A Half Dozen EdTech Powered Approaches to Adding Some Interactive Fun to ESL
Technology is a major part of communication, so it only makes sense to use it in a language class. ESL teachers work hard to give their students as much experiential learning as possible, from role playing to interacting outside of the classroom. The internet makes it much easier to put learners into those real world situations. From listening activities to videos to virtual reality, there are so many technologies that can be used to enhance the ESL classroom and get your students even more engaged. These are six different ways to use the internet to your advantage and give your students a more well-rounded ESL education.
Podcasts are a fantastic supplement in ESL because they can provide a lot of listening practice, in a more natural way than the sometimes silly and exaggerated textbook listening activities. They usually have a transcript as well so listeners can read along, practicing both listening and reading at once. In one podcast students can listen for idioms, intonation, pronunciation, certain grammar points, and much more. There are lots of great podcasts specifically catered to ESL students, ranging from beginners to the most advanced learners. Podcasts in English offers conversations on a wide variety of topics; The English We Speak focuses on idioms and slang; Splendid Speaking has interviews with non-native speakers and expert feedback on their speaking – excellent for advanced learners who can pick out their mistakes; and Luke's English Podcast aims to make you laugh while you learn with funny and engaging stories. You can have students listen at home and discuss the next day, or you can listen as a class and share opinions. An end of term project idea could be to create a podcast, in groups or individually, on whatever topic the students are interested in, keeping in mind their level.
Video offers up the same benefits as podcasts, but provides the students with more visual context. Showing a video with no words can give students the chance to form their own ideas of what's going on based on body language, facial expressions, music, etc. Movie Segments to Assess Grammar Goals is a superb site that does exactly what its name says, providing everything for you including the clip, lesson plans, printable worksheets, and activities – you can even search for a clip based on the grammar point. TED Talks work wonderfully to spark discussion and watching a variety of Youtubers could help students decipher different accents. As students become a bit more confident in their speaking skills, you can split them into groups to create their own videos.
Online Pen Pals
Group and one-on-one conversation in class is a necessary part of ESL, but online pen pals could provide some extra practice with a native-speaker. There are plenty of websites, forums, and discussion groups where you can find pen pals for your students to practice English with a native speaker. It could be a weekly activity, depending on schedules, alternating between Skype and email to practice all four skills – listening and speaking, reading and writing. Students could take notes on their conversations and bring them in to share with the class. It could also be a great way to practice describing people – “My pen pal has brown hair, blue eyes, and she's very friendly” and comparisons – “My pen pal is taller than Sarah's pen pal.” Pen pals could also help students with their accent and teach them common phrases, idioms, and slang. It's an excellent way for them to learn about a new culture and gain a deeper understanding of the English language in a less formal way.
Blogging is another great way to practice reading and writing. You can create a class blog where students can post writing assignments or you can have each student create their own unique blog. Because the posts are available for everyone to see, blogging may make students work just a little bit harder to make sure their work is good. You can have students comment on and critique each other's work, keeping in mind how important peer correction, rather than teacher correction, is in the language learning classroom. The blog can also be a free space where students can share videos, articles, and websites relevant to the class. Sites like WordPress and Blogger allow you to create blogs for free.
Describing pictures is an age-old ESL classroom activity, but how about if the picture is moving? GIFs are a fun way to give students more to work with. If it's a GIF of a man falling off a horse, students can elicit why this happened, what's going to happen next, and create a story around it – a great way to practice almost all tenses! Another practical, yet funny way to use GIFs for ESL is to give each student a vocabulary word and have them search for a GIF that fits the meaning of the word. Take it a step further and have students create their own vocabulary GIFs with their smartphones. Words could turn to idioms or grammar rules, or whatever else you may be learning about.
Virtual Field Trips
While it may be a bit expensive to get a VR headset in your classroom, virtual tours and field trips are accessible right from computers or tablets and are a more engaging way to learn some new vocabulary. You could use Google Earth to explore cities all over the world in 3D, comparing and contrasting them to the one you are teaching in. Many museums have virtual tours on their websites, some of which may take students to see the wonders of the ancient world or view some of the most treasured works of art, practicing vocabulary in everything from science to history to art, and making for a slew of discussion topics. Take a trip to a zoo or farm to practice animal vocabulary or visit the U.S. Congress and discover America's diverse leadership – another good discussion topic. To get the virtual tours going, it's best to hold the class in a computer lab, where students can work in groups so they can help each other if navigating the computer in English becomes difficult. Experiential learning is just a few clicks away.