by Laura Chris Green, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • May 1997

Although creative teachers have always accomplished wonders with their students using such basic tools as paper, pencil and chalk, an abundance of high quality materials can enhance any educational program. For more than 20 years I have collected catalogs, books, textbooks and software; visited publishers’ exhibits; attended conferences; read reviews in professional journals; exchanged materials with other teachers; and even created materials myself in an effort to find the very best instructional materials for bilingual and ESL classrooms. Most of the teachers I know who serve English language learners also constantly search for materials that will work for their students. The Internet might help us with this worthy quest if we know how to take advantage of its offerings effectively.

The good news is that we have seen a dramatic increase in both the quality and quantity of bilingual instructional materials. Of special note has been the explosive growth of children’s literature in general, and of multicultural and books in Spanish in particular. Even basal readers in both languages have gotten better.

The bad news is that appropriate materials, especially in Spanish, are still a hundred times harder to come by than in English. In recent years I have monitored the development of instructional software in Spanish. Although there have been recent improvements, there are probably a thousand software programs developed in English for every program developed in Spanish, and most of these are translations of programs originally developed in English. Finding materials in other languages is even more problematic.

My latest passion has become “cruising” the Internet, especially the World Wide Web (web), looking for instructional resources that can be used by bilingual and ESL teachers. Every time I take such a journey, I find exciting new caches of information that did not even exist a month ago. And I dream about how I would use these rich resources if I were still a classroom teacher with access to the Internet. Come dream with me as I describe some hypothetical, but possible, scenarios.

Vignette One

The setting is a second grade self-contained bilingual classroom in South Texas. There are 20 Spanish dominant students, half at beginner level, half at intermediate level for English proficiency. The technology is one computer, connected to a television monitor so all can see what is on-line.

We are working on a thematic unit called Monstruos, dragones, y otras criaturas espantosas (“Monsters, Dragons and Other Scary Creatures”). In addition to sharing books such as Harry y el terrible Quiensabequ‚ (by Dick Grackenback), Monster Mama (by Liz Rosenburg) and Scary Poems for Rotten Kids (by Sean O’Huigin), we read aloud stories we have found on the web at such sites as “Monsters by Kirsten” (, and “Spooky Spots” ( html). I print these stories out so students can have their individual copies that they take home to read and reread with their families.

We also investigate sites that specialize in movie monsters like the “Destroyer Minipage,” (www.ama., “Welcome Monster Lovers!” ( and “Famous Monsters of Filmland” ( Each student chooses one movie monster about which to create a story. I provide a printout copy of the picture of the chosen monster to each child who then cuts it out and pastes it into a scene created with markers, crayons and/or tempera paint. We share our pictures, and, after brainstorming adjectives that describe our monster scenes, we write our stories in Spanish. We also create a monster encyclopedia, listing alphabetically all our monsters and including a short description of each in English.

Vignette Two

The setting is a sixth grade English class at a rural middle school in West Texas. The students are three recent immigrants from Mexico (beginner level), 14 Spanish-speaking Mexican American students who are at intermediate and advanced levels of English proficiency, and seven English-speaking Anglo students. The technology includes three classroom computers with Internet access and biweekly access to a writing computer lab.

I have agreed to help the American history teacher on my academic team with the reading and writing components of a cross-disciplinary unit on World War II. We perform all of our work in teams of three people. When working with a computer, students take turns playing three roles: keyboarder, the person who handles the keyboard and the mouse; recorder, the person who keeps notes for the group long-hand; and navigator, the person who decides which site to visit next or which task to perform.

We start the unit with a World Wide Web scavenger hunt in which teams of three students take turns finding the answers to factual questions such as “When did the United States enter World War II?” and “Which European and Asian nations were our allies?” Teams that are not on-line are engaged in reading a selected chapter from a book such as The Diary of Anne Frank or Number the Stars (by Lois Lowry). Our school follows a block schedule in which we meet for 90 minutes every other day. Daily the students read a chapter silently and write a literary letter for 30 minutes, engage in a group discussion of the chapter read, and cruise the Internet for their scavenger hunt answers (and later web assignments) for 30 minutes. Each team’s Internet sessions are timed so that all teams have the same amount of time, keeping it equitable and competitive.

The sites that the students need to search are listed, along with the scavenger hunt questions, on an electronic mail (E-mail) message sent by me to the class. Using our Netscape mail program, students click on the site addresses to be taken there immediately. The teams also use the mail program’s “reply” function to record their answers to the questions. In addition to seeking the answers to specific questions, each team is on the lookout for a topic it wishes to research further, and then team members collect information about that topic.

After the scavenger hunt concludes, each team creates a short “what we know” report about their selected topic. They also come up with five questions they would like to have answered about their topic. These reports are written in the computer lab. I respond to the reports with a new list of sites that the teams investigate for their answers. The list includes the large World War II newsgroup ( so that students can request direct, personal assistance from W.W.II veterans and history buffs of various kinds, and relevant museums such as the Holocaust Museum ( and the Smithsonian (, both rich resources for photographs and primary source documents.

