The website I have designed aims to utilize the internet to teach English with a particular focus on vocabulary. It is developed for young EFL learners aged 6-10 whose first language is Arabic. The website also includes a section for parents and teachers with the aim of facilitating the integration of material in class and its use at home. The documentation below presents the contents of the website along with their underlying pedagogical value. This is followed by a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of the material.
The website is divided into the following sections:
A, b, c:
Here the learners are introduced to the letters of the alphabet and their sounds. After viewing the letters and hearing how they are articulated, learners go on to a recognition exercise. This involves looking at pictures of objects and clicking on them to hear the pronunciation. Learners then tick the words which include the sound given in the question. The next activity labelled 'find' aims to give further practice on sound recognition but at a more difficult level. The final activity is a writing exercise and a video is available to show the writing directionality of the letter. Although the main aim of the section is to teach the alphabet, the large number of words included can give rise to incidental learning of vocabulary (Cameron, 2001).
According to Cameron (2001), successful vocabulary learning occurs when learners have different sources for encountering words accompanied by a clear visual or auditory connection. Warschauer and Healey (1998) also recognize that "giving the same information in multiple modes, such as visual plus aural plus textual, enhances recognition and recall" (1998:59). Different images are, therefore, presented for each item of vocabulary along with aural and textual input. The 'words' section includes the following:
This part is organized according to topic. After the learner selects one, images and sounds are presented on flashcards followed by the written form. This ties in with the belief that visual and audio input of vocabulary items should precede their written forms in order to establish meaning first (Cameron, 2001). Since it is generally acknowledged that a maximum of 7 to 8 vocabulary items should be presented per lesson (Cameron, 2000), the number of words are limited accordingly.
Following the flashcards is a recognition activity labelled 'find'. The learner is asked a question to which he/she needs to identify the correct picture. The option to listen to the question is also available. This exercise is primarily audio-visual, yet learners are provided with extra support if needed. The 'help' button presents learners with further visual clues to assist with the task. Textual clues are not included at this stage as the aim is to first establish an audio-visual connection for words.
This section aims at explicit visual-text correspondence through a matching exercise. Learners are shown pictures and asked to select the correct word from a list of four.
Here the learner's productive skills are put to practice through a spelling exercise. Pictures are presented for which learners need to fill in the missing letters to make the word. In order to provide support, audio aids are available through the 'listen' and 'Help' buttons.
This section follows the same format as 'Stories' in terms of its use of pre and post activities (see stories).
In addition to stories, this section includes pre-story activities revolving around the vocabulary needed for the different stories. Windeatt et al. (2000) recommend the use of such activities to pre-teach vocabulary and prepare students for the computer task. They suggest doing a whole class demonstration of the task through a projection device or hard copy materials. The 'Flashcards' tab in the 'Teachers' section was, therefore, developed to assist teachers in preparing their learners and providing them with useful vocabulary prior to the online tasks. Post-story activities are also included and aim to reinforce vocabulary presented in the songs. Windeatt et al. (2000) stress the importance of integrating computer work into regular classroom practice. Subsequently, worksheets for teachers to distribute as follow-up tasks or for homework are available under the tab 'Worksheets' in the 'Teachers' section.
Cameron (2001) and Pinter (2006) clarify that in addition to language demands, tasks place a number of other demands on learners. These include cognitive, metalinguistic and interactional demands. They call for the need to strike a balance between task demands and the support offered to learners throughout. The tasks on the website are designed with the aim of providing such balance. Instructions, for example, are available in Arabic to reduce the cognitive load. Furthermore, learners are given the option to request extra support to complete the tasks in the form of visual and/or audio clues. The font Comic Sans MS is used to write the exercises in order to eliminate discrepancies between the forms of letters taught and their different shapes in other fonts. For example, the letter 'a' is written 'a' in the exercises.
Parents generally like to be involved in their children's education. This section is developed in order to give parents an understanding of the aim of the website and its contents. Instructions and rationale for exercises are available in Arabic to enable parents to guide their children and provide support for task completion.
Teachers can make use of the website through the following options:
Advantages of using the website
The goal behind this project is to provide some of the benefits of using computers in teaching as outlined by Warschauer and Healey (1998:59). They include:
1) "multimodel practice with feedback": This is manifested in the different types of exercise revolving around each set of words. Chapelle (2003) discusses means of enhancing linguistic input for learners. They include highlighting forms, modifying input through the use of visuals and/or translation, and elaborating on language exercises through supplementary material. These extra aids are available for learners on the website. The use of video, for example, allows learners to practise writing letters in the absence of a teacher to show directionality.
2) "individualization in a large class": Learners are able to work at their own pace without peer pressure. Teachers can allocate part of the lesson for 'free time' in which learners can explore any part of the website they like. Allowing learners to be independent and choose what to learn can promote their learner autonomy and responsibility (Nunan,1999).
3) "the fun factor": This aims at providing learners with a fun experience which would encourage them to further explore the website in their free time, whether at school or home.
The theory of multiple intelligences (MI) views the mind as multi-faceted in terms of cognition. It argues that individuals "have different cognitive strengths and contrasting cognitive styles" (Gardner, 2006:5). Gardner (2006) categorizes these intelligences into the following: musical intelligence, bodily-kinesthetic, logical-mathematical, linguistic, spatial, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. The theory suggests that effective learning takes place when activities cater for these different intelligences.
The website has been designed with this theory in mind. Most activities are connected to musical intelligence through sounds, spatial intelligence through visuals and linguistic intelligence through the language input.