Did you know that you can do much more than grammar with your students in the language lab? To be sure, Ventures Arcade, the software that accompanies our textbooks, is a great way of reinforcing class work. Grammar becomes more fun when students point and click. But the possibilities don’t end there. Last week, at the end of our lab session, I had my 3A students watch a YouTube video (projected on the wall) of the Japanese tsunami. Then we went back to our classroom for an hour of animated discussion about the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis in Japan.
Kathleen Kearney teaches language lab on Sunday mornings. Here she shares some ideas about how students and teachers can get the most out of our wonderful lab.
By Kathleen Kearney
XLV. “I have been seeing that everywhere. I didn’t know what it meant,” an Ethiopian student told me after his Level 2 class watched a short CNN news clip about Super Bowl 2011.
I’ve been teaching language lab on Sunday mornings for more than a year. My most joyful experiences with students have been those “aha” moments, when suddenly the English language and life in America make a little more sense. The language lab is a great place for students to reinforce their work with the textbook, but it’s also a safe place for students to learn new vocabulary and computer skills, to watch and listen to newscasts with their teachers, and to improve their understanding of American culture and the English language with songs, short films, and games. We have seen in the past few months how important the Internet and social media are in promoting the exchange of ideas and information. Class time spent in the language lab can help prepare students to use the many different media that have become such a significant part of our lives.
I try to have students engage in as many computer or media activities as possible during the 50 minutes they are in class. Almost every class spends some time reinforcing classroom instruction with the ESL software programs, but we do many other things as well. For instance, I think it’s valuable to spend a little time at the beginning of language lab learning the names of basic computer parts and practicing keyboard skills. While some students can Bing with the best of us, others are less confident with the Internet. Classes can practice Web searches and learn to use news sites, Google Maps or Google Earth, and Wikipedia. If they wish, students can register for e-mail accounts, Facebook, or USA Learns, a free website for adult ESL learners.
I like to spend the last ten minutes of class showing a short film or news clip, followed by a discussion, so that students can practice casual conversation on a topic they have not studied. It’s interesting to see how much they understand — apparently news clips are not so easy. I frequently play classic American music on YouTube; as the students listen, they fill in the blanks on a lyrics page I give them beforehand. For one class last year, I asked the students to find the World Cup website and answer a few questions about game times and scores. (As it turned out, many of the students had already programmed their cell phones to keep up with the games and didn’t need LETC computers to find the answers!)
In addition to the scheduled sessions, the language lab is available to you and your students at other times. Even when the lab is in use, you can ask the language lab instructor if there is enough room to accommodate your class and the scheduled class as you quietly help your students with an assigned activity. And the lab is open for use during most of the time that LETC is open. Please encourage your students to visit the language lab often to work, play, and learn on the computers. The lab is even more welcoming now that we have new (gently used) computers, donated by National Geographic. New carpets, too!