Most ESL classrooms have a no phone policy. There are posters such as this one in every classroom at my school. I remind students on the first day to put their phones on silent, NOT vibrate – silent – before coming to class. And we do this to create a distraction-free learning environment.
But one of the other strains in our classroom talk is linking our learning to the outside world. We constantly tell our students to use the language, the skills learned in the classroom outside. And in order to make the learning transferable, we use authentic texts and videos and simulate real-life situations.
Then why the disconnect when it comes to using phones in class. Shouldn’t we try to find a way to integrate smartphones usefully in the learning process rather than ban them altogether, just in the spirit of connecting the real world and the classroom?
I watched a TEFL video recently about using TPR to make language memorable, and the instructor used digital cameras to inspire learners to use real language. Nowadays, every student has a powerful camera in their pockets and photo and video-sharing sites such as Instagram and Snapchat have become so popular, it’s a wonder so few teachers are still averse to using them.
I think the biggest problem most of us have is a lack of direction on how to use these technologies (a) effectively, and (b) without pandemonium in the classroom. So here are some brief notes and ideas for using smartphones in class. As with any other activity, clear instructions, a demo, an obtainable objective, and a time limit are crucial.
- Reviewing vocabulary: Ask learners to snap pictures of objects and caption them with new vocabulary learned in the classroom. These can then be shared on Instagram, Facebook, Schoology, or your LMS of choice.
- Learning new vocabulary: Ask learners to snap photos of objects they want to know the English word for and upload them to a What’s the Word album on your LMS’ group page. Then, other students and the teacher can answer the question.
- Reviewing body parts: Ask learners to pair up as model-photographer. The photographer gives the model simple commands and asks them to position their body parts to take a great picture. Examples of commands could be: Close your eyes, put your left arm on the table etc. In the process, I bet they’ll ask you to learn more body parts vocabulary.
- IELTS Speaking Bingo: Ask students to make a 3×3 grid with Wh- questions in each square. In pairs or groups, one student acts as the timer and uses the timer on their smartphone to record the length of fluent speech. The candidate begins to speak, crossing out each question on the grid by answering it. Between 1-2 minutes, the candidate should aim to shout Bingo!
- Find the differences: In pairs, ask students to pull up a picture of their family, their house, a restaurant and find the differences. They can practise countable and uncountable nouns, food vocabulary, articles, past tense or any other language point!
- Interview someone: First divide the class into two groups – interviewers and interviewees (perhaps celebrities?). Ask the interviewers to make a list of questions they’d like to ask. Ask interviewees to invent details about their celebrity lives. Then pair up the students and ask them to use their phones to record their interviews. Students can play it back for other groups and vote on the most hilarious interview.
- A Day in My Life: Ask students to take a picture every hour of what they do for a whole day. The next day, students show their pictures to each other as a slideshow and talk about what they did the previous day. Other students can ask extension questions. In the end, students compare how their days were similar or different.
- How je say that? This activity uses the video (audio+video) function of smartphones. Students take a short video of realia along with saying what it is or where they found it. By saying it out loud, they have recorded the pronunciation (overseen by the teacher) and they can refer back to the video whenever they want.
- Guess who: Students make a small gallery of 10-20 photographs of friends or family on their phones and caption these with the people’s names. Now they give their phones to their partners who have to describe the people one by one. As they listen to their partner describe one of their friends or family, they have to guess who is being described.
- Guided tours: Students can make a video of themselves giving a guided tour of their house, office, or any other venue. Then they can post the videos on their LMSs and vote for the best video.