Online Language Learning Activities

web 2.0More and more of student language learning (and even teacher teaching), is taking place online. The classroom no longer has 4 walls. As many content and process “rich” language learning sites proliferate — it is time to reflect on not the “what” but the “how” — how to use these sites when teaching and instructing online. (and see my recent top 10 blog post for some sites I recommend – also our Diigo library.

For more on using technology for language teaching – visit my page on the subject.

Possible Learning “Activities” for

Learning English online.

The activities that follow are designed under the following assumptions:

  1. The online site has voice and video capability.
  2. There is a text to speech component to all video.
  3. There is member interaction / networking/ discussion
  4. The site has a personalized play list / my page component.

Overall Learning Sequence

There are a number of possible “frameworks” or sequences through which the learning activity can take place. They typically follow a 1. pre activity 2. activity 3. post activity format.

Several possible ways to present this would be;

ESA – Engage / Study / Activate (the current mantra in EFL / ESL)

PPP – Prepare / practice / produce (personalize/perform might be a 4th)

It would be beneficial for the learner to really simplify this into clear language.


The learner first “reads” the video. Text support of voice/audio.

The learner second reviews the video with some prompts/missing language etc….

The learner third, creates something new from the content of the video

The learner fourth, states their own feelings and has a conversation/discussion about the video content.

Categories of Activities

The activities would fall into general categories and which would represent increasing complexity and language “freedom” as the learner moves from mere repetition to more self – produced and synthesized forms of

  1. Vocabulary
  2. Comprehension
  3. Sequencing / reordering
  4. Creation
  5. Discussion / Extension

All video or content should have a very brief introduction as previewing. This facilitates the learning by channeling the learner’s mind towards
the specific concepts / images / language which will be necessary for the given
topic. It should therefore be TOPICAL or THEMATIC.

A possible example would be a photo and asking the learner…

Have you ever…….. or When did you last ………….

Both these prompts work with any topic and work well to get the learners thinking about the forthcoming activity. This could be presented in a
dreamy bubble or by asking for a specific prompt….

Types of activities

1. Vocabulary

Each activity /video should have a Word Wall (what I use in my class, just a graffiti place where students can put the new vocabulary they learned, up
in plain view. ). If this could have actual pronunciation, click and hear
functioning – all the better. Also, click to a dictionary explanation. This Wall could be either a personal one or
better, along the lines of a wiki where it is created and / or added to by
individual learners.

A. Phrase match. – after viewing the video, learners are presented with a box where phrases containing the new vocabulary are “chopped” in half. They have a time limit to drag them together. Best time is posted to
compare with the network as a whole. See an example of this at this site – (both his Scatter and Space Race games are
excellent examples of way to both engage and learn vocab. and also make it into
an interactive game to challenge learners. )
[use eflclassroom as the id/pw and see my own examples.]

B. Mind maps / brain storming. Tony Buzan has made the term “mind map” into something every educator knows. Using computer technology, on an interactive page, learners can build a concept map and edit/correct other users. Or just
create their own unique one. It is
simply starting from the middle with the “theme” and then creating branches of
thought ……. a very easy web 2.0 language learning activity/idea.

C. An alphabet chart / personal dictionary. – learners have a calendar like chart , each box represents the letters of the alphabet. Into these boxes, learners deposit the difficult vocabulary and organize the content. Learners should be prompted
to provide an example usage for each word entry.

D. Click it down. Learners are given a list of selected words. They listen / watch the content and then must click on the word when it appears/is spoken. They get points for being correct and a bell or buzzer goes off…

2. Comprehension

Comprehension activities allow the user to review vocabulary. They can be very simple Q and A or more complex. Learners should generate the questions and this is probably the most effective way of using
comprehension activities – it also facilitates question making ability, an
essential part of language and conversation.

A). 5Ws — Learners are prompted with the 5ws and act as journalists to create the five questions and to answer them. Other learners can answer their questions , creating further content. And so on….. Doesn’t
just have to be the 5ws. Also How long, How far, Which , Whose etc….

B) Picture prompts. Same as the above but learners are give “frames” from the video or sound bites. They are then asked to comment using the 5ws. Who/what etc…….

C) Listening Prompts – the learner is given a selected portion of the audio and must finish the audio excerpt either with their own voice or by text.

3. Sequencing and Re-ordering

This is a very powerful kind of activity which combines lower level knowledge and also high level processing skills. Here begins the real “scaffolding” of learning and getting learners to really “acquire”
language through purposeful activity.

