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The ever-increasing availability of quality teaching materials and websites well suited for language learning has raised the profile of the Internet in our classroom as a valuable study resource. Therefore we’ve decided to dedicate this term’s Secondary section to the wonders of the World Wide Web. However, a fruitful class in the computer room also requires careful planning and good management. In this issue, Secondary teacher and Internet fan Joan Rubies Duro talks to us about how to get the most out of your computer time.
How often do you use the computer room?
The first two terms are quite intense so I usually only manage to take each class there once or twice a month, but after Easter we go there once a week.
Do you have a master computer?
We have a master computer which is networked to all of the other computers. This is handy for uploading exercises to the shared files when we’re working off-line. In some schools, the master computer is connected to a large screen or to an electronic blackboard which would certainly be useful, but we manage perfectly well without that.
What’s the layout like in your computer room?
We have two computer rooms. In the smaller room the computers are arranged in a U shape, which makes monitoring easier; if you are in the middle it's easy to see if they are working and staying on task. In the larger one they are in rows of 6, so you have to alternate between patrolling the rows and staying at the back (which is a good vantage point for checking nobody’s doing anything they shouldn’t!).
What’s the main difference you find between managing computer room and classroom activities? Once they have their links to the websites uploaded in their computers, it's easier to do a lesson in the computer room than in the classroom because everybody works, even those students who hardly ever follow your lessons in a conventional classroom. They find it so much more motivating.
What are the most common problems?
As the Internet connection can’t always be relied upon to work, I keep my back-up activities on CD close by just in case! This is the most common problem so it’s one you can easily pre-empt. But the best technique is to pray to ‘Santa Tecla’ before starting any computer activity! Just joking. Nowadays computers are more reliable than eight years ago when I began these sessions, and if the Internet connection works, there are no problems.
What are the main rewards from doing computer room activities?
Apart from the motivation factor it's great to see how most of them can progress at their own pace. Surprisingly some of them finish their exercises of their own free will connecting from their homes. What could be more rewarding for a teacher?
How do you organize the students in the computer room?
Here are Joan’s top ten web recommendations:
S E C O N D A R Y
One student per computer would be ideal but it is not always possible. I reserve the classroom in advance, so if I go with the whole group I make sure we have access to the larger room with 25 computers. That way most of the students can have their own computer. When we split classes we normally use the smaller one with just 10 computers, which means that students often have to share.
How do you set tasks?
What kind of activities work best?
I like working with web-based activities. There are thousands on the Net so your students can try a different one every day.
I upload the links to their computers in the order I want them to work and ask them to go through them in that order. I prefer exercises with a built-in self-check facility, because students are more autonomous and can advance at their own pace. I always tell them not to go on to the next set of exercises unless they have achieved 90% of the right answers, and they must show me their scores. After the first day, they become so used to following this routine that they know what to do, and once they have the screen in front of them they start working.
If you type ‘learn English’ into Google© you’ll get something like 350 million hits! Naturally I haven’t visited them all, nor do I imagine anyone is ever likely to, but here are my ten favourites, in no particular order:
1. http://www.google.es This might not sound very informative, but just type in the kind of exercise you want to practise, eg present perfect exercises and you'll find thousands of them. 2. http://www.learnenglish.org.uk/ (British Council) • http://www.britishcouncil.org/languageassist ant-arc-essuk.htm ('Essential UK') • http://www.britishcouncil.org/languageas sistant-arc-games.htm (games) • http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/try/pla ns/superhero/superhero.shtml (listening/reading comprehension) 3. http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/index.shtml (listenings) • http://englishlistening.com/ (listenings in American English) • http://www.fonetiks.org/ 4. http://yahooesp.englishtown.com/home/portal.asp (daily lesson) 5. http://es.launch.yahoo.com/v/ (video clips)
How much do you need to prepare in advance?
You do need to do some preparatory work at home, selecting the sites with the exercises you want to work on and saving the links on a CD, or better still a pen drive, in order to upload them to your students' computers.
How do you monitor everyone?
I walk round answering any questions, and at the same time I check what are they doing. It's easy, and means that I’m on hand to check their results when they finish each set of exercises.
Have you ever tried uploading your students’ work?
Yes! The more familiar I became with the Net, the more I started to think I could use it to improve my students’ writing skills. For example, with my 3rd ESO students we did a writing project about our village, Arenys de Munt. We surfed some similar websites about different towns and cities to analyze the kind of language and content we would need, then wrote our own. The success of the project prompted me to try the same with my 2nd ESO classes. You can find links to all our students’ work on my own blog: http://enjoy-learningenglish.blogspot.com/
What other materials to you allow them to bring in?
