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about teaching English to young learners, web tools and iPad teaching

Using webquests in teenage classes

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There are two motivations behind my choice of presenting for the first time a WebQuest to one of my school classes.

> I sometimes feel frustrated about how fast teens change and how fast their approach to learning English can change. I strongly believe that the proper use of technology in the language classroom could be a great help to keep learners motivated and focused on the topic.
> In addition to this, the school where I work has just implemented a new linguistic lab with Internet access and a new teaching software (NetSupport School) able to manage students’ computers and works.

Using technology: advantages and disadvantages

  • Motivation: The use of technology in language teaching offers a lot of opportunities both for teachers and learners. One of the main advantages is that it can be strongly motivating, especially for young learners. The benefit of using a language game, for example, is that while enjoying the task learners recycle vocabulary. Most learners simply use the computer for their everyday tasks so, using it as a tool for learning, it is just a way to perceive it as natural.

Moreover, using technology in the language classroom provides learners with interactive exercises that appeal them. A web-based grammar exercise is more immediate and interesting for them than a paper-based one. Learners usually get instant feedback on their work and this stimulates them to re-try. (Sharma and Barret, 2008)

  • Updated materials: I believe the most interesting advantage of using technology in the language classroom is the sense of up-to-date that authentic current materials can offer e.g. Using a listening activity with the latest news on Steve Jobs death. This can support and enrich the traditional paper based material. (Sharma and Barret, 2008)

However, there are some concerns on the use of technology in the classroom, most of them are related to the use of standard gap-fill, true-false, mix-and-match grammar activities. As Sharma and Barret argue “the traditional role of computers in grammar has been disparagingly called ‘drill and kill’” (Sharma and Barret, 2008:12). Because these activities are perceived as boring. In addition some teachers still do not trust technology and believe it is not completely reliable, particularly in terms of contents.

Clearly there are opportunities and concerns about using technology in the language classroom, but it seems to me that some learning environments (young learners, Business English) cannot avoid using it as long as the role of the teacher and the role of technology are well balanced.

What’s a WebQuest?

I have decided to focus on one of the various aspects of technology in the classroom: WebQuest. The reason behind it is strictly linked to the nature of WebQuest: they are motivating, and they increase various learners’ skills.
A WebQuest can be defined as an interactive learning exercise in which students have to use several Internet resources (Fernàndez, 2007)

Bernie Dodge, in the WebQuest Page, states that “WebQuests are designed to use learners’ time well, to focus on using information rather than looking for it”.
According to March (1998), the use of WebQuests:
Increases student motivation.
Students face an authentic task and work with real resources.
Develops students ́ thinking skills.
Fosters cooperative learning (Fernàndez, 2007).

Dudeney & Hockey (2007) list a series of important reasons for using WebQuests in the language classroom, including:
They are an easy way for teachers to begin to incorporate the Internet into the language classroom, on both a short-term and long-term basis – no specialist technical knowledge is needed either to produce or use them.

Very often, they are group activities so they lead to communication and the sharing of knowledge – two principal goals of language teaching itself.

They can be used simply as a linguistic tool, but can also be interdisciplinary, they can be used in CLIL projects on various subjects.

They encourage critical thinking skills, including: comparing, classifying, inducing, deducing, analysing errors, constructing support, abstraction, analysing perspectives, etc. Learners are not able to simply regurgitate information they find, but are guided towards a transformation of that information to do a given task.

They can be both motivating and authentic tasks and encourage learners to view the activities they are doing as something ‘real’ or ‘useful’. This inevitably leads to more effort, greater concentration and a real interest in task achievement.

Dudeney (2000) also states the importance of planning and structuring an Internet class. This should be well-planned as any other class. Teachers have to read through the materials, check the links in advance and give learners the right level of challenge.

The lesson: New York City WebQuest

The lesson focused on New York City. I chose to talk about it because of the growing interest of the students towards the U.S.A.

All materials used were taken from Onestopenglish

I was happy with the students’ involvement, most of them were particularly engaged.

Group work: I think students particularly enjoyed working in groups and it was useful to have them focus on different questions or topics at the same time. They definitely improve their attitude to pair-working and group-working and this contributed to the outcome of the lesson.

Try it out!

Bibliography and Further Reading

Dudeney G. (2000). The Internet and the Language Classroom. 1st ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Dudeney G., Hockey, N. (2007) How to Teach with Technology. 1st ed. Pearson – Longman

Fernandez, M.V. (2007) ‘WebQuests: how do students approach their integration in the foreign language classroom?’. The Journal of Teaching English with Technology (TEwT), 2007. Retrieved 20th October 2011 from http://www.tewtjournal.org/VOL%207/ISSUE%202/WEBQUESTS.pdf

March,T. (1998) “Why WebQuests? An introduction.” seen on August 2011 http://tommarch.com/writings/intro_wq.php

Sharma P., Barrett B. (2007) Blended Learning. 1st ed. Oxford: Macmillan Publishers Ltd.

Check also this presentation from Paul Maglione (co-founder of English Attack) on Learner Motivation in the Age of the Digital Native.

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