Using Internet Resources in the Second-Language Classroom

Written By Thea Chapin Durling
The University Of Massachusetts Amherst
Independent Study - Spring 2001

Web Page Created by Irene Starr and Thea Chapin Durling, April 2001
Links updated October 2012

The Bard   Holidays and Culture   Appendices

The Internet can be a confusing and frustrating resource that can make us feel like we have better things to do besides hunt down elusive web sites for use in our work.  However, I believe that the benefits of investing a little time in the Internet far outweigh the frustrations and that the Internet can become a powerful resource and tool once you know how to use it.  I struggled to learn how to use the Internet, and, from that experience, I am writing this booklet to help other educators become more comfortable with Internet use as a classroom resource.

My original idea for this project was that I would find ALL the second-language resources on the net and that I would organize them in a giant database.  This idea was silly:  there are already databases like that on web sites, addresses change frequently enough to make my information obsolete in less time that it took to find the addresses, and so on.  Instead, in this booklet, I have described various projects or activities that my students did, and I have explained how the Internet was part of each one.  My goal is to have you, the reader/teacher, get ideas from my examples that may help you have more confidence in exploring the net and incorporating it into your work, whatever population of learners you work with.
 Good luck and enjoy!

The Bard Himself
When I found out that all my ESL students would be studying Shakespeare in their mainstream classes, I realized that I had to do something to support them.  So, I put together a folder of supplementary material and developed some projects so that each student could approach the play in his or her own way (see Appendix A for a copy of the folder for Macbeth and Appendix B for Hamlet). 

The bulk of the material in the folders came from, a site that offers a free series like Cliffs Notes.  I printed character descriptions, summaries, scene-by-scene synopses, theme lists, study questions and quizzes, and biographical information.  Although the language was a bit advanced for my students, they still learned the basic events of the plot, and they referred to the material throughout the process of doing their ESL projects and while studying the plays in their mainstream courses.

I also accessed the Internet for pictures, both of Shakespeare and of scenes or characters from his work.  My best source was a site called Shakespeare Illustrated (  This site contains photographs of and links to famous illustrations of Shakespeare’s plays.  I used these illustrations to give students an idea of who the characters were and to create interesting bulletin boards.  (See Appendix C for sample pictures used in bulletin boards.)  The students also used pictures to illustrate their projects.  The Internet is the best place for color pictures for any project; there are usually more options and it is cheaper than color photocopies.

I used the Internet to find quotes from Shakespeare because, for one of the Shakespeare projects, students had to choose a theme from the play, create a collage of images that represented it, and include quotes from the text that illustrated the theme.  To help them find specific quotes for their theme, I went to the Internet; this was easier for them than reading the entire play in Shakespearean English.  The best site I found for quotes was  This site allowed me to type in a word and it brought up all the quotes from either the body of works or from a single play.  This saved me a lot of time.  (See Appendix D for students’ final projects and Appendix E for Additional Shakespeare Resources.)

Holidays and Culture
When one of my students decided he wanted to know about Thanksgiving, we went first to the Internet to gather information.  After printing out and reading all the basic information we could find, the student created a timeline of the history of the celebration of Thanksgiving and decorated it with clip art, most of which came from the site (when last checked, inactive but redirected to

The Internet is a great source of information on holidays, especially for providing information on topics that don’t appear in other resources.  For example, when my students did projects where they had to identify and illustrate Christmas terms and concepts, they used the Internet for history and basic definitions of topics like the Twelve Days of Christmas or Advent.  As well, the students relied on clip art and other images from the Internet to complete the projects.  (See Appendix F for a photo of the Christmas  Concentration game.)  In this example, the Internet provided simple background information for obscure topics that my students could not find in other ways.
See Appendix G for Additional Holidays and Culture Resources.

Bringing the Internet into the Classroom:, The Boston Globe,, and NPR
If you can arrange for Internet access for your entire class, you can create challenging and interesting classes around web sites. This can be scary because web sites, like anything technological, have a maddening habit of disappearing or going commercial or not being available just when you need them.  However, it can be worth the risk because of the wealth of information and options available.

One possible site for in-class use is  This site offers on-line games on a wide variety of topics.  Students can play alone or against each other, and they can play any game that is available when they go on the web site, provided their browser has JavaScript.  I first used this site for ideas, as they offer new kinds of games I hadn’t thought to try in my classes.  Later, I started to explore the option of using the site to create my own games.  I opened an account, chose a template, and entered the information.  I was given a separate address, or URL, for each game I created.  If I give someone, such as my student, this address, he/she can access the game and play it.  There is even a way for the student to email me.  While the games are fairly simplistic, they do provide good repetitive review.  Game choices include jumbled words, concentration/memory, hangman, ordered list, flashcards, matching, word search, challenge board, picture perfect, rags to riches, and scavenger hunt.  You simply supply the data and the computer scrambles it for the game.  (Note: recently went private, so they are now charging a user fee.)

