by Chris Elvin

This paper is a list of the uses that I have for my computer as a high school teacher of English as a foreign language.
This is not a how to guide. Nor do I offer an evaluation for of any of my teaching ideas; suffice to say that none of the suggestions is particularly groundbreaking, and that if they have not yet been tried and tested, similar activities have.

Classroom Suggestions

1) To make worksheets
I start with perhaps the most obvious use of a computer, to make teaching resources for classroom use. Some worksheets that I make are to support the language learning aims of the syllabus, while others are made to more closely meet the students' needs or wants, by allowing them to be part of the resource creating process.
For example, to review a topic, or a language structure, I hand out slips of paper and ask students to write down two or three questions that they would like to ask their classmates. In a preformatted Excel page, it is a relatively easy task to quickly type, sort and edit the students' questions, before pasting into PageMaker and printing. These questions can be used for pair work, group work, quizzes, class discussions, or to play board games such as Snakes and Ladders, or its Japanese equivalent, Sugoroku. Similarly, student generated word lists can be used to play TV games such as Blockbusters (see Cribb, 2001) and Attack 25 (on Japanese TV).

2) To play DVDs
You can, of course, play DVDs from a DVD player. I use my computer to play short interesting sections of DVD movies that have a clear language learning point worthy of study. The advantage of DVDs over videocassettes is that you can choose whether or not to show subtitles, and also choose the language in which the subtitles can be viewed. Generally speaking, my students learn best by watching first with no subtitles, then with Japanese subtitles to get the gist, and finally with English subtitles to focus more closely on form.

3) To show movie trailers
This is similar to 2, except that with movie trailers you usually don't have the option of displaying subtitles. The great advantage of showing trailers is that they are short, succinct, self-contained, topical, free and readily available over the Internet. The language, if narrated, is invariably clear, and the actors are usually famous. Students can gain great confidence in realizing that movie English is accessible to them, and that repeated exposure outside class, which is often inevitable, can only further enhance their listening skills and confidence. In fact, the video trailers of A.I., Harry Potter and Jurassic Park 3 that we studied this term in class proved so popular that I made an audio-visual room for my web site (Elvin, 1999), and uploaded the videos, together with their scripts, so that my students would be able to access them any time they choose.

4) To play enhanced CDs
It is perhaps easier to play a CD from a CD player than via a computer hooked up to the speakers of a TV. I usually play CD music from a CD player. I play enhanced CDs from my computer because it allows me to not only play the music, but also to access short video clips of interviews with the artists. Some of these interviews have clearly been created with an international audience in mind, to the extent that the language is accessible even to students of junior high school. In a recent class, my students watched the Backstreet Boys introduce themselves, say how old they are, where they are from and where they live now, and answer questions about their favorite colors and food (Backstreet Boy's World, 1997). It was a student's dream, and (if you can bear them) a teacher's dream.

5) To play MP3 files
Songs are consistently the most popular classroom activity among my students regardless of their age. I use songs to complement a lesson's topic, structure or vocabulary, and also just for fun. If I play a song for fun, then usually I feel more comfortable with a student choosing the music. MP3s are used when neither the student making the request nor I have the music among our collections.
For example, recently, one of my students asked me if she could listen to the theme song of the drama series Friends. It took less than twenty minutes to search the Internet for the lyrics, download the song, and make a listening exercise for it (see Griffee, 1995). Sometimes, for pedagogical reasons, and occasionally, for reasons of personal taste, it is not always possible to acquiesce to their demands, but usually I enjoy listening to songs that my students like. In this case, the song was an excellent choice, and we made good use of it in the classroom.

6) To show a PowerPoint presentation
I use PowerPoint in the classroom as a visual stimulus to facilitate language acquisition and to promote discussion or debate.
This year, I have shown slides of my hometown to introduce myself to new students, slides of animals I photographed on safari in Africa to stimulate interest in a unit of my textbook (Elvin, 1998), and slides of Nagasaki to give my senior students the opportunity of taking a long turn to talk about their school trip. (This activity works best if students are given the choice of working alone or in a pair, and are given time to make a few notes.)
To be honest, it took a while trawling the Internet for suitable, good quality images of Nagasaki, but I believe it was worth it. Unless the destination of the school trip changes, I will be able to use the same presentation with next year's students.

