Karen's Linguistics Issues, June 2008 | Previous Months

 

Teaching Animals to Young Learners: A Web-Based Lesson

by Olcay Sert, Newcastle University, UK


Introduction

This article introduces an audio-visual website, which was designed by the author himself to teach vocabulary related to animals to young learners of English as a foreign language (henceforth, EFL). Throughout the article, the website designed by the author, which can be viewed at  http://www.olcaysert.com/animals.html, will be presented and evaluated depending upon relevant literature on Computer Assisted Language Learning (henceforth, CALL). Additionally, relevant theory on the use of image and audio files in teaching vocabulary will be discussed with a semiotic perspective. The website can be used by teachers and students in a single classroom sitting (this can depend upon the choice of the teacher) with reference to the suggested activities and exercises, which will be discussed in this article and as they appear on the website.


Theoretical Background

In a recent study held in Germany, Maglic (2007) found that 39% of ELF teachers never used a computer room, and 23% of them never used a computer in the classroom.  However, changing demands of the so called Information Age are making computers an integral part of the language learning and teaching process day by day. A growing number of institutions and teachers have enjoyed the advantages of using web-based language teaching materials, especially when dealing with young learners.

It is evident from recent research that computers and the web are important tools that enhance the experience of learning a foreign language (Hacken, 2003; Quesada Pacheco, 2005, 2006; Reinders & Lewis, 2005). The advantages of using web-based materials in the language classroom and for self-learning do not only stem from the ease of access and use, but also this is motivated by the variety of audio-visual input these materials may supply. It is more important when we consider the learning of vocabulary as Sert (2006) emphasizes: “when the learning materials are visualized with respect to the relations among signs, the results may become more promising in that more senses are activated during learning” (p.110). It is obvious that the number of senses activated during learning process affects the quality of learning positively.

Accordingly, the image, sound and video files presented in web-based vocabulary learning materials have a number of advantages in respect to time and efficiency compared to traditional classroom materials. First of all, the words that are introduced to students are contextualized with pictures, which is said to be an efficient tool by many researchers. When digital images are considered, as in this web page, the learning outcome is said to be very positive according to recent research (Scoter, 2004).

Reasoning from a semiotic approach in learning, a word is best learned with an integration of the pronunciation, the written form and an image (Şenel, 2007; Sert, 2007). If the word being taught is contextualized with its image, and presented with its pronunciation, it is more probable that the word can be encoded to long-term memory. When teaching to young learners, we should make use of their strong photographic memory. Additionally, as stressed by Cameron (2001), young learners can reach native-like pronunciation if they are taught appropriately in meaningful contexts. This advantage for children in learning pronunciation should not be neglected.

Within the framework of the discussions, the following section will introduce the present web material that can be found at http://www.olcaysert.com/animals.html. This website has been designed to teach vocabulary related to animals to young learners of English. The number of animals to be taught is eight. This is because Gairns and Redman (1998) indicate that an average of eight to twelve words can be introduced in a single sixty-minute lesson, and for Peet (2005) and Beck et al. (2005), seven lexical items should be introduced to learners in a single sitting.


The Material

The web page was designed for young learners (preferably between the ages of 6-9) of EFL with the aim of teaching animal-related words and verbs. In designing the web page, Dreamweaver 8 was used, accompanied by Macromedia Fireworks as image editor. Additionally, sound files in mp3 format were used in order to teach children the pronunciation of the words. Furthermore, some mp3 files are animal sounds, which are said to be effective tools in teaching animal sounds in related activities and exercises. The exercises were designed using Hot Potatoes 6, and range from matching to quiz exercises.

There are navigation buttons on the left side bar, which help the teacher and the learners navigate between the vocabulary page, the activities and exercises. The vocabulary page includes the target words to be learned, with their pronunciations (audio files), additional sound files (sounds of the animals) and image files. The suggested activities to be found on the activities page are just some recommendations and can be expanded by the teacher. The exercise page includes sound and picture matching exercises, an odd-one-out quiz and a flash card exercise, which will be discussed below. Although the page was designed for classroom use, it can also be used as a self-learning tool, as the instructions are clear and the website is user-friendly. However, as Reinders & Lewis (2005) put it, materials that may be perfectly suitable for use in a classroom environment may not be in a self-access context. So clear instructions should be supplied by the teacher before the students are encouraged to use the activities and exercises themselves. 

As stated above, the vocabulary link includes the target words to be learned. The images of the animals can be clicked to listen to the sounds. In separate boxes, the verbs related to each animal are supplied. Additionally, again in separate boxes, the pronunciation of each word is given to the students, as pronunciation is considered to be an integral part of speaking skills. The teacher should use this page to introduce the words to students and this can be either accompanied by a story prepared by the teacher, or directly navigating through the image and sound files. It should be kept in mind that children learn best if learning is made fun for them.

The activities link consists of three suggested activities in which students are asked to form groups. Below are the games that are presented on the web page:

 

1. Guess What

- First students are introduced with the animals and their sounds via the animal chart on the vocabulary page.
- Then the teacher forms two groups.
- A child from the first group clicks one of the pictures and one child from the other group tries to say the name of the animal.
- The child from the first group clicks to the player link to listen to the correct pronunciation.
- The game continues until all animals have been reviewed.
2. Online Flash Cards
- In groups of 4 or 5, the students open the flash card page to review the animal sounds.
- As the picture of the animal appears, one of the kids chooses someone from the group and asks for the appropriate verb.
- If the student cannot remember the appropriate sound, he is asked to imitate the animal.
- All students in the group repeat the full sentence.
3. Logical Reasoning
- The teacher opens the odd one out quiz.
- S/he introduces information about domestic, farm and wild animals.
-The students try to find the odd-one-out and discuss.

