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Using The Internet to Teach English

There are many reasons for taking advantage of the Internet in TESOL. More and more people are doing a great percentage of their daily business on the web. It is an environment that ESL students are comfortable navigating, and one that they are using English all the time. It just doesn’t make sense any longer to leave it out of their learning program.

The internet provides endless quantities of authentic language resources, all available within seconds. Internet materials such as videos, forums, and news sites are fun, rich, and dynamic in ways textbooks so often are not. Using the internet as a tool to teach English provides students opportunities for more independent learning and skills that they can use forever.

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Using the Internet to Support Lesson Aims

For individual ESL teachers who are considering or already using the Internet in the classroom, the most fundamental question to ask is simple, yet often overlooked.  It applies as well to all aspects of ESL teaching. Why use a particular technology?  How does the use of a particular technology support language learning and the aims of the lesson?  Does the use of a particular technology offer clear learning advantages over other options? In other words, you need to develop a clear pedagogical rationale in your mind for using technology. And ideally, this rationale should be clear for your students as well.

The Internet, not unlike whiteboards and textbooks, can be an effective teaching and learning tool when used appropriately.  But use it as a teaching tool only! Technology should be used to support established language learning aims.

Project-Based Learning

A sound approach would be, to begin with, a pedagogical framework, such as project-based learning.  For example, you may find that your students are having some excellent class discussions and raising great points on course topics, but you rarely seem to have enough time in class to allow students to fully engage in those discussions. You may also notice that although some students have great ideas, they are reluctant to contribute.  An online discussion board is one option to support and extend some of these conversations. It provides additional writing practice for students who already appear very motivated to contribute to the discussion.  Also, the students who are quieter in class will have time to compose their thoughts without feeling the pressure to contribute.

An online discussion board can provide those students with learning opportunities. Making a contribution will also help quieter students to feel a greater sense of belonging, and gain confidence that their ideas are worth considering as well.  In situations like this, the Internet can offer opportunities for learning that are difficult to provide otherwise.

Planning Around a Video

TED talks are designed to be informative, visually stimulating and have clear, take-away messages. Ask your students to listen to the gist, answer comprehension questions, pick out target vocabulary, notice expressions, analyze presentation techniques, or discuss ideas.

Once students have watched a video, understood its language, and discussed its ideas, have them turn to the comments section on the video’s web page. Ask them to look for ideas that support or contradict the TED speaker or have them respond to a comment they like or dislike. A lot of nice authentic language comes up in comments, and the comments on TED tend to be a little more focused and censored than those on YouTube.

Doing Research

What better way to practice skim and scan reading, develop vocabulary, and teach students independent research skills than by having students do internet research on an interesting topic? In the past, for example, I’ve asked students to investigate a country in the world that they don’t know very much about and frame their research with the question “Could you live in that country?”

After teaching some related vocabulary, I give students a list of aspects of the country that they should read about, like climate, social customs, the economy, language, and history, and ask them to find as much information as they can in order to decide whether or not it would be a good place to live.

If you’re teaching students at the lower levels, they can use ‘Simple English Wikipedia’ and find excellent, authentic information in a language they can understand. Another group project for lower-level students is to plan a class trip by consulting the internet for information about different locations that might be great to visit. Giving each group a different site, I ask them to visit the site to find out the relevant information, which they later share with the class. As an extension, have them call the location or send an email to the location to ask questions so that they can further practice the language and skills they are learning in an authentic context.

Online Software Applications

There is a great number of free software, accessible online, to help people learn, communicate, and share their knowledge. I use the website ‘Spiderscribe’ to have students create online mindmaps that look great and can include video, audio, and links all over the web. I’ve used a website called ‘Dipity’ to create a collective, interactive timeline.

I’ve introduced the website ‘Prezi’ to countless students, who prefer its design and utility over that of PowerPoint. All of these are free, easy to use, and help students create attractive, professional-looking work that they can keep in the cloud and refer to later, add to, and share easily.

Class Blogs

Websites like Word Press, Tumblr, and Pinterest have made it easy to set up a beautiful looking and user-friendly online community that your ESL students can use to extend their learning beyond class hours. It’s a place they can post homework, ideas, or just interesting things they want to share.

By posting their writing and photos on blogs, students can see each other’s work and learn from each other.  As their ESL teacher, you can use the blog space as a repository for assignments. And, with the class’s permission, do open evaluation and feedback so that students can also learn from each other’s successes and errors.

Make it Authentic, Communicative and Meaningful

There are some excellent authentic material that can be manipulated to allow for fun, interactive and engaging lessons. Such examples include having students work in groups to create a commercial for a company using business English, having students work in pairs to create a radio bit where they discuss a fashion trend and record their debate about the trend’s negative and positive aspects using reported speech and vocabulary related to clothing such as attire, design, and bargain. At the end of the day, it’s important to have the students engage with the material so they feel they are in control and aren’t being talked at, such is often the case with the direct

When giving students internet-based work, always be sure to highlight the communicative aspect of their work. Have students work in pairs or small groups. And make sure they’re stopping often to talk to each other, ask questions, and stay on track. Give clear instructions for purposeful tasks that are clearly integrated with the rest of your curriculum. Always make sure that you are involved at some point in the process. Whether it be through evaluating work, conferencing with students, or facilitating dialogue.

Pros and Cons of Using the Internet to Teach English

Below is a summary on the pros and cons of using technology in the classroom and how teachers can provide the best service to their students with or without the Internet.


1)The Internet is more convenient and efficient, especially when iPads enter the classroom. One such school in Toronto is doing so and ESL teachers no longer have to worry about making photocopies or about marking paper rubrics. The textbook is an app on the iPad and teachers fill out their rubric in a specialized program at the end of the week. Students are encouraged to take notes on their iPad, so instead of taking a folder full of scattered notes home with them, they only take home one device containing everything. More importantly, students get to see their progress with various interactive activities that require them to record their speech.

2) Whether it means using a 100% digitalized curriculum or simply showing a YouTube video in the classroom, the Internet is very appealing to the current generation and to most people who, at the very least, use e-mail or a smartphone in everyday living. It can liven up a class completely as long as the material being used is authentic.

3)Multimedia can be used at various stages of a lesson. You can use authentic material to present a grammar topic, or students can even use technology to create authentic material themselves at the production stage of a lesson! Technology is very stimulating for the senses, and it allows students to engage with the outside world in a new and fresh way.


1) The Internet can easily give the appearance of sophistication and innovation, but it can lose its sense of innovation very quickly if the material is not being exploited properly or if it is not authentic. The most important aspect of teaching ESL is to use relevant material that speaks to the students’ current life situation. For example, when teaching English to teenagers in Toronto, ESL teachers can have students practice learning vocabulary related to romance and dating in a mix and match activity and phrasal verbs with the verb ‘make’ such as ‘make out’ or ‘makeup’ and then have students work in groups to create an online dating profile, searching for pictures and ideas on google. Students must use the vocabulary and phrasal verbs they learned in class.

2) The school’s culture can easily become screen-focused which, in my opinion, is adding flames to the fire considering our current screen-obsessed culture. Time overspent on screens can easily cut us off from relating authentically with each other and can reduce healthy social interactive patterns.

3) Technology has a tendency to break or to be flawed. In my opinion, this can add a new and unnecessary layer of stress to the daily working routine of a teacher. Chargers break, TVs and projectors won’t turn on and digital textbooks may have errors. Sometimes, good old paper just does the trick! At the end of the day, if you choose to teach English with technology, be sure to exploit the material as opposed to reading off text from a screen to students or simply showing them a video.

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