10 ways in which your language learners could be using their smartphones

Mobile phones in class
So much technology… Shouldn't we be finding ways to exploit it?

Check this next time you're in class: how many smart devices are there in the classroom? I suppose it's kind of sad, but most times when I ask that there are more smart devices than people.

That being the case, rather than turning all that amazing technology off and putting it away, and turning on a single computer and the projector, could we find ways in which we could exploit smart devices — ways which would lead to more language learning?

In our Friday workshop series, we have one this week (10.00-12.00, November 27th) which will look at 10 ways in which your language learners could be using their smartphones, some in class, some out of class.

Bring your phone!

Books and links of interest
For lots of ideas on practical tips, I can highly recommend two excellent books from DELTA Publishing. And here's a couple of useful links on the subject:

Mobile pedagogy for English language teaching: a guide for teachers

Tables and apps in your school

If you have a subscription to OneStopEnglish, you'll also find an article of mine there on using mobile phones for images, audio and video.

Previous posts on using mobile phones with learners

7 super simple things I do on an interactive whiteboard

IWB page

The results of an "interactive dictation" (see below) done on an IWB page, exported from there as an image file, then imported here

Last week I posted 10 good, productive uses of an interactive whiteboard (IWB), which included some of my all-time favourite activities with an IWB.

Here are seven more things I do regularly, shown above in the image, captured while I was demonstrating the IWB in a workshop, with further explanation below.

They are all things which you should learn to do fairly immediately if you have an IWB and are starting out learning to use it.

  • Interactive dictation (example in the image, above). For language classes, I love dictation — even old school ! — but by "interactive" dictation I mean that I dictate and my learners interact with me and vice versa. I have a short text, sometimes a list (as you can see in the image), which I dictate and get them to jot down. You didn't hear that? I repeat. You can't spell it? Here's how… Then they check with each other that they got the same thing, etc. It's not a test, I don't mark it: instead, it's not so much an interactive whiteboard as interactive listening and writing — and it works great on an IWB.
  • Dictogloss (which was also included last week) is such a great activity for language classes.  Dictogloss on an IWB works really well as it gives you interactive students and an inactive whiteboard, which as I suggested last week probably really ought to always be your objective
  • I display images on the IWB, often not more than one, and use them for a variety of different tasks. A favourite is hiding the image with the coversheet or spotlight tool (see below) and getting the learners to guess what (or who) is in the image. Another is to show the image for 3 seconds, turn off the projector and get the learners to talk to each other about what they think they saw (no, you don't really need an IWB to be able to do that!)
  • Download and import YouTube clips (I use KeepVid, and realise that strictly speaking I may be contravening YouTube's terms of service — for the purposes of education, you understand 😉 !). Here's a couple of YouTube clips that always work well used in conjunction with the IWB.
  • Have the learners create things on the IWB and then export them (to a class blog, Edmodo group, etc…), such as the results of brainstorming activities. Brainstorming (i.e. beginning with a single, totally blank IWB page) can then lead on to a ranking activity, both great for language classes. Here's an example of a brainstorming task that always seems to go down well in Barcelona 😉 ! And below, another example from way back, possibly the first use ever made of an IWB at IH Barcelona, to create an "A-Z of Love" (!!!) in a beginners Spanish class:

A-to-Z of Love

  • Import and go over a limited number of things, including errors, from students' work, possibly from blogs, etc. Your IWB has a "camera" tool which allows you to capture and import text from wherever in a question of seconds
  • Use some of the tools (camera, coversheet, spotlight, timer and stopwatch…). The coversheet and spotlight allow you to focus on things, such as a single paragraph of a longer text, or a grammar or lexical point in a text. You remember OHPs and how you could cover part of a slide with a sheet of paper? Well, your IWB has more sophisticated tools to do that. See below for an explanation of the timer.

Fun with your IWB timer
Here's a fun speaking activity for practically any sort of class, but perhaps especially for exam classes where you have to prepare learners to "speak for a minute" on a given topic in an oral exam. Your timer probably resides in the "gallery" of things you can pull in on to an IWB page.

You need to set up the activity as in the diagram below, with two speakers  with their backs to the board, unable to see the seconds counting down. When one runs out of something to say, they have 1 second to tag in the partner, like in tag wrestling:

Fun with the IWB timer

It makes a pretty boring task fun and gets people to really listen. Stop the clock when anyone "objects" to a possible repetition or hestitation and people get really into the game. It almost makes me wish I still taught First Certificate 😉 !

Note that you could do exactly the same thing with a browser timer (I use e.ggtimer.com), free. Do you really need an IWB…?

Two other important things I don't do:

  • I don't use the IWB very much (don't have it on and in use for an hour, in other words)
  • I don't actually touch it myself, but get my learners to operate it

And one further "don't" I would add to that list: I don't spend hours creating material for IWBs.

If I did have something that was going to take me more than 10 minutes to prepare, I'd much rather have it in a shareable, cloud-stored Google Drive document — one I can access again from outside the classroom, one I know I'll be able to re-edit from any computer outside the classroom, which you won't find is the case with IWB software.

