Practical ways for the teacher to create CALL Materials/Activities

For my thoughts on ways teachers can use computers to help with their teaching more generally, where the students are not necessarily themselves directly using the computer, see here.

These days (unlike in the '80s) it is not so easy/common for teachers to dabble in writing CALL material. Then it was more common for teachers to author their own material into BBC and DOS packages like Vocab and Storyboard, or to even try writing their own little BASIC programs.

Nowadays you need a fair amount of technical knowledge, or the time to learn to use a specialist authoring package, to create your own CD materials, putting together sound, graphic and text files. And to get the best effects on the WWW you have to be into Java and frames.... And that of course is on top of the time needed for the pedagogical side of choosing the language to put in, and the task, and the answers (if relevant) etc. to suit the class.

LG478 does not go much into the creation side, since we don’t have the sophisticated authoring programs, or the expertise or time to teach them. Anyway, they become rapidly out of date and there is no point spending a lot of time mastering a package you might never use. You can read about some authoring packages and their use in

Levy 1997 p88-95, 104-108, 156f; Jones and Fortescue ch 6.

Stewart Arneil and Martin Holmes 1999 ‘Juggling hot potatoes: decisions and compromises in creating authoring tools for the Web’ ReCALL journal online 11,2.

S.-A. Kitts and K.Whittlestone 1998 ‘CALScribe: a multimedia template ideal for CALL development’ ReCALL journal online 10,2.

S. Tippett and B. Cook 1998 ‘Authoring tools: a comparative study’ ReCALL journal online 10,2.

J.-J. Hochart 1998 ‘Improving listening and speaking skills in English through the use of authoring systems’ ReCALL journal online 11,2.

BUT here are a few things that are close to creation, if not the full thing. Easy and fairly quick to do. Cheap and cheerful authoring or use of computers in teaching activities. They are illustrated for English but most apply to any language as the target.

Authoring a Task in a Wordprocessing Program

Authoring with WIDA software

Assembling Dedicated WWW Links

Assembling Teaching Material on a Webpage

Authoring a Simple Reading Task just using Links on a Webpage

Authoring using a Web Authoring Package

Editing an Existing Exercise from the Web

Setting up Email etc. to keep in touch and manage 

Authoring a CALL Task in a Wordprocessing Program

There are several tasks that a teacher can easily just wordprocess and give the students in a file to work on in some way on the wordprocessor (e.g. in Word). The teacher uses a suitable text for the class. Texts could be

·        cut and pasted from WWW or a corpus like BNC,

·        scanned from a coursebook from a unit a few weeks back, or written parallel with a text used before,

·        a student composition (maybe with errors in), or a teacher-made composite of several student compositions, and so forth.

The ways a teacher can alter the text include:

A text with the paragraphs in jumbled order to be reorganised with use of cut and paste

A text with errors in, to be corrected

The start of a text, or of each paragraph of a story, with space to complete the story

A text with words missed out to be filled in

A text with inflections like -s missed off the words to be filled in 

A text with no punctuation, which has to be supplied

See a collection of such suggestions at various levels.

You can also see an example of such a text created by a past student

Text can be long or short. It can even be disconnected sentences if preferred. Students can work independently or in groups, etc. This is of course in addition to the possible use of WP as part of a ‘process writing’ regime of teaching composition writing, used to encourage redrafting, revision etc. and provide the motivation of  nice printed output.

Requires only WP expertise, and no need for Internet access.

Authoring with old software originally made for the BBC computer

The old WIDA favourites, originating in BBC format, available to us in DOS forms (and purchasable now in Windows versions) allow easy authoring of staple multiple choice, matching and open choice exercises with pedagogically sound options available to supply useful feedback and so on to the user (within the limitations of such word and sentence level discrete point tasks). Matchmaster, Choicemaster, Gapmaster, Vocab, Storyboard etc. Typically the teacher has to run the Teacher rather than Student version of the program, and type in words and/or sentences or text suitable to their learners, and the program then uses these in the task it is dedicated to.

A way of updating these well-worn formats is to derive the items that you put in from corpora. I.e. instead of sitting and thinking up sentences to be used in the items, or copying ones from the coursebook, you access a corpus of native speaker English like BNC for them and select, according to the current level and needs of your students. E. Wilson  1997 ‘The automatic generation of CALL exercises from general corpora’ in ed Wichmann et al Teaching and Language Corpora (Longman) discusses this, e.g. for an exercise/test of choosing the right participle form startled or startling etc.

Assembling Dedicated WWW Links

The WWW contains lots of CALL material, both intended as such and not. But the problem with the WWW for students learning English is to rapidly find a suitable CALL task or exercise. In fact that is the problem with using the WWW in general. One can waste ages trying to find the information one wants. It cannot really be left to most students to be able to find what is suitable for their level and other needs at some particular point in their learning of L2.

