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Activities That Encourage Communication and Collaboration

There are many ways that social interaction can occur through and around the technology. To show how the techniques for supporting communication and collaboration can be implemented, this section describes CALL activities that provide opportunities for students to collaborate and communicate on some level. After each activity is a description of the computer tool, the students’ roles, the choices they can make and need to discuss, and what encourages them to listen and respond to their peers or other information sources. The examples address learners in an assortment of grade and language levels from a variety of contexts and settings. The tasks are divided into stand-alone examples that use software on individual computers and online examples that use features of the Internet.

► Activities Using Stand-Alone Software

The examples in this section focus on stand-alone, commercially developed software packages. Teachers can use the techniques and principles described previously to develop activities with many different types of software. One of the benefits of using stand-alone software packages is that they do not change, whereas Internet resources must be checked regularly for changes.

Example 1

Putting Vocabulary Into Context

Diana and Evaristo are sitting together in the computer lab, but during this activity Diana is turned away from the computer screen. Evaristo is working on the “Your Environment” section of the lab’s vocabulary software. As each word comes onto his screen, he dictates it aloud to Diana, who copies it onto her paper. They discuss which answer choice presents the meaning of the word and then Evaristo enters the answer into the software. If the answer is correct, Diana writes the definition on the paper and they move on to the next word; if not, they discuss alternatives. When the exercise is finished correctly, Diana and Evaristo will study together for a vocabulary quiz.

Tool: Vocabulary practice software

Interaction: Student pairs

Roles: One student is the computer operator and the other the writer; during the next unit, they may switch roles.

Choices: Students decide on their partners and roles.

Reason to listen and respond: Students must cooperate to get all the words and definitions down on paper and to study for the quiz.

Example 2

Learning About Ancient History

Minecraft Education Edition (Version 1.4) provides each student team with a map based on ancient history called the Wonderful World of Humanities (Walker, 2014). Each part of the map shows a simulation of a particular area, such as ancient India, ancient Rome, and medieval times. The teacher starts the Minecraft server and provides the class with instructions on how they can join the server. Once everyone joins in, the teacher assigns each group a task–visiting a specific world with a series of questions to answer. For example, a team has been tasked to visit ancient Egypt and locate the pyramids. The teams also needs to explore the rest of the area, looking for traditional Egyptian cultural items, including facts, buildings, and architecture. During the task, each member navigates the world from a Chromebook and can communicate with other members through headsets and a Discord channel with audio and textual chat support. When the student teams have their questions answered, they return to the starting point, take off the headsets, and share their findings with the rest of the class who record them for a future project. Afterwards, they are given new questions for the next exploration.

Tool: Minecraft Education Edition (Version 1.4)

Interaction: Student and team members

Roles: Explorer, demographer, visitor, tourist, and geographer

Choices: Learners decide the manner in which their group will function (e.g., how they will look for a specific piece of information on the map to answer the questions). They also choose to type or speak their answers via Discord.

Reason to listen and respond: Students will need the information for a future project, so they need to communicate and collaborate with their team members. This is an information gap activity.

Example 3

Neighborhood Trip

The class is preparing for a field trip around their community. While one group is developing a set of questions to answer and a second group is locating community members to talk to, a third group uses simple map-making software on the one computer in their classroom to make a community map. Each student in the map group has been assigned a particular component of the map to research and to add to the map. When the map is finished, the group presents it to the class, explaining the key that they developed together and how to use the map most effectively. The other groups share their questions and resources. After the field trip, the class collaborates to add interesting information and features to the map.

Tool: Mapme (Education plan, https://mapme.com/)

Interaction: Student and small group members, student and class

Roles: Researchers for houses, streets, buildings, signs, or landmarks (each does the part of the key related to his or her role)

Choices: Students choose the roles they play and how to present their information.

Reason to listen and respond: Students must use the map to find their way to various locations in the community.

Activities Using Online Resources

The Mystery Character activity in the introduction to this chapter is an example of a computer-enhanced task that supports many kinds of communication and collaboration between members of the group and between on-site and off-site groups. Other online activities that support interaction are developing advertisements, participating in a literature circle, completing or developing WebQuests and MMOGs, designing a website, writing and maintaining a Wiki, blog, or social media pages. These are only examples of what can be done collaboratively today. Generally, all Web 2.0+ (the second generation of web that promotes social and participatory discourses) technologies provide a variety of tools to communicate and collaborate. Additional examples follow.

