When you hear the words “language lab,” do you think of corny or boring activities?
Anyone who studied a language in college will recall the hours spent parroting things back to a computer in a language lab.
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.
Don’t know what a language lab is, or confused about how we may be defining them here?
Well, let’s start from there, shall we?
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 is 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 programmed 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.
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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.
On these websites, there is a wide variety of activities for varying age ranges. If you purchase a program, it might not have all the features you need or want, particularly if it is an outdated one. 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 why websites are great is because you can assign extra activities to complete at home. However, you may need to check in to make sure that your students are doing the assigned work. To demonstrate that they have completed it, you can have your students teach you how to complete what you have assigned them, complete a worksheet or write a brief summary of it.
It is pretty easy to figure out how your students are doing on the various activities that language labs have. It doesn’t take a lot of time to record everything, so don’t worry if you don’t have a lot of lesson prep time. In fact, some of the websites mentioned later in the post feature a way to track what activities students have completed, and their scores for each one.
When using websites that don’t record student data, you can simply use a spreadsheet to record what students are doing. Give each student their own spreadsheet to tick off which website they are working on and which activities are completed. Once every few days (or whenever you want), go through the activity to test their knowledge on it. If you want, you can even have a spot on your spreadsheet for students to reflect how they did on the activity. If they feel like they didn’t fully get it, they have the option to repeat it.
Once a student has moved on from an activity, simply update your version of the spreadsheet. You can even use your spreadsheet to record observations while walking around the language lab.
How to Use the Data from English Language Labs
When lessons or activities are completed (or being completed), the teacher can access the data to use it in a variety of ways.
A couple of ways to use the data are:
Use as informal assessment tools: Take a look at what your students have completed, and see how they are progressing. These assessments can help you to see if you need to review concepts students don’t understand, or if you are ready to move on and teach more complex concepts (if you see that students find certain activities too easy).
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. If through your observations you see that the majority of your students are particularly interested in certain activities, then you can incorporate more of those in your lessons. For example, if your students really love listening exercises, have entire lesson plans centered around them.
9 Engaging Websites Chock-full of English Language Lab Activities
The following are great websites for all ages and levels. Go through some of the exercises to get a feel for them to see what is best for your students—and since they are all either free or wonderfully affordable, be sure to give each one a whirl to see the value for yourself!
FluentU offers a huge collection of authentic English videos that people in the English-speaking world actually watch on the regular. There are tons of great choices there for when you’re looking for language lab assignments.
You’ll find music videos, movie trailers, musical numbers from cinema and theater, kids’ singalongs, commercials, YouTube clips and much, much more.
FluentU exposes students to many different kinds of English voices and topics. Students can use the interactive subtitles to see every word spoken in a clip before and during the video clip, and they have immediate access to the words’ definitions, usages and pronunciations. The constant presence of video content turns the exercises into more engaging sessions and helps learners understand context better.
On FluentU, all the videos are sorted by skill level and are carefully annotated for students. Words come with example sentences and definitions. Students will be able to add them to their own vocabulary lists, and even see how the words are used in other videos.
For example, if a student taps on the word “brought,” they’ll see this:
There are also plenty of active learning tools for students, like multimedia flashcards and fun games like “fill in the blank.”
Learn Mode lets you keep track of the progress that your individual students, and class as a whole, are making with each video and its unique set of vocabulary and grammar. FluentU will evaluate the assignments for you, making homework a breeze. Using the numbers FluentU gives you, you can identify student strengths and weaknesses and arrange to touch on these further in class and with the program.
Recommended activity: Any Learn Mode activity module is a killer way to get students learning, reviewing and reinforcing English lessons. Students will get to use multimedia flashcards, interactive exercises, fill-in-the-gap games, personalized vocabulary lists and more.
No need to download or install anything here—all you need is access to the FluentU website. From there, you can use materials online or download materials to go. However, if desired, you and your students can download the FluentU iPhone app or Android app.
One of the best, most expansive websites for teaching and learning, there is 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.
Some of the English-related lessons include phonics, skills to learn independent reading, listening exercises and grammar. You can join for free as a teacher and browse through their literacy activities before deciding which ones you want to assign to your students. Another great feature about this website is you can 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, which include how to write an expository essay, a reading activity to demonstrate their understand of persuasive writing and a writing activity which students can hand in to you as an assessment.
Randall is a very experienced ESL teacher and has compiled many listening activities on this comprehensive website.
If you are a first time visitor, visit his tutorial page where he has videos that guide you through the site, such as the types of activities available, how to use listening exercises for grammar activities and a sample demo lesson. There are also handouts you can give to students to remind them how to navigate the site.
Recommended activity: Listening Quizzes 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 another 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 lessons in the time allotted during English language lab time.
This website helps students with their pronunciation. It is categorized into syllables, tone and where the stress should be on various words.
Recommended activity: English dialogues with wh- question words. These listening activities help students practice how to ask and answer using the wh- words correctly.
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 have learned while listening right away.
This website includes a diagnostic test to see where student levels are first.
Every lesson has transcripts and a test. You do need a paid subscription to use all the features, but it is worth considering given the amount of teaching material you can get.
Recommended activity: Exploring Passages. Students can choose from different accents as well as the purpose for the conversation (such as informational or narration). With this, you can assign the length of passages and have your students choose from a list you give them.
The focus here is on giving students tons of time to listen to native speakers having conversations in English. You will need to pay to use this website, but you can try out free materials to see if it is relevant for your class.
One of the advantages to using this service is that students can use the program on their tablets and mobile devices if you don’t have enough computers to use. You can also opt to purchase books, notebooks and other printed materials, as well as audio CDs for your classroom stereo.
Recommended activity: Forums. Students can browse (or participate if you have already subscribed) through the forums and choose a topic to speak on in class. If you have a membership, then they can get their questions answered or help other students to build a community feel to the language lab.
This is an online collection of copyright-free texts students can read to help build their fluency. They can listen to recorded texts or search by genre to read stories.
Recommended activity: In Your Own Words. This part of the website features students recording a text they are reading. This is a great way to get some outside feedback, as well as a goal they can strive for to encourage them to practice speaking more.
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.
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