6. Interactive language learning exercises

6.1 Exercise formats
6.2 Feedback
6.3 Web implementation

Before we discuss the technical issues of client-side and server-side programming, it is helpful for us to take a brief look at the various language learning activities that we often use in classroom teaching.

6.1 Learner output

Interaction in language learning activities always involves learner output. Learners' output falls into two categories: 1) Those which are discrete and predictable; 2) Those which are dynamic and unpredictable.

Point to remember: Computers are good at processing linguistic output that is discrete and predictable but may be at a loss with respect to dynamic and unpredictable linguistic output.

6.1.1 Exercises that require discrete and predictable output

We often use the following formats to provide language learning exercises. Note that they are in written form. At this time, oral output is still difficult to deal with through the web.

  • Multiple-choice questions. True/False questions are a stripped down version of multiple-choice questions.
  • Sentence scrambling: A way to build up discourse skills in the target language.
  • Short-answer quiz/blank filling exercises: This type of exercise requires answers below the sentence level, which is often used in vocabulary learning, etc.;
  • Cross-word puzzles: Only applicable to languages which uses alphabet;
  • Matching exercises: It can happened below or above the sentence level;
  • Interactive map (Drag-and-drop)

6.1.2 Exercises that require dynamic output

  • Paraphrasing: e.g., Explain the meaning of 'It rains cats and dogs'.
  • Open-ended questions: e.g. Summarize the main arguments in the essay.
  • Composition: e.g., Write a short essay on the Y2K bug.

6.2 Feedback

There are two kinds of feedback: 1) Immediate feedback; 2) Delayed feedback. Dealing with the former is more interesting and technically challenging.

6.2.1 Delayed feedback

We can collect student's output and send them over to an instructor for evaluation.

6.2.2 Immediate feedback

When a learner submits or requests evaluation of his output, feedback is provided immediately by the computer (whether it's a client machine or server machine). There are two major ways through which feedback can be delivered to the learner.

If feedback contains text, we can use the following. You can click on the links to see a sample display.

  • Pop-up window: a new browser window is opened up for showing the feedback, whereas student's output is still maintained in the previous browser window.
  • Pop-up message: It can be used to send a few lines of text.
  • Text area: We uses the conveniences provided by web forms.
  • Refreshing window: The same browser window is refreshed and loaded with feedback.

When non-verbal feedback is sufficient, we can optionally use:

  • Icons: See an example here.
  • Alarming sound: It consumes bandwidth.

6.3 Web implementation

For now, web implementation of interactive language exercises is mainly through the use of web form elements or interactive image maps. Further these exercises are restricted to those who require discrete responses. For example, multiple-choice questions or True/False questions can be realized by using Radio Buttons or Check Boxes. The following is a sample demonstration using Radio Button.

What is the color of pure water?
A) Blue
B) Green
C) Gray
D) Colorless

We will provide more sample demonstration in the next two sections.


Next topic ==>