Management Suggestions

To make a seating plan
I make a seating plan for all my classes because I want to address my students by their first name, and because I want to convey to them that I care about them as individuals.
Many students loathe having their picture taken by the school photographer. My students very much like having their picture taken if a friend is allowed to take it. Consequently, I usually prepare a pair work or group work activity for the lesson in which I want to collect the students' photos, and while I am monitoring the activity, students take turns to photograph each other. After class, I upload these digital images to my computer and use Photoshop and PageMaker to make an A4 color print of a class of happy, smiling students. Next lesson, the whole class is relaxed and settled.

8) To make a database
I have a few databases that serve me for various purposes. I have databases of students' language, of researchers' quotes, of teaching ideas that I have yet to try, and of my own large filing cabinet of resources. My databases allow me to manage large amounts of information and to help my addled head remember where I keep things. The database that I use most is the one that manages my filing cabinet. I used Claris Works to create nine fields; four are language related (topic, function, skill area and language structure), three are referential (worksheet number, worksheet title, and student level), and two are organizational (student arrangement, and materials required). When I want to introduce a new topic, function or grammatical structure, for example, I do a quick search of my database to see what I already have.

9) To evaluate a test
No test would be complete without a check on its reliability. I use Excel to quickly calculate the mean and standard deviation, and to compute the internal consistency of the test by determining the Kuder-Richardson 21 reliability coefficient. I use the KR-21 because it is easy to calculate, requiring only the test mean, number of test items and standard deviation (For more information on testing, see Brown, 1996). I also use Excel to make a graph of the students' results. This allows students to see where they stand in relation to their peers without violating their right to privacy.

10) To grade students
I want my grading system to be transparent to my students. With my senior electives, we even discuss what aspects of learning a language are important before we negotiate category weightings. Grades, after all, should be part of a student's learning process in that they should highlight the student's strengths and weaknesses and suggest possible areas for future focus. I use Gradekeeper (Ethier, 2001) because of its ease of use and functionality, and because it allows me to print out personal itemized test scores for each of my students, and summaries of grades and attendance records for homeroom teachers. In future, provided parents, teachers and students agree, I may use Gradekeeper to post students' password protected scores to the Internet.

Research Suggestions

11) To research language usage
It is becoming increasingly common to develop language-learning materials by analyzing the data of spoken and written corpora. I use concordancers to research language usage, and also to respond to questions that my students and colleagues ask that I am unable to answer immediately.
I use the Bank of English corpus (1991), which had amounted to 415 million words by October 2000. Its demo version concordancer is very useful for checking on word usage and collocations. Even though I don't create teaching materials based entirely on the strength of corpus evidence, I do make decisions about what to teach or not teach based on what I discover using such corpora.

12) To do statistics
At the time of writing, the educational price of StatView (1999) for a resident of America was $350. The educational price for the same English version of the software for a resident of Japan was ¥85,000. I am currently evaluating their demo version. I have used StatView for generating descriptive statistics, making correlations and comparing classes, teaching methods and materials.

13) To do a literature search
There are two basic ways to do a literature search without going to the library. One is to search the Internet. The other is to buy the digital version of volumes of a journal.
I have a CD-ROM of all but a few of the most recent editions of TESOL Quarterly since 1967 (TESOL Quarterly Digital, 1999), and of all the editions of The Language Teacher from 1976 to 1981 (The Language Teacher: Episode 1, 1999). I find both of them very useful for study and review.

Internet Suggestions

14) To send Email
Email was the killer app of the nineties, the application that some people say has killed oral communication. I use Email to communicate with fellow teachers, to post to mailing lists, to send articles or teaching resources, and occasionally to spam my elective students' mobile telephones about plans for the next lesson.

15) To search the Internet
For many of us, having Internet access is indispensable in our daily working lives. I search the Internet to investigate topics that my students are interested in, for private study and research, and to find lyrics, songs, photos or artwork in order to create teaching materials.

16) To participate in online discussions
Mailing lists are an excellent way to share ideas and keep up to date with fellow professionals. Two of the most popular are LINGUIST and TESL-L. LINGUIST is a mailing list maintained by East Michigan University and Wayne State University to serve as a research and discussion facility for the linguistic academic community. For information on how to subscribe, visit
TESL-L was founded in May 1991, with the goal of providing educators with a fast, convenient, and topical electronic discussion forum that focuses on issues related to teaching English as a foreign or second language. As of October 27, 2000, TESL-L had 27,749 members in 159 countries, with an average of ten postings per day. If you join TESL-L you are also eligible to participate in any of their six special interest branches.
For information on how to subscribe, visit For a useful review of online resources and journals, including information about these mailing lists and many more, see Kitao & Kitao, (1997).

