BTR-TESOL Unit 8D - Computers and the Internet
by Susie McGann




objectives of this unit

the least you should know

how to search for what you are looking for

comprehensive questions

evaluating material you find on the web

adapting material you find on the web to the needs of your students

activity practice

reflection and responses

where to go to learn more

connections to other units in this program

online and other electronic resources

additional references



Coming Soon.

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Scenario: A New Teacher in Cambodia

Sara has recently arrived in Cambodia where she will be working in a local community school teaching elementary-aged children. She had a few books that she brought with her but when she arrived to the school, she realized that the materials she brought didn’t apply to the needs of her students. She went to a computer café and searched the Internet for ESL materials. She was very surprised to see the large number of ESL sites. She suddenly felt overwhelmed. How could she sift through all of the links and find material right for her students?

  • Have you been in a situation like Sara’s before?
  • What would you do if you were Sara?What would you do if you were Sara?
  • How have you used electronic resources in the past?
  • What have been your positive and negative experiences?
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    Objectives of this unit

    As you work through this unit, you will be able to …
    1. use the Internet to find lesson material by using appropriate key words and utilizing ESL webite hubs.
    2. evaluate and select quality material.
    3. adapt online material for students’ needs.

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    The least you should know

    Before you begin a search on the Web, it’s important to know what you are looking for and what key words you should use to find it. Also you should have a good idea about where you should start, or where you can go to find a place to start. The remainder of this section will talk about these topics.

    1. How to Search for What You Are Looking For

    Computers are a growing resource in today’s world and when hard-copy materials are hard to come by (and inconvenient to pack) finding resources on the Web is an economical and convenient solution. Web searches, however, can be overwhelming if you don’t know how to find what you are looking for. You can make your search more effective by identifying as many of the following factors that you can:

      Level: Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced?
      Age: Adults, teenagers, or children?
      Skill: Writing, reading, listening, speaking, grammar, etc.?
      Context: Business, academic, conversational, informal speech, task-based (i.e., going to the grocery store, ordering food at a restaurant)?
      Native Language: Where are your students from? What is their native language and ethnic background? Do any of your activities need to be sensitive to or based on their native culture?
      Kind of activity: Games, quizzes, reading samples, tests, quizzes, writing prompts, etc.?

    Once you have narrowed down what you are looking for, start selecting the key words for your search. You may not find what you are looking for right away, so don’t give up after the first time. Try different phrases and synonyms until the results match what you want.

    Follow these search tips:

    1. Start simple! Start by typing the basic name of the thing, place, or concept that you're looking for. 
      [ ESL lesson material ]
      [ ESL speaking activities ] 
      [ English pronunciation guide ]

    2. Add relevant words if you don't see what you want after doing a simple search. 

      First try: [ writing prompts]
      More precise: [ ESL writing prompts ] 
      Even more precise: [ ESL intermediate writing prompts}

Don't worry if it takes several attempts to find the right words to describe your search.

    3. Try words that a website would use to describe what you're looking for. 

      Not ideal: [ materials for class]
      Not ideal: [ what should I teach in class ] 
      Better: [ ESL resources]
    Why? Search engines match the words in your search to the words appearing in pages on the Internet. "ESL resources" is the term that informative webpages are likely to use, so using that term will help you reach the type of information you want.

    4. Use only the important words rather than a full sentence or question.

      Not ideal: [ English speaking material to use in class activities ]
      Better: [ English speaking activities ]
    Why? Generally, all of the words that you include in your search will be used to find matching content. Too many words will limit your results.

    Other helpful tips:

    If you want to search an exact phrase:
    Put quotation marks around words "[any word]" to search for an exact phrase in an exact order. Keep in mind that searching with quotes might exclude relevant results. For instance, a search for "Alexander Bell" will miss pages that refer to Alexander G. Bell.

    Include or ignore words and characters in your search
    Highlight common words and characters such as the and & (and) if they are essential to your search (as in a movie or book title) by putting quotation marks ("the") around them. You can also use the minus (-) sign to specify particular items you don't want in your results, like ingredients in a recipe.

    Knowing where to start:

    When looking for material on the Web, you don’t have to start with a new search everytime. Consider the following steps below to give you a place to start:
    1. Ask other professionals in your area what resources they are using.

    2. Start with website hubs: Website hubs are sites that have a lot of views, followers, and, most importantly, links to other resources. These are generally very useful as they can lead you to more and more material. We have listed a few popular hubs at the bottom of this page in the Online Resources section.

    3. Keep good track of the sites you have visited. Write them down with a quick note about how useful the website is and what kind of material it has. This will help you not have to repeat steps unnecessarily. As you do this, you will develop your own collection of meaningful resources that you can refer back to over and over again.

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    Comprehension (and reflection) questions

  • What challenges might you face searching for materials on the Internet?
  • Name and explain at least two factors that need to be taken into consideration when using search engines for content.
  • Can you think of other ESL teachers in your area you could talk to about finding materials online?
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    2. Evaluating Material You Find on the Web

    Common concerns that new ESL teachers have are: How do I know which sites have material that is useful, well-developed, and meaningful vs. ones that do not? Is it worth subscribing to a website for the better-developed material?

