Getting Basic Computer Skills

Our ESL students are often busy on gaining English skills to help with their daily life and to improve their work opportunities. But many of our students  also realize there is another key skill  they need  for our modern life and workplace – the ability to work with computers or mobile devices  and use the Internet. More and more employers are looking for people that have basic computer skills.

You want those skills but maybe you can’t attend a computer class.  How can you get them?  Here are a few ideas from our “Learning about Computers” page

Use the New User Tutorial  that is designed for someone who is new to computers.  Spend about 20 minutes and let it:

Screen Capture by M.Yanez

Screen Capture by M.Yanez

  • Introduce the mouse and the cursor
  • Show you how to position, hold and move the mouse
  • How to click
    • common problems with clicking
    • click and drag
    • right click
  • How to scroll using….
    • scroll bars
    • arrows keys
    • scroll box
    • scroll wheel on the mouse
  • How to enter information using
    • text Box
    • drop down menus
    • check boxes
    • radio buttons
  • Show you Popup windows
  • How to Open / Close applications

Ready for something a little more intensive?  Then try the  Computer Literacy link. It review key skills in these areas:

Screen Capture - M.Yanez

Screen Capture – M.Yanez

  • Basic Computer Skills
  • Basic Word Processing Skills
  • Basic Internet Skills
  • Basic E-Mail Skills
  • Basic Computer Ethics

Then take the Computer Literacy Quiz and see how you score!



Finally, use the GCF link to bring you to sooooo many more tutorials … You can learn about

Screen capture by M.Yanez

Screen capture by M.Yanez

  • What is a computer?
  • Understanding Operating Systems
  • Understanding Applications
  • Understanding the Cloud
  • Basic parts of a computer
  • Laptops and Mobile Devices
  • Setting up  / Using a computer
  • Connecting to the Internet
  • Computer Safety

Branch out to learn about Windows and OS X systems… That’s just a bit of what you can learn on this wonderful site.

Try these sites and you will increase your computer skills before you know it!

Hooking into the Internet

The Internet is a wonderful and powerful tool but it can be an expensive tool too depending on the price you pay to get internet access.  How can you get internet access at a low cost?

Here a few sites to help you :

  • Free WI-Fi hotspots  –  Use this “finder website” to locate free W-iFi hotspots in neighborhoods in Raleigh or other towns. Remember that libraries offer free wifi too.
  • Downtown Raleigh Free Wifi- Check out which parks and  sections in the center of the city have free Wi-Fi
  • Internet Service  Comparison – This site helps you shop and compare for internet service in your zip code area. Check out the other tabs for bundle comparison too.
  • ISP Providers in My Area – This site also offers comparisons and includes satellite providers

Another possibility is to share an internet connection (and costs) with a nearby neighbor.  With today’s wireless router or a wireless extender, you can often get a strong signal from a neighbor.  You may offer to split or share some of the cost to get access through their service.

Do you have a low cost internet solution?  Please share it with us in a comment.



Internet Safety

The Internet is a wonderful tool and full of things that can help us.  At the same time, it is a window to the entire world and it can be dangerous too.  We hear the stories about credit card “hacking” (someone stealing information online”,  Craiglist crimes and many other scams.  What can we do to protect ourselves?

This link to the Federal Trade Com mission Computer Security Page has some good tips. Please look at the video on the site. It is easy to understand and it’s important to follow it’s suggestions.

This video is a little longer but also reminds us of basic computer safety

Now Internet security and safety are serious subjects but listening to this set of tips set to music at least makes us smile as we learn to be safe.


There are many, many tips on staying safe but let me repeat a few

  1. Never give out personal information on the Internet. Assume the info you give out is going to the WHOLE world because it really is.
  2. Create strong passwords and change them often.
  3. Be careful shopping online – Avoid giving out your credit card information whenever possible and use a known third party like PayPal for transactions.
  4. Pay attention to your children’s online activities
  5. Don’t believe everything you get in the mail or read online. There are many scams. Always contact a business directly when giving any account information and never in a link received in an email.




Use Your SmartPhone or Tablet in the Classroom

Many of us have a smartphone at our fingertips or even a tablet or IPod. We  use them to make calls, play games or listen to music but they are very powerful devices.  In other posts, I have talked about apps that can help us practice English . Today let’s see how we can use them in very simple ways in our English classes.

One of the most powerful and easiest thing to use is the camera on our device. Even most “ordinary” phones have a camera. Let’s use it!

Photo by WTCC Instructor M.Yanez

Photo by WTCC Instructor M.Yanez

  • If the teacher has written a lot on the board and you have trouble writing it all down in your notebook, take a shot  (photograph) of the board.
  •  Maybe there is a great explanation or an interesting reading section  in the textbook at school.  You might try copying it in your notebook but if there
    Photo by WTCC Instructor M.Yanez

    Photo by WTCC Instructor M.Yanez

    isn’t time, snap a picture of the book

  • If you reviewed a classmate’s work. really liked it and want a copy, ask permission (“Can I take a picture of this”) and take a photo.
  • Do you sometimes wish you could keep the Crossroads Cafe worksheet after you and the teacher have edited your writing paragraph?  Photograph it with your camera!  Some phones / tablets can even scan documents like the worksheet into a PDF that you can print at home.

Do you have any other ideas on how to use the camera in the classroom?  Share them with us in a comment.

Now let’s use the microphone in your phone or tablet.  First, always ask permission before recording someone  ( “Do you mind if I record this?”).