They don't need anything else other than my instructions, ie where to go and what to do. If they can't guess the meaning of new words I allow them to use an online dictionary.
6. http://webquest.org/ (all about webquests, from the University of San Diego)
Do you limit their website access or stop them surfing / chatting?
If they’re kept busy there isn’t time for them to surf or chat and with careful monitoring it’s easy to spot. Also, nearly all of them have Internet connection at home and can regularly use Messenger or visit the sites they like, so it takes away the novelty of doing this during class time. What do you do with fast-finishers? Some years ago there were not so many suitable websites around but now there are thousands, and as I upload enough links to work for two or more hours, they always have work to do. So they can work non- stop and at their own pace.
n g l i s h L a n g u a
7. http://members.aol.com/eslkathy/esl.htm#new (exercises)
•http://www.isabelperez.com •http://usuarios.lycos.es/englishweb •http://eslus.com/esl/resource.htm#general
8. http://www.eslcafe.com/ (quizzes, chats...) 9. http://www.apac.es/teachresource_links.html (Probably one of the best - lots of suggestions for resources on the Internet) 10. (Write your own website here!)
How easy is it to upload material?
Well, I have to admit that I did a course on how to create websites to help them with this, but it’s not really necessary. There’s a webbuilder called www.galeon.com which is very user-friendly and requires no previous knowledge.
M a c m i l l a n E
Joan Rubies Duro teaches at IES Domènec Perramon in Arenys de Munt. He is also a teacher trainer, specializing in information technology.
g e T e a c h i n g
Project work using the Internet
The advantages of using the Internet in the language classroom are already well documented: Net-based lessons are motivational, a source of authentic language and retain a certain ‘cutting edge’ feel. In this article, Chris Boucher, Jim Chillman and Tim Lawrence show us three examples of ongoing, teacher-friendly Internet projects that can be integrated into a class syllabus or run alongside it. 1) A class website Levels: All Ages: All www.piczo.com offers enormous teaching possibilities; it was designed to enable users to create their very own website and is arguably the most user-friendly example of its kind. Using Piczo the class can create a multimedia website, with images, text and sound, in minutes. The teacher can choose a web address, for instance, www.k4kids.piczo.com which is then accessible from any computer. This page can be used for a variety of tasks: • For structured, student-generated practice activities, such as finding pictures and writing related comparative and superlative sentences. •As a multimedia space to display class interests, for example their favourite football team. • To exhibit the results of web-based research, country reports, favourite stars, etc. •To display class work, such as written exercises. •Learners can invite other classes to visit their website and leave a message. 2) BBC News forums Levels: Intermediate and above Ages: Teenagers The BBC’s Have Your Say can be found at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/talking_ point/default.stm and it allows the public to express their opinions on a wide range of issues. Both UK and international versions are available and the topics change regularly so the activity can be revisited throughout the year, providing exposure to authentic themes and language. Again, this can provide a rich source of activities for the language learner:
at the front page, the class find topics of interest to them and predict the likely content and views for and against. be compared with learners’ predictions, and interesting posts can be ‘recommended’.
3) MSN groups Levels: All Ages: Teenagers An MSN group can be set up at http://groups.msn.com and ‘logins’ (user profiles) made for individuals or groups of learners. With MSN groups, learners can post comments on message boards and chat in real time. This offers a task-orientated approach to using the Internet in class, for instance:
• The views of the general public (posts) can
the class post their own views and hopefully the public nature of the forum will motivate the learners to produce interesting and accurate language. These posts may in turn be recommended by BBC readers. The activity can be further exploited by means of writing tasks, debates, or through starting a class forum (see MSN groups below).
races in which learners must find • Web races in which learners must find certain information as specified by the teacher and post the answers before the other groups.
Quizzes where learners write their own questions and answer those of other groups on the forum. Class forums, similar to the BBC news forum, where other groups or classes can write posts, read and comment on each other’s opinions.
S E C O N D A R Y
It also provides a good vehicle for grammar activities; for example, in a reported speech class the learners can respond to each other’s posts, shifting the comments into reported speech. Thus in the English classroom we can make use of the Internet for far more than simply seeking information. The interactive nature of many of the kinds of sites which are well familiar to teenagers provides teachers with a resource that at one time they could only dream about. The ultimate aim of language learning has always been real communication; what the Internet can provide is an authentic means, during class time, to engage and interact with the real world outside.
Chris Boucher, Jim Chillman and Tim Lawrence all teach English at the Cambridge School, Granollers.
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