Interactive Language Learning on the Web. ERIC
by Morrison, Sally
The wealth of information available on the Web affords teachers and
learners access to language learning resources like never before. Online
journals, listservs, newspapers, and magazines provide authentic material
for language learners, while teachers can find lesson plans and ideas,
exercises, assessment tools, and other materials for use in their classes.
The World Wide Web's capability for interactivity makes it especially
exciting as a resource for language teaching and learning. Online language
tutorials, exercises, and tests are available to anyone who has access
to the Web. This accessibility makes Web-based language learning activities
quite attractive to both instructors and learners. Teachers can even create
their own interactive language learning activities on the Web, which allows
them to tailor the activities to suit their own courses and students.
This digest discusses some of the advantages and challenges for teachers
who want to design their own interactive Web-based language learning activities,
describes some of the activities produced by language teachers that are
already available on the Web, and provides guidelines and resources to
help teachers create Web-based activities of their own.
WHY CREATE YOUR OWN WEB-BASED LANGUAGE LEARNING ACTIVITIES?
A quick search of the Web for interactive language learning activities
will yield hundreds of online exercises, lessons, games, and quizzes in
many different languages. Although using previously made activities is
tempting, there are many advantages to creating your own interactive language
learning activities for the Web. These advantages include accessibility,
renewability, and adaptability.
"Accessibility": By putting course material on the Web, teachers provide
students with 24-hour, independent access to course information, and updates
to Web pages and new assignments are immediately available to students.
"Renewability": Once created, materials can be updated easily and often.
"Adaptability": Web-based activities can easily be modified to support
students at different proficiency levels or with special needs.
CHALLENGES IN CREATING WEB-BASED ACTIVITIES
For many teachers, the greatest challenge in creating Web-based language
learning activities is that they do not have the technical skill and knowledge
to do so. Although creating simple Web-based activities requires no more
than basic HTML skills, many teachers lack even this. Compounding this
problem is the fact that most teachers do not have any time to devote to
gaining these new skills.
Another difficulty in creating online activities involves the variability
of students' access to computers. What type of computer and browser will
they be using? What is the connection speed at which they will be accessing
activities? These are questions teachers must answer before creating online
activities. If students will be accessing the Web from a variety of computers
with a variety of Web browsers and modem speeds, this must be taken into
account in designing online activities (Polyson, Saltzberg, & Godwin-Jones,
Another important issue is the need to design Web pages that meet accessibility
guidelines for individuals with disabilities so that students with special
needs are not left out. This can make the design of online activities even
more difficult. All of the students' needs and capabilities, as well as
the teacher's technical skill level and time constraints, should be carefully
considered before attempting to design online activities.
WHAT CAN YOU TEACH ON THE WEB?
A wide range of basic language skills can be enhanced with the use of
Web-based activities. Vocabulary practice, grammar lessons, comprehension
exercises, reading and writing tasks, and even pronunciation exercises
can be put on the Web and made interactive in a variety of ways.
Reading and Writing Skills with Discussion Boards and Weblogs.
Online discussion boards are a good way to hold class discussions and
create reading and writing activities for students. Dave's ESL Cafe provides
many examples of this kind of activity. With discussion boards, teachers
can post a question or subject to start the discussion, and every response
is displayed on the board. Messages are organized by "threads," or subjects.
Students can reply to the original question or to other responses, or they
can create a new thread of discussion. Online discussion boards like those
at Dave's ESL Cafe can be created easily using a Common Gateway Interface
(CGI) script and HTML. (CGI is a method of processing input from HTML forms
and is explained in more detail later in this digest.) WWWBoard2 is a free
CGI script available for downloading from Matt's Script Archive. Scripts
for Educators3 offers an array of free scripts along with links to helpful
online classes and tutorials on the use of the scripts.
Another way to create online writing assignments or discussions is through
a Weblog, or "blog." Students can set up their own free Web sites using
these tools. They can create Weblogs quickly and easily using a basic Weblog
host like Blogger4 or Pitas5. Students register as a user of the Weblog
host and follow the simple guidelines to set up a Web page. Web page templates
are provided, or students can create their own design. Once created, students
can use their blog as an online journal, to submit coursework, to create
a portfolio, or to have an online discussion. Journalism I at HRHS6 is
an example of a blog created by the instructor of a high school journalism
Games and exercises designed to help students learn new vocabulary are
easily put on the Web. A typical Web-based vocabulary activity might be
a matching exercise like the one created by Liliane Fucaloro at California
State Polytechnic University, Pomona, for her beginning French course7.
In this exercise, words or phrases are matched with definitions via a pop-up
menu created with a Web form. Students click on a link at the bottom of
the page to see the correct answers.
David Kenosian created a vocabulary matching exercise that provides
correction and feedback for his "German 101"8 course at Haverford College.
He also created a cloze exercise on the simple past form in German that
allows students to type in their answers and submit them for feedback.
There is also a "hint" button for help.
of Texas at Austin, which provides extensive grammar explications, a verb
tutor and conjugator, and grammar practice exercises.
Any online form used for interactive activities such as quizzes and
pages are alert boxes that pop up to alert the user to an error, status
bar text that runs along the bottom of Web pages, and text that appears
is much more complicated than HTML, and most teachers do not have the time
that can be cut and pasted into the HTML code of a Web page. Many online
tutorials exist specifically to teach people how to use previously written
create a variety of online, interactive activities is available at HotPotatoes
Half Baked Software.11 This site also provides tutorials on how to use
Listening Comprehension and Pronunciation Practice with RealAudio.
