Quick Tips for the CALL Laboratory

Posted: December 23, 2010 in CALL related to Teaching English

In this article, we would like to share some quick tips for the Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) Laboratory. If you are a beginner, these tips will help you to get started more quickly. Even if you have been using CALL for some time, you may find some useful suggestions.

Choose the Best Browser

The Internet is the single most powerful resource available for the CALL lab. And for most people, the Internet browser is the most important piece of software. Many teachers use no other software at all. We recommend using Netscape Communicator as your browser. It has several built-in functions that make life easier. Using Netscape Communicator allows students to learn just one interface and saves a lot of time in lessons.

  • The built-in mail function, Messenger, allows you and your students to communicate easily. Messenger also includes the useful ability to send web pages as mail. To do this, choose ‘Send Page’ from the ‘File’ menu.
  • Web pages are written in a language called HTML. Netscape Communicator has a built-in HTML editor, Composer. This allows you and your students to create web pages without learning HTML. Learn to use Composer, and show your students how to use it. It is not difficult, and it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes before you can create a very basic page. Some instructions are given in the next section, “Use Composer to Make Web Pages.”
  • By using the ‘Publish’ function in Netscape Communicator, you and your students can upload web pages directly to the Internet without using an external FTP program.

Use Composer to Make Web pages

  • Check that you have a copy of Netscape Communicator installed on the computers in your CALL lab. If you are not sure, check with your system administrator. If it is not installed, ask if it is possible to install it on the computers.
  • Open Netscape Communicator.
  • From the ‘File’ menu, choose ‘New’. From the sub-menu, choose ‘Blank Page’.
  • Type some text and experiment with different styles such as ‘bold’ and ‘italics’. You can change the style of text by choosing icons from the formatting tool bar near the top of the Netscape window. The use of these is similar to most word processors.
  • When you have created a basic page (ex. a self-introduction), save it on your hard disc.
  • Ask your system administrator or another teacher about the process in your institution for uploading a web page to the Internet.
  • When you have time, experiment with adding links and pictures to your web page.

Manage Student Assignments

Teachers have the experience of keeping track of student assignments in a regular classroom.But without a well-thought out system for the CALL lab, you could end up spending hours and hours trying to track down student assignments. After trying out various systems, we settled on the following.

  • Ask students to save all written assignments into a single Netscape Communicator file. This is a portfolio of all their work for the course. Tell them to write the date and the name of the assignment every time. Ask them to put a horizontal line between each assignment. This horizontal line is one of the icons in the formatting toolbar of Composer. An example of a student portfolio can be seen in Appendix 1 at the end of this article. Having a single portfolio makes it much easier to look at all student work without wasting time opening and closing many files.
  • Ask students to send the portfolio to you every week at the beginning of class. If they open their portfolio using Netscape, they can mail it to you by choosing ‘Send Page’ from the ‘File’ menu. You could delete the older versions, but keeping them is a good safeguard. Having them send their file every week is also a useful way to keep track of attendance.
  • Tell students to always use the same ‘subject’ heading when they email their file to you. This will allow you to sort through their work more quickly. For example, use the last four digits of their student number plus their family name, ex. 7632 Tanaka.
  • While students are working with the computers on their own, have short conferences with individual students to discuss the work in their portfolio. This allows you to check that they are keeping up-to-date. It will also allow you to motivate and keep track of individual students.

Use Computers–Don’t Be Used by Computers

When we started using the CALL laboratory, we tried to use the computers all the time. However, is is good to remember that computers are just one of many learning resources.

  • Even if you’re in the CALL laboratory, you don’t have to use the computers all the time. Sometimes, it is better to do other activities and to turn the computers off. For example, computers often get in the way of conversation practice. One important thing that we have learned is: When simple is best, keep it simple.
  • When all the students are using the computers, work with small groups of students or individuals. Give them your full attention for conversation practice or some other activity.
  • Learn about the different kinds of CALL software that are available in your lab, but use only what you need to help your students learn effectively.
    • If unhelpful software is installed on the computers, don’t feel that you have to use it. For example, some programs claim to help students’ pronunciation by using speech recognition. Try programs out in advance, and judge for yourself whether they are actually useful for your students.
    • Some programs have complicated interfaces. If you find yourself spending hours teaching students how to use a program, it might be more useful for them to be doing alternative learning activities.
  • Learn about available technology, but only use what is really helpful. Many CALL labs have a wide range of AV equipment such as MD, CD, DVD, and Laser Disc. We spent a long time trying to get the remote control for the MD player working. But eventually we found that a cassette was better because it allowed us to rewind to a particular spot more easily.
  • Consider whether your activities are helping students to learn language or something else. For example, designing a homepage may not be an effective use of time if students spend most of the time learning the technical side. On the other hand, a series of well-designed tasks that use English could lead up to the final product of a homepage.

Save Time

  • Typing in URLs wastes time. Once you are familiar with creating and uploading a web page, set up a homepage for your course. Ask students to bookmark this page in their browser. This page should have links for students such as on-line dictionaries, your lesson materials, and the class bulletin board.
  • Sometimes, computers get in the way of other activities. However, turning them off and then booting them up again takes a long time. Instead, ask students to turn off the monitors and leave the computers on. This will not be possible if your computer and monitor form a single unit.
  • If you have two lessons in a row, ask the first class to leave the computers turned on at the end of the lesson. They may need to log out, but they shouldn’t shut down the computers. This will allow the second class to get started more quickly.
  • If your computers take a long time to boot up, do another activity or ask the students to practice small talk with their partner while they wait.

