I. The computer-based exercises
1. The target learners
The web-based material is designed for teenage learners of English as a second language at the pre-intermediate or intermediate levels.
2. The aim of the material
The web-based material consists of a main page and two exercises designed using Hot Potatoes. One of them is a reading exercise and the other is a listening exercise. There are links to other activities as well but they are still work in progress. These kinds of materials are suitable as end of class or end of term activities and can serve as a reward to the students for their good work. The main aim of the material is to increase the learners’ motivation.
The overall idea of the material is to engage the students in activities which are of personal interest to them. There is a different topic every week chosen by a different student, for example music, sport, cooking, films, animals. The topics can be very general (e.g. films) or more specific (e.g. favourite actor/actress). In this way the students are given the opportunity to share their interests with their fellow classmates (encouraging class rapport) and to learn together.
3. The content of the material
a. The main page
On the main page there are several links provided. There are separate links for each exercise. There is a link provided where the students can give their suggestions for topics each week. They are able to share their opinions about a certain topic and also to give ideas on how the website can be improved in the Feedback section. Every topic, together with the name of the student who suggested it, is stored in the Archive section every week. Links to useful websites related to the topic of the week are included for further research and enjoyment.
b. The listening exercise
The listening exercise is a gap-filling exercise where words from the lyrics of a song are missing and the students should listen to the video clip of the song in order to fill in the gaps. The song chosen is a popular song, so the students might know it. Unfortunately, the original video of the song cannot be provided as it displays parts of the lyrics.
This particular exercise is chosen because there are many advantages of using music and especially lyrics in the classroom. Students can fill in the gaps before, during, or after listening to the song, and then they can check to see whether their word choices made sense semantically, even if they did not choose the exact word used. This can help them to develop the important skill of forming hypotheses based on context (Lems,2001). This kind of exercise can also be used to practice a grammar point which is targeted, such as past tense verbs, compound nouns, prepositions or to identify key words (Griffee, 1990).
Tim Murphey (1992) conducted an analysis of the lyrics of a large corpus of pop songs and found that they have certain features that help second language learners. He found that the lyrics contain common short words and many personal pronouns, the language is conversational and time and place are usually imprecise. He also found out that the lyrics are often sung at a slower rate than words are spoken with more pauses between utterances, and that vocabulary and structures are repeated. These factors allow learners to understand the meaning of the lyrics and relate to the songs (Murphey, 1992). Moreover, the meanings of the pop song lyrics are fluid, and allow students to interpret them in many different ways (Moi, 1994). Furthermore, the use of songs in the language classroom is beneficial because they contain authentic language, they are easy to obtain, provide useful vocabulary and are fun for the students. They can provide valuable listening, speaking and language practice in and out of the classroom.
c. The reading exercise
The reading exercise is a short reading text with multiple choice questions. There are images of the rock band included in order to make the exercise more enjoyable, to give students an idea of who is the text about and also to give useful clues. The aim of this exercise is for the students to be able to find particular information in the text and to practice skimming and scanning. They need to be able to get an overall impression of the content of the text and to search rapidly through it to find the specific point of information needed in order to give the correct answer (Hedge, 2000:195). It can be also reading for pleasure as the students choose the topics of the readings themselves. Krashen (1982) has argued that reading for pleasure is an important source of comprehensible input for successful second language acquisition. The only requirement is "that the story or main idea be comprehensible and the topic be something the student is genuinely interested in, that he would read in his first language" (Krashen, 1982:164). Moreover, Schraw and Dennison (1994) found that those parts of the text that are relevant to the readers' interest are recalled better than those that are not.