  • If you are practicing a dialog with a classmate, record it. Play it back later and listen to yourself. How do you sound? What can you improve?…. timing, ….pronunciation…. grammar??
  • If the teacher does a dictation, record it.  Listen to it at home later and practice it again.  Did you hear more the second time you did it?

Again, do you have any more ideas on what you can record in class to listen to later?

One of the key things students like to use their phones is to translate back and forth from their native language to English.  Google Translate works with many devices and helps translate into 90 languages. You can use the keyboard, camera or recorder to input the words you want to translate. You don’t have to be connected to the Internet in order to translate.

How do you use your phone to translate? Can you recommend an app or technique?

Do you have any other ideas on how to use your phone in class to help you learn English?  Share it with us in a comment.


Podcasts – Listen and Learn

How often do you use your phone, iPod, music player or tablet  to listen to music?  You listen to it while exercising, going to work or just relaxing at home.  Now use some of that time to learn something new about English. Instead of music, listen to a podcast.

A podcast is an audio file that you can download from the internet and listen to (as many times as you want) on your MP3 or music player. The podcast can be a few minutes long or maybe a bit longer like 20 to 30 minutes. People create podcast for MANY subjects and a lot of them are free.  Luckily there are many podcasts on the internet for English learners like you.  Let’s learn about some sites where you can get them.

Photo by WTCC Instructor M.Yanez

Photo by WTCC Instructor M.Yanez

 ESL Pod creates several podcasts every week on many different subjects. You can search a topic you are interested in and pick one to learn the vocabulary and dialog related to it

Photo by WTCC Instructor M.Yanez

Photo by WTCC Instructor M.Yanez










For instance a recent podcast is #1047 – Having problems breathing  helps you learn phrases like

  • wheezing
  • short of breath
  • my nasal passages have been stopped up

Another great place to find free English podcasts is a website from Internet TESL Journals .  It links to many other sites that have podcasts

Photo by WTCC Instructor M.Yanez

Photo by WTCC Instructor M.Yanez

Do you listen to podcasts?  Do you have a favorite one?

Bitsboard – A Great IPad / IPhone App

Some ESL students have been using our newest set of tablets ( IPad minis) in their classrooms.  The set of IPads rotate through the Wake Tech sites and are in hot demand. Students enjoy using the apps on the IPads that help them with English vocabulary, pronunciation, grammar, listening skills and so much more.  For some students, it is the first time they are using an tablet or computer of any type and at first they are a little scared.  Then they fall in love with the IPad and are swiping away like experts.  They can learn English at their own speed and it’s fun!

Today, I want to tell you about one of the most popular  apps on our IPads – Bitsboard.

Bitsboard, a free app that runs on an IPad, IPhone or IPod Touch, is a great tool to learn vocabulary starting from basic levels and working up to advanced vocabulary. It can also help you with phonics, word sounds, telling time and learning about money.   The “bits” of information you want to learn about are arranged on “boards” and you can group a set of boards together in a “collection”.   Examples of collections are “Emotions”, “Animal Planet”,  “First Sentences”, and   “English 101” .   Here

Bitsboard photo by M.Yanez

Bitsboard photo by M.Yanez

Here we see part of the “Emotions Collections” and you can select one or all of the boards to work with.

You can then choose  multiple ways to learn this vocabulary: flashcards with audio sounds, memory games, match ups. spelling games, bingo, word finders ,  unscrambles and many more.

Bitsboard photo by M.Yanez

Bitsboard photo by M.Yanez



The free app comes with a small subset of the available collections but you can get for free many other boards that other users have created and “shared” with the community.  If you like it and want more, you can pay to get  access to the premium collections /  boards.

Click on the Bitsboard site for more information  and at  ITunes to download the app


If you are using this app, please write a comment to tell us what you think about it and which are your favorite boards.

We are using other apps on our IPads…. check out the Tablets Page on  this blog for information on those apps.  Let us know what apps you are using on your tablet to learn English.






Improve Your Typing Skills

Whether you are just learning to use computers for the first time or have been using them for years, one skill that we all need is to type quickly and not just to pick at the keys one by one.  It’s not just useful for our personal use but it’s an important job skill too.

Let me show you two websites that can help you type faster and more accurately.

1. The GCF  (Goodwill Community Foundation) Typing Tutorial

GCF Screen Capture by M.Yanez

GCF Screen Capture by M.Yanez

GCF Screen Capture by M.Yanez

GCF Screen Capture by M.Yanez




The tutorial has a Learn and a Practice mode. The “Learn” mode allows you to learn a pair of keys at a time. You can then use “Practice” mode to use  those keys and keys you learned earlier to build up to words and sentences.You can practice as many times as you need. The focus here is accuracy not speed.


2. Free Typing Game  website Screen Capture  by M.Yanez Screen Capture by M.Yanez

This site also offers free lessons that you can customize to your goals. Like GCF, you can keep learning a new pair of keys but here you can set your own goal of how fast you want to type them  ( 5 , 10 ..etc words per minute).     But now comes my favorite part of this site… GAMES! Screen Capture  by M.Yanez Screen Capture by M.Yanez





You can choose many different games that help you practice your keys.   I really like the Trick or Type game with it’s Halloween theme….. it’s perfect for this time of year. You have to type the words correctly and quickly to get the candy.


Both these sites are links that can be found in our “Learning About Computers” page on our blog. You may be playing your favorite typing game a lot so I’ve also placed a  second quick link to it on the left side bar.

Write a comment to let me know if you like these sites or if you have another favorite typing practice website.