It goes without saying that there are various ways of teaching English nowadays and one way that I think it is worth mentioning is using webquests in this process. What is a webquest, well, it is an ”inquiry-oriented lesson format in which most or all the information that learners work with comes from the web. These can be created using various programs, including a simple word processing document that includes links to websites” (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WebQuest).
Jeremy Harmer, in The Practice of English Language Teaching, considers webquests as one of the “two particular kinds of site worth talking about in more detail” (p. 191), next to encyclopaedias. Webquests have 4 phases:
- the introduction phase – in which students are given background information on the topic they have to deal with or the scenario of a role the students are invited to play.
- the task phase – which represents a formal description of the job the students have accomplished by the end of the webquest; the teachers also give them advice, they are told to use worksheeets and follow the templates provided.
- the process phase –which is the enumeration of the investigation steps the students should follow in order to fulfil their task; each step is accompanied by useful links selected by the teacher;
- the evaluation phase – which shows students the criteria according to which they are assessed at the end of their work.
A practical example of how to teach the four language skills using webquests is the first experience I had a few years ago when I took part in a Comenius Project “Double-e: E-magazine on European issues”. Together with 2 partner schools from Spain and Denmark, we created an online magazine using Webquests, as our main methodological tool and the eTwinning platform, as the space where to share materials and establish communication across borders. Our students had to find out information on some issues of European interest (Climate Changes, Consumer Education, Recycling and Saving Energy etc.) using Webquests (guided searches online), designed and published by the teachers beforehand.
The students involved in the project worked in groups and created digital materials that they shared online. The types of activities they had to do were articles, pastimes, interviews, videos and Power Point presentations, quizzes, all done by the help of the new technologies and using the English language. After the students submitted their work, they analysed the materials by having discussions in a chatroom or via email in eTwinning, practising in this way, their reading and writing skills.
The students benefited from the project in many different ways. They started to understand the importance of cooperative work and they learnt team work skills, they improved their use of ICT through sharing, analysing and discussing the work in their webspace in eTwinning, and exchanged e-mails with students from the participating countries. They improved their abilities to process information and do different tasks, such as interviews, quizzes, articles, questionnaires etc., and they used online working platforms and the internet and other digital resources in a critical way. All these activities helped them practise and improve their reading skills (through finding information on the topics using webquests and reading the other teams’ presentations), their writing skills (through writing articles, interviews, pastimes), their listening and speaking skills (through video-conferences and face-to-face meetings with students from other countries). Moreover, these opportunities offered them the possibility to use the English language in a real context, outside the classroom and far from correct grammar constraints, which sometimes impede communication.
In conclusion, webquests are worth using as they offer a wide range of activities that can be designed and guided by teachers and done by students in order to practise and improve their skills in English in a cooperative way. Moreover, they represents a great chance of improving general knowledge on different topics or hot current issues.