Textbooks are a great source of reliable information and ready-made activities, but the content they provide can be generic and not particularly engaging for students. By leveraging the instructional potential of web-based resources, you can increase student engagement, expose them to authentic content, and engage them in collaborative activities that trigger critical thinking and creativity. Following are six steps to get you started.
1. Select Your Website
Official sites are best.
Whenever possible, use "official" sites. Although independent sites might provide interesting content, you can usually trust the vetted content on official sites. Some fantastic sources of information include:
- The Nobel Foundation
- Sites ending in .org
- The Goethe Institute
- U.S. Department of Education
- Reputable newspapers
- National Geographic
- PBS Teachers
If you don't know where to find good sources for the subject you teach, then it is time to start assembling your personalized learning network (PLN).
Focus on curriculum integration.
Select websites closely connected to your curriculum. These sites should allow you to introduce or review content directly related to your learning objectives on the topic that you're teaching right now. If you find a great site for a future unit, bookmark it and move on!
Assemble a personal collection.
Use a social bookmarking system such as Delicious to create a collection of websites for future use. Consider setting Google Alerts to notify you when the topics and keywords you selected are mentioned on the web.
2. Website Review
Anybody can create a website and start blogging about Walt Whitman and quantum physics. Thoroughly review the content of the site you chose, asking:
- Is it accurate, up-to-date, and appropriate?
- What are the credentials of the author?
- If there is advertising, what do the images say about the site owner?
Involve your students in the review process. Assessing the value of a web-based resource is a critical 21st-century skill.
3. Build Your Lesson Plan
Before building your lesson plan, review the website and list the concepts and vocabulary that your students will need for understanding and completing the activity.
List your learning objectives.
What will the students gain from interacting with the site? Keep a copy of the SAMR model handy and challenge yourself to design an activity that goes beyond information recall (copy-paste tasks). Use verbs from Bloom’s Taxonomy to create high-level objectives.
Design a web-based handout.
A web-based handout should provide your students with clear directions on what to do. It also allows you to create links to specific web pages. This is useful when working with large sites.
Design a set of collaborative tasks.
These tasks should require student interaction, creativity, and critical thinking skills. Do not rely on the website to do the teaching. Start with simple tasks that allow students to become familiar with the structure and content of the site, and then move on to tasks that foster critical analysis and evaluation of information.
Reserve space for notes.
The handout should include space for note taking. Require detailed, juicy notes to make the students accountable for their learning.
Design a final product.
Your activity should culminate with a tangible final product: a role play, a short presentation, a debate, etc. If the website you worked on allows readers to post comments, consider asking students post their essays or reflections directly to the site.
Have an assessment plan.
The preferred form should be a rubric.
4. Test Your Lesson Plan
Check that the site you selected loads properly on the school computers, especially if it contains a lot of videos and animations. Have a backup plan in case the internet goes down!
5. Implement Your Activity
Use this checklist to keep the lesson running smoothly:
- Set clear rules -- no Facebook, no email, no funny YouTube videos.
- Brainstorm the etiquette for working in groups.
- If possible, have no more than three students per device.
- Keep students on track, monitor progress and time, and give frequent feedback.
- If students are taking notes on a Google Document, hop in to monitor their progress and use the Insert Comment feature to give them pointers.
- Have students build a final project that they can be proud of!
After class, take a few moments to reflect on how the activity went. Could you have done it without the web? Were the students engaged? Take notes on what you will do differently next time.
Here's an example about Ecuadorean children reflecting on their village's relationship to the rainforest. This site presents the children's perspective on a complex question: feeding their families or protecting the environment?
Start by having students locate Ecuador using Google Earth and recall what they know about the rainforest. Then show the video while they take notes on the three aspects it covers: the environmental impact of road building, oil drilling, and logging. The handout could include a table of pros and cons for each practice. As a follow-up and final product, students could engage in a debate, brainstorm possible solutions in groups, and create a presentation. The class can then vote for the best solution or combine solutions. Students can write an essay summarizing their opinion and findings. The best essays could be shared on the school Facebook page as a comment to the article.
How do you use web-based resources in your classroom?