Designing Web-Based Materials for ESL/EFL Lessons
It has often been said that computers will never replace teachers; however, teachers that use computers to facilitate learning for their students will always have one more “tool” than those that do not. Although the use of computers in language teaching is ubiquitous, many teachers are still unsure of how to design Internet-based lessons that encourage students to communicate in the target language.
Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL) and Computer-Assisted Language Teaching (CALT) are buzz terms in the field of teaching English as a foreign language. Many teachers use these terms freely in discussions about methodologies, but often have difficulties explaining details on approaches to, designs for and procedures of using computers to promote language acquisition. Nevertheless, designing lessons that use relevant English websites can increase students’ motivation and encourage students to become individual language learners. Therefore, this article addresses several basic questions in an attempt to provide practical guidelines that teachers can follow for developing communicative language lessons.
This is perhaps the easiest question about CALL to answer. CALL is for any language learner that has basic computer skills. However, some learners are able to benefit from CALL more than others. Students that are self-motivated can use CD-ROMs for specialized practice of pronunciation, grammar-based lessons, TOIEC or TOEFL preparation as well as surf the hundreds of EFL/ESL websites available to students. Schools with labs can encourage students to take advantage of language learning software by ensuring that labs are open and accessible to students and that labs have a monitor that can assist students with equipment and can advise students on appropriate software.
There are a plethora of resources available for both teachers and students. These resources can facilitate learning for all subjects; however, teachers need to ensure that students are aware of what resources are available both in a lab and in cyberspace. Ideally, teachers can begin this familiarization process by holding communicative language lessons in a computer lab.
In addition to Internet-based lessons for EFL students, CALL lessons can be appropriate for other classes. Movie English classes can take advantage of multi-media equipment to review specific scenes. At the same time students can use information on movie websites to gain background knowledge of specific movies. This aids in understanding subtle nuances related to language register or culture. Other topical courses such as current events, travel English or culture classes can include CALL lessons to augment a syllabus. Whether the course is an English for academic purposes course, content-based course or topic-based course, students can benefit from CALL lessons designed as supplemental instruction that enhance textbook materials.
One advantage of using Internet sites for language learning is that the world wide web provides an infinite source for authentic texts. Although many ESL/EFL textbooks provide situations and examples of everyday English, they are finite and dated. Teachers can use the Internet to design lessons that provide students with authentic discourse in real situations. Properly designed, Internet-based lesson can promote communicative language learning if the activities encourage interaction among students in the class.
Furthermore, Internet-based lessons can increase students' interest so language learning moves from a deductive teaching process to an inductive language acquisition process. Essentially, this is a step toward persuading students to take the initiative to become more individual and independent language learners. To do this it is important for teachers to provide students with additional sites on specific topics so they can continue their learning process outside of the class.
In addition to supplemental instruction, teachers can integrate the use of computers into a course design for several other purposes. Email or “group pages” can be used to disseminate information. For example, some Internet companies provide free services that allow their email users to register member-only group sites. Teachers can build group pages and down-load audio, video or other types of files for students to access. Assignments notes, important dates, project guidelines, announcements and syllabi can also be posted on group sites. Additionally, group sites can also facilitate file sharing among teachers to promote the spirit of “Teachers helping Teachers”.
One of the main objectives for using CALL resources is to promote inductive learning for students. Moving out of the classroom and away from rote memorization, grammar drills and textbooks, CALL lessons open a new door for students. CALL lessons afford students an opportunity to acquire new vocabulary and grammatical structures through using authentic material. CALL lessons involve students in the language learning process because they must read information on English websites and discuss that information in English. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I may remember. Involve me and I learn.” Involving students more in the language learning process increases both the likelihood of long-term retention and the likelihood of creating individual learners.
In addition to acquiring language while doing Internet-based lessons, students are also likely to acquire new content. In one particular CALL lesson that is gaining popularity among EFL teachers in Korea, students go to the Guinness Book of World Records website and answer a number of questions on “biggest animal”, “longest river”, “tallest building”. The lesson is designed for middle-school children to practice superlatives; however, some teachers who have used the lesson have commented on how the students also learn interesting facts that may be useful in other classes as well.
Increasing student motivation is another prime objective for using CALL lessons. Getting students out of a traditional classroom to do something a little different can raise levels of interest for both the teacher and the students. Additionally, CALL lessons that promote interactive learning increase attention spans and foster intrinsic motivation.
A third prime objective for using CALL lessons is to target a variety of learning styles. Students have a variety of learning styles and therefore, teachers should take every measure possible to design lessons that target a variety of learning styles. CALL lessons offer a medium to target more students’ learning style preferences as well as help students develop new learning strategies.
The questions of “Where?” and “When?” are rather self-explanatory and dependent on the technological resources and time constraints of the language program. Therefore, the final and perhaps most important question is “How?” Any teacher can design Internet-based language lessons by following several easy steps:
- Decide on a Theme – Teachers need to decide on an appropriate theme for a lesson. The theme could easily follow the topic of a unit in a textbook so that it is a supplemental lesson to the textbook. For example, if students have just finished a unit on weather, then the teacher can supplement the unit with a CALL lesson on weather.
- Decide on a Language Focus – Teachers also need to decide on a language structure that the students will practice during the lesson. This is especially true for lower level students. If a lesson is on superstitions, an appropriate language structure might be the real conditional verb tense (If + present tense + will, can or may): If a black cat crosses your path, you will have bad luck. There are many websites on superstitions, so designing a communicative lesson on this topic to practice conditional tenses is a plausible project.
- Find User-Friendly, Reliable Websites – It is very important that teachers choose websites that load quickly and are user friendly. Pop-ups or slow loading pages can inhibit the flow of a lesson in a computer lab. Sites should also be organized in a manner that students can find information easily.
- Design Activities that Practice Language Using the Content – Since the objective of CALL lessons is the acquisition of language, teachers need to include activities in a lesson that promote communication in the target language. Pair work and group work activities can be incorporated into a CALL lesson in the same way that many textbooks include such activities.
- Check Websites Before Teaching – Websites come and go, so check all links before doing the lesson.
This article has provided some answers to the basic questions that many language teacher have about CALL/CALT. In addition to discussing a rationale for using computers in language teaching, several guidelines for developing CALL lessons have been provided.
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