Anyone who has worked in a computer lab with second language learners knows how challenging it can be. Many students would prefer to browse or check their email and Facebook rather than do a language assignment. So, is it possible to use online chatting in the classroom to improve our students language learning?
Faculty at a two universities in Iran found out that students can improve their language through the interaction that occurs when students are engaged in chat. Online chatting is like speaking in that it is real-time, back and forth. But unlike speaking, students can benefit from having more processing time and from being able to refer back to the text to help them learn from it. The teachers in the study gave students of different proficiency levels activities like problem solving and free discussion. After recording and analyzing all the ways the students interacted with each other, they found that students often helped each other with questions related to vocabulary, grammar, and spelling. Later when the students were given post-tests individually designed based on the questions they initiated during the chat sessions, it was found that the students learned a lot through the chat session. Furthermore, the benefits of online chatting were found for learners of both proficiency levels.
The Take-Home Message
Thinking about and planning activities of this type is exciting. Student motivation might be enhanced because of the use of technology and a way of communicating that many already spend free time using. The other good news is that a teacher does not have to arrange L2 learners with a native speaker partner. Having the learners in your class or from several classes pair up works great! Using this type of activity, teachers (and even students) can also get printouts of chat sessions to see what language is produced and to assess areas of difficulty. Finally, although the choice of materials needs to be motivated by the lesson/activity objective(s), there are numerous opportunities where chat can be used effectively in the L2 classroom. Here are a few suggestions you can try. Or try just modifying one of the activities you already use:
- A “spot the difference” task using two slightly different pictures.
- A “solve the mystery” task, where each student has information that the other one doesn’t.
- Propose a solution to a specific problem (local, national, or global) that you give.
- Have students work together to collectively decide the best motel (or artwork, automobile, apartment, etc.) out of five available options and explain their choice.
Shekary, M., & Tahririan, M. H., (2006). Negotiation of meaning and noticing in text-based online chat. The Modern Language Journal, 9, 557-573.
Entry by Rebecca Javorsky