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LC, SQU. Language FORUM - Farah Bahrouni, Feb.

2006

Using the Web: Guidelines for ESL/EFL Teachers


By Farah Bahrouni
LC, SQU – Feb. 06

Overview

This article provides practical hints to how to use the World Wide Web to help our students
practice more what we give them in class in any of the language skills. It has three
sections. The first is meant to touch upon the readers’ inquisitive and adventurous spirits
to incite them to create their own interactive pages as it is the best way to present online
materials that meet one’s students’ needs. The second shows the advantages of using the
Web for language institutions as well as their students, while the third cites some websites
as examples of what the Web can offer ESL learners. By providing useful information
about the Web, I hope to provide them with its ‘greatest advantage… the ability to seek
out and learn by using this virtual infinity of world-wide knowledge.’ (Wilson 2004)

Interactive Web Pages

More and more ESL teachers are realizing that the Web can be, and actually is, a
magnificent resource for language instruction, to quote Meloni (2005) ‘a gold mine of
materials for ESL teachers’. There are oodles of Websites that ‘offer students instant
access to a wide range of authentic material, from newspaper and magazine articles to
radio broadcasts and informal chat-rooms, and also to material prepared specially for
learners, such as grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary exercises and tests’ Moras
(2001). Web proponents have researched, collected and, sometimes, even cataloged such
sites. The most valuable ESL sites are those which call for incorporating Web activities
into classes, including at times detailed lesson plans and teaching tips.

To get started, one had better start browsing through some of the Web pages already
created by other ESL teachers to have an idea of what is up there. There are a great
variety of approaches to using the Web, and it is very helpful to sample some different
sites to get a sense of what is possible. Before sending our students online, we need to
‘understand the types of [Web] sites and their uses… to help [them] improve their English
abilities, and the basis of pessimistic views and myths that have stymied the use of the
computer-Internet combination for ESL/EFL learning.’ (Wilson 2004)

Once you are acquainted with what is available on the Web, and you have collected
enough sites to help you shape your opinion about the nature, the approach and the
cultural aspects of the online materials, the next step is to create your own interactive
page, where you include your own tailored course materials that truly fit your students’
needs.

We are all aware that language teaching requires a more active kind of learning than most
other disciplines. ‘You can't learn to use a language by listening to lectures or by just
studying the theory (or the grammar)’ (Jones, 1998). Put succinctly, practice is
fundamental. It is therefore rational to solicit the Web as a strong L2 learning assistant that
has a great potential. As ESL teachers, we are at a greater advantage than our colleagues
of other languages since most of the online stuff is put in English. We need to empower
that assistant to interact with our students. We aim at having our students work with
authentic language materials as much as possible, and to assess their understanding
through some kind of evaluation matrix (ibid). By dint of frequent and consistent exposure
to authentic materials presented in the target language (in both oral and written forms), we

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aim at having students use the language as much as possible, both inside and outside the
class, through writing and speaking. Once we have reached that stage, we can confidently
say that we have succeeded in helping our students ‘learn how to learn’, which is the first
essential step in acquiring and developing ‘the strategies of self directed learning ... [and]
the skills necessary to go on their own when they leave school’ (Knowles, 1976). All this
can be done, to a certain extent, on the Web. Needless to say, however, that computers
and the Web, per se, can never provide as effective or efficient a means of learning a
language as one-on-one human interaction. With all the hype about technological change,
language teachers needn’t be concerned about losing their jobs as computers can and will
never replace human beings in a discipline devoted to human communication in all its
linguistic, social and cultural aspects. (Jones1998).

