15 Activity-based ESL Websites for DIY English Language Lab Sessions
When you hear the words “language lab,” do you think of corny or boring activities?
Nowadays, language labs have evolved to become much more modern and realistic. They can bring your English students closer to native-level speech and boost all their language skill areas by providing valuable exposure to the language in action.
Not only are these language labs immersive, but they’re also fun and will keep your students motivated while learning English!
In this post, you’ll find out what a language lab is, how they can be used in the classroom as well as 15 activity-based ESL websites for language labs!
- What Is an English Language Lab Anyway?
- But Aren’t Language Labs Expensive?
- How to Use English Language Labs in the Classroom
- Conduct Guided Study Sessions
- Find the Best Language Lab Software
- Take Advantage of Recording Technology
- Provide Content with a Range of Accents
- Use Visuals for Engaging Verb Lessons
- Turn Word Documents into an Interactive Reading Activity
- Assign Transcription Activities
- Evaluate Your Students’ Abilities in Multiple Areas
- Use the Data Collected in Language Labs to Create New Lesson Plans
- 15 Resources for English Language Labs
What Is an English Language Lab Anyway?
An English language lab is very much like a run-of-the-mill computer lab. The main difference is the software installed on language lab computers—and perhaps the microphones and high-quality, noise-muffling headphones that are plugged into them.
Basically, it’s a place with computers for students to complete a variety of linguistic activities independently. These activities can include listening exercises, vocabulary work and fluency building.
Usually English language labs come equipped with a set program, where student progress is recorded within the program. Depending on the program, teachers can set up specific activities for each student or groups of students.
Some programs even allow you to record video lessons or audio exercises for students to view and listen to independently. A choice few will allow students to work from home, using their favorite devices.
The intention is for the teacher to be able to assign individualized lessons and activities to suit each student, thereby maximizing their progress.
But Aren’t Language Labs Expensive?
The simple answer is: No!
Not every school has the budget to make such big purchases, particularly if they have to get new computers for their English language lab.
Besides, there are so many free and affordable resources out there that there is no need to purchase anything too complex unless you really feel the need to record all the data in one place and have additional bells and whistles.
Websites are great alternatives to the traditional language lab, and usually cover a wide variety of ESL activities for varying age ranges.
If you purchase a program, it might not have all the features you need or want, particularly if it’s an outdated one. But if you get a little creative, you can combine the use of multiple websites and online resources to get all the features of a more expensive, more traditional lab program.
Another reason websites are great is because you can assign extra activities to complete at home, though you may need to check in to ensure students are doing the assigned work. To demonstrate that they have completed it, you can have your students teach you the material, complete a worksheet or write a brief summary.
It’s pretty easy to figure out how your students are doing on the various language lab activities. It doesn’t take a lot of time either, so don’t worry if you don’t have a lot of prep time.
Some of the websites in this post feature a way to track what activities students have completed, and their scores for each one. With websites that don’t record student data, you can simply use a spreadsheet to record what students are doing.
For instance, give each student their own spreadsheet to tick off which website they’re working on and which activities they’ve completed. Once every few days (or whenever you want), go through the activities to test their knowledge.
If you want, you can even have a spot on your spreadsheet for students to reflect on how they did on each activity. If they feel like they didn’t fully get it, they can have the option to repeat it.
Once a student has moved on from an activity, simply update your own spreadsheet. You can even use your spreadsheet to record observations while walking around the language lab.
How to Use English Language Labs in the Classroom
Conduct Guided Study Sessions
You can use your time in the ESL language lab to conduct guided study sessions. Instead of letting your class study whatever they want, you give them specific scenarios or problems to solve and then assess their performance.
The average language lab program comes with different activities for speaking, listening, reading, writing and grammar, so finding topics to quiz your students on is easy.
I find that guided study sessions work much better in language labs than in the traditional classroom setting. This is because language labs enable you as the teacher to exercise some control over the course content, while students can scour the internet for assistance solving whatever English problems you give them.
Not only does this get them reading and thinking in English, but you’ll also be helping to boost their research and critical thinking skills in the process.
Find the Best Language Lab Software
Make sure that you consider the lesson objectives and choose a language lab software that will provide your students with the opportunity to practice English with relevant and fun materials.
The best language lab software will be both immersive as well as engaging for students.