The final reports are submitted to the students’ history teacher for grading for content and to me for grading for form. For extra credit, individuals can select a political cartoon from the era (www.common that they must explain, in writing, its historical significance.

Vignette Three

The setting is an inner-city high school newcomers class in North Texas. The students are eight students from Mexico, four from Central America, one from Thailand, two from Bosnia and one from Pakistan. All are at beginner levels of English proficiency and lack literacy skills in their primary languages. The technology is a teacher workstation with an LCD panel and Internet access along with three other computers with word processing and desktop publishing software.

We are comparing the customs and traditions of our countries of origin to those of our new country, the United States. Using the teacher workstation and LCD panel, I show the class web sites where they can view the maps of countries, artwork, recipe collections, song lyrics, folktales and proverbs (dichos). Each lesson centers on one of the types of sites we explore, focusing on identifying the drawings and photographs we find. I also read aloud portions of the texts we find, often simplifying the language as I go and sometimes translating for the Spanish speakers. We follow up each whole group exploration session with individual writing assignments.

We begin by first visiting the “Guide to U.S. States” (galaxy.einet.galaxy/Community/US-States) and locate our state and city on the map as well as ports of entry or other U.S. places our students have been. Next we explore “The Virtual Tourist World Map” (wings.buffalo.ed), visiting the sites for Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Thailand, Bosnia and Iran. I ask, “What country is this?”, “Who came from this country?” and “When did you leave this country?” Each student also helps us locate their town or city of origin on their country’s map. I print out copies of the six countries for the next activity. We follow up this whole group activity with individual writing assignments in which students tell where they are from, when they came to the United States, and one or two sentences about their experience of leaving. Students take turns entering their stories on the three student computers as I circulate among the rest, helping them develop their paragraphs. We create a bulletin board in which a U.S. map is surrounded by the other maps and the students’ word-processed stories.

In the next activity we search for artwork from the United States and our countries of origin. We visit the Louvre (“WebMuseum Network,” and other art museums and return to “The Virtual Tourist World Map,” going beyond the country maps in search of visual art images. This time I ask questions like, “Is this a painting or a pot, a statue or a mask?”, “What country is it from?”, “Is it beautiful or ugly, interesting or ordinary?” and “Have you seen anything like it before?” I share interesting tidbits about the pieces as we encounter them in the accompanying texts. Next, each student tells me which piece he or she wants a printout of. We use the “back” and “go” functions of our web browser to return quickly to the right places. Again we follow up our Internet cruising with individual writing assignments with each student describing his or her selected piece of artwork.

Over the next couple of weeks we repeat the process for recipes (“The Internet Kitchen,”, popular songs (e.g., “Lyrics and Pictures,”, traditional folktales (“Aaron Shephard’s Reader’s Theater,” and proverbs (“Quotations,” In some cases we need to conduct library research or consult with parents or other knowledgeable informants. The recipes, songs, folktales and proverbs may be collected in the primary language but are translated into English with the help of the teacher, bilingual dictionaries, and parent or community interpreters, as needed. We also spend class time trying out our recipes, singing our songs, and retelling or role-playing our folktales.

We culminate our unit with a visit to the White House ( where we leave an E-mail message to the President, expressing our thanks for the opportunity to live in and learn about our new country. We also invite other classes to our classroom to view our work, listen to our songs and stories, and sample our delicious dishes on our Cultural Celebration Day.

Benefits and Barriers

This concludes my imaginary tour of the World Wide Web with my wonderful and talented English language learners. The Internet addresses listed are usually just one example of good starting points. Internet surfers find that web sites are often linked to similar sites via easily navigable hypertext links. If these links do not suffice, a search using the various search engines (such as Yahoo!, Lycos and InfoSeek) can be conducted by the teacher before the lesson so that he or she can preview the sites for content and student suitability.

I must also warn you that some may no longer be accessible because web sites tend to disappear without warning. On the other hand, two or three new similar sites usually spring up to take their place.

What have I discovered about the World Wide Web and its potential for helping bilingual/ESL teachers meet the instructional needs of their students? I found the following benefits.

