Helping ESL Students Become Computer Literate

ESL student on laptop

Increasingly, our daily lives involve computers – whether it’s getting money from an ATM, communicating via email or doing word processing at work.

Today, people need tools to be successful in a high-tech world. Computer literacy skills can enhance employability, and open up new avenues of communication, knowledge, information, and entertainment.

For teachers of ESL students, the question is not whether to teach computer literacy but how.

Getting Started

First, ask students what they know about the computer and what they want to learn. Do they want to learn how to surf the Web, write letters or create a resume? After finding out what your students’ technological knowledge and interests are, you’ll have a better idea about where to begin.

Novice computer users don’t need to know much about computers to begin using software or to start surfing the Web. Knowing how to use the Enter (return) key, the Shift key, the space bar, and the Tab key on the keyboard enables students to use software. And, just as students can learn grammar in context, they can learn to type by using the computer.

Students who are unfamiliar with using a mouse will need to be shown how to maneuver the mouse correctly. They also should understand how to click on the menu bar to start, quit, and exit.

Beginners will also need to learn basic computer terminology. Teach them the parts of the computer, and about software, email and the Internet.

Choosing Resources

Increasingly, ESL students have access to computers either in a language lab or in the classroom. (Computers can sometimes be found in public places such as libraries.) Software and online tutorials are good resources for teaching computer literacy. An online lesson is one that is completed using a computer with Internet access. The activities in online lessons and in software are sometimes interactive – allowing students to use the knowledge they are acquiring.

Some questions to ask in evaluating software or online tutorials include:

    1. What is the language difficulty level?
    2. Does the language and content help reinforce my curriculum?
    3. How easy is the software or website for the students to use? Is it easy to navigate from page to page?

Find software or web lessons that allow students to do exercises and quizzes after completing their lessons. Determine whether the material has a good pace and clear demonstrations. For example, a lesson may include a mouse tutorial – a wonderful tool for a beginning computer user.

Word Processing as a Learning Tool

Using word processing programs, students can choose topics, write in groups, and discuss drafts. Grammar and style checker tools (in addition to the spelling checker and thesaurus available with most word processing programs) can help review and correct their writing.

Pairing students who speak different languages in front of the computer may help prompt real communication in English. Cooperative writing assignments or the use of problem-solving software or simulation games can help students enhance both language and literacy.

Make It Relevant

Make sure the information and exercises introduced are relevant to your students. When information is directly relevant to peoples’ lives, they are more motivated. If you are working with people who are unemployed, teach skills that will help them with their job search. If you are working with senior citizens who want to communicate with family members, teach them to use email.

Keep it Simple, Positive and Fun

Begin each learning session with a few simple objectives. Don’t overwhelm learners with too much information at once. Leave time for guided practice after introducing a new skill. Whether using software or an online tutorial, lessons often have built-in exercises. Change or elaborate on these to suit your students’ needs.

Don’t move on until the learner has completely mastered the task that has been introduced.

Offer praise and constructive criticism often. Make learning fun. For example, an Internet scavenger hunt helps students learn how to surf the web and can help enhance their English reading skills.

© Bobbie Crockett 2002

Bobbie Crockett is a curriculum writer/community liaison for GCF Global Learning, a training program of the Goodwill Community Foundation that is operated by Goodwill Industries of Eastern North Carolina.

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