By Joanna Norton

19 May 2014 - 12:40

'Technology is transforming how we communicate, socialise, play, shop and conduct business.' Photo (c) Mat Wright
'Technology is transforming how we communicate, socialise, play, shop and conduct business.' Photo ©

Mat Wright

Mobile technology is everywhere, but do you restrict or encourage it in your classroom? Educator, multimedia author and editor Joanna Norton shares tips about how English language teachers can use technology to their learners’ benefit. 

Technology is transforming how we communicate, socialise, play, shop and conduct business. These profound changes place pressure on the traditional models of language learning, such as teaching in a formal classroom setting. They also present us with amazing opportunities to re-design the way we teach and learn English.

Teaching with desktop computers vs mobile devices

I still use desktops in my class to access language-based websites, and use Google Docs to allow students to work together. You can also connect a desktop computer to a whiteboard and project Google Images onto it. It’s an invaluable resource for language teaching.

However, mobile devices allow you and your learners to interact seamlessly with each other, in both formal and informal learning contexts. For example, a teacher can encourage students to create a personal visual story about their daily routine. The student can take a series of snapshots of moments in their day — for example, their alarm clock, a toothbrush, a cup of coffee, their walk to work, etc. — and describe the actions to the teacher. For example, ‘I take a shower and get dressed…’ This will often highlight aspects of language that require teacher input.

Cameras and microphones are useful for learning English

Camera phones provide a great way to ask learners to ‘notice’ grammar around them. You can encourage students to take photos of street signs, menus, advertisements, or other examples of written English that they see around them. Spotting the misuse of apostrophes (‘s) or noticing incorrect spelling are my favourites.

Another useful tool is the recording function on mobile devices. Here are three examples:

  1. Learners can record themselves speaking English and share it with friends, who can offer feedback. This is a great opportunity to practise pronunciation.
  2. Learners can record conversations with native speakers on a range of topics and integrate them into projects.
  3. Learners can use the microphone creatively, and incorporate voice recordings into edited videos.

Mobile technology turns the question ‘What did you do last weekend?’ into a personal story, as learners can share with the group photos or videos of what they did, where they went, and how they felt. They can also share their social media activity, providing an opportunity to explore what their friends thought of the weekend.

Two apps I am using, and why

I’m interested in ways to personalise the learning experience, and encourage English language students of all ages to create and share their own learning content. Two apps that help me do this are Vine and FiftyThree. Vine is a mobile app that allows its users to create and post short looping video clips. FiftyThree allows users to sketch, write, draw, outline and colour on the screen.

You could use Vine for a getting-to-know-you activity. Ask your students to create a funny or quirky video about themselves, and the rest of the group have to guess who it is.

You could use FiftyThree as a visual vocabulary notebook and encourage learners to draw an image of a word and store it for later use. I also use the app as a mobile sketchbook, primarily for the generation of ideas.

Seven tips for using mobile technology with success

Integrating technology into the classroom is a long-term strategy. If it’s to be sustainable, the following points should be considered.

  1. As a teacher, you need to engage with mobile technology yourself, before you can start to implement it into classroom practice.
  2. To make sure students don’t get distracted by social media, set clear learning objectives.  Find creative ways to use social media within lesson plans. Consider how mobile technology can be used for extension activities. ‘Why don’t you post an image of your work on your Facebook page?’, is more engaging than ‘We don’t use Facebook in this class’.
  3. If your school does not have a mobile learning policy, you need one for your class before you begin.
  4. Do some research. It takes a lot of time to find relevant, suitable apps. There is no moderation process in place, so even with paid apps, it is difficult to know whether or not they are suitable.
  5. Don’t overwhelm your class with technology. Learners often fail to recognise the benefits of technology for language learning. So it helps to introduce apps and mobile learning activities one at a time. Then, as a group, you can reflect on whether they are useful.
  6. If you do not have enough time to use mobile devices in class, think how they could be used for informal learning outside the classroom. Your students will benefit from the results of this extra practice when they’re back in the formal classroom.
  7. Read point number 1 again.

Mobile devices have helped me to create an inclusive, personalised learning environment. My learners are now active researchers, and my classes are more in tune with their needs. Mobile technology also helps me use my lesson planning time more effectively. It has pushed the boundaries of my own professional development, and I continue to share these models of learning in class.

Some of the Twitter exercises below are a great way to begin to use social media for language learning. You can provide hashtags to allow students to search for and follow the conversation.

  • Tweet a summary

In pairs or small groups, ask students to summarise a piece of text in 140 characters or less. Provide students with a hashtag, so the whole class can follow the conversation on Twitter and discuss it at the end.

  • What did you did at the weekend?

Ask students to tweet photos of their weekend. Provide a hashtag for all the tweets. They could include photos of interesting people they met, a funny sign, or a meal they enjoyed. This will provide students plenty of material for discussion on a Monday morning.

  • Describing people

Ask students to describe someone they are following on Twitter, in English. What were the reasons for following them? Do they read their tweets daily? Do they follow them on other social media channels? Is there anything in particular they admire about them?

She will be presenting on this topic at a British Council seminar, live-streamed from London on Tuesday, 20 May, from 18.00 UK time. Take part in the Twitter conversation for a chance to receive an app voucher — to be announced live at the end of the seminar.

Download a lesson plan for teachers of teenage learners on staying safe on social media.

You might also be interested in: