Great Idea: Using ICT

What is ICT?

Information and Communications Technology (ICT) can be a very supportive tool for EAL learners, both for developing skills that are important, and as a complementary resource for classroom activities. There is a range of different types of ICT that can help EAL learners of varying levels of proficiency in English, for example:

  • Word processing software such as Word
  • Presentation and desktop publishing software, e.g. PowerPoint, Publisher
  • Tablets and Interactive Whiteboards (IWBs)
  • The internet
  • Recording technology: audio and video
  • Communication: email, video conferencing, social media
  • Immersive games
  • Translation software
  • A range of other software and apps, for example focused on grammar and vocabulary, literacy or curriculum based and creative or story-making based software and apps

Examples of activities

ICT can be used with EAL learners at all stages of English language proficiency, at any age and across the curriculum. Here are a few examples:

1. IWB for sharing ideas:

Using the IWB with a group or whole class is suggested in many resources on this website. One example is I see I think I wonder - Little Red Riding Hood, where learners work in groups to discuss a picture and annotate it in either English or their first language or both. The teacher then collates ideas from the different groups around the same picture on the IWB. Where the notes are in first language EAL learners can come and write on the IWB if the teacher does not share that language.

2. Translation software:

Give EAL learners a text in English and ask them to highlight or underline unfamiliar words in it. Ask them to first try and guess the meaning of the new words from the context. Then they look them up and check whether they managed to guess their meanings correctly. This is a useful approach with chapter or scene summaries of set texts in English, for example The Tempest Act 1, or GCSE poetry such as The Charge of the Light Brigade.

3. Online research:

Using the internet to research topics online, accessing text (including in first language), images, sound, film / video / DVD, graphs, maps, charts etc. which will allow learners to make links between concepts and knowledge they already have and the English they need to explore them.

4. Group presentation:

Group or paired presentations on a topic can encourage organisational discussion during the task and also supports those who are less confident in speaking in English through the use of presentation software like PowerPoint or Prezi. Some of the resources on this website, for example Life and works of Charles Dickens, suggest that as an extension activity, groups of learners carry out their own research on the topic and then present their findings to the class.

5. Immersive games:

These are great for uniting learning across the curriculum. Games such as ‘The Room 2’ and ‘Amerzone’ feature a rich mystery-based storyline, with a variety of textual sources such as letters, codes and journals. Players are encouraged to interact with the texts as they reveal clues to solving puzzles and provide a backstory to events and characters that enhance the overall narrative.

6. Book or film making:

Digital cameras and video recorders are excellent for EAL learners at an early stage of developing literacy to make their own books, based for example on a practical activity they have carried out in class. They are also wonderful for collaborative projects such as making a welcome video for new arrivals at the school.

How using ICT works

  • Whatever medium is being used it is important to remember that the principles of good practice in terms of EAL teaching and learning apply equally to the use of ICT, for example:
    • To provide a rich context
    • To build on prior knowledge
    • To scaffold language and learning
    • To provide opportunities for collaborative learning
  • Word processing or publishing work (individually or pairs or groups) can be particularly motivating for EAL learners at an early stage of learning to write in English, as they can produce work to a higher standard of presentation than they may be able to by hand
  • The internet can also be used to provide a rich context to increase access to the curriculum, through searching for images, maps (e.g. Google Earth), charts, diagrams, music, film / video / DVD etc.
  • When asking EAL learners to research a topic online it is important to be specific about what they should find out. E.g.:
    • Suggest a maximum of three or four websites to search, and check first if the information they need is there or not
    • Use the same criteria to choose websites as for a text book: layout and overall look, quantity and quality of visuals, readability, target age of audience, content, scope and level, navigability
    • Sites designed for EAL, EFL or ESOL learners are often useful as many of these are aimed at improving the grammar or vocabulary of learners whose first language is not English.
  • Teach learners how to avoid copying and pasting chunks of information without understanding by following the six steps below:
    • Scan read the text you have found and see if it has the information you need
    • Copy and paste the section that has the information you need into a draft document, print it out and read it carefully
    • Highlight the important words or phrases making sure you focus on what the question asks or exactly what you are trying to find out
    • Using a bilingual dictionary or translation software look up any words that you do not know and that are making it difficult for you to understand the text (e.g. any words that are used a lot) and write the meaning in your first language on the paper
    • Use the highlighted words to put together your own sentences
    • Look back at the original text for help but do not copy too much more

Top tip: When you get access to a new piece of technology, think about how it can be used to scaffold language and learning, give an opportunity for EAL learners to build on their prior knowledge or provide opportunities for learners to work collaboratively.

Why is using ICT a Great Idea for EAL learners?

ICT can be used to employ all the Great Ideas suggested in these pages. The key to making it effective for EAL learners is to remember that the principles of good practice in terms of EAL teaching and learning apply equally to the use of ICT. In other words, ICT should be used in ways that are consistent with EAL good practice, for example to provide a rich context, to build on prior knowledge, to scaffold language and learning and to provide opportunities for collaborative learning (see NALDIC 1999).

It has been argued that some language learning computer games are essentially language drills (Dalton 2005) or ‘no more than thinly disguised tests’ (Mawer and Stanley 2011), and one key way to avoid this is to encourage pair or group work when using ICT. This works particularly well with immersive games or other software that gives opportunities for learners to work collaboratively to solve problems, as suggested by Pim (2013, 2015). Wegerif (2004) advocates using ICT collaboratively so as to provide a catalyst for exploratory talk as recommended by socio-cultural researchers such as Mercer, Wells and Alexander.


Dalton, E., 2005, Language learning games: Why, When and How? [Electronic version] Southern New Hampshire University.

NALDIC, 1999, The distinctiveness of English as an Additional Language: a cross-curricular discipline, National Association of Language Development in the Curriculum, Working Paper 5.

Mawer, K. and Stanley, G., 2011, Digital play: computer games and language aims, Surrey: Delta Publishing.

Pim, C., 2013, Emerging technologies, emerging minds: digital innovations within the primary sector, in G. Motteram (Ed.), Innovations in learning technologies for English language learning, pp17-42, London: The British Council.

Pim, C., 2015, Developing the writing of advanced EAL learners through the use of 3D immersive adventure games, The British Council

Wegerif, R., 2004, The role of ICT as catalyst and support for dialogue, NALDIC Quarterly 1(4), electronic version.

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