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Introducing EFL Students to Chat Rooms

This article contains four lesson plans that show language learners how to use chat rooms for language learning purposes. This paper covers the following:

  • A. Pedagogical rationale for using chat rooms as language learning tool.
  • B. Difficulties language learners have with chat rooms
  • C. Lesson plans for four activities
  • D. References

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A. Pedagogical Rationale

Chat rooms are reported to have a variety of benefits to language learners:

  • They allow learners to interact in an authentic context with native speakers (Skinner & Austin, 1999; Carey, 1999) without being restricted by location (Wilson & Whitelock, 1997).
  • They allow communication to take place in real time.
  • Chat activities promote active involvement (Bump, 1990; Sullivan & Pratt, 1996; Warshauer, 1996b; Carey, 1999)
  • Chat activities promote learner autonomy due mainly to the fact that the teacher role is minimized (Bump, 1990; Chun, 1994; Sullivan & Pratt, 1996; Warshauer et al, 1996).
  • Transcripts are generated which are useful for studying the language used (Carey, 1999).
  • Some studies suggest that computer chatting improves interactive competence (Chun, 1994).
  • Students have the opportunity to notice language used by native speakers (Schmidt & Frota, 1986; Schmidt, 1990 cit Brett, 1998).
  • Students are given the opportunity for skills development and practice (Sullivan & Pratt, 1996, Pica & Doughty, 1986 cit Brett, 1998; Chun, 1994).

B. Difficulties Language Learners Have with Chat Rooms

  • Students' keyboard skills in English are usually slow which means that they often miss part of the conversation thread.
  • The way the conversation scrolls down the screen requires the participant to read text very quickly. This is often difficult for EFL students.
  • Chat room participants frequently use slang and abbreviations which EFL learners may not be familiar with.
  • Native speakers using chat rooms may discuss topics which are culture specific to the English speaking world or inappropriate or offensive to some learner groups.

The following lesson plans aim to minimize these difficulties by first allowing students to practice using chat rooms with peers and teachers.

C. Lesson Plans for Four Activities

  • Level:
    • Lower-intermediate or above
  • Aimed at:
    • Learners who have never used chat rooms before, or learners who have not maximized the potential as a language learning tool.
  • The Activities: (The lesson plans are listed later.)
    • Activity 1:
      • Learning how chat rooms work, how to post a message, the benefits of chat rooms as a language learning tool and some useful chat room vocabulary.
    • Activity 2:
      • Using chat rooms to ask and answer questions among class mates, printing off the transcript and improving questioning.
    • Activity 3:
      • Interviewing the teacher and again, using the transcripts to reflect and improve language.
    • Activity 4:
      • Playing "guess who" among class mates.
  • Objectives:
    • After taking part in the four activities, learners will be able to do the following:
    • They will be familiar with chat room vocabulary and will be able to utilize all relevant chat room functions.
    • They will be confident in asking and answering questions and engaging in discussions with their teacher and other learners. This will include providing correct question forms and appropriate responses to questions.
    • They will know how to use tools such a Microsoft Word and dictionaries to improve their chat entries.
    • They will learn how to use the chat transcript to identify language problems and improve their English.
  • Resources
    • Enough computers for pairs or individual students to work on.
    • Fast internet connection
    • Networked printer
    • Projection device (preferable)
  • Preparation
    • Make sure that you are very familiar with the chat room you are going to use. You might like to try the following website which allows you to set up your own simple, private chat room: www.bravenet.com.
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Activity 1: Introduction to Chat Rooms in the English Class

Objectives

At the end of this class, the learners should be familiar with the following:

  • How chat rooms work
  • How to post a message
  • Some of the benefits of chat rooms as a language learning tool
  • Some useful chat room vocabulary

Procedure

1. Use two computers to demonstrate how chat rooms work to the class - don't let the students start using them yet. Type a message on one computer and have a student type a reply. This will work well if you can use a projector to show the computer screen to the class.

2. Give out the following discussion prompts to small groups of students. The discussion may be limited with lower level learners but it should get them thinking about the benefits of chat as a language learning tool.

  • What do you know about chat rooms?
  • Have you used a chat room before?
  • How can chat rooms help you to improve your English?
  • What problems do you think you will have?

3. Get feedback on the discussion and write up some key points on the board. You may want to pick up the following:

  • Question 1
    • You can chat with anyone in the world
    • It's real time
    • It's having a conversation by typing on your computer
  • Question 2
    • You can practice chatting with native speakers.
    • You can practice your writing and reading.
    • You will learn new words and expressions.
    • You will have to focus on your spelling.
    • You will learn to type quickly in English.
  • Question 3
    • My typing in English is very slow.
    • I don't have the vocabulary.
    • My spelling is very bad.
    • The conversation will be too slow and the native speaker will get bored.
    • My computer skills are really bad.
    • I don't want to chat with strangers in case they talk about things I'm not comfortable discussing.

Get the class to try to work out some solutions to the problems identified in question 4. Examples:

  • Your typing speed will improve. There will be other people in the room too so there won't be long silences.
  • Bring your dictionary or use an on-line one.
  • Check your spelling before you post something (use Microsoft Word or a dictionary, ask a friend or your teacher).
  • You don't need to be a computer expert - you will learn the basic functions before you talk to native speakers.
  • This class will only meet invited guests and not strangers. If you don't feel comfortable with the conversation, you can leave the chat room and tell the teacher why.

4. Now it's time for students to enter the chat room and try it out. Model the procedure at the front of the class then encourage pairs of students to go to the computers and try it for themselves. Make sure they learn all the basic functions just as you did (type a user name and profile, enter the room, post a message, exit the room). Don't give them a specific task to do - just let them explore. You may find that they practice by posting messages in their native language.

5. Once everyone has had the chance to fill in their user name and details, enter the room, post a message, read other messages and leave the room, ask the students to leave the computers and come back to their original seats.

6. Pick up on new vocabulary that students may have encountered. This will depend on the chat room you chose but it may include the following: profile, post, members, ignore, whisper, user, details. You may want to prepare a handout - a matching exercise or a picture of the chat room or something else that will help them next time.

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Activity 2: Asking and Answering Questions in a Chat Room

Objectives

At the end of this class, the learners should be familiar with the following:

  • Types of questions they can ask in a chat room.
  • How to reply to a question.
  • How to print out the transcript.
  • Learning from their mistakes.

Procedure

  1. Tell the students that they are going to interview the other students in the class in a chat room but first they are going to prepare some questions on paper (or computer). Put the students into groups of about four to do this and try to get them to come up with about six questions. Don't correct their grammar but do encourage them to seek answers to their vocabulary and spelling queries without your help. This will help them to be more independent.
  2. Larger classes will require you to make sure that a number of chat rooms are set up. Tell the students how to get into the chat room you have allocated them and ask each other questions and type answers. Don't give them any other instructions - just let them try it out.
  3. When there are about 20 minutes of the lesson remaining, show them how to print off the chat room transcript, exit the chat room and bring the transcript back to their original groups.
  4. Tell them that with the help of their group members they have to identify the following from their own contributions:
    • Find an example of a grammatically correct question.
    • Find an example of a grammatically incorrect question.
    • Find a spelling mistake.
  5. They should correct the mistakes as a group or with some help.
  6. Get students to identify the following from other people's contributions:
    • Find an interesting question and the answer.
    • Find a confusing question.
    • Find a new word.
  7. Write on the board an example or two of a confusing question or a grammatically incorrect one similar to ones the students made. The class should correct it.
  8. At the end of this exercise, every student should have identified some thing they can improve on next time.

Variation

  • You could arrange for the students to meet students from another class in the chat rooms. This takes much more preparation however.

Activity 3: Interviewing You in Chat Rooms

This activity is similar to activity two but this time students interview you. This will give them the opportunity to ask different types of questions and also force them to focus more on accuracy. Students will also feel they are getting some individual teacher attention.

Preparation

You will need to set up several chat rooms in advance to have as few students as possible in one room so that they get plenty of opportunities for their questions to be answered. This will require you to be present in each room simultaneously. This is not as difficult as it sounds depending on your own keyboard skills and the amount of virtual memory on your computer. I have managed to be in five rooms at once and still be waiting for students to catch up with me. Remember they are beginners and will be processing a lot of information. They will be probably checking their spelling and grammar and thinking aloud before they post anything. They will also be slowly reading the questions that other students post. As students get better at English and chatting, you will not be able to keep up with them, but initially this works really well.

Objectives

At the end of this class, the learners should be familiar with the following:

  • How to prepare for a wider range of questions.
  • How to read and write longer replies.
  • How to check their work before posting it.
  • How to learn from their mistakes.

Procedure

  1. Tell the students that they are going to interview you in the class in a chat room but first they are going to prepare some questions on paper (or computer). Like before put the students into groups of about four to do this and try to get them to come up with about six questions. Depending on how creative your class are, you might need to brainstorm some possible topics they can ask you about first. Again, don't correct their grammar and encourage them to seek answers to their vocabulary and spelling queries without your help.
  2. Show the students how to get into the chat room you have allocated them and post questions for you and answer your questions. You can give them some feedback on their questions and mistakes just as you would in a face to face situation.
  3. When there are about 10 - 15 minutes of the lesson remaining, ask them to print off the chat room transcript, exit the chat room and come back to their original groups with the printout.
  4. Like before, students should work with their groups on identifying a few errors and correcting them and also noticing some new vocabulary and guessing the meaning.
  5. Write up an example of an error that the class are making a lot and help the class to correct it and identify similar ones.
  6. Finally, go through the class objectives to see if they feel they have met them.

Variations

  • You can ask other teachers to be present in one or two of the rooms if you have a lot of students.
  • You can give different answers to the same questions in different rooms and see if they spot what you've done.
  • You can nominate some students (experienced chatters or students with a more advanced level of English) to take on your role in each chat room.
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Activity 4: Guess Who!

Objectives

At the end of this class, the learners should be familiar with the following:

  • Types of questions they can ask in a chat room.
  • How to reply to a question.
  • How to print out the transcript.
  • How to learn from their mistakes.

Procedure

  • Give each student a nickname which they keep secret from their classmates. Explain that they must not tell anyone their real name until the activity has finished. They must enter the chat room using the name you have given them.
  • Give the students a few minutes to form some of the questions they are going to ask when they enter the chat room. Put a few examples on the board. You could specify that the questions require a yes or no answer. Tell them that they cannot just guess a name or ask "Are you Fatima?". Examples might include "Do you have long hair?"; "Are you wearing a red sweater?"
  • Give the student clear instructions on which chat room they need to go to if you have more than one.
  • Circulate, helping students to enter the correct room.
  • Enter all of the chat rooms yourself using the same nick name and help the questioning along if necessary or post a few red herrings to make things more interesting.
  • Once students start to guess some of the participants, ask them to print off their transcript and bring it back to the group.
  • Encourage the students to guess who they thought everyone was.
  • Examine the transcript in the usual way - encourage students to pick out examples of good and bad questions and answers, new vocabulary, and spelling mistakes.

D. References

  • Brett, P. 1998. Using multi-media: A descriptive investigation of incidental language learning. Computer Assisted Language Learning. 11(2) 179-200.
  • Bump, J. 1990. Radical changes in classroom discussion using network computers. Computers and the Humanities. 24, 49-65
  • Carey, S. 1999. The use of WebCT for a highly interactive virtual graduate seminar. Computer Assisted Language Learning. 12 (4), 371-380.
  • Chun, D. 1994. Using computer networking to facilitate the acquisition of interactive competence. System. 22 (1), 17-31.
  • Pica, T. & Doughty, C. 1986. Making input comprehensible: do interactional modifications help? ILT Review of Applied Linguistics 72, 1-25
  • Schmidt, R. & Frota, S. 1986. developing basic conversational ability in a second language: a case study of an adult learner of Portuguese. In R. Daly (ed.) Talking to learn: conversation in second language acquisition. Rowley. MA: Newbury House.
  • Schmidt, R. 1990. The role of consciousness in second language learning. Applied Linguistics 11, 129-58
  • Skinner, B. & Austin, R., 1999. Computer conferencing - does it motivate EFL students? ELT Journal. 53 (4)
  • Sullivan, N. & Pratt, E. 1996. A comparative study of two ESL writing environments: A computer-assisted classroom and a traditional oral classroom. System. 29 (4), 491-501.
  • Warschauer, M., Turbee, L. & Roberts, B. 1996. Computer learning networks and student empowerment. (1), 1-14.
  • Wilson, T. & Whitelock, D. 1998. What are the perceived benefits of participating in a computer-mediated communication (CMC) environment for distance learning computer science students? Computers Education. 30 (3/4), 259-269.

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