Helping ESL Students Become Computer Literate
Increasingly, our daily lives involve
computers - whether it's getting money from an ATM, communicating via email or
doing word processing at work.
Today, people need tools to be
successful in a high-tech world. Computer literacy skills can enhance
employability, and open up new avenues of communication, knowledge,
information, and entertainment.
For teachers of ESL students, the
question is not whether to teach computer literacy but how.
First, ask students what they know about the computer and what
they want to learn. Do they want to learn how to surf the Web, write letters or
create a resume? After finding out what your students' technological knowledge
and interests are, you'll have a better idea about where to begin.
Novice computer users don't need to know much about computers to begin
using software or to start surfing the Web. Knowing how to use the Enter
(return) key, the Shift key, the space bar, and the Tab key on the keyboard
enables students to use software. And, just as students can learn grammar in
context, they can learn to type by using the computer.
Students who are
unfamiliar with using a mouse will need to be shown how to maneuver the mouse
correctly. They also should understand how to click on the menu bar to start,
quit, and exit.
Beginners will also need to learn basic computer
terminology. Teach them the parts of the computer, and about software, email
and the Internet.
students have access to computers either in a language lab or in the classroom.
(Computers can sometimes be found in public places such as libraries.) Software
and online tutorials are good resources for teaching computer literacy. An
online lesson is one that is completed using a computer with Internet access.
The activities in online lessons and in software are sometimes interactive -
allowing students to use the knowledge they are acquiring.
questions to ask in evaluating software or online tutorials include:
- What is the language difficulty level?
- Does the language and content help reinforce my curriculum?
- How easy is the software or website for the students to use?
Is it easy to navigate from page to page?
Find software or web lessons that allow students to do exercises
and quizzes after completing their lessons. Determine whether the material has
a good pace and clear demonstrations. For example, a lesson may include a mouse
tutorial - a wonderful tool for a beginning computer user.
Processing as a Learning Tool
Using word processing programs, students
can choose topics, write in groups, and discuss drafts. Grammar and style
checker tools (in addition to the spelling checker and thesaurus available with
most word processing programs) can help review and correct their writing.
Pairing students who speak different languages in front of the computer
may help prompt real communication in English. Cooperative writing assignments
or the use of problem-solving software or simulation games can help students
enhance both language and literacy.
Make It Relevant
sure the information and exercises introduced are relevant to your students.
When information is directly relevant to peoples' lives, they are more
motivated. If you are working with people who are unemployed, teach skills that
will help them with their job search. If you are working with senior citizens
who want to communicate with family members, teach them to use email.
Keep it Simple, Positive and Fun
Begin each learning session
with a few simple objectives. Don't overwhelm learners with too much
information at once. Leave time for guided practice after introducing a new
skill. Whether using software or an online tutorial, lessons often have
built-in exercises. Change or elaborate on these to suit your students' needs.
Don't move on until the learner has completely mastered the task that
has been introduced.
Offer praise and constructive criticism often.
Make learning fun. For example, an Internet scavenger hunt helps students learn
how to surf the web and can help enhance their English reading skills.
© Bobbie Crockett 2002
Crockett is a curriculum writer/community liaison for GCF Global Learning, a
training program of the Goodwill Community Foundation that is operated by
Goodwill Industries of Eastern North Carolina. A former journalist and ESL
tutor, Ms. Crockett writes for the distance learning website:
www.GCFLearnfree.org which offers
free online computer courses in English and in Spanish. Contact her at