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Level: Starter/beginner, Elementary, Pre-intermediate, Intermediate, Upper intermediate, Advanced Type: Reference material

Tips and suggestions for using IT in the ESOL classroom.


IT skills are becoming increasingly important in most countries and people who do not know how to operate computers effectively are narrowing their employment opportunities as well as missing out on new methods of communication and media. The same can also be said for ESOL/ ESL students. A rudimentary knowledge of IT will help them with their lives in countries where technology is a basic part of everyday living.

Students who have never used a computer before

Some ESOL/ ESL students might never have used a computer before and older students might find it particularly daunting. It’s a good idea therefore to run through computer vocab before they start and discuss what they are used for and how they can help students. Don’t expect basic students to work miracles, they might have difficulties using the mouse, forming capitals or using punctuation. On the Internet they will have problems with typing in URLs, pop ups and basic windows management. Take things slowly and set yourself one goal each lesson such as opening and closing a window or forming capitals. Get students to gather round one machine while you show them how to do certain tasks and have a few individuals practise in front of the group.

Help with writing

Using a word processor can help motivate students to write. Basic students who have difficulty forming letters and using capitals might find copying something useful - you could use a simple text from the beginner EFL/ESL section or an easy text that they have written. Printing these out and sticking them on the classroom wall will also boost morale. If you have the technology, paste a student’s photo onto the work. It makes the classroom look better and gets students involved with their own learning. You might also like to use some of the cheap typing tutors available in shops and on the Internet.
Microsoft Word and Publisher have lots of features to help with writing. You could make a calendar, a newsletter, a CV, a business card, a menu, a poster (No Smoking, Only Speak English, Switch Off Your Mobile etc.) or a simple letter.


Use or to get a free email addresses but make sure you guide students through the set up process or better still do it for them, email accounts are easy to use but are very complex to make. Once students have an account there are lots of activities they can do. They can sign up for information about jobs ( and send greeting cards ( They can also write to you or other teachers about anything they want, don’t be afraid to give out your email address to students, they won’t inundate you with mail. Try asking them if they like the city they live in or how many brothers and sisters they have. Keep the emails short and use a large font so they can read them easily.

Websites with listening materials

To play audio or visual material on the Internet you need a program. If you haven’t got it installed already you can visit and download their media player for free. It’s worth remembering that if you are going to download anything large (music or videos) and you don’t have broadband, it will take a long time.

There are some very good, free, activities available at Randall’s Cyber Lab ( The BBC also has lots of good activities on its EFL ( and also some listening tasks on its basic skills site ( which are also worth doing with ESOL students. For more advanced students there are some thought provoking and interesting documentaries available at

You might also like to download some movies to use with your class: offers clips and trailers of films and worksheets, although these are aimed more at native speakers. Adverts from TV are small and packed full of images you can download some at Also keep your eye on the BBC in general ( who have a lot of interviews and sound bites to keep students happy.


There are hundreds of research tasks you can get students to do on the Internet. Students can find out the local or international weather, ( find a business or person in the yellow pages (, find a job (, look at maps ( or even go shopping online (; In fact you can ask students to find out about any information using search engines (;

You could ask students to find out information about a famous person they admire and write a biography about them ( They could also put together some information on a country they would like to visit or their own country, students love to see pictures of their own town or city, try typing it in the image search section of Failing that there are some great Webquests available, try the Webquests here, although students need to be at least Entry 3 to attempt these and quite computer literate.

I’m the teacher but I don’t know much about IT

Join the club. You are not teaching complex IT skills to groups of technological whiz kids and although students will see you as the computer specialist it’s important to remind them that it is an ESOL/ ESL class. Students need basic computer skills to use an amazing resource but they don’t need to know how to use Excel or de-frag a hard drive. Students who are more advanced can be directed to other IT classes (CLAIT or ECDL for example), Learn Direct also do some great online courses ( and most towns have a branch in the local library or college.

Working with IT can be very frustrating when machines or software don’t work and you can never plan for such problems. Be patient and don’t get frustrated. Computers only do what they are told to do; often breakdowns are due to human error.

Foreign language web sites

ESOL/ ESL students might want to use IT to contact people in their own country or just to read the newspaper. The BBC has the news in 43 languages ( Students who are very homesick can even watch a TV station from their country (

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Readers' comments (1)

  • I find the online British Library very useful there is a section called 'Sounds Familiar' you can listen to regional accents, dialects from across the uk. It's really great if you have an interactive whiteboard and speakers!

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