There are of course dedicated EFL sites like those looked at in our other document which assemble loads of material and links to material for EFL. However, these usually contain too much material unsorted for type or level to be easy for the learner to use directly, especially if they are not advanced learners at a level to understand all the English of the WWW itself.

The most basic thing a teacher can usefully do is to collate links suitable for a whole set of classes/courses. See for example the ones the Modern Language teachers at Essex have collected. Often such collections are for self-study rather than integrated in the class activities, and not very specific to particular groups of their students.

However, the teacher can help even more by searching and identifying suitable tasks/resources for a specific class, at a specific stage of learning, maybe for specific weeks of a course, and putting links to them on his/her personal webpage, or a class webpage, with suitable guidance and instructions. The students can then access that page and go straight to what they need. Admittedly this is little more than an extension of evaluating material, but very useful.

It requires little expertise to create a simple webpage with links to WWW sites. This can be done easily with the facilities in Word, with little more knowledge than someone used to wordprocessing already has. Essentially you wordprocess the framework text. Insert the links by highlighting the word destined to be clickable and using Insert...Hyperlink. You get a dialog box where you can enter the internet address of the page you want to link to (or indeed you can link to other wordprocessed files of your own). Choose to save the document as HTML. At University of Essex you get the page to appear on the WWW by saving it with the name 'index' in a directory/folder called myweb which should appear on your m drive. If you can't find such a directory, instructions on how to create it are at

Anything that you put in the folder 'myweb' in the file called 'index.htm' appears on your personal website on WWW at address (where instead of 'name' you put your email username). As you create your own further webpages you can add them in that directory and link them all to the basic index file.

See also this link for a good 'How to make a webpage' start guide.

 Assembling your own Teaching Material on a Webpage

Beyond assembling links to WWW sites on your own or a class webpage, you can assemble and explain and connect your own materials in a simple way. Example:

Use a scanner to scan suitable material from books, magazines etc., including pictures, for students to access and read. Once scanned you can put the files on your website. You could add whatever instructions, explanation, questions, pedagogical points you want.

However, you won't readily be able to get fancy things like hidden choices or answers, or calculation of scores etc. see below.

It needs a little expertise to use a scanner, but in Word it is easy to create links from a text to your own other files or pictures (Highlight and use Insert… Picture or Insert…Hyperlink).

Slightly more ambitious material can be made with what follows.

 Authoring a Simple Reading Task just using Links on a Webpage

If you have typed in, or scanned in, a suitable passage for a class to read, you can easily build in all kinds of pedagogically useful adjuncts, as links. I.e. you pick words in the text and make it link to another file, or part of a file, in which there could be all kinds of types of supporting and additional information. The student is free to exploit this or not as they read. For example:

Things to think about before reading the text (schema activation activity)

Pre-teaching of vocab... if desired

Support while reading the text - vocab help (in TL or NL), paraphrase of difficult sentences, etc. or a link to an online dictionary on WWW

Prompts to develop reading strategies - on word guessing, on predicting, etc...

Comprehension questions to check understanding at that point - e.g. ask what a particular pronoun refers to

Post-reading activity suggestions

Post-reading test of new vocab

Texts on connected themes to read in addition.

There is a rather poor example of this at this WWW site; a rather better one in an old DOS hypertext program done by me (EFLDEMO).

 Authoring using a Web Authoring Package

 The above activities do no more than allow the user/learner to click on links to get further information. However, many simple types of exercise require students to be able to enter words on screen, or make choices by clicking 'buttons', putting ticks in boxes, and so on, and ideally would also give feedback and calculate scores. These can be authored using packages which allow you to enter the language elements yourself, and do for you all the work of making the webpage with these features from it. You then export this exercise as an HTML webpage to your myweb directory and create a link to it from your index page.

One package which has a suite of modules to make such exercises is called Hot Potatoes (or Hotpot) and comes from University of Victoria . The Hot Potatoes suite includes six applications, enabling you to create interactive multiple-choice, short-answer, jumbled-sentence, crossword, matching/ordering and gap-fill exercises for the World Wide Web. Hot Potatoes is not freeware, but it is free of charge for non-profit educational users who make their pages available on the web. Other users must pay for a licence. Check out the Hot Potatoes licencing terms and pricing on the Half-Baked Software Website.

It has modules for the following (covering much of the ground of the DOS authoring packages like Matchmaster, Gapmaster and Choicemaster):

JBC: multiple-choice or true-false exercises/tests

JQuiz: open choice exercises/tests

JCloze: gap-fill text exercises

JCross: crosswords

JMix: jumbled-sentence and jumbled word exercises

JMatch: matching and ordering exercises

You can see an example of a single multiple choice item created this way with JBC here. The limitation, of course, is that you have to accept the general format the authoring package supplies, though you can choose language content to suit any level or special interest of learner.