Listening comprehension exercises, such as fill-in-the-gap exercises
done while listening to audio, transfer nicely to the Web. The University
of Pennsylvania African Studies Center12 created Kiswahili exercises utilizing
RealAudio plug-ins and fill-in-the-blank exercises that provide vocabulary
review and listening comprehension practice. Students download and listen
to a short audio piece and fill in missing words in a provided text. They
then answer comprehension questions about the text and audio and write
a short essay. Answers are then emailed to an instructor for assessment.
"John's ESL/EFL Resources"13 has several listening comprehension exercises
They then listen to an audio piece and check their work. Randall's ESL
Cyber Listening Lab14 provides excellent examples of how audio files can
be used for listening comprehension. This site offers listening exercises
Audio clips can be put into Web pages to provide exercises for listening
comprehension, pronunciation practice, and vocabulary development. Audio
files must be put into an appropriate format, such as MIDI (Musical Instrument
Digital Interface), then put on a Web page (Warschauer, Shetzer, &
Meloni, 2000). When the user clicks on the audio link, the clip is played
via a plug-in. A basic tutorial for putting audio on Web pages can be found
at Duke University's Center for Instructional Technology.15
German For Travelers16 provides pronunciation practice and new vocabulary
words for students through the use of audio clips. The German Electronic
Textbook17 offers a detailed explanation of German pronunciation with sample
The newest technology in audio on the Web is streaming audio, which
provides real-time playing of clip files (Warschauer, Shetzer, & Meloni,
2000). This allows the user to play the clips immediately, avoiding the
sometimes time-consuming download of RealAudio clips. More information
on streaming audio, including links, tutorial, and product reviews, can
be found at Streaming Media World.18 Online Assessment With HTML Forms
and CGI Script
in that they can only provide a way for students to check their own answers.
Teachers may want to test their students online and do their own assessments.
It is possible to develop online tests that students fill out and submit
to the teacher for grading and feedback.
John's ESL/EFL Resources19 provides a good example of this type of assessment
tool on the Web. Students take an ESL word-form quiz and submit their answers
to the Web site. The answers go via email to the instructor, who can correct
the work and send feedback directly to the student. This type of online
assessment can be done through the use of HTML forms and CGI script.
CGI (Common Gateway Interface) is the standard method of processing
input from HTML forms. The CGI script resides on the Web server and runs
on command when the corresponding HTML form is submitted (Godwin-Jones,
1998). CGI collects the information from the submitted form and sends it,
usually via email, to whoever is collecting that information. CGI is often
used with Web surveys, online quizzes and exercises, or anything else that
requires the collection of data. There are many CGI scripts available free
on the Web. Robert Godwin-Jones' Language Interactive20 provides several
free CGI scripts along with instructions on how to use them.
The development of Web-based language teaching and learning activities
is sure to continue to be an exciting and growing field. While computer
programmers, instructional designers, and computational linguists steadily
push the extremes of the field, language instructors can use the basic
CGI scripts to create dynamic, interactive, and functional materials for
their courses on the World Wide Web.
Godwin-Jones, R. (1998). "Language interactive: Language learning and
the Web." Retrieved December 11, 2002, from Virginia Commonwealth University,
Trail Guide to International Sites and Language Resources Web site: http://184.108.40.206/cgi/interact.html
Polyson, S., Saltzberg, S., & Godwin-Jones, R. (1996). A practical
guide to teaching with the World Wide Web. "Syllabus(10)," 2. Retrieved
December 11, 2002, from http://tecfa.unige.ch/staf/staf%20e/sun/staf14/ex6/summary.html
Warschauer, M., Shetzer, H., & Meloni, C. (2000). "Internet for
English teaching." Alexandria, VA: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other
OTHER WORKS CONSULTED
Godwin-Jones, R. (1998). "Emerging technologies: Dynamic Web page creation.
Language Learning & Technology,1," 2. Retrieved December 11, 2002,
Roever, C. (2001). Web-based language testing. "Language Learning &
Technology (5)," 2. Retrieved December 11, 2002, from http://llt.msu.edu/vol5num2/roever/default.html
1 Dave's ESL Cafe discussion boards http://www.eslcafe.com/discussion/
2 WWWBoard http://www.worldwidemart.com/scripts/wwwboard.shtml
3 Scripts for Educators http://www.linguistic-funland.com/scripts/
4 Blogger http://www.blogger.com
5 Pitas http://www.pitas.com
6 Journalism I at HCRHS http://weblogs.hcrhs.k12.nj.us/journ1/
7 Beginning French vocabulary exercise
8 German 101 http://www.haverford.edu/germ/kenosian/voc101/101kap1_page.htm
9 Tex's French Grammar http://www.lamc.utexas.edu/tex/
11 HotPotatoes Half Baked Software http://Web.uvic.ca/hrd/halfbaked/
12 University of Pennsylvania African Studies Center
13 John's ESL/EFL Resources http://www.johnsesl.com/listening/phone/
14 Randall's ESL Cyber Listening Lab http://www.esl-lab.com
15 Duke University's Center for Instructional Technology
16 German For Travelers http://www.germanfortravellers.com/learn/index.html
17 German Electronic Textbook
18 Streaming Media World http://www.streamingmediaworld.com
19 John's ESL/EFL Resources
20 Language Interactive http://220.127.116.11/cgi/interact.html