Integrating Technology in the Foreign Language Classroom

Jean LeLoup & Bob Ponterio 
SUNY Cortland 
© 2013

Java Applet - Word Magnets Scramble

More complex utilities can be integrated into a web page by using a Java Applet. As with JavaScript, we can find the Java Applet in a separate file or files. Here we will look at using an applet called Word Magnets by Eric Harshbarger - available for free. You can download the program from the site or (if you have trouble doing this) get the three files needed here.


This applet allows you to create "word magnets" that can be moved around and modified. Imagine refrigerator magnets. The activity might be used by individual students or it could be used on a Smart Board.

Drag these words to make a sentence.

To add or change a word, press SHIFT and CLICK on the 'fridge'. You can then type your changes.

Try moving these words around to form the sentence "J'ai une voiture bleue."

How do you make this work? As with the JavaScript utilities that we have seen, you need to let your web page know where to find the code and set a few parameters.

First, put the two files listed above into the folder for your web page.

Next, put the following code into your web page:

<applet code="WordMagnets2ech.class" width="600" height="150">
<param name="COPYRIGHT" value="WordMagnets applet, Copyright 1998, Eric Harshbarger">
<param name="AUTHOR" value="Eric Harshbarger,">
<param name="MAGNET.COLOR" value="225,155,225">
<param name="FGCOLOR" value="0,0,0">
<param name="BGCOLOR" value="255,255,255">
<param name="FONTSIZE" value="20">
<param name="FONTNAME" value="Helvetica">
<param name="FONTSTYLE" value="bold">
<param name="WORDFILE" value="wordlist1.txt">

Note that colors are given here in RGB (red-green-blue) values.
Font can be any of : TimesRoman, Dialog, Courier, Helvetica, DialogInput, Symbol.
Fontstyle can be : plain, bold, italic, bolditalic.
Width & Height should be large enough to accommodate the size of the puzzle.
Be sure not to change the copyright text in any way.

Finally, you have to provide a text file with a list of words or expressions for the puzzle. The example above uses a file named wordlist1.txt :


The applet looks for the file listed in the WORDFILE parameter (see above). This file should contain each item on a separate line. These items can include punctuation. Note that you can place several copies of the applet on a page by referencing a different word file for each.

There is more to this applet, but we are only focusing on the basics here.

Here is a sample in English

Drag these words to make a sentence.

To add or change a word, press SHIFT and CLICK on the 'fridge'. You can then type your changes. Use and undeline if you need a space.



Is this sort of activity useful in the language classroom?

Activities that allow the student to move items around can be fun and might be a motivating factor. They can be useful at basic levels where the teacher wants the student to focus on word placement or substitution (replacing one subject with another, one verb with another). It can help draw attention to the need to make changes (conjugating verbs, adjusting for gender, number or case agreemnt).

On the other hand, this activity does not use real language in a communicative way. No one will ever walk up to you on the street and ask you to rearrange a group of words. Indeed, the activity may give a false impression that "words" are somehow equally interchangeable. Creating language is not about simply placing one word after another. Linguistically, we know that the relations between words are far more complex.

What kinds of computer-based activities are grounded in real communication? What is needed for an activity to really help a student learn a skill, and for the learning to be more effective than by other means?


A multilingual Word Magnets utility (this one can work for Chinese):

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