Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Using Cell Phones in the EFL Classroom

Recently I stumbled upon this article from Oxford University Press' ELT Global Blog regarding the role of cellular telephones in adult language classrooms. Being a part of the latter MTV Generation, I am among those teachers who had cellular phones from the teens, and have seen them develop from the oh-so-fashionable Nokia phone most of us first owned -  of which the coolest feature was by far the interchangeable faceplates (mine had racing flames for most of high school) - into smartphones with more processing power than my first two or three computers combined.

As such, I have always been quite comfortable with the idea of phones, and somewhat receptive to using them in class. This is a problem I myself still run into as a student of Czech where I've needed to explain to my teacher - a fellow colleague at AKCENT International House Prague - that I was not bored but simply adding some phrases to my Quizlet flashcard set.

I do face the same issues we all do, however, when I see students on their phones during the less interactive portions of class. Are they texting? Are they on Facebook? Are they sending a SnapChat photo of me to each other with a rude doodle over some unfortunate area? Nine times out of ten they are looking words up in their dictionary/translator app, and most of the rest of the time they are doing a quick email check while they wait for others to finish the task at hand (which I'm fine with). One of my kids (he's 13) even has folders and folders of class notes from all his school work in his (appropriately named) Samsung Galaxy Note 2.

At this point I've accepted the reality and potential use of the phone situation and I start most of my courses with a list of recommended apps for use in class including: Macmillan Sounds, UrbanDictionary, Merriam Webster, Quizlet, and even the fun yet massive Cambridge Phrasal Verb Machine.

The implications of its use as a teaching tool are fantastic as well. Here are few of my top tips for exploiting phones and smartphones in the ELT classroom:

  • Google Image search strange vocabulary that's hard to explain and pass the image around the class (i.e. wall sconce, gears/cogs, platypus)
  • Assign in-class research projects for speed-prep presentations and have students research the topic from their phones using only English sources.
  • Have students work in small groups. They each randomly select one of their picture they're willing to share with the others and then place them on the table in front of them. They take turns describing the picture and finding things they all have in common, ways of putting them into a category, or finding the odd one out.  
    • Alternatively, prepare your own "odd one out" image collage to share with students using a program such as picstitch.  

  • To practice Cambridge (or other) exam speaking, have students work in groups of three where one is the examiner and the other two participants. They do a demo speaking test and record themselves for each part. At the end of the session they swap phones, and edit each others' recordings before handing them back with notes to be listened to at home. 
  • Have students record themselves in class if time is an issue for speaking evaluation. With simple voice recorder apps such as Recordium or AudioBoo students can record their voice and easily send it to you via email for feedback (which could easily take the same form - a quick voice recording with their feedback sent back via email). 
  • You could also collect sounds from the street or travels with an app such as SoundCloud (or either of the two above) to share with students in class and have them guess where the sound is coming from (traffic, beach, concert, subway, coffeeshop, etc).

  • Lastly, to exploit video, you could have students create their own short films/documentaries about a topic of their choice using a simple video edit tool such ClipStitch and share them with the class (on a class FB page for example). This could be anything from a short presentation on their favorite part of the city to a short story around some item that is important to them. For technical langauge they could even do a product evaluation, an advertisement or a newscast

These are just a handful of potential ideas, the sky really is the limit. Please comment with your own ideas or favorite apps for classroom phone use.

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