Using Webquests in the English and Language Arts Classroom
A lot of stuff goes on in English class. Reading novels. Learning the craft of writing. Working on tedious skills, like grammar and spelling.
Potentially, it can be an amazing place. Shakespeare and other authors are enough to set any imagination alive. A good persuasive writing prompt can excite any kid into writing. But if you get bogged down in boring, routine test prep activities, you'll find that kids tune out. It's a weird kind of catch-22 - you focus on routine skills and tests because kids are scoring poorly, and this demotivates them and causes them to perform worse.
The solution? Do something interesting in class. Do something thought provoking. In other words, you need an inquiry oriented, project or problem based assignment. One of the best ways to do that, either as an in class assignment or a take home project, is as a webquest.
So What Are Webquests, Anyways?
Let's begin with a very quick discussion of what webquests are. They're internet based classroom activities. But more than a utilization of technology, they're a lesson planning framework. It's about structuring a lesson in such a way that you allow students to make the best use of online resources to complete a task.
A webquest is a small webpage that directs students through completing a task. Traditionally, this looks like the diagram above, with five clear steps.
- Begin with an introduction. Pique the students' interest with something intriguing.
- Then, define the task that they'll complete. What will their inquiry be about? What is the problem they need to solve? What is the project they need to complete?
- Next, outline the process. In a step by step way, you need to tell students how they're going to finish the task you've set before them. In addition, you need to provide them with useful resources to do that.
- After that, show the students your evaluation mechanism. What do students have to do to earn an A, a B, or a C? Be detailed in your rubric.
- Finally, include a conclusion. What should students have learned? What should students do next if they're still interested in the problem?
Anyhow, that's the extra-brief introduction to what a webquest is. I'm really assuming you know what a webquest is, so if you need some more information try reading this article on Yahoo.
Examples of Using Webquests in English Class
But assuming we understand the basics of what a webquest is and how it directs a students' inquiry, what would a webquest for an English class look like? Let's look at two examples.
For a writing oriented webquest, this persuasive writing webquest is a fairly strong example. The students' task is to write a five minute persuasive speech and deliver it to their classmates. The webquest provides a clear task, it presents students with a vast set of resources to use, and it sets out the grading criteria for the final project. This is a long term project, and the webquest helps guide students through the process.
Another great feature of this webquest is the way that it scaffolds the students' learning. In the "Process" / "Writing an Essay" segment, the author included a presentation about how to write an essay and links to graphic organizers. These are all tools that students can use to support their efforts and make sure that their final project is successful. That's a key component of a webquest - providing students with the tools they need to be successful.
For our second example, let's switch gears and consider a literature example - this To Kill a Mockingbird webquest. This webquest is a great example of how a creative problem-based task can drive student learning. The students need to alter an event in the novel and then rewrite part of the novel to reflect how that would have changed the way the characters acted.
"What Ifs" and counterfactuals like this are great at stimulating thinking. Students need a deep understanding of the topic (in this case, Harper Lee's novel and the characters) to successfully support their hypothesis of what would have happened. And the author provides a lot of resources to help students research their topics and develop that understanding.
Go Ahead and Get Started With Webquests in English Class
Now you know what a webquest is, and you've seen two examples of good English webquests. What else are you waiting for?
Go find some, and get started! There are literally hundreds of thousands of webquests on the Internet, and thousands of those relate to English and Language Arts. Just type "English webquests" into Google, and you'll find a few dozen examples to work with.
Of course, not all webquests are created equally. Some are good, like our examples. Others are, well, not so good. It helps to start with a curated list, like this RSS feed about English webquests. That way you can let someone else do the hard work of sifting through all the nonsense that's out there and finding the halfway decent ones.
You can also make your own webquests. No need to wait for someone else to create one for you. All you need is a free website from a service like Wordpress and a little ingenuity. If you don't think you can figure it out on your own, subscribe to this hub and check back. I'm working on a new hub in the next few weeks that will outline, step by step, how to create your own webquest for free.