  • The World Wide Web is a rich source for visual images, text, and even audio and video clips on a wide variety of subjects. Some of the sponsoring organizations – for example, the Smithsonian, NASA, the Library of Congress – have impeccable credentials. Students can conduct genuine research, finding information that may not be available even through major public and university libraries.
  • The web provides instantaneous access to sites in other countries. This means that we can find resources written in other languages, including less common ones. It also provides us with access to the cultural riches of countries from which our students originated. E-mail exchanges between our students and students and adults overseas are an additional way to address instructional issues in multilingual and multicultural ways.
  • Resources abound for teachers such as innovative lesson plans, free and low-cost instructional software, demonstrations of commercial software, electronic journals, the latest curriculum standards, reviews of tests and materials, and discussion groups. Universities, museums, state and federal education agencies, professional associations and educational publishers sponsor sites of a general nature and sites tailored to special interests such as math, science, bilingual, ESL, early childhood learning, etc.
  • Once on-line, teachers find that the web browsers are very user friendly as well as either free or very inexpensive. The navigation features such as “bookmarks” that enables users to record addresses for sites they have visited, hypertext links that permanently change color once they are used, and the “go,” “forward,” “back” and “home” commands help keep track of where we have been. We can also “search” for key words and phrases within documents as well as use built-in search engines that help us find resources at sites with large data bases.
  • Going from the screen to a printout copy of the web page requires merely clicking on the “print” button. Web pages can then be reproduced, cut up and inserted into student products, posted or read aloud. Computer-savvy teachers can learn how to “capture” texts, graphics and other media electronically for incorporation into their own lessons and student assignments. The usual copyright laws apply, so remember that you can never make a dime off something you got from the Internet, but the usual classroom uses are usually not a problem. The site will often have usage and copyright information listed, so look for it.

I have also found some potential barriers.

  • The largest potential barrier is the sheer size of the animal. We have been told repeatedly that the growth of information has been exponential for years. The Internet graphically and dramatically demonstrates this phenomenon for us. Busy teachers are often unsure of where to begin.
  • Because virtually anyone can set up a home page, the quality of information varies greatly on the Internet. Teachers require high degrees of historical and scientific accuracy in the information they present to students. Language teachers like to provide their students with well-written and edited texts as models for their own writing.
  • Students can be exposed to objectionable material of a racist, sexist or pornographic nature. Many “netters” take pride in pushing the limits of our constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression, producing materials that could offend parents or shock children. Fortunately, a rare minority are reported to be dangerous individuals who like to psychologically and even physically harm others.
  • The texts on the Internet are largely authentic language, written for learners who have mastered the oral and written components of the language. Students in the primary grades, poor readers and students who are at early levels of acquiring English may not be able to decode and comprehend much of the material they encounter on the web.


Through this process of identifying benefits and barriers, I have some suggestions and solutions to offer.

Start with an area that interests you but for which you have had difficulty finding materials. Keep your focus relatively narrow, at least at first, until you become more experienced at locating and judging the resources you find. Begin with a list of URLs (site addresses) developed by professional educators. Professional journals, especially those with an instructional technology focus, routinely publish such lists. My personal favorite is Classroom Connect, a monthly newsletter that lists new educational sites and suggestions for how to incorporate them into instruction. They also offer good teacher training materials. My own “top picks” list, focusing on bilingual and ESL sites, is located in the box on page 11.

Join a listserv or newsgroup that meets your professional interests. In most cases, all you need to do to join a listserv is send an E-mail message to the proper address with the message “Subscribe [your name].” Joining newsgroups is done on-line through your web browser. All you need is the newsgroup name. You use the “newsgroups” function to visit the newsgroup site where easy directions for joining are given.

In most cases you should preview the sites you will include in the classroom lessons first. Just as you would read the textbook or children’s literature selection before your students tackle it, you should also do so with Internet resources. If you stick to sites with obvious educational credentials such as US Department of Education-sponsored sites, you will probably have few problems with misinformation or inaccuracies. Previewing sites can also help you identify places where the reading and language level of the texts is appropriate for your students.

Train your students to use a “beware of strangers” type of approach to the Internet. They should never share their phone numbers or home addresses without your permission. And be sure to monitor their usage by at least occasionally glancing at the screen when students are surfing. Explain that they may, by accident, encounter pictures of nude women, racist or sexist comments, or other objectionable material. If they report such incidents to you immediately, no disciplinary consequences will follow. If they do not inform you or if they seek such sites intentionally, they will be subject to your usual punishments for classroom infractions, which would probably include notifying their parents and/or the principal. You may also want to alert them to the fact that you can often retrace their explorations by following highlighted hypertext links and other navigation indicators. This will probably give your dishonest students pause for thought.

Teach your students to become discriminating consumers of information. Learning to deal with information overload by sifting efficiently through information, distinguishing between primary and secondary sources, establishing the credibility of the informant, and other strategies are lifelong skills that all students should acquire. The Internet can become your hands-on laboratory for helping your students do so.

English language learners deserve the opportunity to acquire computer literacy skills, engage in searches for information on topics of special interest, communicate with others around the world, and have access to more materials in their primary languages. The multimedia possibilities of the World Wide Web contribute additional incentives to teachers who wish to give their students the best education possible. If your principal needs even more reasons to get you a modem and an Internet account, explain that telecommunications dollars deliver a lot more for the money than dollars spent on electronic workbooks, laser disks and CD-ROMs. Good luck and happy surfing!

Dr. Laura Chris Green is an education associate in the IDRA Division of Professional Development. Comments and questions may be sent to her via e-mail at

[©1997, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the May 1997 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]