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Using WebQuests to Teach English
by Nancy McKeand


Introduction

Often teachers are not sure how to incorporate technology into their classes. An easy and very effective way to do that is through the use of WebQuests.

WebQuests have been widely used around the world since they were developed in 1995 by Dr. Bernie Dodge working with classroom teachers. Dodge's WebQuest site, offers the most complete set of links and information related to WebQuests that can be found.

But what, exactly, is a WebQuest? According to Dr. Dodge on his website, a WebQuest is "an inquiry-oriented lesson format in which most or all the information that learners work with comes from the web." A WebQuest traditionally has 6 parts: Introduction Task Process Evaluation Conclusion Credits Those parts can be varied in some cases, but this basic framework developed by Dodge is the basis for almost all the thousands of WebQuests that have been created.

That sounds good, but how can we use WebQuests to teach English?

Task

You are English teachers. Your supervisor has told you that you need to incorporate more technology into your classes and she suggests that WebQuests would be a good way to do that. You don't know anything about WebQuests, much less how you could use them to teach English. Your task is to learn as much as you can about what WebQuests are and to find ways that you could use them to teach English. At the end of your search, you will develop a WebQuest that you could use with your own students.

Process

Step 1

Go to the following web sites and read more about WebQuests.

An early article by Dr. Dodge, Some Thoughts on WebQuests

Dr. Dodge's WebQuest.org

An article on WebQuests published by the Saskatoon Public Schools

Step 2

Now look at some actual WebQuests. These links contain links to lots of examples:

WebQuest directory compiled by Lee's Summit R7 School District

Nellie's English Projects

Christine Bauer-Ramazani's list of ESL WebQuests

Step 3

Now that you have seen what a WebQuest is and can be, it is time for you to begin to develop your own . To start, ask yourself these questions:

1.What topic do I teach that could be investigated online?

2.What kinds of tasks would I want students to do as part of a WebQuest in connection with that topic?

Once you have the answers to those questions, you are ready to start thinking about designing your WebQuest.

Evaluation

Your efforts to create a WebQuest for use with your students will be evaluated by your students themselves. Their level of engagement with the task will be all the proof you need that you have been successful.

Conclusion

Now that you have seen what a WebQuest is and have begun thinking, at least of how you might create one of your own, I hope you will follow through and try one out with your students. I think you will be very happy with the results!

Credits

I have to give credit to Dr. Bernie Dodge for coming up with the idea. And after him, I must give thanks to Paula Emmert, who first exposed me to WebQuests in a TESOL EVO session in 2006.

Discussion

That is pretty much the path I followed to begin using WebQuests with my students. As part of a 2006 TESOL EVO session, I created a WebQuest, Will the Real Thomas Merton Please Stand Up? This quest was used with advanced ESL students who were reading the works of Thomas Merton. It was actually quite successful, although it was very challenging for the students. We first read an article that talked about the different aspects of Merton's life. Then each member of a group investigated a different aspect of Merton's life. Finally they concluded by writing a joint diary in which they each added details from their research and put the different parts back together again.

My next effort was Death Penalty Debate. I taught an advanced writing course around the topic of the death penalty, and I decided to add the WebQuest to the course the second time I taught it. The purpose of the WebQuest was to guide them through the research process prior to writing a major paper. I felt at the time, and still do, that the WebQuest greatly facilitated their research. It presented students with different points of view and required them to investigate all of them. They were encouraged to look for other sources as well when they were actually writing their papers, but the WebQuest provided much of the information they needed.

Another WebQuest I created as preparation for writing a major paper was Norman Rockwell and an American Utopia. This activity exposed students to many of the paintings of Norman Rockwell. At the end of the WebQuest, they wrote a paper in which they compared Rockwell's idealized America to the reality they saw around them. This is the only WebQuest I have tried reusing. The first time, it was very successful. The second time, I wasn't as pleased with the results. I failed to recognize how difficult the WebQuest would be for the second group. They had neither the cultural understanding nor the language required for it to be truly accessible. Although I adapted it for them once I realized this, it was not the success it had been the first time. This experience wasn't as good as I would have liked it to be, but the possibility of reusing WebQuests is an important thing to remember. While it can take a fair amount of time to construct a WebQuest, the WebQuest can be used exactly as is or modified and reused numerous times.

Recently, I have begun copying my old WebQuests and creating new ones in a wiki, Nancy's WebQuests. This has the advantage of giving me more control, I think. When I want to use them with a particular group of students, I can copy them to another context or just link to them in the wiki. I have found this to be really valuable. One site, which was reputable when I first used it to develop my WebQuest, now apparently has been labeled a malicious site. All my work on that WebQuest would have been lost to me if I hadn't moved it.

Once the WebQuest is developed, I can focus on the students, helping those individuals or groups who need assistance. I become a facilitator in the class rather than the expert. A WebQuest is not the only way to achieve this, of course, but I think it is a very good way. I foresee using WebQuests with my students for a long time.

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