Having said this, we all have to admit that technology is causing and accelerating major
social and educational change. Sooner or later, all teachers will have to take advantage of
some aspects of technology in their teaching; if not, they will be at a great disadvantage
with their students. Jones (1998) put it this way, ‘Those who do not get ahead of the curve
and find ways to get the technology to do what makes sense in their discipline will down
the road find themselves using pre-formatted, pre-digested, one-size-fits-all models, which,
compared to others, make little sense for language learning.’ On the other hand, once you
begin creating interactive, dynamic Web pages, you will discover you are operating in an
opulently flexible environment that allows you not just to emulate others, but also to create
new patterns (ibid). Essentially, I am not invoking a total rely on the Web, home schooling
or the like; I am just calling upon the use of technology to supplement what we do in class
and to help doing what we cannot do very well now_ share multimedia, collaborate
learning and making authentic materials comprehensible.

One last word before I wrap up this section. Before you are ready to create your own
interactive learning materials, make sure to spend some time learning the basics. It is a
fact that computer programs and operating systems are getting simpler and easier to use
all the time, yet it still takes some effort to develop something of your own, especially if you
have learned things yourself stumbling through trial and error. A canned program created
for you by a guru may not be easily updated or customized if you have little idea how it
was put together. But if you do it yourself, you know all its tidbits, you tailor it to what you
want, and you can change it the time and the way you like. Of course, the most important
reason for doing it yourself is that you have the teaching experience and knowledge that is
requisite in creating programs for language learning, which a guru might not have (ibid).

Moving Digital

More often than not, language centers tend to develop huge amounts of in-house
materials. Yet, ESL teachers by and large still supplement class work with handouts
containing verb charts, additional exercises, pictures, readings or photocopied media. The
in-house materials are meant to supplement the main textbooks, but actually both the main
course and the in-house materials books end up by being supplemented, which is neither
cost nor time effective. Thus, moving digital, I think, would definitely save language
institutions a lot and serve their students far much better. Basically, I am talking about
electronic versions of what language teachers are already using. The Web offers the
possibility of making these materials available electronically and putting them into an
interactive environment. Think about Moodle, for example, and the great possibilities it
offers, let alone the multimedia facilities that can’t easily be used elsewhere, as well as
teachers’ creative ways used on their Web pages. Moving digital would entail a reduction
in the teaching hours since all the in-house materials will be put on the web paralleled by

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an increase in the weekly computer-lab lessons allocated to each section. This upshot
alone would be enough to bring about a slew of advantages: freeing more teachers and
rooms to accommodate the institution’s new intake, cutting down considerably on paper,
ink and the printing equipment, and most of all reducing both the students and the
teachers’ load, hence learners will have more time to focus, hold the reins of their own
learning themselves and direct it towards their majors, and so will teachers, in their turn,
have more time to be creative not only as the main course teachers, but as cyber guides
and facilitators. Implementing this would necessarily require that the Language Center
should invest some of the above mentioned savings on well maintaining the present
computer labs and equipping few more according to the needs.

Following are what I see as advantages of moving digital:

1. Cost and Time Effective.


2. Free the learning process from time and space constraints.
3. Students have 24-hour, remote, independent access.
4. Wean students off their teachers and on self-reliance.
5. Materials can be edited and updated easily.
6. Hypertexts include links to other related pages, which, in their turn, take users to
other related ones, and so on, ending up by having a web of related pages/sites
approaching the same topic/issue from different angles.
7. As they go through the information, students develop and improve their reading
skills: skimming and scanning.
8. Teaches students essential life-long skills that prepare them for their future life_
basic computer skills, critical thinking and how to be selective.
9. Create an ever-snowballing ‘Bank of Learning Materials’ (I’d suggest to refer to it as
LANCBALM). LANCBALM could be categorized either level-wise, subject-wise,
topic-wise or major-wise. Fox (1998), Singhal (1997) and Warschauer (1997).

‘Launching-Pad’ Web Sites

A vast array of basic language skills can be enhanced using Web-based activities.
Vocabulary practice, grammar lessons, comprehension exercises, reading and writing
tasks, and even pronunciation exercises can be put on the Web and made interactive in a
variety of ways.

