on 6 December 2008
The TEFL industry is notoriously slow at adopting new technology. Unless you are lucky enough to work for a company or institution that is profitable and brave enough to make a sizeable investment the chances are that a lot of your lesson preparation is still spent cueing tapes and preparing OHP film. However as teachers and students become more tech savvy the more archaic cassette players seem and the attractions of using new technologies grow. The Internet and Young Learners by Gordon Lewis was published in 2004 but I imagine, for the reasons stated above, in a lot of schools it still is not seen as particularly pertinent reading. This is a shame because it is full of excellent ideas and written in a way that even the biggest technophobe would unlikely find intimidating.
The book is a resource for teachers of children age 8-13. The primary audience are learners of English as foreign language but I imagine that a lot of the material would be suited to classes in any primary or secondary school. There are around 60 activities spread through four main sections: First Steps, Communication Activities, Web Search Activities and Web Creation Activities. The tasks start from quite a basic level, for example teaching students computer objects such as what a mouse is, to creating your own movie on a web page.
Each task is clearly laid out with the level, appropriate age group, time, aims and preparation and a step-by-step guide. Lewis' style is straightforward; there is no techno jargon to confuse or infuriate, his aims are clear and always focussed on helping students improve their language ability as well as their computer skills.
I first came across this text in 2005 when I was working at a summer school where the teachers were encouraged to get the children into the computer room two or three times a week. I found this book invaluable for giving inspiration to a number of lessons. It is particularly suited to the summer school environment where project work can be a very productive way to get students interacting with each other and the world around them. Very few of the activities have children working on their own, there is a lot of pair and group work both before during and after the computer work.
My favourite activity is one where children go on to a website and make their own movie. It lends itself very nicely to a lesson on movies or can be part of a follow up lesson after a trip to the cinema. After setting up the topic the teacher instructs the children to go the D Film website and create a movie based on a particular genre they have chosen. It is much simpler than it sounds and a lot of fun. It is a great exercise for focussing on accuracy, as the students have to create dialogue for their `actors'.
I am currently working in a school that only has one computer with access to the Internet but, if the class is small enough, this can still be sufficient to make the most of some of the tasks Lewis suggests. I generally find that, even if it is only for a few minutes in a lesson, children really appreciate the chance to get on the computer albeit for educational purposes, not to play away the time.
I recommend this book to any teacher who believes that the Internet could be a valuable learning tool for their students and have the means at their disposal. As important as the cassette player is to the modern TEFL classroom the industry will not be able to bury its head in the sand forever. This book presents us with an excellent opportunity to utilize computers for the good of our students.