Whether it’s for listening, reading, writing or general English comprehension and vocabulary practice, finding the best language lab software will expose students to native speakers and help them start actively using the language.
Later in this post, you’ll find 15 fun activity-based ESL websites for language labs that you can start using in your lessons. From gamified learning on Duolingo to practicing English vocabulary, listening and comprehension with authentic English videos on FluentU, there are so many options you can try using in the classroom!
Take Advantage of Recording Technology
One of the best ways for students to improve their pronunciation and speaking skills is simply to hear how they talk in English.
In a language lab, students can record themselves talking and then listen to their own speech. This gives them the opportunity to hear and correct their own mistakes, and they’re also not put on the spot with everyone listening to them.
As the educator, you have access to the recordings, which means you can guide their listening and learning. Have your students record themselves speaking and then give feedback on their pronunciation, rhythm and stress patterns. If you want to have them read a script, provide audio samples of a native English speaker saying the same script.
Provide Content with a Range of Accents
One of the difficulties of teaching English is exposing students to the wide range of accents that exist in the Anglophone world. However, this is important, especially if your students are learning English for professional purposes where they’ll be encountering lots of different accents.
Language labs make it possible to quickly and efficiently introduce your students to American, English, Irish, Australian, Scottish and various other types of accents. Try providing clips from movies, regional news or interviews with celebrities they might recognize from different English-speaking countries.
It’s also a good idea to try throwing in some accents from people speaking English as a second language, like native French, Italian or Chinese speakers talking in English.
Use Visuals for Engaging Verb Lessons
Test your students’ grammar skills by creating a PowerPoint presentation filled with pictures of people performing different actions. Then have them make sentences describing the pictures using different forms of past, present and future verbs.
You can choose entertaining pictures so your students will really enjoy coming up with new and creative descriptions!
Turn Word Documents into an Interactive Reading Activity
This is a useful language lab activity that’ll not only boost your students’ reading skills but will also get them comfortable using basic technology in English.
Evaluate your students’ reading skills by giving them a Google Doc or Word file to edit that’s filled with various formatting instructions covering font size, color, bolding, italics and other simple changes. Depending on your students’ proficiency level, you might also include grammatical or spelling errors in the text for them to edit.
I did this exercise with a group of adult students who didn’t only enjoy the English practice, but also appreciated that the activity helped them in a professional capacity through exploring software in English.
Assign Transcription Activities
Assess your students’ listening and writing skills by giving them English audio clips to transcribe in the lab.
The reason that I prefer to use transcribing activities in the ESL lab instead of in a classroom is that students tend to benefit from using headphones and controlling the pace of the exercise. Instead of you reading the same sentence over and over until your class is satisfied, each learner can simply repeat the audio clip as many times as they need.
You can then highlight any mistakes students made, and have them listen again and self-correct at your next language lab lesson.
Evaluate Your Students’ Abilities in Multiple Areas
Coming up with speaking and listening assessments in the classroom can be difficult, especially if they require students to be evaluated in a one-on-one setting. Using the ESL language lab enables you to evaluate your students more efficiently and effectively thanks to state-of-the-art software.
Take a look at what your students have completed and see how they’re progressing. These assessments can help you see if you need to review concepts students don’t understand, or if you’re ready to move on and teach more complex concepts if you see that students find certain activities too easy.
So don’t just focus on one of the activities mentioned above; be sure to switch up your language lab lesson plans frequently so that you’re targeting multiple skills.
Use the Data Collected in Language Labs to Create New Lesson Plans
If you see students consistently lacking in certain areas, use the feedback from the data you have to create lesson plans that target these concepts. If you see the majority of your students are interested in certain activities, you can incorporate more of those in your lessons. Do they love listening exercises? Make some lesson plans centered around those.
English language labs are not just a great source of inspiration for future lesson plans and activities, but they also keep students motivated!
15 Resources for English Language Labs
The following are great websites and programs for all ages and levels. Go through some of the exercises to get a feel for them to see what’s best for your students—you can even check out most of them to see the value for yourself first!
One of the best, most expansive websites for teaching and learning, Studyladder has an incredible wealth of activities in subjects such as literacy, English language, math and art.
So, not only can you directly impart English language lessons, you can also teach CLIL lessons which help students naturally absorb English while learning about other subjects. Topics include phonics, skills to learn independent reading, listening exercises and grammar.
