Web 2.0 Based Vocabulary Activities
Fatos Ugur Eskicirak, Turkey
Fatos Ugur Eskicirak holds a BA in American Philology from Ankara University and an MA in Educational Administration from Bahcesehir University, the CEELT, the COTE & the DELTA from Bilkent University and currently pursues her PhD studies in ELT at Istanbul University. She also designs & implements several professional development activities for ELT teachers and works as the Teaching and Training Operations Coordinator at Bahcesehir University English Preparatory School.
Web (2.0) Based Vocabulary Activities
Today, all modern approaches to teaching state that meaningful learning cannot be achieved through activities which assume learners are empty vessels and passive recipients of knowledge. Instead, they emphasize that learners themselves should be engaged actively in the learning process. To this end, a teacher’s main role then is not providing the content for his/her learners, but rather creating a genuine context for effective learning to take place. Among the tools a teacher can make use of to create a meaningful learning environment are Web tools as they can serve as a medium that requires learners to actively contribute to their learning process.
To this end, this paper first aims to provide some background info about some Web 2.0. tools & their use in Language Learning, and then suggest ways of integrating them into vocabulary teaching and learning. What should be noted here is that although the ideas suggested are all inspired by well known traditional vocabulary activities, what is new about them is that they are all implemented through use of a modern tool (i.e. Web 2.0).
In the past, classrooms were the one and only most important places for the teaching and learning process to take place. CALL laboratories were regarded as places where learners could further practise what they had been learning in the classroom in a passive way. Today, this has changed in a radical way as internet applications have opened new doors for interaction, knowledge exploration and cooperative work. As time and space are also not an issue for internet access now, technology has already started to revolutionize many things including language learning/teaching process. The new generation who has grown up using the Internet are at a point where they do not conceive of learning without it as they see it as a powerful communication and learning tool. And we as teachers are at a point we can not ignore the existence of facilities the Internet offers. What we should do is to think of ways of integrating more Web 2.0. tools into our teaching as it might offer learning opportunities that encourage creativity, self expression and learner autonomy.
The term Web 2.0 refers to collaboration on the World Wide Web. The 2.0. version identifier plays at the fact that, prior to Web 2.0, the web communicated with its users not in a dialogue, but similar to print media, in a monologue. Content was published by a single author and was not modifiable by consumers. Interaction with the web site was rudimentary at best. Now the World Wide Web has become a platform where the users benefit from a greater interaction with the applications and advanced and at the same time easier communication between the content producers (i.e. the users themselves) (Todorov, 2010, p.1)
Some of the free Web 2.0 applications are as follows: \
- Social network services (e.g. My Space, facebook, twitter, youtube, voicethread)
- Web 2 learning resources (e.g. Wikipedia, SupportBlogging.com, The Common Crafts Show, Learning 2.0 initiative)
- Blogs, moodle & wikis
Here in this part, I will give you some info about mostly used Web 2.0 applications and how they could be exploited for ELT purposes:
Blogs and Wikis
A blog is a personal website that contains content organized like a journal or a diary. Each entry is dated, and entries are displayed on the web page in reverse chronological order, so that the most recent entry is posted at the top. And while blogs are generally the work of one individual, blogs combining contributions of several people, “group blogs” are also popular.
Wikis are websites that allow a group of people to create and edit the website contents without any special technical knowledge or tools. Ward Cunningham, the man behind the very first wiki, described it as “the simplest online database that could possibly work”. (Nations, 2009, p.1. cited in Mikkola, K. & Lester, K., 2010)
The collaborative nature of blogs & wikis “enhances peer interaction and group work” (Parker & Chao, 2007, p. 58 as cited in Mikkola, K. & Lester, K., 2010). The “read/write environment allows for active constructing, sharing, and learning” (Maine, 2008, p. 5 cited in Mikkola, K. & Lester, K., 2010). Knowledge and expertise is shared among a community of learners.
There are a variety of ways that teachers can use blogs & wikis in the classroom. Below are some example uses of wikis & blogs in the class:
- Posting class information
- Sharing resources
- Whole class projects
- Group-based projects
- Peer or teacher writing review
A VoiceThread is a website for having a conversation or discussion through a collaborative slide show that holds images, videos, presentations or documentaries. It allows users to comment on the images using voice (with a microphone), doodling and texting. VoiceThread is a place where learners can create digital stories and documentaries. Therefore, this site helps them practice and apply their language skills - specifically speaking and listening. It can also be used for teaching vocabulary and grammar: to introduce a new grammar point or a set of new vocabulary or revise them in a meaningful context. In order to use this Web 2.0 tool, you need to have an account on Voicethread.com. After you log in, you need to click on ‘Create’. This section enables you to create your own VoiceThread. Here, you can upload pictures. Then, you can create an audio narrative to go along with them by clicking on “Comment”. You can add your comments in several ways. You can either use a microphone or a webcam to make a comment. In addition, you can type your comments. It is also possible to use both a microphone & a keyboard to include written & oral comments. Lastly, you can share what you have created with people by selecting groups & contacts (http://voicethread.com/about/). This tool is interactive in that both learners and the teacher can be participants by commenting on the VoiceThread. For example, as a teacher if you have created a role-play on a specific topic, you can ask your learners to voice the characters. Moreover, you can conduct online discussions through VoiceThread since it allows the users to write and voice instant comments.
