Communicative and Constructive Activities with Computers

Deborah Healey, English Language Institute, Oregon State University

Sultan Qaboos University Workshop March 28, 2002


We've all seen that students perk up with something new in a class. Software and Internet resources can provide a lot of useful variety in a curriculum. Given that teachers are always busy, these suggestions are designed to help you work smarter, not harder. Some of these are resources to bring into a non-computer classroom; others assume that students have some access to a computer or a lab; and the last section is for those who may be teaching all or part of the class online.

To bring into a regular classroom

Background material/resources

Graphics to suit your topic
Add to handouts or print out - very nice with a color printer (see the graphics links for sources of graphics)
Saving web graphics to disk: right-click on the graphic, then choose Save As... to save a copy on your disk. Do be aware of copyright issues. It's best to choose images from the Free Clip Art sites or ask permission from other sites if you're going to use an image more than once in class.
Supplemental readings on a topic (use a search engine to find them; I prefer Google)
Online newspapers and magazines can provide up-to-the-minute information, especially useful for foreign language teachers. CNN has an online service at for teachers who want to tape CNN news for classroom use. It has a daily classroom guide with information on the stories broadcast at specific times, as well as in-class activities to accompany the broadcasts. You should check to see if the CNN broadcast they describe is the same as that shown in Oman.
Use jigsaw reading to cover more material. It works best if the teacher finds the information rather than having students spend lots of time searching with poor results. See also WebQuests.
Supplemental exercises and handouts
For example, print out handouts from the Online Writing Lab for ELT. From the web, bring in horoscopes, quick five-minute readings (sports and weather are good quick topics), and comics - these are often found in daily newspapers online, too.
Lesson plans online
Find a bit of inspiration and some good links.

Exercises to create and print out
Multiple choice, fill-in/cloze, short essay - Hot Potatoes (free); other commercial products
Crossword puzzle makers - Hot Potatoes, Crossword Creator; freeware, shareware, commercial
Word search makers - shareware and commercial
  Some of these can also be used online.

To use on the computer as part of a regular class and as homework


Writing revision - Track Changes and Insert Comments in Word (attachments)
If students are using Microsoft Word, take advantage of its ability to mark up the text in different ways.
Open a document in Word. Under the Tools menu, choose "Track Changes" and select "Highlight Changes." Click on "Track Changes While Editing" to put a check mark beside it. Click on some text in your document and add a few words. Click on another place a delete a few words. You'll see the changes marked.
Insert Comments lets you add a comment that students can choose to view or not by passing the mouse over a highlighted section of their text. When you find an area of a student essay worthy of comment, highlight that section, then pull down the Insert menu to Comment. Type in your comment, then click Close. If you change your mind and don't want to comment, highlight the area again, right-click, and choose Delete Comment.
Responding to student work sent as an email message (not an attachment)
If students send you their work as an email message, it's hard to comment cleanly. You'll need to establish a technique to separate your comments from the student's writing. I've used square brackets [ ], sometimes with my comments italicized, to set off my comments that are typed within the student's work. The advantage of electronic comments is that you aren't limited in length. This is also the disadvantage of electronic comments.
Writing - online discussion at Nicenet (free)
Set the ground rules for online discussion the same way you would for an in-class discussion in terms of respect for each other.
Plan to take some time initially in class to get students signed up. If they let you write down their usernames and passwords, it will be easier when they forget them. As a teacher, you can already see, edit, and delete anything they post to others in the group
Decide a topic you want the students to write about, then give the students a writing task where they will share responses with each other. For in-class work, a short response is best.
You will need to monitor somewhat to encourage on-task behavior, especially if some students are faster at the task than others.
Nicenet also gives you a calendar, a place to store annotated links, and a place for larger files.


Randallís Cyber ESL Lab (free)
  Select what you'd like students to work on and encourage them to do the pre- and post-activities.

Reading, vocabulary, grammar

Commercial, shareware, freeware, and web-based options
Try having students work in pairs. Make sure there is accountability for on-computer work. If you include pre- and post-computer activities that clearly link computer work with the curriculum, the learning is more meaningful.
Interactive web-based exercises at Quia (This used to be completely free but is now $49/year to create material, free to use)
Dave'ís ESL Cafe (free)
ITESL-J (free - students will need direction)
Create-your-own reading, vocabulary, grammar, speaking with Hot Potatoes (free)
Note: Have students create exercises for each other to cement their understanding

Web quests

Guided, topic-based research on the Internet for cooperative groups. Students are generally expected to write a report or do an oral presentation at the end. See instructions and some sample quests.

To use as an online class,
Full-featured, commercial programs that require a certain amount of training to use. These are usually set up on a campus-wide basis. You can buy a year of Blackboard use for a course for $295. No ads.
YahooGroups (messages, files, links, photos, chat, calendar, poll) and YahooCourse (roster, calendar, handouts, submissions, messages, bookmarks, polls - but no chat)
These donít cost you money, but you need a high tolerance for ads
Nicenet - calendar, online discussion, links page, online documents
A small number of features, but free - and no ads yet
Your own web site with links and activities
Limited features, but free. If your website is through the college, there wonít be ads. If you use Geocities or another free web host, youíll have lots of ads. Itís a good idea to start out with a website or Nicenet, then move on as you find you need to do more.

Look at some suggested links

See the English Language Institute home page

See Deborah Healey's home page
Last updated 2 March 2002 by D.Healey,