If you are lucky enough to have a school with a computer room – why not use it for something other than checking email and make use of the endless supply of ready-made lessons online. They are fun, easy to access and interactive. But the best thing about them is they are free! Computers should be used as a language learning tool - just as any other piece of equipment (i.e., tape recorder, VCR, blackboard, etc.). Incorporating a twenty- minute computer lesson into your weekly timetable is an excellent idea. For one thing it’s a change of scenery for students, and for some tasks, such as listening, computers can provide distinct advantages over more traditional approaches. The use of a computer for listening exercises often involves not only sound but visual input. This may provide students with more contextual clues for their task.
Introducing your students to the wealth of online materials opens a new access way to learning. Once they have mastered the basics they can use these lessons long after they have left your classroom and travelled back home. Students are also allowed more control over their own learning process as they make the decision when to repeat questions, exercises and sequences based on their own progress.
Probably the strongest argument for the use of the computer in the classroom environment is that of student self-pacing. The teacher can guide an interactive lesson but the students themselves set the pace – so for a mixed ability class this is ideal. The other main advantage for you as a teacher is that the computer often grades the online lesson. When the student has finished the exercise s/he simply clicks on the “submit” button at the end. Often the computer will also suggest reasons for incorrect answers and offer further responses or exercises to target these areas.
Making the student (and teacher) comfortable with the technology. Contrary to popular belief you don’t have to be a wizard to give your students access to online materials. There are some fantastic sites, which are easily accessible for teachers and students. If you have never done it before don’t go and buy a big self help book entitled “Unlocking the Internet”, which will put you off for life. Simply grab a colleague who has done it before and within half an hour you’ll have mastered the basics.
A few basic points to help the student feel more relaxed using a computer. The computer should always be turned on beforehand and the program loaded (preferably the exercise chosen) before the class begins. Students then focus on doing the task at hand rather than getting to the point where they can do the task. Students who are not comfortable using computers can be placed with students who are. As these students become more familiar with the technology, they will often begin to play a more active role. Teachers should begin gradually by doing a limited amount of work with the computer and simple tasks such as an interactive quiz based on a previously explored class topic.