Another site for games and language studies is  After completing a diagnostic test, students can take lessons at various levels.  The lessons include listening, reading comprehension questions, and idioms and grammar practice.  Students can also sign up to receive daily lessons via email, and they can participate in chat room discussions.  I had students work individually on this site in class, and I also recommended that they note the address so they could use the site when they returned to their native countries.

Another favorite site of mine for use in the classroom is  This is the web site for National Public Radio (NPR), and it has audio clips and full broadcasts, transcriptions, summaries, further news articles, surveys, and links.  For example, NPR’s show “All Things Considered” is available on the site as an audio recording.  You can also request a transcription, and then do follow up activities based on the reading.  You can use this site like a listening series on current events.  Students can also explore the site individually by listening to interesting clips and reporting back to the class.

On-line newspapers provide further opportunity to bring authentic English and current events into the classroom.  There are sites for large papers like The Boston Globe or The New York Times, and most local newspapers also maintain web sites.  You need to do some advance research to see if the sites charge a user fee and how the information is organized.  Then, you can set up scavenger hunts, current events reports, and other activities such as you would do with any reading unit. 

Another teaching resource is on-line ESL newspapers or newsletters.  These publications, such as the one available at, serve many purposes in a classroom.  Like any newsletter, they provide information and reading activities.  However, because they are written by and for ESL students, the writing tends to be at a more accessible level and there are usually support features such as vocabulary lists or grammar explanations.  As well, these on-line publications offer an opportunity for ESL students to be published; both of the sites listed above accept submissions.  You can create a writing unit with more validity if the students are preparing their work for real publication. 

The advantage of using on-line resources of any kind is that these activities increase students’ Internet literacy, from typing in addresses to moving back and forth with links.  Internet literacy is important in our “wired” world, so this is a chance to teach useful skills in a meaningful context.

Lesson Plans, Worksheets, and Final Words
Surfing the web is a way to get inspired when you’re out of ideas.  There are sites that offer lessons plans, worksheets or other freebies that get you moving again. 

The Internet is a resource for free materials for various thematic units.  For example, many cooking sites offer recipes that you can print for a food unit.  Or, if you are doing a unit on clothes, you can order free catalogs by signing up on the site.  The information you get is cheaper and more realistic than any pre-packaged curriculum with carefully limited vocabulary and pictures.

My favorite site for ESL links is  Much of the work I did for this booklet began with going to this site and clicking on a link.  I also recommend The Idiom Connection at; they offer a comprehensive list of idioms in alphabetical order and by topic. 

The Internet is a fantastic source of information.  However, as with any source, you must always be aware of who wrote the information, who is presenting it, and who the intended audience is.  Much of the information on the Internet is wrong or biased or does not support a multicultural curriculum.  For example, the majority of the information available about Thanksgiving is of the Pilgrims-meet-and-civilize-savage-Indians school of thought, rather than offering a revisionist history.  

Another example of poor information comes from a unit I did on food.  When I looked for the USDA Food Pyramid at, I found links to “ethnic” food pyramids at (NOTE: link inactive, Dec 2009) (see Appendix H for the USDA Food Guide Pyramid).  I wanted to discuss food and healthy diets in a manner that was sensitive to the multicultural nature of my class, so I connected to the “ethnic” food pyramids.  There were some that were excellent in that they presented the typical diet within a pyramid format (see Appendix I for an Asian diet food pyramid).  Others, however, took the USDA format—heavier on meat and dairy than most cultures—and simply substituted different food options with no attempt to rearrange the quantities or the emphasis to reflect what is really eaten (see Appendix J for an Indian diet food pyramid).  The first pyramid is an example of the good information that is available; my Asian students could identify with the pyramid and felt affirmed that it reflected their food choices.  The second pyramid is an example of an attempt at multiculturalism that didn’t go far enough, and it left my students stunned by the American diet and confused about how theirs fit in.

Approaching the Internet with a critical eye and a great deal of patience will help you avoid disseminating too much inaccurate or unhelpful information.  As well, I suggest that you leave yourself plenty of time to create lessons with the Internet and to explore, and always write down things like URLs and site names so that you can find them again.  The Internet can be an incredible resource that can enhance the quality and content of your teaching once you start to experiment with it and when you approach it with caution.

Selected Appendices
(Some appendix links were unavailable in October 2012 and thus removed.)
Appendix E:  Additional Shakespeare Resources

  •  The Shakespeare Resource Center; lots of links and good synopses of the plays
  •  on-line editions of the plays; invaluable resource for cutting and pasting while creating shortened versions of the play for performance
  •  this site has a three-column list of create-your-own Shakespearian insults—a fun activity to get students hooked on Shakespeare’s language

Appendix G: Additional Holidays and Culture Resources