The website Questionaut http://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/ks2/english/ is a great fun ESL tool that has many features that are necessary when one is searching for practical pedagogical tools. It is a creation of the BBC so it follows in the tradition of quality products offered by this British standard in excellence. What is often forgotten by teachers but very important is the ‘first impression’ factor … what in real estate sales is referred to as ‘curb appeal’. There must be a genuine good first impression and Questionaut achieves this. The site is colourful and very easy to use. There are sections for English, math and sciences, but these are easily identified and, once in a section, completely independent of one another. The fact that there are math and science sections, in addition to English, could in fact be very useful from a pedagogical perspective, in that students can use these other sections, while in other classes, thus entrenching their familiarity with the site. In addition, colleagues teaching other disciplines can share ideas with ESL teachers. Once in the English section there are three categories: 1) reading 2) writing 3) spelling and grammar. Each of the three categories is further divided into subcategories. For instance, the reading category is divided into ‘Deduction’ ‘Dictionaries’ ‘Poetry’ and ‘Finding Information’. Activities are further divided into ‘Play’ ‘Read’ ‘Watch’ and ‘Quiz’ for each of the above four subcategories. There are audio-visual and written aids that at first sight may appear suitable for very young or beginner learners, but this is definitely not the case. For instance, in the reading subcategory of the deduction section there are explanations of similes and metaphors in fiction and poetry. This is definitely too advanced for elementary cycle one in the MELS program who are not, in an explicit manner, even taught grammar rules. The teacher must be very selective in the activities chosen. The voices on the listening activities have a British accent, but, in my opinion, this poses no problem, for students learning in the Quebec-Canada context, because the accents are non-the-less clear and students must become familiar with different accents anyway. Moving on to the next point, the quality of the videos, sound and written exercises is excellent. I like the fact that the writing and grammar sections are two distinct categories and I also like the fact that quizzes are given at the end of every exercise in all three sections. The quizzes are designed so that students can simply click on the correct answer and at the end click on ‘check score’. For this reason, students can work autonomously.
At The English Blog I found the following statement although, the site is aimed at native-speakers; learners of English will find a lot of useful material here which reaffirms what I was saying about the fact that teachers must be careful when selecting activities at Questionaut. This is because activities, that are designed for much younger first language learners, may at first appear, in terms of images for instance, appropriate for a particular ESL class, but it is, in fact, too advanced and will be more appropriate for a more advanced group. I also found another interesting point at Edublogs where this comment was made about Questionaut … Sometimes information is presented with text, and this text works well with Speakit! in Google Chrome. This means students can use the Google software, if necessary, to ‘speak out’ the text. This will definitely give additional oral dimensions to the activities, but some teachers may not find this necessary because of the numerous auditive activities already present. Following in the same train of thought, with regard to Questionaut’s compatibility to other tools , I found another interesting comment at Teacherslovesmartboards, … The graphics and audio on these activities are very professional and all the activities were developed with interactive whiteboards in mind so they all work great with the SMART Board. This is definitely an advantage considering the central role Smartboards play in the modern classroom.
To sum up, Questionaut is an aesthetically pleasing, well-organized, fun, easy to use, practical and compatible web tool that ESL teachers will find very useful, as long as they remember that it was designed with first language learners in mind.