ERIC Identifier: ED427555
Publication Date: 1998-12-00
Author: Silc, Kathleen Flannery
Clearinghouse for ESL Literacy Education Washington DC., Adjunct ERIC
Clearinghouse for ESL Literacy Education Washington DC.
Using the World Wide Web with Adult ESL Learners. ERIC Digest.
Developed for the military and adopted by universities as a medium for
research, the Internet--a network that links computers all over the world--is
now used widely by businesses, educators, government staff, and individuals for
information gathering, entertainment, commerce, and communication. Much has been
written about the use of Internet technologies such as e-mail, listservs,
bulletin boards, and newsgroups in English as a second language (ESL) and
foreign language classroom (LeLoup & Ponterio, 1997; Warschauer, 1996).
However, another feature of the Internet, the World Wide Web, is also an
excellent source for authentic language learning experiences.
This digest presents reasons for using World Wide Web activities in adult ESL
instruction, addresses the issue of preparing learners to use the Web, and
suggests activities that use authentic learning experiences to enhance skills.
SKILLS DEVELOPED THROUGH THE WORLD WIDE WEB
a wide variety of topics and interests including health, entertainment, news,
and sports. These sites provide information with which learners can interact in
order to build basic language and employability skills.
A number of websites were created especially for English learners and contain
exercises in grammar, vocabulary, writing, or reading (e.g., Lingua Center
Grammar Safari <http://deil.lang.uiuc.edu/web.pages/grammarsafari.html>;
Frizzy University Network (FUN) <http://thecity.sfsu.edu/~funweb/>; Weekly
Idiom <http://www.comenius.com/idiom/index.html>; and Grammar Self Study
Quizzes for ESL Students
<http://www.aitech.ac.jp/~iteslj/quizzes/index.html>). Other ESL sites
provide practice in listening (e.g., Randall's ESL Cyber Listening Lab
<http://www.esl-lab.com>; and Dave's ESL Cafe
To develop reading skills, learners employ skimming and scanning skills to
find the information they need. Hyperlinked menus--where readers click on
highlighted words, phrases, or images and move to another section of the page or
site--facilitate the use of these skills. Web reading includes both prose
literacy (narrative) and document literacy (charts and graphs). Instructors can
introduce learners to sites that may be relevant to course content and personal
interests. Since most English language websites are written for English
speakers, the language may be more appropriate for intermediate and advanced
learners. However, if instructors choose websites that include graphics and
pre-teach the vocabulary, even learners with limited English can take advantage
of the Web resources.
Writing is a natural response to Web reading as learners respond to articles,
request further information on topics, register complaints, and provide
information about themselves. Websites prompt learners to complete forms, send
e-mail messages to political representatives, request information on travel
destinations, and write comments for bulletin boards and guest books. Engaging
in these authentic tasks make writing meaningful. The large amount of
information available on the Web requires learners to synthesize what they have
read as they write reports and opinion pieces and make oral presentations.
Individuals can also create their own websites as a way to publish texts and
Studies have shown that computers can also facilitate oral communication
between learners. Learners want to talk about their research and what they are
learning. One study reported that communication occurred among students when
they were using computers both individually or in groups (DeVillar & Faltis,
1991). The Web also makes it possible to listen to news broadcasts, historical
speeches, and films. These sound files can easily be replayed as needed for
Employability skills are the skills needed to find, get, and keep a job. The
SCANS Commission (Secretary of Labor's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills)
names the following skills required for effective workplace performance--three
foundational skills which include basic skills (reading, writing, speaking,
listening, mathematics), thinking skills (creative thinking, reasoning, decision
making, problem solving, representing information, learning how to learn), and
personal qualities (individual responsibility, self-esteem, sociability,
self-management), and five workplace competencies (use of resources,
interpersonal skills, information, systems, and technology) for solid workplace
performance. (U.S. Department of Labor, 1991).
Many of these skills are addressed in well designed Web-based lessons. For
example, effective use of the Web requires skills in problem solving, as
learners need strategies to sort through the flood of information. The analyzing
and evaluating of information that learners must do to separate the wheat from
the chaff is similar to what employees do at today's workplace as they gather
information from remote sources (Dede, 1996). Projects that require learners to
use the Web to gather information about specific topics (e.g., health insurance)
provide practice in many SCANS workplace competencies. If learners can work in
teams on these projects, they will have experience working cooperatively,
solving problems as a team, and coming to a consensus. Further, using the Web in
the adult ESL classroom gives learners opportunities to "develop technology
skills and experiences in contexts that are similar to those in which technology
is used outside the classroom" (Ginsburg, 1998, p.42). Learners become familiar
with technology as they use the mouse to point and click and navigate from
screen to screen. Icons that were once unfamiliar now have meaning that will
transfer to a variety of computer applications. As learners type information
into online forms, they improve their keyboarding skills.
PREPARING LEARNERS FOR SEARCHING THE WORLD WIDE
Preparation can turn an overwhelming experience into a manageable one.