Use Free Online Learning Materials

Language learning software is often expensive and difficult to use. Before you make the investment in money and time, try out the wonderful materials that are available free of charge on the Internet. Here are two of the best.

  • The most effective learning resource on the Internet is ‘Activities for ESL Students’, a part of The Internet TESL Journal. This can be found at http://www.a4esl.org. You can find more than a thousand quizzes and other effective learning activities for your students.
  • If you students need listening practice, ‘Randall’s ESL Cyber Listening Lab’ can be found at http://www.esl-lab.com/. If the computers in your lab have headphones, students can work at their own pace on a large variety of listening exercises. If your lab does not have headphones, you can ask your students to bring headphones. Before you use this site, test it out on several computers in your lab to make sure that the audio comes out properly.

Use Free Online Resources

  • A useful list of dictionaries for your students can be found at http://math-www.uni-paderborn.de/HTML/Dictionaries.html.
  • Dave’s ESL Cafe’ at http://www.eslcafe.com offers many discussion forums and chat rooms to meet students from around the world.
  • Many Internet portal sites such as Excite, Yahoo, and Lycos now offer free translation services. They’re not going to put us out of a job yet. But they provide excellent opportunities for students to compare their own writing with computer writing. By doing this, they can improve their own grammar and vocabulary by considering which is more correct. The local versions of these sites in your country are more likely to offer relevant translation services than the American version. Our favourite for translating Japanese to English is http://www.lycos.co.jp/translation.
  • There are many more free resources available to help you and your students. Good starting points are the links maintained by the Internet TESL Journal: ‘Links for Teachers’ and ‘Links for Students.’ Unlike many links pages, these links are kept up-to-date. They can be found on the Internet TESL Journal’s website at http://iteslj.org/links/.

Create Your Own Activities

Creating effective materials for the CALL lab is easier if you make use of free Internet resources.

  • Create a survey. A survey is a wonderful way to make your students think about the content of your course more carefully. They also enjoy knowing what other students think. Many sites such as Sparklit (http://sparklit.com) will host your survey and offer a full analysis of the results free of charge.
  • Make a reading comprehension or treasure hunt. Use a search engine to find a page relevant to the content of your course. Write a few questions, and tell students to write the answers in their portfolio. Or, make it into a treasure hunt. In a treasure hunt, students have to search through several pages on a site or through several sites to find the answers. Set up your own treasure hunts to suit the content of your own class. You can give the reading comprehension or treasure hunt as a handout. Or you can use Composer to create it as a web page.
  • Write a quiz for the Internet TESL Journal. By spending a little time, you can make one using their templates or quiz maker. They offer instructions at http://a4esl.org/t.html. Make a quiz that relates to the content of your class.


The CALL lab is a wonderful resource for helping your students to learn more effectively. Initially, you need to spend time learning new technologies and techniques that work well for you. In the coming years, it will become increasingly necessary for teachers to understand these technologies and to be able to use them. However, we must always keep in mind that it is learning and not the use of technology that is the true goal.

Appendix 1

Sample Student Portfolio

Name:Tanaka Tomomi
Student Number: 12345697
Class:Tuesday Morning, Media English
Teacher: Cullen

Date:October 23, 2001 (Homework)
Hello, my name is Tanaka Tomomi . I’m a student of NIT and 20 years old. I’m from Seki-city in Gifu. My hobby is reading books, shopping and watching movie. My favorite movie is “sound of music”, “Senjou no Merry X’mass”. I like Sakamoto Ryuuichi. His music of the movie”Senjou no Merry X’mass” is wonderful!

Date:October 29, 2001
Assignment: Reading 2
1.It was first discovered in japan.

2.It is produced by the Ajinomoto company.

3.It strengthens the flavour of other foods by making neuron cells in the mouth “over-react” to flavours. This excites the neuron cells too much and they soon die.

4.About 35 % of people are affected by MSG.

5. Young children, elderly and people with health problems are at greatest risk.

6.It causes dizziness and headaches. MSG reactions can also be as severe as asthma, heart attack or even death.

Date:October 29, 2001
Assignment: Ethics
1.Even if the chocolate bar doesn’t taste the same, I product it without carcinogenic ingredients. Or I make new products without it.

2.I tell the possible danger of GM food in my country and I ask the Minister of Health in the United States to stop production the GM foods.
And to avoid the major trade war, we increase imports of other safety foods instead of GM food.

Date:October 30, 2001 (Homework)
Assignment:Dangerous Foods 100 words
Dangerous Foods
The allergy and cancer of children increase very fast at a present. It is said that one of these causes is additives. If the motherwho is with child eat carcinogenic food or substance that doesn’t be produced in nature, her baby would be cancer andallergic. The doubtful additives of carcinogens are opp, hydrogen peroxide, BHA, saccharin, artificial coloring. Some of them is prohibited of use but these are often seem generally. For the body of us and our baby in the future, weshouldn’t have these dangerous foods if possible. In other words, we don’t depend on artificial food and pay attention toagricultural chemicals of vegetables and fruits.

Date:November 11, 2001
Treasure Hunt
1.It is 20.0ª-C
2.It is 1587.2mm
3.It is 9.3ª-C
4.It is 105.0mm
5.It is 19.5ª-C
6.It is 12.7 ª-C

The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. VIII, No. 2, February 2002



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