The Internet and Young Learners
Gordon Lewis (2004)
Oxford: Oxford University Press
ISBN 0 19 442182 1 (paper)
The Internet and Young Learners is directed specifically at EFL teachers working with young learners between the ages of 7 and 15. Its purpose is to provide such teachers with ideas for using the Internet as a language teaching and learning tool. The suggestions for the application of the Internet in the language classroom are presented in the form of lesson plans.
The book begins with an overview of the Internet: what it is, how it works, how it can be applied in language teaching and learning, and so on. The author is at pains to point out that the Internet is neither "a place to introduce new language concepts" (p. 5) nor "a replacement for classroom teaching" (p. 7). As a supplement to regular language instruction, however, it can be used effectively to promote independent learning and "electronic literacy" and at the same time develop creative thinking in young learners.
With its enormous diversity of information and its comprehensive coverage of almost every subject imaginable, the Internet is the ideal tool for the EFL teacher who wishes to provide content-based instruction and create cross-curricular activities. As a communication tool the Internet is unmatched, since it provides several options for communication, including e-mail and chat rooms. Beginning EFL students may find e-mail less intimidating than chat rooms, since it does not require immediate or rapid responses and they can take their time as they formulate their replies offline.
The author of the book takes it for granted that the necessary computer hardware is available at locations where EFL teaching and learning are taking place. However, there are parts of the world where such an assumption is not justified. In some countries, schools and language institutes are sometimes not able to afford computers, and even if they are, there may be the problem of Internet access. Either the area may not be serviced by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) or the service might be too expensive for the school to afford. If these problems do not exist, the EFL teacher is faced with the task of selecting the best websites for his or her students to work with. In choosing websites for use in the EFL classroom, the teacher should consider whether the site uses simple language yet is visually attractive (with suitable graphics), whether it downloads quickly, whether it is easy to navigate through, and whether it has interesting, useful, and reliable content. The author recommends that teachers create a web directory in which they can save and organise their list of websites for future reference and easy retrieval.
In terms of teaching methodology, the author recommends starting the class with an introduction of the topic or theme of the day's activity. This will include an explanation of how the activity is to be carried out and what its objectives are. All activities end with the children presenting their work in the form of a poster or a PowerPoint presentation.
A major portion of the book is devoted to classroom activities involving the Internet. These activities are presented in four chapters. Chapter 1 consists of a few activities to familiarize children with basic computer and Internet concepts. The activities are intended to teach children to use computer accessories such as the keyboard (activity 1.2) and the mouse (activity 1.3). Other activities introduce learners to concepts such as "drag & drop" (activity 1.4), "cut & paste" (activity 1.5), and "open & save" (activity 1.6). The chapter also introduces computer vocabulary (activity 1.1) and discusses web browsers (activity 1.6) and website structure (activity 1.7). [-1-]
Chapter 2 focuses on using the Internet as a means of getting children to communicate with other children around the world. There are 14 activities in all, starting with an introduction to e-mail (activity 2.1). The learners get plenty of practice in using e-mail to contact others (activities 2.2 to 2.4), exchange information with their partners (activities 2.5 to 2.9), and ask for information (activity 2.10).
Chapter 3 offers a wide range of activities that involve searching the web for information to enhance their learning and gain insight into other people's lives. There are 25 activities covering a variety of themes and topics of general interest, including "tourist office and town visit" (activities 3.2--3.3), "calendar and holiday" (activities 3.4--3.5), "museum and art works" (activities 3.18--3.19).
The activities in Chapter 4 require the children to create their own website, work with e-groups and take part in online discussions. There are 13 activities in all. The activities involving website creation give the children the opportunity to choose the topic and content of their website (activity 4.1), design the website (activity 4.2), determine its configuration (activity 4.3), create an image (activity 4.4), and select a small animated image (activity 4.5). There are several topics to choose from, including people (activity 4.6), museums (activity 4.7), the dictionary (activity 4.8), crossword puzzles (activity 4.9), animals (activity 4.10), recipes (activity 4.11), book or music reviews (activity 4.12), and story telling (activity 4.13).
In the next three chapters, practice is provided in creating an electronic portfolio (chapter 5) and doing searches on a website (chapter 6) and the user is directed to some useful websites (chapter 7). For more up-to-date information regarding recommended websites, the user is referred to a website run by the book's publishers. The book includes worksheets and an index the grammatical points and lexical themes, both of which EFL teachers should find very useful.
The "Electronic portfolio" is an excellent way of collecting and organizing a student's work. Not only can it be used as an assessment tool, but it also serves as a permanent record of the child's process of growth and development. The advantages of the e-portfolio over more traditional forms of portfolio are that it takes less space and it is easier to modify. In putting together an e-portfolio, the student develops skills such as collecting (based on school or national standards or on the individual student's interest), organising (following an individual portfolio, a portfolio page with links, and a database), evaluating (in terms of specific aspects of the curriculum, learning objectives, specific rubric score, and specific checklists), and presenting (with a title page, a table of contents and a personal information page). E-portfolios can be stored conveniently on rewritable CDs, LANs, or the Internet.
In Chapter 6, a distinction is made between a content page and a "Portal," which is defined as "a gateway to information" (p. 106). To be useful, a portal must provide a content page after the second click. The chapter also discusses the importance of Boolean operators such as AND, OR, and NOT for narrowing down a web search. The author recommends bookmarking interesting websites as soon as they are found. Bookmarks should be organized and updated on a regular basis if they are to be used effectively in the EFL classroom. [-2-]
Overall, this book is a clear and comprehensive account of the Internet and its applications in language teaching and learning. It offers an enormous variety of activities directed not only at achieving linguistic competence (with various lexical themes and cultural topics) but also at developing computer skills (from manipulation of the computer's basic components to the creation of a webpage). The students learn by doingwhich is the best way to learn a skill. Some traditional teaching strategies such as a mind-mapping, brainstorming, project work, and role playing are included in the activities, and these enhance the value of the book.
Laboratoire LIDILEM, Université Stendhal Grenoble 3 (France)
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