Podcasting is online audio content that is delievered via RSS feed. (www.podcasting-tools.com). You can find, create, distribute and listen to podcasts and vodcasts on a website called podomatic: www.podomatic.com. You can use it in teaching for recording, publishing and sharing a podcast with your learners on your blog/wiki; for audio sharing of information and skills; and finally for audio and video assessment (sidneymit.wikispaces.com). You can create a podcast on a specific topic related to your lesson. You can make your students listen to your podcast to answer certain comprehension questions. And then you can ask your students to react to your podcast in the form of a short presentation. This is how teachers can make use of podcasts.
I also believe that we can ask students to create their own podcasts as well. For instance, you may give a specific question or questions on a target topic that you will discuss in class. Your students may respond to these questions in the form of a podcast.
Today, through Web 2.0 tools (e.g. social networking sites, blogs, moodle, wikis etc.), learners can communicate with their peers or teachers orally (e.g. podcasts) or in a written format without boundaries of time and space in both asynchronous ad synchronous ways. Moreover, those tools allow not only one-to-one communication, but also one-to-many, allowing a teacher or learner to share a message with a small group, the whole class, a partner class, or an international discussion list of hundreds or thousands of people. (Unknown author, 2007)
Using the Web, learners can search through millions of files, around the world within minutes to locate and access authentic materials such as newspaper and magazine articles, radio broadcasts, short videos, movie reviews and online books. They can also use the Web to publish their texts or multimedia materials to share with partner classes or with general public. In this way, learners are offered opportunities to communicate and learn collaboratively with other learners all around the world. Learners do not need to passively listen to audio tapes alone after class. Through Web 2.0 tools they can easily participate in more interactions by posting and replying messages on discussion boards, blogs, social network sites, writing and replying emails to their teachers or peers, or joining online chat rooms anytime they feel comfortable or have free time. (Unknown author, 2007)
One way to use Web 2.0 in ELT could be to teach vocabulary. Today, we all know that treating vocabulary learning as learning of isolated structures will not promote real language learning. Learners need to see the vocabulary items in context and with visual clues to help them better understand. Web can provide this rich and contextual environment.
Here in this part of the paper, I’ll provide some example Web 2 integrated vocabulary activities. The activities I came up with could be categorized in three categories:
- Pre-created web activities created by others and accessible to all learners (e.g. Puzzle maker)
- The Web 2 based activities prepared by individual teachers (e.g. Example blog & pbwiki activities of two teachers)
- Activities I myself came up with based on the first two categories above
I provided activities for the following purposes:
|2. (Controlled) Practice
While describing the activities, I provided the following details whenever relevant:
- Tool(s): Here I specified web 2.0 tool(s) or programme(s) used for the activity. (e.g. online dictionary)
- URL: Here I provided the location/address of the web page used (e.g. http://dictionary.reference.com.
- Level: Here I specified the minimum level required for the target activity as well as the range of levels the activity could be used at (e.g. elementary & above)
- Location: Here I specified where the activity could be done: in the classroom or outside the classroom.
- Aim: Here I specified the broad aim the learners will have achieved by the end of the activity.
- Procedure: Here I described how the activity could be carried out. I also shared alternative variations & follow ups for some activities and included my own personal reflections about the activity.
Please note that the below activities require some Web 2.0 literacy for both parties (i.e. learners & teachers).
To raise your learners’ awareness about the meaning, use, function and form of specific vocabulary, you may use already existing podcasts or voicethreads or you yourself produce new ones to meet the specific needs of your learners. You may embed the pre-made ones onto your blog/wiki/moodle or a social network. Here you may ask your learners to listen to/read the content for meaning first and make sure you have them understand the meaning through asking comprehension check questions. Checking understanding could either be done online or in class depending on how you want to integrate Web 2.0 to your teaching (i.e. completely online or blended learning). After making sure your learners are perfectly aware of the message. You may use the content for language awareness by having them listen to/read for some specific details like only for adjectives, only for some thematic vocabulary etc. For example, in the below example voicethread, the teacher has prepared a recording to introduce Turkish breakfast http://voicethread.com/#u28462 to her native friend who would visit Turkey. By having your learners listen to the post, you may ask them to prepare a list of the foods & drinks in a typical Turkish breakfast and bring the list to the class next day. This might be perfect lead-in to your lesson where you will introduce breakfast vocabulary in general or where you will introduce a breakfast specific to a specific culture/city/country etc.
For (controlled) practice
If you have word list you may divide the word list according to themes/numbers etc. and assign a group of words to pairs/groups of learners. If you do not have one, you can ask your learners to choose 10 (less or more depending on your own students’ needs) words/phrases newly learnt that week and prepare a “puzzle” by using the instant online crossword puzzle maker at http://puzzle-maker.com/CW/. You can ask the learners to provide the “cues” in the following format
- “gap fill” sentences where the target word has been left out.
