Using Technology to Help English Language Students Develop Language Skills: A Home and School Connection

By Green, Timothy | Multicultural Education, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview

Using Technology to Help English Language Students Develop Language Skills: A Home and School Connection


Green, Timothy, Multicultural Education


Helping students to be literate is a high priority. Though this area is one of our greatest educational priorities, it is also one of our greatest challenges. As classroom environments continue to change, teachers face the challenges of a large population who do not speak English and who have high transient rates. For this large population, becoming proficient in English is a very difficult transition; one that is often frustrating and even painful.

Students learning a new language need a great deal of language support. Those who teach students learning English as their second language know that any language support is crucial for students' language acquisition. Therefore, English Language (EL) students need a variety of language experiences. They need opportunities to hear, write, speak, and read English.

Technology, especially computers, can play an integral part in providing EL students with valuable language experiences as they learn a new language. Computers can be used to help provide additional language learning opportunities for EL students that take place beyond normal classroom instruction. Combining these opportunities with activities that can be done at home with family members provides EL students with a rich language learning experience.

This article focuses on how computer-assisted instruction (CAI) can be a supplemental teaching tool for teaching English Language learners, and on how these activities can be extended at home to produce a greater school-home relationship. Provided in this article are recommendations that educators can use with their EL students and families.

Verbal Interaction

According to Liaw (1997), teachers should offer English language learners a language-rich environment in which students are constantly engaged in language activities. Children need to be able to interact with each other so that learning through communication can occur. Computers can facilitate this type of environment. The computer can act as a tool to increase verbal exchange.

In a study conducted by Liaw (1997), computer books were used to investigate whether computers increase verbal interaction between students. These computer books are interactive stories that appear on the computer screen as an actual book with text and illustrations. There are also a variety of interactive choices students can use to read the story, including: real voices that read aloud, music, and sound effects. The story is also highlighted so readers can follow along with the text.

This study was conducted by videotaping student interactions while using the computer books. Students were arranged in groups of three to read the stories. Their types of speech used with each other were analyzed. Even though the children had limited English language proficiency, they engaged in various modes of language functions to accomplish their reading of the computer books (Liaw, 1997). They made many commands to each other. They also shared opinions and made suggestions. They tended to ask a lot of questions of their partners and were given responses.

The quality of talk was also analyzed by Liaw (1997). The amount of computer related talk and story related talk was measured. Initially, there was a lot of computer related talk, but as the students became more familiar with the format of the stories and software, their talk became story related in subsequent sessions.

Overall, the study concluded that verbal interaction and the use of a variety of language functions by English language learners can be facilitated by the use of the computer. The group's computer book reading environment fostered language development by providing an opportunity for verbal interaction. The use of the computer can be a useful supplement to the traditional curriculum of the ELL classroom by promoting verbal communication and the acquisition of English.

Vocabulary Development

One way to use computers for English Language Learners is to teach vocabulary. …

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Using Technology to Help English Language Students Develop Language Skills: A Home and School Connection
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