Using Word Processors in the EFL classroom

By Sheila and Bertha

Having read both the articles, Vance Stevens and Renata Chylinski, the idea of teaching word processing and writing skills together is quite surprising, although it seems to be a valid idea.

As Kenan and Sedat have mentioned, students with no connection to Internet could benefit from word processing since it is an excellent way to handle collaborative writing and if the task is motivating to them, they will enjoy working together. However, in some cases if they don't have access to Internet, chances are they might not have access to a computer either, unless the institution provides them with space in a computer lab or if they work in the teacher's office. So it might not be very effective to use Microsoft Word in all cases.

With regard to Renata's piece, the same activities could be achieved with Hot Potatoes or any other tool where one can play around with graphics and words to fulfill a specific objective. The use of word processing for the particular tasks Renata mentions does not seem completely pertinent.

We both feel this approach is not relevant for our own students. Most of them are adult learners who use computers and so practice word processing in their native language at work all day. Their English is generally at the B2 level and above. We are convinced that they know already how to use the basic functions of Microsoft word or other word processing programs. They probably know more about them than we do, especially on German computers in the case of Sheila. In Bertha's case, her students have preferred Googledocs once they know it works online. In individual teacher-student conferences, she has learned a great deal from her students and has been able to enjoy sitting next to digital natives at work. They pick up everything related to technology really fast and use tools well.

There are nice activities in Vance's article that can be followed using Word as a tool. Vance's article, however, seems to have been more relevant for students in the late 90s or early 2000s. Students nowadays might not be so in need to be "taught" word processing skills while learning English. Of course each group of students is different and maybe it would be good to have them share their tips on how to use Word while writing collaboratively on a topic and sharing will probably come up naturally.

One or two of Vance Stevens ideas could be used, particularly the ones from Claire Bradin. (By the way Sheila could not get that link to work in Firefox). Students could work on the group's errors, though they would have to do this for homework as there are no computers in the classrooms. Peer correction is not popular with most of these groups as they do not like to criticize a fellow student, but if the errors were anonymous then they might be prepared to correct them.

Sheila can see a possibility of using cross class interviews especially across cultures if this were possible, this might work well in a blog.

Another exercise to use with exam classes might be jumbled texts where occasional sentences have to be replaced. This could replicate an exercise in the exam and could prove very useful, again for peer correction.

Having PC’s, especially with internet connection, in class is a dream for Sheila, the best they get is her laptop and her personal connection stick to give the students access to an online dictionary.

Some of the activities that could be assigned - either using Microsoft Word, Googledocs or any other collaborative tool- are the following:

- narrate an event where both students were present (another class, Election Day, a national celebration) mixing their experiences in the texts.
- write a poem on a topic they agree or disagree with.
- write the editorial of a newspaper on top areas to be improved in their community, institution, country, the world, etc., and ways to achieve this.
- write an ad about their country trying to persuade readers to visit it.
- write about things they wish they had known about when they were children.

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