Student-Published WebSites: Why learn HTML?

(From a 3 Rivers TESOL Conference presentation by Jerry Bicknell , WVU.)

Why should students learn WWW publishing?

Regardless of their position on teaching the explicit rules of usage of a foreign language, most pedagogues now agree that it is important to teach language in the context of its communicative or expressive use. In writing classes, one challenge that faces teachers is to find topics that the students will think relevant to their lives. The major hurdle of motivating the students to write can often be overcome by simply finding something that interests them.

One demotivating factor in any writing course is the lack of an audience for the students' writing. How many of us have written papers for classes where, no matter how much work we put into the paper, we knew it would be read by only one person: the teacher. A common technique for motivating students to write is to supply them with a "real" audience. In foreign language writing classes, teachers sometimes use peer-editing as a means of bringing home the point that writing is communication, and that it must be comprehensible and meaningful to the reader.

In an attempt to provide a wider, and perhaps more critical audience, ESL teachers have sometimes introduced "Newsletters" as a motivational tool. These are typically produced as a collaborative effort by the class, reproduced and distributed to the larger community of students: being shared either with students in other classes in the program or being made available to the student body at large. Desk-top publishing software has moved such productions from the sphere of often amateurish-looking cut-and-pasted photocopies to nearly professional quality publications. Numerous such polished newsletters have been produced by students in writing classes in the Intensive English Program ( at West Virginia University (

As we approach the 21st century, our ideas of "literacy" are being rapidly reshaped by new technologies. Among these is the World-Wide Web. Once they discover the Web, it rarely takes long for students to get hooked. While it won't motivate all our students all of the time, it does have the potential to motivate most of the students some of the time. Consequently, the Web is finding a more and more prominent place in education in general, and in second language pedagogy in particular. (A cogent rationale for using the Web in ESL classes is presented by Michael Feldman in his TESOLPaper (

What is HTML?

HTML is an acronym for HyperText Markup Language. It consists of "tags" that can be written using any word processor, and that contain code which can be read by Web browsers. The tags primarily give the browser instructions on how to present text and graphics.

Do I and/or my students need to learn HTML?

No, but it couldn't hurt. Today there are numerous HTML editors that permit you to develop WebPages without knowing any HTML code at all. Few educators have the time to learn HTML in all its ever increasing complexity. There are good reasons, however, if you intend to publish your own or your students' WebPages for knowing some basic HTML codes. It is possible for you to "peek behind the curtain," as it were, of any WebPage to see the source HTML code that produced the document and, if you recognize basic HTML tags, to copy formatting, colors and styles for use in your own pages. (In fact, it is so easy to copy things from published WebPages, that one important concomitant duty of anyone who teaches WebPage development is to make sure that the students are familiar with Copyright restrictions. For more information, see The US Copyright Office (, The Copyright Website (, or see the article An Intellectual Propery Law Primer For Multimedia and Web Developers (

1) Student-Published WebSites: Why learn HTML?

2) Student Authored WebPages as an ESL Writing Tool

3) WWW Resources for HTML as an ESL Writing Tool

WVESL HomePage

This paper was presented as part of the Internet Fair at the TESOL '99 Conference in New York on Wednesday 10 March 1999. Other conference presentations are accessible via TESL/TEFL/TESOL/ESL/EFL/ESOL Links .

Copyright 1997 by Jerry Bicknell.

Permission is granted to freely copy (unmodified) this document (or rather its most up-to-date version) from

in electronic form, or in print if you're not selling it. On the WWW, however, you must link here rather than putting this up as your own page.