Another very useful facility, which you use online, is  The Compleat Lexical Tutor which allows you to make text (or single sentence) cloze exercises. You choose your text, which could be typed by you in Word, or on some website, or scanned from somewhere. You cut and paste your text into the space provided in the Compleat Lexical Tutor. The program then can be asked to check the vocab in the text to see which words are in particular frequency bands. You can then ask for it to make a cloze version of the text by gapping, say, all the very frequent words, or all the very infrequent words, and so on. You can finally save your exercise as a webpage onto your own computer so that you can link to it and use it when you want.

Editing an Existing Exercise from the Web

The basic 'language' in which material you see on WWW is written is called HTML (Hypertext Markup Language). If you are creating a webpage in Word you can see the HTML version of what you are writing by clicking View... HTML Source. And then to revert to normal click View...Exit HTML Source. You will see that what you compose is represented in HTML just as plain text, with no underlining, font size, paragraphing etc. shown as you normally see it in Word. In other words it is not WYSIWYG like Word. Instead, all the effects are shown by markers in < > brackets which don't appear in WWW or in the normal way you see text in Word, but serve to create the effect you want.

Increasingly the snazziest webpages with EFL exercises and so forth one sees on WWW are created with facilities 'beyond' HTML (like Javascript), but you can find useful ones in HTML which you can copy and change to the words, text etc. which you require quite easily. You may be able to edit directly in Word (normal view), but I find usually you have to go to the HTML version and alter that. This is not too difficult if you leave all the things within < > the same, and just change the text in between. Note that the < > markers often come in pairs, before and after some wording. E.g. a paragraph has <P> before it and </P> at the end. There is also usually a mass of HTML codes at the start and end of the text.

So one way to create your own exercises is to find one which does the right task, and is all in HTML, copy it into Word and change the language to what suits your class this week. Keep going back to the normal view of the text in Word so you can see the effect of your changes, and keep copies as you go in case you alter something which creates an effect you don't want.

You click File... Save As... on the top menu of the window, and save a copy of the exercise on your m drive space for you to call on in Word later to edit. You should be able to change everything: title, text, answers etc. to suit a specific imagined class. Then it can go on your own webpage for them.

Requires care to alter the HTML version of a document without upsetting the markers. But not too hard for someone used to wordprocessing.

Good sources for help on making your own webpages: see this collection of links to sites explaining HTML.

Setting up email etc. to keep in touch and manage.

You can keep in touch with students and support teaching in all sorts of ways with email. E.g.

·        Remind them of deadlines for doing work

·        Give feedback on queries

·        Provide hints and prompts on what to do out of class

·        Tell them about changes of room and time

·        Announce changes to your webpage

·        Etc.

This of course can be provided to all the members of a class, or separately to individuals, as needed. In the former case, within any mailer you can usually put together the email addresses of a group of people under one new class label (called an ‘alias’). Then you just enter that collective label as the address when you send emails to the group, with no need to enter the address of every member separately. This supplements what you might put on a webpage, with the difference that email forces information onto the receiver in a way a webpage does not.

More elaborate versions of this are possible. For instance there is software that allows you to set up something like a discussion list or chatroom just for a specific group of people, e.g. a class. Students and teacher become exclusive members and can log in and read what each other have to say, hints they want to share, share documents, submit assignments etc. See Internet Classroom Assistant for an easy way to do this.

This might not seem like ‘creation’ of a CALL activity at all, since no material is authored by the teacher. However, the teacher does play a key role in setting up the facility and managing it. Indeed whether or not it serves a useful purpose and aids learning may depend on the messages, tasks and documents that the teacher issues.

All this is of course most useful for distance courses, where it is of course a step or two away from video-conferencing, though it also is helpful for nondistance situations.

Ultimately, the computer can offer a medium for computerising the whole classroom, so that a class of students at several different locations can be taught by a teacher at a location distant from all of them. This is done with the aid of sound and video links over the internet and a virtual blackboard on screen for all to contribute to. See for example E. Matthews 1998 ‘Language learning using multimedia conferencing: the ReLaTe project’ ReCALL Journal online 10,2. Distance learning in general relies heavily on computers. See e.g. Matthew Fox 1998 ‘Breaking down the distance barriers: perceptions and practice in technology-mediated distance language acquisition’ ReCALL journal online 10,1; Robin Goodfellow and Marie-Noëlle Lamy 1998 ‘Learning to learn a language – at home and on the Web’ ReCALL journal online 10,1. Prof Lavington of Computer Science had a pilot project running a few years ago with a few students at Essex learning Polish from a teacher in London. Also some learners of Japanese at Essex have been involved in email/video sessions with trainee teachers in Japan. At a lesser level teacher-student email can valuably support teaching, whether local or distant: M. Warschauer 1995 E-Mail for English Teaching p32ff and ch5.


Things you Can't do

As yet hard to do by the above means are creating simulations, or materials making heavy use of video, audio, a lot of graphics etc. Specialist authoring programs like Toolbook allow this, but they require some time, dedication and perseverance to master and use. Also you cannot make your own 'ideal' version of a task like multiple choice or a game you like but which is not available in a web authoring package (e.g. Tree of Knowledge).


 PJS rev Jan 03