A few years ago, I was doing a session on technology in the classroom with a group of teachers and I noticed there was a clear split between them. There were those embracing it and seeing it as a powerful addition to their teaching practice and then there were those who were fearful of using it. But why? After all, many of us use technology in our everyday lives. Email, the internet, mobile phone cameras, calendars, as well as apps like Whatsapp, WeChat and Google Maps, are all common.
And that’s the key to using tech in the classroom, start with what they already know and use on a daily basis and build from there. So, with that in mind, here are some simple ideas to use everyday mobile technology in the classroom.
1. Web Search
We’re always looking up information about things on our mobiles, so it makes sense to bring this daily activity into class in the form of a web search. This could be a specific task for each individual student, a quiz on the topic/theme of the unit, or a general class activity. For example, in preparation for a reading about the international space station, give your students five minutes to use their phones to find as much information about it as they can, which can then be shared. This activates their schemata as well as providing great preparation for the actual reading task.
2. Mobile Phone Dictation
This is a very simple adaption of a traditional dictation, but one which I’ve found students (especially lower level ones) respond well to, simply because it allows them to use their phones. Choose a short text from the coursebook (or write one which recycles some target language) and tell students to just listen the first time, to allow them to get the gist. Then ask students to take out their mobile phones, before telling them that you will dictate the story again, but this time they will write it on their mobiles as a text message. As a follow-up, you could then get students to find a short text from the coursebook and then repeat the process in pairs.
3. Captain’s Log
The voice recorder function on smartphones can be a really useful tool, especially when it comes to showing students how they’ve improved their speaking skills. To facilitate this, get your students to record themselves once a week, saying what they’ve learned and what they’ve been doing. They can then send this to you, or just keep it for themselves, but the important thing is that it then serves as a record of how their English-speaking ability has improved over the course of a term/year
4. Calculator Chaos
Calculators are another of those functions that all smartphones have but aren’t utilized enough. However, they are great for practicing numbers, especially at lower levels. Ask your students to open the calculator function on their phones, dictate a sum, i.e. 756 plus 80,450 – and then they must correctly say the answer. Of course, the higher the level the more complex you can make the sum – using larger numbers and varying the actual sum with plus, minus, multiplication, and division. This might be a very and simple task, yet it is very effective.
5. Make a Date
When practicing going to or present continuous for future plans, instead of getting students to fill in photocopied ‘diaries’, get them to use the ones on their mobiles. Similarly, you can use them to practice past tenses if you get them to go back to an earlier date in the diary “this time last week/month/year I was…”
This activity uses the map function on phones and gives direction giving activities real-world meaning – instead of guiding each other around a fictional town, they can guide each other around the town they’re in, or any city in the world.
7. Picture Hunt
This activity is a take on a classic scavenger hunt, whereby instead of finding different objects students take photos of the items once they have found them. This can be done as an in-class activity or set as a homework task.
8. Photo Stories
Students love sharing their photos, so it makes perfect sense to use this to your advantage in class. There are of course lots of activities that can be done using photos (which we’ll explore more in a future blog post), but a very simple one is to ask your students to choose one of the photos on their phone and to tell the story behind it, either orally or as a writing task. To help the students with the structure, make sure they answer some basic questions within the story – who, what, where, when, why, how.
Let us know how these activities work for you if you try them in your classroom!
If you’re looking to incorporate technology into your English language learning program, Learn English with TED Talks is a supplemental resource for students enrolled in English language learning programs. This video-based language learning app helps learners understand and discuss powerful ideas from TED Talks. With easy-to-use classroom resources, Learn English with TED Talks supports any English language curriculum and inspires learners to find their own voice in English. To learn more and download a free demo, please visit Learn English with TED Talks.