17) To promote oneself
In conferences that I have attended in recent years, there has been a steady increase in the number of presenters who finish off their talk by referring the audience to their home page, which, more often than not, has the domain name of "presenter's". I am in no hurry to purchase a domain in my name just yet, but the trend for presence in cyberspace looks set to continue. I believe that in the future, most people in the teaching profession will have a home page that, at the very minimum, will serve as both a business card and a resume, with many choosing to post their papers and presentations online, as they do so already. Concerns about privacy, and also identity fraud, will need to be addressed, but I believe that with advances in technology, these fears will subside over time.

18) To make online resources for students
My home page, EFL Club, is dedicated to young learners of English as a foreign language. I use Hot Potatoes (Arneil, Holmes & Street, 2001), Quandary (Arneil & Holmes, 2001) and JavaScript to generate most of the site's interactivity. Students visit my site to do things such as quizzes and tests, read stories, play hangman, watch movie trailers, find a key pal, or leave a message. Teachers visit my site to read EFL book reviews and download teaching resources.

19) To share one's resources with teachers
I have about fifty PDF files of personally made worksheets uploaded to the Resource Box room of my website. These are free for anyone to download. My hope is that someday teachers will form private online networks to share resources in a manner similar to the way in which Napster users share MP3 files. The technology is already here for us to do so, but so far, few teachers have embraced P2P (peer to peer) file sharing with anything like the enthusiasm that Napster's music fans share MP3 files. I suspect that it may be a while, if ever, before we do.

The Future

20) The road ahead
For teachers, the world has changed a great deal in the past few years, and it is set to change perhaps more rapidly than many of us would like. Computing power continues to double every eighteen months, and with it, increased functionality and ease of use. Nobody knows for sure what the next killer app will be. Will teachers embrace P2P technology like businesses are embracing B2B, and form their own resource creating communities? Will our classrooms be hooked up to the Internet so that parents can log in to observe? Will teachers send video clips to students' mobiles for them to study outside class? Will blackboards become smart?
I don't think anyone can say for sure. The road ahead for many teachers, then, may well be a bumpy one full of surprises. If we are unable to accurately predict where the future of our profession is headed, then we may as well learn what we can by reflecting on past and current trends, and by informing colleagues and fellow professionals where our interests lie and what we are doing now.


Arneil, S., Holmes, M. & Street, H. (2001). Hot Potatoes (Version 5.2.6) [Computer Software]. Victoria, Canada: Half-Baked Software.
Arneil, S. & Holmes, M. (2001). Quandary (Version 1.08) [Computer Software]. Victoria, Canada: Half-Baked Software.
Backstreet Boy's World [Computer software]. (1997). On Backstreet Boys [CD]. New York: Nettmedia.
The Bank of English [On-line]. (1991). Birmingham, England: Cobuild., The University of Birmingham. Available:
Brown, J.D. (1996). Testing in Language Programs. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall Regents.
Cribb, M. (2001). My Share: Blockbusters. The Language Teacher, 25 (6), 52.
Elvin, C. (1998). Now You're Talking. Okegawa City, Japan: EFL Press.
Elvin, C. (1999). EFL Club [On-line]. Available:
Ethier, D (2001). Gradekeeper (Version 5.2.2) [Computer software]. St. Paul, MN: Daniel Ethier.
Griffee, D.T. (1995). Songs in Action. Hemel Hempstead, England: Phoenix ELT.
Kitao, K. & Kitao, S.K. (1997). On-Line Resources and Journals: ELT, Linguistics, and Communication [On-line]. Available:
The Language Teacher: Episode 1 [CD-ROM]. (1999). Tokyo, Japan: Japan Association of Language Teachers.
StatView (Version 5.01) [Computer software]. (1999). San Francisco, CA: SAS Institute. Inc.
TESOL Quarterly Digital [CD-ROM]. (1999). Miami, FL: Cybertech Enterprises, Inc.

Chris Elvin has a Master's degree in TESOL from Temple University, Japan. He is the author of Now You're Talking, published by EFL Press, and the editor of The School House, the JALT Junior and Senior High School Special Interest Group newsletter. He is currently teaching at Caritas Gakuen in Kanagawa, and St. Dominic's Institute in Tokyo. He can be reached at .

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