Listening and Pronunciation

Modern technology has had a tremendous impact on listening, more than any other
language learning area. The development in sound and graphics technology has
consistently been nullifying problems and obstacles that have long stood as impediments
to effective listening. Nowadays the Internet enables students not only to choose the
WHEN and the WHERE, but, and may be more importantly, the HOW, the WHO, and the
WHAT to listen to. They can choose the level of difficulty they fit in, listen as many times
as they need, do as many tasks as they want, and best of all get immediate feedback.

The following links have variety of listening activities from sentence level to long
conversations. The use of Real Audio programs as well as Real Video programs is meant
to motivate the learner and makes listening as enjoyable as possible. The topics are also
so varied to choose from that they can be categorized in themes. These sites are very
useful as they provide opportunities to practice and improve the listening comprehension
skills.

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Randall’s ESL Cyber Listening Lab

Listening Page 1

As for the speaking, the links below have every possible means to help learners speak
English correctly. Some even offer the chance to record one’s own voice and compare
their pronunciation to that of a native speaker.

English Pronunciation

American English Pronunciation Practice (minimal pairs +) - On-Line Lessons

Pronunciation Skills /p/ vs /b/

ESL Independent Study Lab - Pronunciation

Pronunciation Resources on the WWW

Listening comprehension exercises, such as fill-in-the-gap exercises done while listening


to audio, can be nicely uploaded on the Web. Randall's ESL Cyber Listening Lab and
Dave’s ESL Café, to mention only these, provide excellent examples of how audio files
can be used for listening comprehension.
Audio clips can be put into Web pages to provide exercises for listening comprehension,
pronunciation practice, and vocabulary development. Audio files must be put into an
appropriate format, such as MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface), and then put on a
Web page. When the user clicks on the audio link, the clip is played via a plug-in
(Warschauer, Shetzer, & Meloni, 2000).

If a teacher finds that these sites do not serve their students’ needs and want to tailor their
own materials, their task has been simplified even further. The newest technology in audio
on the Web is streaming audio, which provides real-time playing of clip files (Warschauer,
Shetzer, & Meloni, 2000). This allows the user to play the clips immediately, avoiding the
sometimes time-consuming download of RealAudio clips. It is a new way of connecting
students with native speakers and authentic materials. It virtually transports the target
language environment to the second language classroom without waiting for huge files to
download. Students can listen to live radio stations from around the world or hear pre-
recorded broadcasts of music, news, sports, and weather.

Reading and Writing

The following links provide different activities to help ESL learners improve their writing.

Paragraph Punch

Guide to Grammar & Writing

Paragraph Builder

TESOL Internet Resources (all skills)

Writer’s Guide Paragraph Essentials

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Along These Lines: Writing Sentences & Paragraphs

Learn English (all skills)

OWL Handouts : Complete Index by Topic

E-Mail

Research shows that e-mail is a very useful vehicle for teaching English (Lee, 1998;
Warschauer, 1995), reading and writing in particular. E-mail can provide teacher-student,
student-student communications including formal and informal discussions, exchange of
dialogue journals and writing conferencing (Belisle, 1996). Some students find it difficult to
discuss issues with a teacher because of timidity or lack of time. Using e-mail enables
such shy students to communicate their ideas and express their opinions without any
embarrassment.

In ESL environments, the messages that the teacher sends back to students are very
important to them. They reinforce students’ acquisitions and provide the required
information. Warschauer (1995) presents three other benefits of e-mail. First, e-mail
provides students with an excellent opportunity for real and natural written communication.
Most ESL students lack sufficient opportunities for communicating in English. E-mail can
put students in contact with native speakers or other English learners around the world
instantaneously and provide authentic contexts and motivations for communication.
Second, e-mail supplies opportunities for independent learning which is essential for
second language writing. Using e-mail involves a wide range of other skills pertaining to
computer literacy_ knowing how to use a personal computer, knowing how to navigate
through the web, and becoming familiar with the netiquette of the e-mail communication,
are only examples. Mastering these skills can empower the students to use e-mail and
other types of telecommunications for the rest of their lives. Third, e-mail allows the
students to communicate easily with hundreds of students. It can provide information,
contact, and stimulation for the students to read and write more and more. Succinctly, e-
mail enables students to have many opportunities for communication, collaboration, and
information while improving their reading and writing skills.