 

As can be understood by the instructions given, the activities are games for the students through which they can have fun and be engaged in group work. Through these activities, their communicative skills are enhanced and learning is reinforced by making use of image and sound files, as well as creating information gaps for the learners. If we consider that the class lasts 50 minutes, a total of 30 minutes can be spent on the classroom activities. 

On the exercise page, there are four audio-visual exercises that can help students practice what they have learned. In the first “sound matching” exercise, the students drag and drop the media files on the appropriate animal. When they click the play button, they try to remember the name of the animal using their audio source. In the second “sound matching” exercise, the students have the opportunity to listen to the pronunciation of the words.  After they listen to the pronunciation, they match the media file with the appropriate picture by dragging and dropping the file.

The third exercise, “the odd-one-out”, helps students understand the animal world in a logical way by grouping them as domestic or wild animals. This exercise should be preceded with an introduction to this topic by the teacher and should be followed by discussions on the questions. The fourth exercise (flash cards), helps students construct meaningful sentences by using the names of the animals and their sounds in verb form. The images are followed by the verb and the students are expected to guess the verb and form sentences immediately after they see the image of the animal.  


Discussion

Learning animal vocabulary using this website can have many advantages for young learners compared to traditional classroom learning. Firstly, they get more comprehensible input as they see the images, hear the sounds and listen to the pronunciation of the words at the same time. What is more, with the help of the activities suggested, they have the advantage of making learning fun by playing games in groups while using the website.

As stated before, the audiovisual nature of the website enhances students’ learning potential and raises the interest of the students. Furthermore, the exercises can also be used after the class for practice. It is very important that the web-based exercises provide immediate feedback for students, as is the case for the exercises found on this website. Therefore, teaching animals using this website can be claimed to be far more effective with respect to educational outcomes.


Conclusion

Throughout this article, the related website has been introduced with its theoretical and applied background. It can be claimed that instead of using traditional techniques, a lesson for teaching animals to young learners using this website can be highly effective. The evidence to this claim was given by previous research on vocabulary learning, CALL and a semiotic approach to pedagogy.


References

Beck, I.L., MacKeown, M.G., and Kucan, L. (2005). Choosing words to teach. In E.H. Hiebert & M.L. Kamil (Eds.), Teaching and learning vocabulary. (pp. 207-22). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Bennison, M. (2005). Young learners’ reflections working within a rich e-learning environment. Reflecting Education. 1(1-2), 59-75.

Cameron, L. (2001). Teaching Languages to Young Learners. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gairns, R.& Redman, S. (1998). Working with words. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hacken, P. (2003). Computer-Assisted Language Learning and the Revolution in Computational Linguistics. Linguistik Online. 17 (5), 23-39. Retrieved January 3, 2008 from http://www.linguistik-online.de/17_03/tenHacken.pdf  .

Maglic, M. (2007). Media Education in English Language Teaching: Not our Job?. Novitas-ROYAL (Research on Youth and Language), 1(1), 1-9. Retrieved January 3, 2008 from http://www.novitasroyal.org/marko.pdf .

Peet, K. (2005). Teaching Vocabulary to L2 Learners. Developing teachers. Retrieved July 25, 2006 from  http://developingteachers.com/articles_tchtraining/vocabulary1_kendall.htm

Quesada Pacheco, A. (2005). Web-Based Learning (WBL): A challenge for foreign language teachers. Revista Electrónica Actualidades Investigativas en Educación. 5 (2), 1-25. Retrieved December, 13, 2007 from http://revista.inie.ucr.ac.cr/articulos/2-2005/archivos/web.pdf

Quesada Pacheco, A. (2006). Cyberl@b: a platform for learning english in Costa Rican public high schools. Revista Electrónica Actualidades Investigativas en Educación. 6 (3), 1-25. Retrieved December, 10, 2007 from http://revista.inie.ucr.ac.cr/articulos/3-2006/archivos/cyberl@b.pdf .

Reinders, H. & Lewis, M. (2005). How well do self-access CALL materials support self-directed learning?. The JALT CALL Journal. 1(2), 41-49. 

Scoter, J.V. (2004). Using digital images to engage young learners. Learning and leading with technology. 31(8), 34-37.

Sert, O. (2006). Semiotic Approach and Its Contributions to English Language Learning and Teaching. Hacettepe University Journal of Education, 31, 106-114, Retrieved December, 12, 2007 from http://www.egitimdergisi.hacettepe.edu.tr/200631OLCAY%20SERT.pdf

Sert, O. (2007). A qualitative study on the use of code-mixing in teaching vocabulary through integrated skills. Unpublished M.A. Thesis. Hacettepe University, Ankara, Turkey.

Şenel, M. (2007). The semiotic approach and language teaching and learning. Journal of Language and Linguistic Studies. 3(1), 117-132, Retrieved January 2, 2008 from http://www.jlls.org/Issues/Volume%203/No.1/msenel.pdf


Bio-data

Olcay Sert got his B.A in English Linguistics and M.A in English Language Teaching from Hacettepe University, Turkey. He is an associate editor of Novitas-ROYAL. He is currently a full time PhD student (first year, Educational and Applied Linguistics) at the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences, Newcastle University. He can be reached at olcay.sert@newcastle.ac.uk or sertolcay@yahoo.com.


© Olcay Sert 2008. All rights reserved.