A) Reorganize. Learners are given 5-8 frames from the video or audio. They then have to put them in order and label them with a phrase or sentence detailing their meaning (like a Table of Contents). Audio could be
used here to prompt learners to retell the story/video, in their own words and
language. Instructions work well too, for any kind of “how to” content. Learners could also be asked to reorganize
sentences to sequence the video. They could drag the sentences into order and a
time component could be added for further motivation (as per the vocabulary

B) Time line. – this is a basic comprehension activity and after the content video, learners are prompted with a line and enter the appropriate details in order. See Andrew Finch’s stuff (I’ll mention him again
later) at (these also relate to the above mind mapping…)
for examples of the use of timelines generated by the learner.

C) Make it Comical. There are many kinds of comic generators out there. Learners could be asked to generate a comic of the video, adding language etc….they could then share this across the “theme” or
network. See the web 2.0 folder of links for many examples –

in particular, This folder also has examples of many web 2.0
language activities/applications that could generically be used on any content.
Much like a comic generator.

D) Retell. I think this the most powerful and important of all archetypical language activities. We are so hardwired for oral retelling and it facilitates language learning tremendously. Learners are simply given the opportunity
through keyword prompts or pictures, to retell the story, make it their own and
/ or extend the story. Better if a voice option is allowed here……Much like
the function of

4. Creation – User Generated Content.

This type of activity is/has been often overlooked and bypassed by educators enlarge. It is quintessentially student/user focused and allows for the highest level of language and thinking skills. (note – “highest level of language skills” does not mean
“high language level” . A learner can be of low fluency but be using very high
level language processing skills. ).

A) Games. Learners can be asked to create easy to make games which they can share with other learners. An excellent and simple example would be Andrew Field’s
own “Fling the Teacher”. Find some examples and download the “generator at EFL
Classroom 2.0 on the Practice page. Learners simply enter the question and the
possible answers. The “Generator” then makes the game for instant playing. All
kinds of games can be made and see his other games for some examples at In particular his penalty shootout and walk
the plank games…..

B) Subtitling. Learners creating their own soundtracks/texts about the content would be an amazingly creative web 2.0 idea. Learners could take a soundtrack or a thematic song and
create a karaoke for it – to share with those on the network and other
learners. They could create subtitles for actual video like at Bombay TV

C) Stories. Learners could create their own online books about the topic using new online technology such as that at Text to speech technology could be integrated
(maybe see ) so that
learners could very easily make an audio book.
Book making would be a great way to develop user generated content and
buzz / sharing.

5. Discussion.

This is the end all of language activities and should allow the learner to freely use their own “voice” and the language they’ve learned.

A) Comment – this is the typical way of organizing a discussion, along the lines of a forum thread. It should have the possibility of voice and I would think that the model of voicethread is the
best one. Each theme could have a central picture where users can comment in
both text and voice. Also, learners could also create moderated communities
around each language learning strand.

B) Chat/video rooms. This I see as the future of language learning. Bringing together native speakers and English learners into a thematic “room” for discussion on specific topics. Flash chat/video technology
is such that this could be a very profitable add-on. Users pay a flat
yearly/monthly fee to participate in rooms which offer discussion on Music,
Movies, Books, Teaching, Sports, TV, Travel, etc……..There they can find
other language learners as well as native speaking “experts”. This would allow
the full extension of the learning process into the “infosphere” as I call it.

Obviously, all these ideas have to be filtered, streamlined and judged on their technological “doability”. Also judged on their cost effectiveness and for issues of safety / privacy.

Conclusion / The Future

The ideas above reinforce the ethos that any successful language learning site will be about:

a) great content

b) learner control / experience

c) community

A language learning site that is international in scope should bring native speakers (supply) into contact with English Language Learners (demand). If it is done in a very understated and engaging manner,
this can be very successful. Essentially, it is replacing the teacher with
interesting native speakers and replacing the classroom with an online learning

This I believe will be the future of learning languages online. Not about “teaching” or “learning English” but an encounter based on mutual interest, of a native speaker and a learner. This must be – given that there won’t be even
in the midterm, enough qualified language teachers online or offline, to meet

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


Teacher trainer, technology specialist, educational thinker...creator of EFL Classroom 2.0, a social networking site for thousands of EFL / ESL teachers and students around the world.

1 Response

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe By Email

Get every new post delivered right to your inbox.

This form is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Skip to toolbar