4 Ways to Use AI to Build Laser-Focused Custom Content for Your Students

An incredible amount interest in artificial intelligence (AI) launched late last year and has gone through the stratosphere since I wrote about ChatGPT in December. Since then, a so-called arms race of AI has begun to flood the market, from lesser known options like Lexii.ai to the expected big hitters like Microsoft and Google. And that’s not even to speak of the image, voice, music, and video generation tools that are showing up.

While educators are spending a lot of time figuring out how their students might be using AI, many haven’t stepped back yet to take a breath and think about how teachers themselves can use these text generators to lighten their load and better engage students. One promising solution is the use of AI to create customized content for English language learners.

4 ways to build laser-focused custom content for your students with AI

We know that customized content can increase participation and interest among students, but many teachers find themselves stuck using the same old textbooks that somehow still ask questions like “Have you heard of the World Wide Web?” The fact is that publishers can take anywhere from two to six years to update their content, and the areas they choose to update are not always where we’d hope.

No problem! Because now AI-powered content creation tools offer a unique opportunity for teachers to provide personalized learning experiences for their students in 30 seconds rather than waiting half a decade. Here are a few ways that teachers can use AI to create customized content for their English language learners:

1. Make It Local: Economy

Recently I was asked to present on AI in the Salinas Valley, an agricultural area in the central coast region of northern California. We were discussing the idea that American textbooks often talk about places like Los Angeles or New York City, but students get far fewer opportunities to read about and have lessons based on what they see everyday: rural, agricultural lifestyles.

Fortunately, teachers can now use AI to generate articles about the local economy of their city or region. With this in mind, a teacher in Salinas could use ChatGPT to generate an article that explains the different industries that drive the local economy, such as lettuce, tomatoes, or even wine-making. These articles could easily be converted into the foundation for specific lessons, including understanding key vocabulary and grammar points related to the topic, such as business jargon, verb tenses, and local pronunciations of important terminology.

2. Make It Local: Culture

Understanding the local culture is essential for language learners, and teachers can use ChatGPT to create articles that provide insights into the local culture. For example, a teacher in Perth, Australia could use ChatGPT to generate clear information on the history of local landmarks. Alternately, they could have it write an article that explains the Aboriginal customs and traditions of the area before settlers arrived. As always, please be aware that you are responsible for checking the accuracy of the information, but using AI is a great way to get 90% of the way there.

3. Tell Stories Using Popular Video Games as the Background

Many of our students are passionate about video games, and as teachers we can use this interest to create engaging and customized stories. Using AI, teachers can generate stories set in the worlds of popular video games, such as Fortnite, Minecraft, or League of Legends. Not sure which games are popular? Just ask your students! Once you’ve built a baseline, you can go all sorts of directions.

Take Minecraft, for example. You could ask a chatbot to create the beginning of a story, then tell students they have to write the remainder of the first chapter, but their character only gets one tool: the pickaxe. Once the students have successfully written a story, you can have the AI wrap up the chapter and reward the main character with the next strongest tool: the axe. This could go on as long as you like, and you could even hand over the generation of tools and rewards to classmates, eventually removing AI from the process altogether. These stories could, of course, include vocabulary and grammar points related to the game, as well as real-life situations that students can relate to, such as teamwork, problem-solving, and communication.

4. Write Quizzes Using Popular Celebrities as the Subjects

The majority of students are interested in celebrities and pop culture, and teachers can use AI to create customized quizzes that incorporate their interests. For example, a teacher could use ChatGPT to generate a quiz that tests students’ knowledge of their favorite celebrities, such as Beyoncé, Harry Styles, or BTS. The quiz could include multiple-choice questions, fill-in-the-blank questions, or short-answer questions, and could cover a range of vocabulary and grammar topics, such as phrasal verbs, idioms, and adjectives.

