Online Resources For ESL Students

As a non-native speaker of English myself, and having taught kids, teens, and adults for four years now, I believe I can give a pretty original insight of the many resources available on the Internet for ESL students. The number of resources is gigantic, but not everything is necessarily useful. Besides fulfilling the basic task of teaching huge groups of so diverse students, teachers still have to find some time to surf and identify new resources for ESL students. Many web sites are just too complicated, incomplete, or a waste of time. The links below are a selection of my favorites. I¹ve separated them according to level, age group, and ability to be developed. I hope they can be useful.

StoryPlace: the Children's Digital Library
Reading and Listening Comprehension Children
Presented by the public libraries of two North Carolina counties, this site offers animated and interactive Flash stories with titles like Mammal Marathon, Three Country Critters, and Little Red High Tops, all designed to teach the colors, the numbers, and many other topics. Each title includes the interactive story, a print-out activity, and a related reading list. There is also a Pre-School Library with interactive stories and Book Hive, the sister site dedicated to helping elementary-level students appreciate books. StoryPlace is available either in English or in Spanish.

English Listening Room
Listening Teens and Adults
Be careful. The concept is great, but it may frustrate your students. The idea is for the ESL student to download and listen to a brief American song, such as Buffalo Gals or Swanee River and then take an interactive quiz based on the lyrics. Unfortunately the site malfunctioned and told us our answers were wrong even though we knew them to be correct. This could be damaging and/or frustrating to the learner. Teachers should test the site to see if it works properly before using it with students. If there are no flaws it would be an excellent resource.

American English Pronunciation Practice
Pronunciation Teens and Adults
Again an interesting concept, but a bit flawed in realization. The site offers pairs of words or numbers with which ESL students frequently have difficulty, allows them to hear the items spoken and then quiz themselves by taking an interactive test which determines whether the listener can match the written and spoken word. For example, the user can listen to "light" and "right" pronounced, and then click on the proper spelling. The page keeps score, and score can be re-set. Too often a pair of words different from that selected appears. As above, teachers should test the site to see if it works properly before using it with students. If there are no flaws it would be an excellent resource.

Flashcard Exchange
Vocabulary All Ages
This interesting site, which claims it has almost 500,000 flashcards, can be a mixed bag. Because the flashcard sets are created by users they are only as good as their creators. Lovers of precise definitions may be offended by items like "beach: a sandy place near the ocean." Yet with more excellent sets than imperfect sets, the site can provide good drill and practice. There are hundreds of card sets in 14 categories, and each category has many subcategories. Because the site lets registered users create and submit their own flashcard sets this might prove to be a worthwhile and highly-motivating class project. The site work well and offers many options such as printing and exporting to a spreadsheet. But teachers should check the content of the sets they assign.

Self-Study Quizzes for ESL Students
Grammar and Vocabulary Teens and Adults
A wide-ranging set of simple drill-and-practice quizzes covering many aspects of American life. Especially interesting are the reading comprehension segments on job applications, school etiquette, etc. The site offers a choice of quizzes using HTML-only, quizzes requiring the Flash plug-in, and quizzes requiring JavaScript, allowing the user too select quizzes appropriate to his computer's technology. .

ESL Grammar Quizzes
Grammar and Vocabulary Teens and Adults
Interactive grammar-based quizzes on three levels: elementary, intermediate, and advanced. Some of the quizzes explain correct answers, some provide "hints" (weak ones) but many others simply track score. The advanced quizzes require a very strong understanding of grammar and might prove challenging even to some instructors. But a worthwhile site for the ESL student who is making good progress.

Easy Vocabulary Quizzes with Pictures
Vocabulary Kids
A series of quizzes in which the user must match the correct picture to its description ("briefcase," cheese," "library," etc.) There are eight quizzes for nouns, three for verbs, and one for adjectives. Although it is reminiscent of the old CAI drills, and repeats many of CAI's flaws, it can be useful for beginning ESL students.

ESL Blues
Grammar Teens and Adults
This site has more difficult exercises intended for "pre-intermediate to high-intermediate" level learners who have a fairly high reading level. One exercise, about booking an airline flight, requires the user to add [There Is, There Are, Is There, Are There] into appropriate places Iin a "conversation." One nice feature is the animated tutorials, such as how to form a question by reversing noun and verb (toys are expensive / are toys expensive?) It is a very comprehensive site, with many exercises on a variety of topics.

Most Frequently Misspelled Words
Spelling Teens and Adults
This site is great for spelling, even for non-ESL students. It requires the user to briefly view a frequently misspelled word (publicly, mosquito) and then type it correctly. Users can select the number of words in a set and also whether they appear in random, alphabetical, or reverse-alphabetical order. The site also allows users to view lists of the most-commonly misspelled words.

English Irregular Verbs Quiz
Grammar Teens and Adults
Not only ESL students but all students have some difficulty with irregular verbs at some point. This site helps them review the Base, Past Simple, and Past Participle (e.g. "write, wrote, written") forms in a challenging format.

Word-Based Games for ESL Students
Three basic games: JigWords, MatchWords, SpeedWords. The first, in which the player must drag a jigsaw puzzle shaped homophone, and the third, in which the player must create an answer by clicking on letters within ten seconds, are challenging. Matchwords, in which players must unveil matching words hidden on "blank cards" seemed pointless, as it seemed based on pure chance.

Word-Find Puzzles for ESL Students
Many "word-find" puzzles in which the user runs his mouse over the letters to spell out one of the words on the list. Some might consider this to be more a game than a teaching device, as many of the words have to be spelled backwards, and is this a skill worth developing? All but a few of the games require a Java-enabled computer.

Scrambled Words for ESL Students
Users must drag scrambled letters into target area to create a word. Categories include geography, coolors, parts of the body, etc. Requires Java.

When using the Internet with your ESL students, keep in mind these points:

  • Learning a second language demands lots of effort. New vocabulary has to be reviewed and practiced several times before students are really able to use in its appropriate context.
  • Don't expect your students to immediately be able to say "she goes to the supermarket every day" just because you have just explained the third person rule. In order for a student to internalize grammar rules, they have to be exposed to it several times, preferably used in a context. That's why it is so useful to have them work on that point many times on the Internet. Also, make some effort to use the grammar rule as many times as possible in the classroom.
  • Psychologists say that the best way to learn is through instant feedback. Behaviorists have proved that whenever correct behavior is awarded, the individual tends to repeat it. Online quizzes constitute an easy way to have your students practice vocabulary and grammar, and be corrected instantly. Also, make sure you praise your students' advances, even if minimal.

Learning a language can be a wonderful experience, giving the learning a whole new perspective of the world and introducing a new culture with it. Make sure you understand your students' needs and difficulties, and try to your best to make their learning experience enjoyable!

Email: Juliana Luna Freire