Written By Thea Chapin Durling
Web Page Created by Irene Starr and Thea Chapin Durling, April 2001
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.
The Bard Himself
The bulk of the material in the folders came from http://www.sparknotes.com, 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 (http://www.emory.edu/ENGLISH/classes/Shakespeare_Illustrated/Shakespeare.html). 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 http://www.cs.usyd.edu.au/~matty/Shakespeare/.
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
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.
Bringing the Internet into the Classroom: Quia.com, The Boston Globe, Parlo.com, 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.
Another site for games and language studies is http://www.parlo.com. 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 http://www.npr.org/. 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 http://www.englishclub.net/, 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
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 http://www.rong-chang.com. 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 http://www.idiomconnection.com; 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 http://www.usda.gov/, I found links to “ethnic” food pyramids at http://warp.nal.usda.gov/fnic/etext/000023.html (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.
Appendix G: Additional Holidays and Culture Resources
Suggested by a reader in Nov 2012: