Computer Assisted English - a possibility to enrich English as the Second Language classes

Mart Reitel
Viljandi Paalalinna Gymnasium

CAE - Computer-Assisted English

CAE main goals are:

  • to enhance students' abilities in English and
  • to use various possibilities the computer offers: word processing, the Internet, making web pages, etc.
What is needed to have CAE classes?

First of all - computers in the necessary number, preferably one computer per student. Also it's important that students have the basic knowledge of a text processor and web- browser.

What kind of work can be done with computers in English lessons?

The author can tell the reader about it based on the experience of teaching English one lesson per week for twelve-graders for three years in Viljandi Paalalinna Gymnasium.

The assignments designed for such classes allow the students to work individually. At the beginning designing the tasks the author turned to the library of the British Council and found two books in there: Using Computers in the Language Classroom by Christopher Jones and Sue Fortescue (Longman Group UK Ltd 1987) and CALL by David hardisty and Scott Windeatt (OUP 1989). Some interesting hints were taken from these sources to compile tasks, and all the exercises used in CAE class are created by the author.

What kind of assignments can be used in CAE classes?

The exercises include: shortening a text, composing a story based on given vocabulary, a translation of a translation (English-Estonian-English), fragmented sentences, a text without spaces, grammar exercises (e.g. prefixes, suffixes) etc. An immense source for different tasks including grammar, vocabulary, reading, writing, and even listening is the Internet. For that purpose, an Internet web page is available at, where teachers can find about 20 different links. Various Internet editions of newspapers can also be used in tasks as well as even the schedules of airports, bus terminals, etc.

The Internet Award Scheme 1999/2000 Europe @t School

One more area of CAE is international Internet competitions, e.g. Europe @t School (at where students prepare a web page on one of the given topics. This gives students the possibility to correspond with students from foreign countries and get versatile information about these regions.

The theme of the competition in 1999/2000 was "Towards a citizens' Europe".

After the first step - registration - the search for the partners started. The first school, which proposed the partnership to Viljandi Paalalinna Gymnasium (VPG), was from Poland, VI Liceum Ogolnoksztalcace from Katowice. A little later a school in Sliven, Bulgaria, (PMG Dobry Chintulov) sent email expressing readiness to co-operate with us.

We agreed to work mainly on cultural topics and give our project the title "Europe - Our Big Home" (http:/

The third step was to choose a co-ordinator ogf the group - VPG agreed to be the leader. Our group was registred at the headquarters of the project we could start the work.

First, the students exchanged letters, where they introduced themselves to their counterparts from the partner schools. Selection of their introductions was placed later on the web page. Later descriptions how people celebrate Christmas and St Valentine's Day in each partner country were added to the web site as well.

Another field of discussion was a description of students' personal hero or heroine. We also decided to acquaint each other's countries as a questionnaire we sent out at the early stage of the project.

Both the Polish and Bulgarian schools used only one address which belonged to the school (Poland) or was created especially for the project (Bulgaria). The Bulgarian and Polish students talked with each other via the Internet using IRC. Estonian students having their own email addresses corresponded with their associates by email.

We also decided that each school would make its own web page as a part of the united title site. One school would launch it on its server later, using the materials provided by partners.

VPG suggested writing short essays on three subjects:

  1. Are Estonians/Bulgarians/Polish people Europeans?

  2. The sources of Estonian/Bulgarian/Polish culture.

  3. Is Estonia/Bulgaria/Poland in Europe?

Inside each partner school the tasks were also distributed among the students. The main bulk of the work was done in class and as an out-of-class activity.

The programs that were used to produce web pages were Netscape Composer, Microsoft PowerPoint, FrontPage Express, Java generators. The results were sometimes so sophisticated that initially pages did not work well with some browsers, and had to be reconstructed, especially *.js-files which had to be altered into *.css ones. Sometimes there were difficulties with *.jpg-files as well, particularly with the links to them from the web page this was caused by spelling problems in file names because the UNIX system does not tolerate differing cases of letters. UNIX is case sensitive, so something written "Foo.jpg" must always be "Foo.jpg", not "foo.jpg" or "FOO.jpg". Also all *.bmp-files had to be changed into *.jpg ones as the latter ones consumed less space.

We also decided to add so-called Virtual Guest Book to our web site so that the visitors could add their opinions about our joint work or ideas on the discussion topics.

In each country, there were holidays and the end of the semester at different times, so there was a problem with continuous contact between the students.

The project results were due to be up on the Internet by 30 April 2000. After that 44 European project groups were divided into 5 ranking circles. From each ranking circle, the jury admitted the 3 ~V 4 first-ranked project results to the final selection. The ranking phase ended on 15 May 2000.

The list of the criteria according to which each project web site was to be evaluated was following:

  1. European dimension of the work

  2. Exploration of the theme.

  3. Clarity of the message.

  4. Web-design.

  5. Originality and creativity.

At the beginning of May, we were informed that our group was chosen into the final stage of the competition. Our final result was 5th place.

What could have been the strengths of groups that achienved higher places?

  • quite a few teams had a questionnaire to the participants of the project and the results were analysed.
  • students' drawings were used as the design of the web page or independent elements.
  • very often, the basic part of the project was common, not split among the participants.
  • opinions and reflections were short - people (the jury) do not have time to read long stories!
  • animated gif-files were frequently used as part of the design (though these might slow down opening your web page).
  • native languages were used as part of the presentation.
  • a special format, e.g. a magazine, a newspaper, a journal, etc. was used.
  • the participants spoke about things they knew well and that really interested them - for example cookery in a project prepared by girls
  • different age groups were widely involved in the work - e.g. teachers, kids, parents, etc. were invited to express their opinions.
Some teams tried to take advantage of complicated technologies like using voice (*.wav and *.mid-files) but the general impression was that the jury did not favour it. It is probably because not all programmes used in a PC can open them.

Some closing comments

What is the difference between a regular English class and a CAE class?

The main distinction lies in the fact that whereas an ordinary English lesson uses varied oral, audio and written methods to teach and learn English, the CAE lesson adds to it versatile text processing available in different computing programmes plus the use of the Internet.

While doing the exercises students can use CD with Festart English-Estonian-English dictionary distributed to schools by Tiger Leap Foundation.

At the end of the CAE lesson students save the results of their work on floppy disks and submit them to the teacher for assessment as any other school assignment. At the close of the course students get their final grade.

What are the problems that can emerge in class?

First of all, students' computer skills may be insufficient: they may not know how to operate the computer or word processor or web-browser although that has been taught at computer courses. Another obstacle may be the teacher's lack of computer skills and lack of their courage to manage two processes at the same time - language teaching and computer instruction.

What are the results of the course?

The students gain a better knowledge of the language and they also learn to use a computer as a tool.

Finally, it should be emphasised that using computers in language class is not something that one should be scared of. Neither is that an objective itself. It is a normal aspect of both modern teaching and study processes. So, let us use it more frequently in our classes.

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