    Subscribing to a website for material is up to you. Sometimes, a monthly subscription to a website that has pre-prepared material can be a worthwhile investment as it saves you time searching for new material every week, and the quality is usually higher. Don’t feel like you have to purchase a subscription, however. There are lots of sites with free material; you may just have to work a little harder to bring all of your material together in the end.

    To evaluate the quality and appropriatenesss of the materials you find online, ask yourself the following questions: 


    1. Who is the intended audience for this material or Web site?
    2. What is the purpose of this material (e.g., to inform, to share, to sell)?
    3. Do the intended audience and the purpose match your purposes?
    4. How well does the content satisfy your original search(s)?


    1. Is the source of the document or site (including credentials, background, mission statement, or affiliations) clearly indicated?
    2. Is contact information for the author or host provided?
    3. Is this a credible or recognized source for the type of information being provided?
    4. Has this author or site been acknowledged in other information sources, online or off?
    5. Does the site have a lot of followers or viewers that use the material?


    1. Is the resource dated? Is it a recent date? Have updates been noted?
    2. Are opposing or related views on the subject acknowledged, or is only one perspective presented?
    3. Is the tone reasonable and appropriate to the content presented?
    4. Are affiliations, biases, or conflicts of interest apparent? Are they acknowledged?
    5. Does the information draw reasonably from known concepts and sources as well as integrate new ones?


    1. Is the content reasonably comprehensive, objective and relevant for the learner, and does it use appropriate vocabulary?
    2. Does the content make its educational purpose explicit?
    3. Will it support students with different learning styles?

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    3. Adapting Material You Find on the Web to the Needs of Your Students

    Once you find material on the Web, you may need to adapt some aspects of it to better fit the needs of your students. Usually some portion of the material will be less than ideal for your students—the language may be too advanced, or the context may be tied to a foreign cultural background. An easy way to adapt material is by first deciding what portions are the most crucial to the lesson, and what items you can change. After you have identified these items, make the largest changes first, and then focus on smaller details like vocabulary words.

    For additional information on this topic, see Unit 10C - Adapting Existing Materials

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    Activity Practice

    Give the search enging a try: Type the following searches in and see what you find. After you’ve typed in the examples, try making your own searches.
    • tips teaching English
    • English teaching materials
    • EFL speaking activities for adults
    • American Business English non-native speakers
    • Authentic listening clips ESL students

    That’s it. That’s “the least you should know” about conducting effective seraches online. Of course, there is much more you’ll have to learn, but most of that will come with practice.

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    Reflection and Responses

    Now that you have completed the Online Search Activity, take a few minutes to reflect on these questions below:
    1. How did the search results change depending on the key words you entered?
    2. What have you learned about how to find materials online?
    3. What adaptations could you make to your searches for the students you are (will be) teaching?
    Write your reflections and responses in the box provided below. After posting your comment, you may scroll down to see what other users of this unit have said in their reflections and responses. If you want to read even more, click on the "Load more comments" button. When you're done, scroll down to the next section of this unit.
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    Where to go to learn more

    Connections to other units in this program

    Here are some other units in this program that relate to topics we have addressed in this unit.
    • Unit 2C, “Designing Lessons”
    • Section 6, “Developing Language Skills”
    • Section 7, “Teaching Language Components”
    • Unit 10A, “Finding Authentic Materials”
    • Unit 10C, “Adapting Existing Materials”

    Online and other electronic resources

    Featured Sites

    Dave's ESL Cafe homepageDave's ESL Cafe has materials for all ages and skill sets. The Idea Cookbook under the Stuff For Teachers tab, includes links specificed by skill and topic, such as business English, group activities, grammar, and listening. Also, the site has many other networking connections to other teachers to share ideas. In the Teacher Forums, you can meet other teachers in your area or see what other teachers are doing in their classrooms. Often, teachers will post lesson plans or matierals they have used to share with others.

    ESL Gold homepage has materials organized by level and skill, a free lesson plan every day, with a pre-reading activity, audio clip of a dialogue, a transcription, and quiz questions, and links to a lot of different sites. After you select a skill and langauge level, the site will lead you to Comprehension strategies, Textbook Reccomendations, Pre-made quizzes, worksheets, and Quick Links to other sites to find appropriate material. The skills links include speaking, listening, reading, wirting, grammar, vocabulary, buisness English, pronunciation, TOEFL/TOEIC, and Idioms.

    Randall's ESL LIstening Lab homepageRandall's ESL Listening Lab has lots of audio clips with transcription, vocabulary exercises, quizes, and cloze activities. The audio clips are organized by level on a three-point range of Easy, Medium and Difficult. Most of the audio clips include dialogue between two or more people and are focused on specific tasks like, getting a haircut, taking a driving test, renting a car, etc. You are sure to find something that your students can relate to.

    General ESL

    Adult and Community-Based ESL




    ESL Games

    Lesson Planning


    Speaking and Pronunciation


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    Additional References

    Cunningham Florez, M., (2000, Oct). Finding and Evaluating Adult ESL Resources on the World Wide Web.

      Retrieved from

    Hines, M., (2005, Oct 11). Evaluating ESL, TEFL, TESOL Resources For Use in the Classroom.

      Retrieved from

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