With the first option, learners can learn the synonym of a word from another web tool at: http://thesaurus.com/.
With the second option, learners can find collocations of a word by web concordancer at www.edict.com.hk
With the last option, to make sure the sentences the learners come up with are grammatically correct, you may ask them to use the example sentences provided at: http://dictionary.reference.com.
Although I first suggest this as an “outside class study” or HW activity, it could also be used as a class activity if students have their laptops or PDAs with them and if they could connect to internet through Wifi etc. in the classroom. As they need print outs of their puzzles for their peers in the classroom, they might either save it to their laptop/PDA if they could connect it to a printer later or to their flash disc to print it out from a PC which is connected to a printer.
If you have a blog/wiki you can post the links of such online exercises and give the instructions there. You can also ask them to send their comments about how well they did, or if they liked the activity or not etc.
|Tool(s): Web 2.0 Learning Resource (Online concordancer)
Level: Elementary & Pre-intermediate
Location: In &/or outside class (any place where internet is available)
Aim: To have learners practise theme vocabulary.
There are various web 2.0 tools where learners could complete on-line vocabulary quizzes/activities/puzzles/games. The one I commonly use is www.edict.com.hk. Below are some of the vocabulary practice activities your learners can complete in/outside class:
- Vocabulary quizzes: These are “drag and drop” puzzles for matching words with their meanings. The vocabulary here is grouped in topic themes (e.g. medicine, occupations etc.)
- Picture Book: These “drag & drop” puzzles are for matching pictures with words. The vocabulary here is grouped in topic themes such as food, feelings & emotions, animals, transportation, sports, places etc.
- Word Trap: This is a vocabulary matching game with links to the Net Dictionary implemented as a Java applet.
Depending on your learners’ needs you can assign these as a follow up activities to let them practise the recently learnt theme vocabulary. Generally these activities provide instant feedback so you do not need to worry about how to give feedback to such HW. What you could do is to ask your learners to report on their performance either orally or in written format. Depending on the level of the learners, this reporting could be even in L1.
I personally use such web tools to let my learners practise vocabulary at their own pace. When I want to learn how they performed, I get oral feedback from each. I also elicit what they will do to master the new vocabulary if they did not perform very well. In this way, I let my learners self-assess their own performance and set future goals for themselves.
I do not have a blog or a wiki but if I had either of them, I would elicit my learners’ comments about their own performance. In this way they could also compare their own to their peers and this could be motivating for everyone to complete the assigned task and maybe do more than what the assigned HW requires due to peer pressure.
|Tool(s): Blogs or wikis
Location: In &/or outside class (any place where internet is available)
On your blog or wiki page, invite your learners to list 3 collocations they already know. You may limit them by giving some criteria, for example, mostly confused collocations with only “make & do”. You may give them a deadline for this, so that you can set the next task as soon as they finish brainstorming. With a class population of 10, there would be 30 collocations sent by the learners. To challenge the learners more, you may ask them not to share a collocation which was already posted by their peers. Next, when all the learners post their collocations you can ask them to choose 5 collocations from the list their peers came up with and write a story/poem/paragraph etc by using them. Then you ask them to post their products but the verbs make & do should be erased to produce a cloze test for their peers. You can ask them to do all the quizzes or a limited number of them depending on your class profile and send their comments about their performance to the blog/wiki page.
With the help of this, they will have a chance to revise and use the collocations they have already studied in context. This will enhance their accuracy and fluency of their production of collocations in a meaningful way.
This is an activity I use quite often in my traditional face to face class. I have never tried it in the way I described it above with web 2.0 tools so I do not know how successful such an activity would prove on the Web.
Based on research carried into the area, our own observations and experience with it in our own professional life, we can conclude that Web-assisted instruction might facilitate English language learning in a variety of ways. However, how we go about integrating it into our teaching can have a huge impact on whether a web-assisted classroom succeeds or fails. Therefore, we should integrate Web 2.0 into our teaching in a more informed and principled way so that it could become a more rewarding partner in our teaching and learning process. Vocabulary teaching ideas and activities suggested here in this paper could be the starting point for those who would like to turn this journey into a success story.
Author unknown, (2007) The Effect of Technology on English Language Teaching. EFL 501 Research Paper. Retrieved on 30 May 2010 from
Mikkola, K. & Lester, K. (2010) Wikis in Education. Retrieved on 29 May 2010 from Slideshare: www.slideshare.net/lesterk/wikis-education?src=related_normal&rel=34105
Todorov, V. (2010) Virtual Teams: Practical Guide to Wikis and other Collaboration Tools. Vienna:United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)
Windeatt, S. et. al. (2000) The Internet. Oxford: OUP
www.podcasting-tools.com/what-is-podcasting.htm Retrieved on 30 May 2010.
http://voicethread.com/about/ Retrieved on 30 May 2010.
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