As for the reading, there are increasingly more wonderful resources available on the
Internet for students to use to improve their reading skill. During the last two years, my
tenure at the Language Center, I have eagerly introduced my students to websites
teeming with renewable authentic materials that could be of any use to help them in their
English language learning. Most of the stuff provided on the web is presented in a written
form. Therefore, whatever the task is, students can not accomplish it unless they READ..
instructions, rubrics, texts, captions, let alone stories, reports, biographies, news ..
especially when it is about their model stars or sportsmen.

Now, I’m Reading!


Reading Comprehension
Reading Comprehension Worksheets
Reading Comprehension Exercises

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Vocabulary and Grammar

Games and exercises designed to help students learn new vocabulary are easily put on
the Web. A typical Web-based vocabulary activity might be a matching exercise where
words or phrases are matched with definitions via a pop-up menu created with a Web
form. Students click on a link at the bottom of the page to see the correct answers.
Extensive grammar explications, practice exercises and quizzes are created in the same
way. There may also be a "hint" button for help.

Interesting Things for ESL Students


English-Zone.Com
ESL: English as a Second Language
World-English
Activities for ESL Students
Learn English
ESL-images

Conclusion

The development of Web-based language teaching and learning activities is sure to


continue to be an exciting and growing field. While computer programmers, instructional
designers, and computational linguists steadily push the extremes of the field, language
instructors can still use the basic tools to creatively design and tailor their own interactive
materials that serve their students’ needs and upload it on the web, thus contributing to the
ever-snowballing cyber ESL wealth.

References

 Belisle, R. (1996). E-mail activities in the ESL writing class. The Internet TESL
Journal http://iteslj.org/Articles/Belisle-Email.html retrieved 2/16/06
 Fox, G. (1998). ‘The Internet: making it work in the ESL classroom’.
http://iteslj.org/Articles/Fox-Internet.html retrieved 2/20/06
 Jones,G.(1998). Language Interative: Language Learning and the Web
http://www.fln.vcu.edu/cgi/1.html#how retrieved 2/20/06
 Knowles,M.(1976). The Modern Practice of Adult Education. NY. Association Press.
 Lee, E-K. (1998). Using E-mail in EFL Writing Classes The Internet TESL Journal
http://iteslj.org/Techniques/Lee-EmailWriting.html retrieved 2/16/06
 Meloni,C.(2005). The Internet in the Classroom A Valuable Tool and Resource for
ESL/EFL Teachers. http://www.eslmag.com/modules.php?
name=News&file=article&sid=10 retrieved 12/21/05
 Moras,S.(2001). Computer-Assisted Language Learning (Call) And The Internet
http://www3.telus.net/linguisticsissues/CALL.html retrieved 3/0603
 Singhal, M. (1997). ‘The Internet and foreign language education: benefits and
challenges’. http://iteslj.org/Articles/Singhal-Internet.html 3/15/05
 Warschauer, M. (1995). E-Mail for English teaching. Washington, DC: Teachers of
English to Speakers of Other Languages.

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 Warschauer, M. (1997). ‘The Internet for English Teaching: guidelines for teachers’.
http://iteslj.org/Articles/Warschauer-Internet.html retrieved 2/20/06
 Warschauer, M., Shetzer, H. & Meloni, C. (2000). Internet for English teaching.
Alexandria, VA: TESOL Publications
 Wilson, R.(2004). Computers and the Internet: Together a Great Tool for ESL/EFL
Learners
http://www10.cs.rose-hulman.edu/Papers/Wilson.pdf retrieved 2/19/06