital environment. Babylonia,

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University of Granada
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