Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

…For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL

The Best Online Homework Sites For English Language Learners – Please Offer Your Own Suggestions

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This post is a combination of my describing my homework policies and actual homework sites for my ELL classes.

Once or twice a week students probably have a little non-online homework to do at home if they don’t complete some of the writing tasks we do in class. But that’s pretty minimal.

Online homework is a different kettle of fish.

As part of more than one personal conversation I have with each student, I learn their goals, their personal situations (including age, work schedules, family and living situations, and access to the Internet). We discuss the difficulties of learning a new language, what the research says about the length of time it takes, and how much time they have left in high school. I explain that I make individual “contracts” with students about online homework based on their goals, age, and access to the Internet, and also tell them that our school library is open for two-and-a-half hours after each day so, if they don’t have a Smartphone or service at home, they can use computers there (and/or receive tutoring).

At the end of our conversation, I ask each student how much time they think they can spend on one of the sites we use (I have this conversation after students have become familiar with using them during classtime). Sixty percent of the time, students say an unreasonably high amount of time and I say, “That’s great, but why don’t we start at a lower amount and then build up to that time?” I’m happy with thirty minutes a day, five days week. However, that amount can be challenging for students who are working full-time or who have had minimal prior school experience or don’t have a smartphone or Internet access at home. In those situations, we make different agreements.

In each case, we make a joint call home to talk with a family member (if a family member is not available during school hours, I’ll call home at night if the family is Spanish-speaking) and both explain the agreement. I do this both to support the student if there’s only one computer in the house or if there is a limited data plan and to help ensure there’s a little more accountability support at home.

All the sites students can use – and choice is important – provide me with reports on student progress and students know this – I show the reports to them. The atmosphere, however, that I work hard at creating in my classroom is not one of “If you don’t do it, then your grade will go down.” Instead, it’s more of “What’s going on? Has something changed? Do we need to re-adjust the time expectation?” I use a system where students have a major influence in grading themselves (see The Best Resources On Grading Practices) and grades don’t function as a big motivator in my classroom.  But it’s clear that most students want me to believe that they do follow-up on what they say they are going to…

So, with that lengthy introduction, here are the sites that my ELL students can presently use for their online homework (new ones are added periodically).  All let teachers monitor student progress:

Raz-Kids costs $110 per year for a classroom, and has tons of leveled books with audio and visually support for the text.  Many of the books offer comprehension quizzes.

Duolingo, which is free and everybody loves!

English Central, which lets students watch videos, record themselves repeating what is said, and then automatically provides “grades” on accuracy and pronunciation.  Many of the videos are free, but you have to pay for “seats” in a classroom to get unlimited access (I think it’s worth it).

USA Learns, which is free and provides good online introductory activities for Beginners and Intermediates.

StoryWorld provides text and audio stories in Spanish, English and Chinese. I’ve had Spanish-speaking students who are not literate in their home language use this site, which is not free, but does offer a lengthy free introduction period.

Lyrics To Learn is another site that I’ve sometimes tried with students who are not literate in their home language. It costs for a subscription but it, too, provides a free introductory period. For me, the jury is still out on its effectiveness for ELLs. However, some of my students with minimal prior school experience seem to enjoy listening to the music, so I’m not quite ready to take it off this list.

There are lots of other options at The Best Sites Where Students Can Work Independently & Let Teachers Check On Progress, but these are the sites that seem to work best with my ELL students.

What are others that you use?

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

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