Instant Messaging (also IM or Chat) and Chatrooms are a way of sending messages online and having a real-time text conversation.
Instant Messaging is usually one-to-one while Chatrooms are usually with large groups of people.
For the TEFL teacher, the goal of IM/Chat is to have your students interact with other students from different locations and cultures. It is, if you like, an update on the penpal system. It offers a number of advantages for students:
- It is impersonal: the person on the other end cannot see you or know anything about you and therefore it offers a degree of anonymity which often useful for shy students.
- It opens doors: since the student is dealing with other students from around the world they come across different ideas and concepts perhaps new to them; in other words it can open their eyes.
- Messages are sent by typing; this allows students to think and compose before they “speak”. It also allows them to read replies and spend a moment or two working out the meaning (and perhaps using a dictionary or online tool such as Google Translate to help out).
Instant Messaging can be done using several different kinds of programs.
- Facebook – any student with a Facebook account already has IM installed in the Chat system, however these conversations are restricted to people the student already knows.
- Skype – again this offers IM facilities alongside video and voice conferencing. However, like Facebook, the student must already be in contact with their speaking partner.
In most cases, Chatrooms and probably the best option since they can be set up and monitored more securely.
These are often the most effective way of messaging since in popular chatrooms there are a group of people online most of the time and a student can often log on and find people already there to talk to. There are chatrooms covering every subject under the sun and some have been specifically set up for learners of English.
One major advantage of chatrooms are that there are a group of people talking at the same time. This allows students to dive into the conversation when they want and also step out of the conversation when they want. Whilst a one-to-one conversation forces them to type, a Chatroom conversation gives them more autonomy and allows them to contribute as and when they feel ready to.
Having said this, there are couple of issues with Chatrooms.
- Scrolling Text. The text in chatrooms scrolls quickly, especially if there are quite a few people in the room. On the one hand this means students have to read quickly and may miss some messages but on the other it also means that students learn to scan text.
- Keyboard Skills. Students may sometimes lack the keyboard skills needed to keep up with the conversation. In time, of course, these will pick up.
Good Chatrooms come and go so check these out and find one which is best for your class. And if you come across any others, let us know to add to the list:
- English Club – a moderated and un-moderated chat room.
- Chatzy – allows you to set up your own free ad hoc chatroom. You would need to give the URL to your students or invite them via email to let them join in.
See Also: Chatroom Lesson about using a chatroom in your class.
In IM people use common abbreviations to save time when they type. Here is a common list:
- Are you OK – RUOK?
- Before – B4
- Be seeing you – BCNU
- Cutie – QT
- Date – D8
- Dinner – DNR
- Easy – EZ
- Excellent – XLNT
- For – 4
- For your information – FYI
- Great – GR8
- Late – L8
- Later – L8R
- Laugh out Loud
- Love – LUV
- Mate – M8
- Please – PLS
- Queue/cue – Q
- See/sea – C
- See you later – CU L8R
- Speak – SPK
- Thanks – THX
- Thank you – THNQ
- To/too – 2
- To be – 2B
- Today – 2DAY
- Tomorrow – 2MORO
- Want to – WAN2
- Work – WRK
- Why – Y
- You – U
Emoticons are also common and are used to express shades of meaning:
- Smile – 🙂
- Sad – 🙁
- Confused – %-)
- Laughing – 😀
- Crying – :'(
- Surprised/shocked – :-O
- Screaming – :-@
- Kiss – :-*
- Wink – 😉
Facebook for TEFL Teachers – a look at safety and wise choices with Facebook.