CALL Use in the ESL/EFL Classroom

University students use computer
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There has been much debate over the use of computer assisted language learning (CALL) in the ESL/EFL classroom over the past decade. As you are reading this feature via the Internet (and I am writing this using a computer), I will assume that you feel that CALL is useful to your teaching and/or learning experience.

There are many uses of the computer in the classroom. In today's feature I would like to provide some examples of how I like to use CALL in my teaching.

I find that CALL can be successfully employed not only for grammar practice and correction, but also for communicative activities. As most of you are familiar with the programs that offer help with grammar, I would like to focus on the use of CALL for communicative activities.

Successful communication learning is dependent on the student's desire to participate. I'm sure most teachers are familiar with students who complain about poor speaking and communication skills, who however, when asked to communicate, are often reluctant to do so. In my opinion, this lack of participation is often caused by the artificial nature of the classroom. When asked to communicate about various situations, students should also be involved in the actual situation. Decision making, asking for advice, agreeing and disagreeing, and compromising with fellow students are all tasks that cry out for "authentic" settings.

It is in these settings that I feel CALL can be used to great advantage. By using the computer as a tool to create student projects, research information and provide context, teachers can employ the computer to help students become more involved in the task at hand, thereby facilitating the necessity of effective communication within a group setting.

Exercise 1: Focus on Passive Voice

Generally, students coming from around the world are more than happy to speak about their native country. Obviously, when speaking about a country (city, state etc.) the passive voice is required. I have found the following activity using the computer to be of great assistance in helping students focus on the correct use of the passive voice for communication and reading and writing skills.

  • Inductively review the passive structures in class (or introduce the passive structures)
  • Provide a text example, focusing on a specific location, that includes many passive voice structures
  • Have students read through the text
  • As a follow up, have students separate passive voice and active voice examples
  • Using a program such as Microsoft Encarta or any other multimedia encyclopaedia, (or the Internet) have students working in small groups find information about their own nation (or any city, state etc.)
  • Based on the information they have found, students then write a short report together at the computer (using a spell check, communicating about formatting etc.)
  • Students then report back to the class presenting their report created at the computer

This exercise is a perfect example of involving students in an "authentic" activity that focuses on communication skills while at the same time including a grammar focus, and uses the computer as a tool.

Students have fun together, communicate in English and are proud of the results they achieve - all ingredients for successful inductive learning of the passive voice in a communicative manner.

Exercise 2: Strategy Games

For younger learners of English, strategy games can be one of the most effective ways to get students to communicate, agree and disagree, ask for opinions and generally use their English in an authentic setting. Students are asked to focus on the successful completion of a task such as solving riddles (Myst, Riven) and developing strategies (SIM City).

  • Choose a strategy game such as a SIM or mystery
  • Have students divide into teams
  • Create a specific task in the game itself, such as the completion of a certain level, the creation of a certain type of environment, the solving of a specific riddle. This is important for providing a framework and specific language needs/goals for a common ground in the classroom.
  • Have students complete the task.
  • Have students come together in the classroom and compare strategies.

Once again, students who find it difficult to participate in a classroom setting (Describe your favorite holiday? Where did you go? What did you do? etc.) generally become involved. The focus is not on their completing a task which can be judged as correct or incorrect, but rather on the enjoyable atmosphere of team work which a computer strategy game provides.