Intro to WebQuests

Insights to English provides teachers with some ideas for WebQuests on our Student Projects page.  While each entry gives you some topics and tasks, the instructions are pretty slim, in part because they won't vary much from one WebQuest to the next.  So we've gathered the instructions and other general information into a single article: this one.

What are WebQuests?

In case you are unfamiliar with WebQuests, they are essentially research projects done online.  But most students won't get excited if you call it research (in fact, many will groan and drag their feet).  But if you tell them they'll be spending a lot of time on the internet and call their project a "quest", you'll garner more interest.

Students spend plenty of time on the internet already, so it's a familiar resource to them.  WebQuests give the students direction and/or targets, and then it's up to them to fulfill the tasks.  Instead of teachers passing on knowledge directly to the students, the learners get to discover knowledge for themselves.  Giving them smaller tasks or guidelines along the way can help them maintain focus and lead them to an appropriate endpoint.

That endpoint, by the way, is not merely a presentation of the information they've gathered.  Once all the research is done, the students need to think for themselves to arrive at some conclusion on an issue, a solution to a problem, or a consideration of what the future holds.

How are WebQuests beneficial?

The immediate lure of WebQuests is, of course, student engagement.  Students are more likely to learn and remember something if they have an active part in it.  Plus, getting active is usually more fun for learners than sitting at a desk passively.  Furthermore, teaching students how to seek out and find information is incredibly valuable; you won't always be there for your students, but you never want them to stop learning.  Those who pursue knowledge have a better chance at success.

More great benefits include creativity, subjective reasoning, and decision-making.  One of the things that make WebQuests different from a standard research project (say, on the middle-school or high-school level) is that the end goal isn't the collection of information.  That's only a means to an end; the students need to actually do something with that information.  The final task of a WebQuest - and sometimes some of the other tasks along the way - relies on creativity and/or critical thinking.  Students use the information they've gathered to reach their own conclusions.  Hopefully, different students will complete their WebQuests in different ways.

WebQuests can also encourage teamwork.  You can get students to complete the tasks by themselves, but many teachers put students into groups of three or four.  Sometimes it helps if each student has her/his own role; perhaps they each research a different thing.  Or maybe one works on research, one on the conclusion, and one on the presentation.  Other times, it might be better for the students to collaborate throughout.  If we have some ideas on how to organize your students for a particular WebQuest, we'll let you know on that topic idea page.

Why are Insights to English's WebQuests Different?

If you're already familiar with WebQuests, you may notice that we do things a little differently from the original WebQuest formula.  We like to give ideas for topics and their corresponding tasks, but we leave out a lot of details that 'proper' WebQuests have for a number of reasons:

  • The original WebQuest concept is a bit outdated.  They were a great idea twenty years ago, but the internet has changed a lot since then, and so have students.
    • Some of the details and tasks given seem superfluous now; they guide students through navigating the internet, but at this point many students know how to do that better than plenty of teachers.
    • Traditional WebQuests provide several links, but these days, there are so many websites for any given topic, and search engines do a great job of getting you to those sites.
  • There are plenty of traditional WebQuests out there already.  We don't want to retread that ground; we simply want to share our ideas.
  • Some of the more traditional WebQuests are so specific that they'll only apply to a limited type of students.  When it comes to ESL, there is such a range in terms of language proficiency.  There's also a lot of variation in what students connect with based on their culture.  We want out ideas to be adaptable for most levels and cultures, so the specifics of the project will depend on your class.

You're welcome to find out more about traditional WebQuests, or to look for some specific ones.  You're also welcome to take the topics we propose and make different (non-WebQuest) projects of them, or even just use them as discussion points.

How Should We Guide the Students?

Give the students a schedule.  As the WebQuests have multiple tasks, you might want to set different deadlines for each one.  Some students will procrastinate if you give them one due date for the end of the project, but if they have to show you their progression once a week (or whatever you deem suitable), that should increase their involvement.

Choose a WebQuest based on what your students are interested in at the moment.  Or you may want to incorporate other lessons that center on the same topic.

For those students who don't know where to start their research, guide them to a relevant Wikipedia page.  The main article can give them an overview of what they need to know, but don't let them stop there; scroll down to the 'references' section at the bottom of the page, then click on some of those links.

Remind the students about their critical-thinking or creative-thinking task(s).  Even if that only comes in the end, students should be thinking about it the whole time.  That might result in a better final product, and it could also motivate the students throughout.

Any More Tips?

As always, make these projects your own.

  • What are your students' capabilities?
  • What are your students interested in?
  • What's your personal teaching style?