Example 4

Shopping on the Web

Student teams are asked to develop a new advertising campaign for a common product. Before doing so, they need to compare their product’s existing prices, features, and advertising. Each student checks a different website, such as http://www.amazon.com/, http://www.ebay.com/, or another shopping site that the teacher has supplied and then fills out a column in the product comparison handout. The other team members add the information that they have discovered about the product. They will use this information as they take on the roles of artist, text editor, and presentation specialist in preparing their advertising campaign. Once their advertising is in place, they will present it to the class for evaluation. Students will also take orders for  the product from members of the school community as a way to evaluate their work.

Tool: Internet shopping sites and advertising; presentation/ graphics package such as Microsoft PowerPoint, Google Slides, Pages; word processor such Microsoft Word, Google Docs, and Apple Pages

Interaction: Student and small group members, small group and class, small group and school

Roles: In the first part, students are all researchers using different websites for the product. In the second part, they each take a role in developing the advertising.

Choices: They choose a product that they are interested in, choose websites to visit from the teacher’s list, and develop their own advertising strategy and presentation format.

Reason to listen and respond: The audience must evaluate whether the advertising is effective and tell why.

Example 5

Reading Circles

Students are required to post a weekly reading reflection to their online class on the free learning management system Canvas (https://www.canvas.com/). They are working with students at two other schools who are reading the same articles as they are each week. To keep the discussion going, the teacher has assigned each student to reply also to two other students’ reflections each week during lab time. Students  can ask questions, clarify points about the readings, or persuade the other students to their point of view. At the end of the week, each student writes a summary in his or her reading journal of what he or she learned from the week’s online discussion and then takes a quiz on the reading content.

Tool: Asynchronous electronic discussion forum

Interaction: Student and off-site partners, student and whole group, student and teacher

Roles: Each student posts an individual opinion.

Choices: Students choose what to say and to whom they say it.

Reason to listen and respond: Students must understand the issues to participate in the discussion, and they have to pass the quiz.

Example 6


In Ms. Hall’s class, high school ESL students are working on the “You are what you eat?” WebQuest that she developed. Their task is to create a cookbook of healthy regional recipes from the United States. Each team is assigned to one region of the United States and is required to

  • make a list of foods specific to the region and investigate their history
  • design a sample menu of ethnic foods for their region from that list, including entree, starch, vegetable, bread, dessert, and beverage. Including salad gets extra points.
  • obtain sample recipes for these foods by searching the Internet or by conferencing over the Internet with a chef
  • analyze each recipe on the menu for nutrients and construct a table for each recipe with the nutrient analysis
  • total the nutrients for each complete menu and determine whether or not the menu is healthy using the American Heart Association’s Dietary Guidelines for Healthy American Adults. If the menu is not healthy, use the guidelines for lowering fat and cholesterol to revise the recipes.
  • prepare all healthy recipes for the class to sample, and submit them in recipe format to be placed in the cookbook (Emanuel, 2007)

The students divide up the research tasks among themselves to use their time efficiently. They use the roles that Ms. Hall recommends: (a) historian to research how the history and development or settlement of each region influenced the region’s foods; (b) journalist to record the information found during the learning process and to lay out the menu and recipes for placement in the cookbook; and (c) food researcher or nutritionist to interpret and analyze the foods, recipes, and other nutritional information discovered during the quest. The students compile all of their information to develop their final menu and prepare their meal.

Tool: WebQuest, Internet sites, word processor

Interaction: Student and small group members, small group to class, student or small group to external experts (chefs, for example)

Roles: Each student contributes part of the information needed to complete the project.

Choices: Students choose their roles, where and how they find their information, and how to present it.

Reason to listen and respond: The audience must listen to know what they are eating and why and to provide feedback.

These examples demonstrate that many different activities can support communication and collaboration in language classrooms. There are also many tools to facilitate such interaction.


Creative Commons License
Activities That Encourage Communication and Collaboration by Joy Egbert and Seyed Abdollah Shahrokni is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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