Self­-paced, Teacher­-directed: Vocabulary Software Helps Online ESL Learning

Self­-paced, Teacher­-directed: Vocabulary Software Helps Online ESL Learning
Summary: Finding the right balance between structure and flexibility is key to your success as an online instructor. This is especially true with ESL classes and English language courses, where students progress at different rates towards the same goal. But, how can you provide students with enough guidance to keep them on track, while still allowing for individualized study?

How Vocabulary Software Helps Online ESL Learning

When students are on site in a classroom, the instructor is responsible for leading the class forward at the same average speed. General English classes for children, or ESL classes targeted at adults, often rely on the use of standardized lesson plans and daily or weekly quizzes on vocabulary, spelling, and grammar. Most teachers focus on helping the students who aren't keeping up, which can slow down the overall progress of the class as a whole, and leave more advanced students with nothing to do.

In an online classroom situation, many instructors feel as if they have even less control over the direction and speed of the course. They often try to create highly structured lesson schedules in order to keep the class together. Unfortunately, this puts more pressure on the slower students to keep up, and leaves the advanced students with fewer options for self-­paced learning. One easy way to add structure without removing flexibility is by including well­ designed vocabulary improvement software in your planning. Here are some things to look for:

Built­-in Pronunciation and Spelling Help

If a student doesn't know how to pronounce a word, they'll have a harder time remembering it. They'll also be less likely to learn how to spell the word correctly ­ or they'll learn the word's spelling, but not be able to pronounce it correctly. Good vocabulary improvement software will have one­ click audio pronunciation for as many words as possible. Students can easily use this for help when learning the word, and because they have access to the vocabulary software even outside of the scheduled class time, they can practice as much as they need to by themselves. Your active online instruction won't be slowed down by having to repeat words aloud, over and over again.

English words are often hard to spell, so students need the time to work on this skill both in and out of class. Look for software that makes it easy to assign word lists to your students, and also lets them print out those spelling lists for offline study. Although many ESL classes and English tutoring sessions are done on line, not all students have 24/7 access to a computer. Provide as many ways as possible for your students to study their words, and you'll notice that your class will start picking up the pace. You can also provide extra challenges for the more advanced students by assigning them additional word lists to work on each week.

Definitions and Context Examples

Obviously, your students need to learn the definition of each new word, not just its spelling and pronunciation. However, not all words have only one definition, and you don't have the time to go through all of the possibilities and explain the different ways the word is used in each case. When you use vocabulary improvement software that already has those multiple definitions attached to the word for easy reference, you can concentrate on one main definition, and let the student explore the other options on their own.

Knowing when to use words is just as important as knowing what they mean. When a word has multiple definitions and usage options, it's vital that the students get examples of how the word is used in context. Make sure your software provides context examples, so that each student can look at sentences and phrases that use the word correctly. Ideally, the software should also let the students enter their own context examples, whether those are ones they come up with themselves, or sample sentences from your current lesson.

Seeing how words are used, and practicing using those words, helps lock the words and their definitions in your students' minds.

Fun and Games

Memorizing definitions and word spelling is necessary, but often boring. Using gamification in your online or on-­site classroom will keep students interested and eager to participate. This aspect of eLearning is where vocabulary improvement software can make a big impact in your lesson plans. You won't have to worry about sourcing appropriate apps or coming up with games of your own, because the software's built­in games are ready to use. On the other hand, you need to make sure that you can use those games to the greatest effect. Look for these features in the vocabulary software:

  • The games are appropriate for students at all age levels.
  • The games are entertaining and challenging, not repetitive.
  • The games use the target word lists that you assign to the student.
  • The student is rewarded for both playing the game and succeeding at it.
  • The student can use the games to focus on learning problem words.

If you provide your students with fun, challenging, and rewarding options for vocabulary study, they'll be more likely to put in the time necessary to learning better English skills.

Hands­-On (and Hands­-Off) Instruction

Finally, look for vocabulary software that allows you to track student progress as well as assign group and individual projects and word lists. When you use vocabulary improvement software for ESL classes, you'll be able to remotely supervise the more advanced students as they work through their self-paced learning assignments, which will leave you plenty of time for active tutoring of the students who need extra one-­on-­one help.

If the vocabulary software has built ­in progress tracking, both you and your students can use the reports and charts. This will help motivate your students by giving them visual proof that they're improving their vocabulary skills ­ or give them that extra push they need when they see that they haven't quite met their vocabulary learning goals for the week. You can use the charts as a quick reference on student progress, and as a way to easily identify the students who need your personal help.

By using vocabulary software, you'll be able to provide a high quality English language resource to your students, while saving yourself time and effort in lesson planning, daily study sessions, and weekly course goals.