You can join for free as a teacher and browse through the activities before deciding which ones you want to assign to your students. You can also see which activities students have completed and their scores right on your dashboard.
Recommended activity: Persuasive Writing Task – Should Junk Food Advertising Be Banned? This activity covers three lessons. Students will learn how to write an expository essay, complete a reading activity to demonstrate their understanding of persuasive writing and write an essay, which can be handed into you as an assessment.
FluentU turns authentic English videos—like movie clips, music videos, vlogs and other engaging media—into personalized language lessons so students can hear vocabulary words and grammar concepts in natural use.
Student support includes subtitles with on-demand definitions, easy flashcard creation and adaptive quizzes. As the teacher, you’ll have access to analytics on every student, including what videos they watched and which questions they got right (and wrong) in their quizzes.
You can have students learn in class or assign FluentU videos as homework. You can even assign specific videos to specific students for a truly targeted learning experience.
FluentU is also available to access on iOS and Android.
Recommended activity: Let students choose their own video lesson. Students are more likely to learn and retain information on topics they care about, so letting them pick their English language lab task will help them focus and enjoy the lesson.
3. Randall’s ESL Cyber Listening Lab
Randall is a very experienced ESL teacher and has compiled many listening activities on this comprehensive website.
If you’re a first-time visitor, visit the tutorial page for videos that guide you through the site so you can see the types of activities available, how to use listening exercises for grammar activities and a sample demo lesson.
This site also has handouts you can give to students to instruct them with navigating the site.
Recommended activity: Listening for Academic Purposes. Many of your students might need to take a TOEFL test, and these listening activities (like this one) are a great way to give more purpose to English language labs.
This is another website developed by an ESL teacher, full of videos featuring different English speakers discussing various topics.
You can choose the skill level and how many speakers there are in a video. Students can choose to enable the subtitles for videos to help them follow along.
If you want students to practice listening to different accents, assign them videos with English speakers from various countries.
Recommended activity: One Minute Videos. These listening activities are short enough that most of your students will get through a few videos in the time allotted during English language lab time.
There are many types of listening exercises available on this website.
For beginners, it might be a good idea to head over to the Easy Conversations section, where students can listen to an audio track and practice speaking what they hear.
Students can also read short stories and complete audio exercises that accompany them.
Recommended activity: Speak English Fast. These listening exercises have short clips so students can start applying what they learned from listening right away.
6. Words Worth
Many language labs are meant to be used in K–12 classrooms, though of course they can easily be repurposed for other ages. Words Worth, however, is specifically designed with adult English learners in mind.
The program works for any size group and is ideal for professional English learners or those looking for supplemental learning.
Words Worth is divided into three levels, each with 70 to 80 hours of content to help build vocabulary, communication skills and professional-level English.
Recommended activity: Listening Comprehension exercises. Learners can replay the audio as needed and answer questions to test their understanding.
7. LIVE Language Lab
You don’t need any special hardware for LIVE Language Lab, produced by SANS Inc. This program is designed to be accessed from practically any device.
Students can access a combination of video and audio content, as well as record their answers and thoughts. Teachers can add specific comments and feedback during any part of the recording.
This lab does not need a teacher’s constant presence, so it’s ideal for homework or self-study outside of the classroom.
Recommended activity: Pair or small group speaking practice. Because of LIVE Language Lab’s recording feature, you can give students direct and specific feedback on their speaking—whether they were talking to you or someone else.
Mac users rejoice—there is a language lab just for you.
From Swift Education comes DiLL, which uses networked Macs and teacher/student programs to deliver a fairly traditional language lab experience.
This digital-only program uses a central server to save student work in real-time and allows teachers to deliver content, pair students off, monitor the learning process and assist individual students.
Recommended activity: Speaking exercises. DiLL helps you group students in countless ways, so you can ensure they’re getting plenty of practice speaking with a variety of people.
9. Sanako Study
Sanako’s English language lab is specifically designed for ESL students and includes TOEFL study content. It’s especially ideal for those studying British English.
Sanako worked with Oxford University Press to design a system that does more than just encourage repetition. This lab has an advanced text-to-speech program that allows users to paste any block of text into the program and have it read out in an authentic British English accent.
