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ELL 2.0: How to Make the Most of the Web

By Larry Ferlazzo — September 16, 2009 4 min read
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I don’t believe educational technology is a magic bullet for our students. At the same time, I do believe the Internet can be an incredibly beneficial supplement to effective classroom instruction for English-language learners. Consider, for example, the thousands of free Web sites that offer audio and visual supports for written material. That’s a huge asset if you don’t happen to have a one-to-one tutor-to-student ratio (and not many of us do!). The Internet also provides a place for ELL students to take risks, make mistakes, and learn from them without fear of public embarrassment.

The Web offers direct advantages to teachers, too. I’ve read many books on teaching ELL students, but in my mind very few of these costly texts rise above the best free Internet resources in providing sound ideas on how to work effectively with ELL students.

Of course, the sheer number of ELL resources available on the Web can be intimidating. I have 9,000 categorized links on a site that I’ve set up for students to self-access, and more links appear every week. So, in an effort to lower the intimidation factor and give ELL resource-hunters a good starting point, I’ve pulled together my 13 favorite free Web sites for ELL teachers and their students.

My list includes Web sites that provide activities where ELL students can practice speaking, listening, reading, and writing English. Two of these sites provide students with an opportunity to be creators, rather than just consumers, of online content. Though I’m identifying these resources specifically for English-language learners, certainly several of the student sites can also be useful for native English speakers, as well. For teachers, I’ve recommended several sites that can help improve teaching skills and several others that can relieve you of some of the burden of daily lesson preparation.


U.S.A Learns is an incredible Web site to help users learn English. Even though it’s primarily designed for older learners, it seems very accessible to all but the very youngest ELLs. It’s free to use and is appropriate for both beginning and intermediate ELLs. In order to save their work and evaluate their progress, students must register on the site. Teachers can also create their own “virtual classroom.”

Henny Jellema’s Online TPR Exercises is a site you have to see to believe. I can’t imagine the amount of work that went into creating these exercises, which use the technique of “Total Physical Response”…virtually.

Starfallis a well-established primary school site that is without rival when it comes to providing accessible literacy activities for beginning English-language learners. Although it’s maintained by a vendor, there are lots of free tools and activities.

Mingoville is a site from Denmark designed to teach beginning English-language learners. There are many interactive exercises and games. It’s very colorful, and there are both listening and speaking activities, including a voice-recording feature. You can experiment with it as a guest for a few minutes, but then you have to register. It’s completely free; registration takes about 20 seconds.

The Everyday Life Project is sponsored by the Goodwill Community Foundation in North Carolina and has interactive exercises for intermediate and advanced English-language learners. Its activities on food, money, work, shopping, and maps are excellent. Registration is required, but is free and easy.

BITS Interactive Resources is another good site for intermediate ELLs. It has 19 “sets” of five different and excellent reading activities focusing on “signs, details, matching, gist, and gap.”

Into The Book is an absolutely incredible resource designed to help students learn reading strategies, including visualization, prediction, and summarization. The site has been under construction for several years, but now all of its exercises are fully developed. Users are led through learning each reading strategy with interactive exercises.

Dvolver Moviemaker his a great way for students to easily and quickly make an animated film.

VoiceThread allows you and your students to upload or grab pictures from the Web, and create an audio narrative to go along with them. In addition, audio comments can be left by visitors--a great way to raise student interest and engagement.

You can see some work samples from my classes using the Dvolver Moviemaker and VoiceThread at The Best Online Examples Of My Student’s Work.


Teaching English As a Foreign or Second Language and Teaching English As A Foreign Language To Large, Multi-Level Classes are two PDF downloads developed by the Peace Corps, which has some of the best professional development resources for teaching ELL students.

English Raven, created by teachers, is one of my favorite sites—among many— for great printouts. Not only are the materials particularly engaging but you’ll find excellent ideas about how to use them. I don’t say this too often, but using their site has made me a better teacher. Most of the resources are free, but by making a donation (the amount is self-determined) you can access even more.

EFL Teaching Recipes is a brand new resource with an extremely accessible design. Teachers can share their lessons, including video and images, and also rate their site favorites. It’s just beginning, and I’m sure it’ll be brimming with ideas quickly. Go over and contribute a recipe of your own and rate what’s already there!

EFL Classroom 2.0 is a social-networking site, using the free NING engine. In keeping with the spirit of its motto—“when one teaches, two learn”—you’ll find teachers posting lots of their resources and encouraging you to do the same. You have to join to access the conversations and content, but registration is free and takes less than a minute.

These are my “lucky 13.” Feel free to share your favorites in the comments section below.


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