Learners should be introduced to the use of the mouse, the browser, and the
modem or Internet connection. A lesson in how to use icons and a mouse will make
learners feel more comfortable as they approach the World Wide Web. If they have
used computers before for word processing, they may already be familiar with
many computing conventions.
One of the greatest challenges of searching the World Wide Web is finding
appropriate information. A lesson on Web searching will give learners more
control over the process. This lesson should include brainstorming keywords and
concepts, adjusting these terms as needed, using search engines such as Yahoo,
HotBot, and Alta Vista. Learners can keep logs to see which keywords yield the
best results for particular searches. (See Cowles, 1997, for lesson ideas on Web
Because Web-based materials are not necessarily accurate or truthful, Web
searching can also help learners develop their critical literacy skills.
Learners can be taught to consider the source and question the veracity of what
they read, a critical lesson in an age when tabloids and even legitimate news
outlets print stories that are not completely true. Guidelines and criteria for
evaluating the accuracy and quality of the information at a given website can be
found at Kathy Shrock's Guide for Educators
(http://discoveryschool.com/schrockguide/) and in Cowles (1997).
Finally, learners should be prepared for the possibility that, because the
Web is an uncensored medium, searching it can yield unwanted results. Sites
containing pornographic photographs and videos may appear. If found, these sites
can stimulate class discussions about freedom of speech, whether or not children
should have unlimited access to the Web, and whether public libraries and
schools should allow censorship.
PROCEDURE FOR A WEB-BASED ESL LESSON
can include electronic field trips to museums and historical sites; comparison
shopping online; and finding information about health, home buying, and travel.
However, as with any language teaching tool, there must be clear objectives,
focused activities, and evaluation. There are three essential steps for Web-
*Prepare learners for the activity. Ask learners to define a problem and then
identify possible sites or sources that may contain information that will help
them to explore that problem. Be sure that learners have familiarized themselves
with the use of search engines. Brainstorm keywords to be used in the search. Be
sure that learners know how to use the browser and hardware (such as a CD-ROM
drive) or software (such as Sound Card) that might be needed for audio or video.
Establish how learners will record the information. Will they print pages, make
notes, or complete a survey form? How much information will be enough?
*Perform the activity online. Locate the sources and gather the relevant
information from each source.
*Process the information. Ask learners to organize the information collected
from multiple sources. They may present this information in an agreed upon
format. Have learners evaluate the information gathered as well as the
information gathering process.
The following is an example of a Web-based lesson adapted from Bogarde
(1995). Although written for K-12 learners, the lesson is also useful for
adults, especially if the analysis and evaluation of both the product and the
process is stressed.
SAMPLE LESSON: MONITORING THE WEATHER
*To prepare learners,
review weather expressions (e. g., hot, cloudy, rainy). Teach or review the
formula for converting Fahrenheit and Centigrade temperatures. Choose the cities
that the class will monitor and locate them on the map. Decide whether to
monitor the weather daily, weekly, or monthly. Ask learners to suggest some Web
sources for weather or brainstorm some keywords for finding weather sites
through a search engine. Decide what information will be tracked (e.g.,
temperature, precipitation, or other conditions). Record the information on a
chart in the classroom; groups may choose to keep individual charts for
*To perform the activity online, have individuals or groups search for
weather sites that contain information on the selected cities and record this
*To process the information, learners can organize the information they have
gathered and make bar charts and graphs that illustrate the temperature or
rainfall for each city. Ask learners to evaluate the various weather sites they
used. Were some better than others? Why? Ask learners what part of the activity
they would have changed. Was the process appropriate for their product?
The World Wide Web is an immense library of
authentic materials for the language learning classroom. With careful planning,
adult ESL instructors can use the Web in the adult classroom to help prepare
learners for the workforce, to introduce them to American culture, and to help
them improve their English language skills.
Bogarde, E. (1995). Enhancing a weather lesson:
Using the World Wide Web in K-12 language classes. In M. Warschauer (Ed.), "Virtual connections: Online activities and projects for networking language
learners" (pp. 315-317). Honolulu, HI: Second Language Teaching & Curriculum
Center, University of Hawaii.
Cowles, S. (1997). "Teaching and learning with internet-based resources.
Literacy Leader Fellowship Program Reports, III (2)." Washington, DC: National
Institute for Literacy.
Dede, C. (1996). Emerging technologies in distance education for
business."Journal of Education for Business," 71, p.197.
DeVillar, R.A., & Faltis, C. J. (1991)."Computers and cultural
diversity." Albany: State University of New York Press.
Ginsburg, L. (1998). "Integrating technology into adult learning. Technology,
basic skills, and adult education: Getting ready and moving forward." ERIC
Information Series No. 375. Columbus, OH: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career,
and Vocational Education.
LeLoup, J.W., & Ponterio, R. (1997). "Internet technologies for authentic
language learning experiences." ERIC Digest. Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse
on Languages and Linguistics.
U.S. Department of Labor, The Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary
Skills. (1991). "What work requires of schools: A SCANS report for America
2000." Washington, DC: Author. (ED 332 054)
Warschauer, M. (1996). Comparing face to face and electronic discussion in
the second language classroom. "CALICO Journal," 13 (2), pp. 7, 26.