As the teacher, you can curate playlists and assign them to students, who can then listen and record their answers for you to evaluate.
Recommended activity: Multi-language skill activities. Students can listen to audio recordings and then fill in blanks within the transcript to practice both listening and spelling, for example.
If you want a program that’s easy to use and comes with a number of interesting built-in exercises, self-study and group work interfaces, as well as full teacher control, Robotel’s SmartClass HUB program is perfect for you.
What sets this program apart from other language lab software bundles is that it’s fully compatible with nearly any device, including Chromebooks and portable devices. This makes it great for smaller schools that want to implement a language lab but have a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy. Stop by Robotel’s YouTube channel and view some of their tutorials and exercise examples to learn more about this product.
Recommended activity: Group activities. With this language lab, you can assign your students some of the pre-made activities to work on in pairs or small groups. This will help encourage students to work together and practice the target language.
11. Duolingo for Schools
Duolingo is one of the most popular language learning platforms around, and at least a few of your students have probably tried it, especially since it’s free! The platform for teachers allows you to give assignments to your students, track their progress on the app and even focus on specific skills.
Since the app models its lessons after games, this is one type of homework that your students might actually enjoy doing!
Recommended activity: Vocabulary activities. Add your students to your class group and assign different vocabulary topics to them. Students will be able to complete fun activities, practicing vocabulary while competing with each other to win the most points and be on top of the leaderboard.
12. Learn American English Online
The perfect complement to your grammar lessons, this page boasts 49 different exercises in its listening lab. Students are instructed to listen to the sentences and write the correct word in the blank.
Even if the content isn’t super snazzy, it’s purposeful and gives students the practice they need with sticky grammar concepts.
Activity topics include gerunds and phrases using “going to,” prepositions, possessive pronouns and more. Be careful, though, because the answers are on the same page and just a scroll away.
Recommended activity: Dictation activities. With these dictation exercises, students can practice their listening, writing and general comprehension skills in English. There are six different levels available for your students.
When you navigate to the exercise section of this site, you’ll see different categories of listening activities such as micro-listening.
What’s micro-listening? As they explain on their site, “micro-listenings are quick dictations and drills to improve your listening comprehension.”
While what you see there is great, it’s only a drop in the bucket of what you can find. If students access the exercise archives, they’ll find hours of listening opportunities.
The content is engaging, with clips from movies and splashy photography. I also appreciate the heads up about the accent of the person in the clip and the ability to change the difficulty level of the drill.
Recommended activity: English idioms. Ask your students to choose an idiom, complete the listening fill-in-the-gaps activity and share their idioms with other people in their group.
Separated into levels, students have over 100 exercises to choose from on this site. For documentation, students will have to keep track of their lesson number since the exercises are not titled.
Once you choose a lesson, you’re given three steps to complete. I like that the questions and transcript are hyperlinked instead of all being immediately visible like you’ll see in lesson #25 at the advanced level (you have to click on “View Questions” to expand the questions section). This makes it a teensy bit more likely that students will listen and focus solely on the dialogue before diving into the questions.
There are even extra listening lessons that focus on pronunciation and grammar. It’s sure to get your students understanding and speaking English soon!
You can also download the TalkEnglish.com app “Learn to Speak English” on iOS and Android.
Recommended activity: Advanced listening activities. Assign your students listening tasks. Ask students to:
- Listen to the audio
- Answer the multiple-choice quiz
- Listen while reading the conversation dialogue
For an extra activity, ask students to work in pairs, reading out the dialogue from the listening activity to practice their speaking skills.
15. ELS Seminole State College
This page is produced by a state college, so it’s sure to make your learners feel a little more scholarly. They’ll listen to an audio recording and choose the correct sentence. It’s geared more toward older learners, with categories like consumer education and employment.
You’ll want to make sure your students read the instructions carefully before they get started. I’m embarrassed by how long it took me to figure out why I kept seeing the same question in every activity I chose.
Recommended activity: Telephone listening activities. To practice English listening and comprehension skills, you can assign your students a telephone listening activity. Students can listen to the audio and select the correct answer from the multiple-choice quiz.
As you can see, English language labs definitely don’t have to be boring or costly.
With a little creativity and some engaging websites, your students will come to learn that using a computer is a really fun and effective way to learn English!