Here is an example of what it created for me:

My Prompt: Write me 3 multiple choice questions that quiz students on their knowledge of prepositions. Make the subjects of the questions famous modern musicians like Beyonce, Harry Styles, or BTS

ChatGPT’s Response

Sure, here are 3 multiple choice questions on prepositions with modern musicians as the subject:

Beyoncé performed ________ the Super Bowl halftime show in 2016.
a. at
b. in
c. on
d. over

Harry Styles released his debut solo album ________ 2017.
a. at
b. in
c. on
d. to

BTS won the Billboard Music Award for “Top Social Artist” ________ 2018 and 2019.
a. at
b. in
c. on
d. by

Take It Further: Extending the Content

Finally, if you want to go all-in, you could take the content generated and plug it into a different AI service like Roshi.ai, which will analyze your text and do all sorts of content building, such as generating prereading questions, building vocabulary lists, constructing comprehension questions, and more.

As you can see, flipping AI on its head and using it to create customized content that your students care about can be a powerful and fast way to improve the dynamics of your classroom and to get buy-in from students who have grown bored with the same old content. By using AI, teachers can generate articles that cater to their students’ interests, needs, and proficiency levels, helping them achieve their language learning goals.

As I mentioned in December, we are still at the very beginning of this new world. Some parts of this technology will get stronger and stronger, and other parts will create more confusion and headaches. As educators, we need to commit ourselves to understanding how this technology can be used, as our students will never again live in a world without it. As you explore ways to build custom content for your students, please share your experiences and ideas in the comments below. There is SO MUCH fun stuff to figure out, so let’s get going!

About Brent Warner

Brent Warner
Brent Warner is a professor of ESL at Irvine Valley College in California, and an educational technology enthusiast. He is co-host of the DIESOL podcast, the only podcast with a specific focus on EdTech in ESL. He frequently presents on the crossroads of technology and language learning, focusing on student engagement and developing learner autonomy. Brent likes his coffee black and his oranges orange. He can be found on Twitter at @BrentGWarner
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6 Responses to
4 Ways to Use AI to Build Laser-Focused Custom Content for Your Students

  1. Defne Akıncı Midas says:

    I have been following up on your articles ever since I heard about AI and what a pleasant surprise it has been for me! I appreciate how the ideas are relevant to practical uses for teachers. I am learning so much with each article. And this one is so timely as well. Thank you.

  2. Marcelle Monchanin says:

    I get excited when I hear about the positive opportunities of AI, especially for English Language Learners. I think AI makes a wonderful addition in any teacher’s toolbox for building background knowledge. Personally, I have found some amazing resources, but all too often the information is scattered or too lengthy for my struggling students. ChatGPT would allow for the creation of a more precise and consolidated piece to build that necessary background prior to moving into the lesson. The opportunities are endless; we just need the right mindset!

  3. Sally Camacho says:

    Good afternoon, I really enjoyed this article and wanted to ask your permission to share the ink on my ESOL Hub, so the teachers can have access to this article. I am one that is always trying to keep up to date with technology and preparing PD’s for teachers, so they can see how much free digital tools are out there for use. I greatly appreciate your response.

    • Tomiko Breland Tomiko Breland says:

      Hello! We’re so glad you enjoyed this post and would like to share it. Please feel free to share the link.

  4. “One promising solution is the use of AI to create customized content for English language learners.”

    Whereas there is no doubt that AI can help create viable and thus meaningful content for ELLs, the non-AI approach should have been doing this already prior to AI. ESOL materials and TESOL training, unfortunately, in general are all still within the hold of the G-TM (read&write&translate while “learning” to listen&speak).

    • Brent Warner Brent Warner says:

      I couldn’t agree more, Peter. But “shoulds” aside, this can offer an option for busy teachers who want custom content, but don’t have the time to build it all for themselves. I know in my case, I might have taken several hours to build custom content for a single assignment, but with AI I can get close to the same within 15-20 minutes after prompting and then fine tuning AI output. As always, YMMV.

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