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Internet tools for teaching English

By Joe Essberger
Are you netting the world’s best ESL resource?

If you have access to the Internet, whether for yourself or for your students, you have the world’s premier ESL resource at your fingertips.

Never before has there been such a bank of ESL material. And it’s all there for you, much of it free, accessible, copiable and transmissible.

How can you capitalise on this outstanding resource? That depends to some extent on your Internet connection – whether it’s you alone, at home or at school, or some or all of your students, again at home or at school. Beyond that, the possibilities are endless, because the ways in which you can exploit the Internet are limited only by your own imagination. And since your imagination is boundless . . .

But great artists sometimes need a little inspiration. So here are a few kick-starters to get you going.


If you’re going to use Electronic Mail to communicate with students, the first thing to do is create mailing lists of your students, grouped in whichever way is most appropriate. Most email programs have an address book that allows you to do this. Once done, you will then be able to email all of your students in a particular group with a single mouse click. You will still, of course, be able to email them individually.

Homework Assignments

There are several ways in which you can distribute homework by email. For example, you could create your own exercises, tests or quizzes, and simply email them to your students. Or you could copy some of the free exercises to be found at sites like EnglishClub and email those. Another possibility is to email students the URL of a site that you want them to work on (see WWW below).

Telephone Lessons

If you teach English by telephone, then email is the perfect way to supply your student with texts to be read before the lesson, with material that you will use during the lesson or with exercises to be done after the lesson.


Working together, but not necessarily in the same location, students can write and edit a publication of some kind. This might be a one-off (for example, for a short-term course) or weekly or monthly (for a longer-term course). It could be related specifically to the group or to any other subject of interest to the group. The way you organise this is up to you. You might give each student a different role (editor, advertising manager, journalist etc) or you might let them work in any way they wish. But you should probably set some clear objectives: number of words, editorial/advertising ratio, editorial policy etc.

The beauty of email is that the text can be written, transmitted, rewritten, edited, retransmitted etc easily between any number of students working in any location. Text can be either in the body of the email or attached as a file. Manipulation and correction is particularly easy.

The final product could be published as an email, as a printed document or as a web page. If you have your own home page, or if your school has a website, it should be a fairly easy matter to publish your students’ work. This would give added motivation.


There is plenty of scope here to collaborate with students in other schools and other countries. For example, two schools based in France and Japan could create a joint ‘Franco-Japanese News’. You would simply need to find teachers abroad who want to work with you. Find them by leaving a message on EnglishClub ESL Projects.

The World Wide Web

Here we should distinguish between authentic material (of which there are literally millions of pages) and designed-for-ESL material (which now occupies a significant and growing portion of the Web). Both have their uses.

To get an idea of the range of material available, just take a look at Yahoo!’s main index:

  • Arts & Humanities
  • Business & Economy
  • Computers & Internet
  • Education
  • Entertainment
  • Government
  • Health
  • News & Media
  • Recreation & Sports
  • Reference
  • Regional
  • Science
  • Social Science
  • Society & Culture

These are just the main sections. Within each section, there are many sub-sections.

Websites With Authentic Material

The vast majority of websites contain authentic material in the sense that it is written to convey real information (commercial or otherwise) to an English-speaking audience without any thought for non-native speakers. It is a vast range of English from highly formal to familiar or even vulgar. And it emanates from an equally vast range of sources. But it is ‘real’ English, whether British, American, Australian etc, and whether polished or otherwise. Here, at the click of your mouse, you can find everything from White House Press Briefings to Joe Bloggs’ Home Page. And whether it’s IBM, Coca-Cola, British Airways, Sanyo or Volkswagen, all the multi-nationals and many other companies can be found on the Web.

You can use this material either as a source for classroom handouts that you would exploit just like any other authentic material, or as an arena for your students themselves to explore.

The following ideas are simply examples of what can be done:

Reading Comprehension

Go to www.any-company-you-want.com and find the answers to these questions:

  • Where is the head office?
  • What is the fax number for the Asian head quarters?
  • Who is the Chairman?
  • What is the annual turnover?
  • What are the company’s main products?
  • Why, according to the company Annual Report, did sales fall last year?
  • What new brands is the company introducing in the current year?
  • Who is in charge of public relations?
  • What is the company’s environmental policy?
  • Describe the company’s logo.
  • List three job openings and accompanying salary packages.
  • What is the projected growth for the coming year?
  • Of course, you will modify these questions according to level and speciality.

Set your students a particular task

I am going to Bangkok on business for six weeks. I need a self-catering apartment with a living-room and separate bedroom. Please check out www.some-suitable-apartment-site.com and recommend a suitable apartment. It should be reasonably central. Air-conditioning is essential. I need to know:

  • The price:
  • The address:
  • Size of apartment:
  • Does it have a balcony?
  • Does it have satellite TV?
  • Does it have a laundry service?
  • How do I book the apartment?

Websites With Designed-for-ESL Material

Firstly, you can find many excellent, copiable resources for you to use in class on the Web. Several sites offer classroom worksheets that you are free to copy and print out for educational purposes. At TEFL.net ESL Lesson Plans, for example, you’ll find an entire section of ESL worksheets, categorised by skill and level. These worksheets are specifically designed to print out easily on A4 or American Letter size paper.

Secondly, several sites offer advice and ideas for ESL teachers. DevelopingTeachers.com has articles offering really useful suggestions for teaching; while EnglishClub for ESL Teachers has a great section covering activities in the ESL classroom.

Thirdly, you can find many study and revision activities for students to do themselves, with or without your supervision. There are literally hundreds of these activities that you can find through links pages and search machines (see below). Listed here are just a few as an indication only.


You’ll find a range of grammar tutorials at EnglishClub English Grammar, together with associated quizzes and exercises. Let your students work on these exercises at school if you have Internet access, or send them the URL and specific tasks by email.


You’ll find quizzes about grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation at EnglishClub ESL Quizzes


Try sending your students to ESL Cafe – Slang or Top 20 Words at EnglishClub English Vocabulary.


A useful section at EnglishClub.com is the English Reading area where students can find short excerpts from classic texts, together with hyperlinked notes and definitions.

Finally, you need a way to find the sites with ESL material. All of the major search engines like Google or directories like Yahoo! can help you here, but they’ll probably find you a lot of other, unwanted sites, too. For a more finely tuned search, check the ESL specialised links directories like EnglishClub’s ESL Webguide.

Written by Joe Essberger for Tefl.NET February 2004
Joe Essberger is founder of TEFL.NET and EnglishClub and has taught EFL in Europe and Asia.
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