See also
Lisa Nielsen's Ten No Nos of Teaching with a Projector or Interactive Whiteboard

How to make your Interactive Whiteboard interactive

How not to see or use your IWB

What do you do (or not do) on your IWB?
Tell us, in the comments…

Wonderful images for easy speaking and creative writing tasks

Here's just a quick one with a couple of images that have worked well in class as the starting prompts for both speaking and writing tasks.

The first, above, posted on our Instagram account, was as you can see taken in the street outside.

It's the sort of image I think you want for class — as it seems to tell a story of some kind. Add to it a couple of imaginative questions (see the Instagram post for examples) and you've got the basis for a great, creative, materials-light task, one that is going to require collaboration and plenty of interaction if you get your learners to produce their stories, whether oral (and perhaps recorded) or written.

The second, below was found on Twitter, as you can see:

In this case, apart from things like where the photo might have been taken, you want something along the lines of who or what is up there on the star and what is it that they (or the man on the beach) are trying to communicate…?

Thanks, Kim, once again, for trying that second idea with learners.

See also: Great Twitter feeds for images for class

Useful things if you blog with learners (and you should!)

Over on Edublogs ("Easy Blogging For Education"), where they reckon they've helped build 3,378,490 blogs since 2005, they're carrying out their annual survey of blogs in education. If you blog, they'd like just 5 minutes of your time.

I'm a big believer in getting feedback from people and listening to what they have to say. With students, Google Drive forms are so brilliant for that, and as a teacher you should complete such things, apart from anything else because it forces you to reflect for a few minutes on what you're doing.

"Is there anything else we didn't cover that you would like to share?" they ask at the end of the survey.

You mean apart from the fact that I love blogging with learners?

Well yes:

I always recommend a single blog per class with all students "authors" on it but generally working in 3s or 4s to collaborate to write posts (so we get 5 posts on one topic on one blog, not 25 on 25 different blogs) and with the fewest possible number of posts by the teacher, the highest possible number of posts and comments by the learners.

Facebook and so on have come along and, sadly, displaced blogs as the popular platform. I used to run a blogging in language teaching course but it got dumped as "old" but, because you can make a blog so water-tight on privacy, they're in fact still my first choice as a shared digital space for use with learners, particularly if what you want to have is somewhere for your learners to "publish" their project work.

Edublogs uses WordPress as the platform for blogs you create with it. I use WordPress for this and other blogs but in fact recommend Blogger to teachers as experience suggests that they find it slightly easier to learn to use.

Nevertheless, Edublogs have some great things on their website and on their blog (these 50 ideas for student blogging, for example, and see also these resources), useful whichever blogging tool you decide to use. They also produce one of the few email newsletters that I actually read and haven't unsubscribed from (as I have with virtually every other email newsletter being pumped at me). On Twitter, you also have @edublogs.

Previous reports on the state of educational blogging are to be found there.

10 good, productive uses of an interactive whiteboard

A map of our internet
A map of our internet: see (2), below

For those of you coming to a quick session this morning on using an interactive whiteboard (aka an IWB), here are 10 previous posts with ideas for productive IWB activities that have worked well with language classes.

By "productive" I mean that they will produce a lot of language but won't require the teacher to spend hours preparing material — so, in this case, the teacher won't have to create half a dozen or more IWB pages. Note how many of the activities below would mean using a single page, often beginning with nothing or very little on it.

In no particular order:

1. | Using a single IWB page to jot down doubts arising in discussion, and then using those as the basis for a mini-webquest

2. | A map of our internet (see example shown above), collaboratively produced on a single IWB page

3. | Grammar casino, a grammar revision game which I first played in class perhaps 25 years ago, using a piece of chalk and the blackboard

One my main doubts about IWBs:
Could we do the same task just as well without an IWB? If so, why are we using one?

4. | Importing stills from a video on to an IWB page as a starting point for digital storytelling (see also a second example)

5. | Using an IWB page to script what we think happened in a video

Infographic on an IWB
Infographic on an IWB

6. | Importing infographics, blanking out the captions (as in the image above), providing a few clues and then getting learners to speculate on what exactly it shows

7. | The IWB for weather forecasting, possibly the most fun I've ever had with the beast

8. | Another old favourite: using an IWB page for dictogloss (with or without an IWB a wonderful activity for language classes)

9. | An IWB page for brainstorming (another of my favourite classroom activities, something else which of course doesn't require an IWB!)

10. | An IWB page for mind mapping (and other things that could have been done on an IWB)

Important things to note

My #1 tip for using an IWB in class
Move quickly from the interactive whiteboard to interactive students and an inactive (sic) whiteboard

  • To learn to use an IWB, spending 20 minutes hands-on playing with it, on three separate days, is much better training than spending an hour on it on one day. You want to learn how to use things, forget them and then rediscover them. It's a bit like learning a language: class three times a week is way better than just coming on a Friday 😉 !
  • Classroom technology — any technology, not just the IWB — is NOT about what YOU, the teacher, does with it: what matters is what your learners do with it
  • KEY question How to make your interactive whiteboard truly interactive

See also ||| All previous posts with IWB activities

Other ideas that work? Or don't… ! If you have some, I'd love to hear about them! Pop them in the comments…