TeachingEnglish
Using the internet 2

In this, and an earlier article, we look at the internet and how it can be used by teachers of English as a tool for their own development and as a resource for classroom teaching.

We look at the advantages of using the web, covering some of the problems and providing a few suggestions for dealing with those difficulties.

This article looks specifically at using the internet as a materials resource and how to prepare for and manage internet lessons.

  • A materials resource
  • Some internet lessons
  • Preparation, planning and management
  • Top tips


A materials resource
The internet has a lot to offer the teacher. There are authentic resources and materials, places where you can find prepared lesson plans, ideas and worksheets. The advantages of the internet to teachers include...

  • Its vast size
    The incredible expanse of the internet means the teacher has the ability to tailor lessons very specifically to students' needs and interests. Learners tend to respond better when they feel involved and engaged in the subject and the extent of the web means that if you can find out what the students are interested in, you can find it on the web.
  • Its relevance
    Much material is modern and up to date, which helps motivate students. Good web sites continually update their material.
  • Its widespread use
    Students enjoy using the net in their free time, and will appreciate its use in class
  • Its nature
    It's a dynamic medium involving movement from site to site, promoting decision-making and learner independence

 

The internet contains a lot of resources that teachers can access and use to prepare teaching materials. These range from sites specifically designed for teachers and learners to sites from national and international newspapers, museums, galleries and so on. Teachers can use these materials much the same way as they would other print-based resources, to create worksheets and exercises for their classes.

But if teachers are fortunate enough to have access to a computer room in their school then it is possible to use the internet with students during a class, exploiting the net as a dynamic medium.

Using the internet brings the 'real world' into the classroom and gives the students an opportunity to explore learning in a different way. However, having students facing a computer rather than the teacher, means teachers of internet lessons do need to be vigilant.

Some examples of internet lessons
These lesson ideas were suggested by contributors to the radio series Knowledge on the Net. The lessons show how the internet can bring a new dimension and dynamic into the classroom and they all depend upon student access to the internet - although the first can easily be used as an example of finding resource materials on the internet.

News web sites - from an idea by Donna Arbuthnot
"Students can compare the treatment of a major news story across different sites - all at the click of a mouse. One idea is to compare an American news site with an English news site.

"You need to access those sites yourself before you go into the class, and you need to check that the same news items are being reported on both sites. Just compare and contrast the content and style.

"It leads on quite well to follow up activities like the students creating their own web site, or you can get them to compare newspapers in their own country in their own language with the American and the English sites.

"You couldn't do this in a normal lesson because you don't have the access to American newspapers - it would be difficult to get hold of them. It would involve a lot of photocopying of 20 newspapers if you could get hold of them. It's much easier to click onto sites quickly and they are able to access things that are included on the web site. They are able to click onto links which may give them background information that you wouldn't be able to provide in the classroom, unless you had an in depth knowledge."

Language analysis - from an idea by David Eastment
"Students can use a search engine to compare the frequency of different language items.

"You could say, for example, 'what is the most common adjective in English?' and students type in a word like 'nice' and 'interesting' and just count how many hits that they get, and this can be very interesting actually. I did it recently and found that the word nice was there 18 million times, and the word super was there 20 million times, but the word special was there 67 million times, so it's 3 times as common as the word nice or super, on the internet.

"Another question you can ask is 'what sentence appears only once on the internet?' Until a couple of years ago 'I like English food' had only ever been written once, by a boy in Cambodia. These days a few more people have done it, but no one has written the sentence 'I love Welsh food.' It just doesn't exist, certainly not for the Google search engine, whereas I think that 4 or about 5 people have written 'I like Scottish food.' So with some students that sort of activity can be interesting.

"Students could also search for sentences that they have prepared, with the student with the most hits winning!"

Research / role play - from an idea by David Eastment
"For a group of business English students (or as a role play). The students need to choose a new company car, with a maximum price of perhaps £20 000. The students go to different sites, select a car and then put the picture of the car inside a word document with an explanation of why they chose that particular model and what features it had.

"This approach could be endlessly adapted. Students can research for any variety of projects or situations."

Preparation, planning and management
Internet lessons don't prepare themselves - so it would be wrong to think that using the net in teaching was an easy choice for a teacher. In fact, it calls for just as much, if not more, preparation than a conventional lesson. Here is a check list of key points for preparation, planning and management.

  • Have clear aims.
  • Check everything thoroughly. Check that the computers are working, check that any sites your students may need to access are still there and have the content you expect.
  • Have back-up material or sites prepared in case something happens to the sites while the class is working. If you are teaching an internet class you need to be flexible so that if there are problems with the technology or content, then the lesson doesn't come to a halt.
  • Although the web is a new resource, it makes the same demands on the teacher as more traditional teaching resources. And it's important to remember that whatever the resources and material being used - it is still the teacher that does the teaching, not the computer.
  • Monitor carefully. The same class management skills needed for a conventional lesson are still needed in the internet class.
  • The range of accessible material on the web is one reason teachers need to plan and monitor carefully. There are software programs available to help filter or block certain types of content, but these do not always work effectively. There is no substitute for the teacher being well-prepared and alert.

 

Top tips
The internet is a fantastic tool for teachers. It's not the answer to simple teaching or learning, but it is an incredibly motivating resource for both teachers and learners. You can find materials for use in traditional classes, you can access message boards and discussion groups for your own interest, development and to get ideas and activities for lessons, you can use it as a communication tool which allows your students to interact with people around the world in English and you can use it as the basis of lessons with students accessing the internet live during lessons. It's not always easy to use and it does have its problems but it's a motivating and engaging resource for both students and the teachers.

Here are some top tips for teachers using the internet.

  • Don't be afraid of the technology, it's not difficult to learn to use.
  • Learn how to search effectively and evaluate the materials you find
  • Prepare internet lessons and materials carefully, remember to have alternative material ready in case of technological or other problems
  • Before using the internet in class, check any sites that you will be asking the students to use.
  • During the lesson, monitor the students carefully
  • Finally - have fun and be creative!

 

If you have any suggestions or tips for using the internet in the class you would like to share on this site, contact us.

Callum Robertson, radio broadcaster and online producer, BBC World Service

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