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English Language Teaching Global Blog


25 ideas for using WhatsApp with English language students

shutterstock_287594936Philip Haines is the Senior Consultant for Oxford University Press, Mexico. As well as being a teacher and teacher trainer, he is also the co-author of several series, many of which are published by OUP.  Today he joins us to provide 25 engaging and useful classroom activities for language learners using WhatsApp.

There are three main obstacles to the use of technology in ELT. First is the availability of technology and internet connection in the classroom. Second is teacher techno-phobia. The final, and perhaps the biggest problem, is knowing how to use it for language learning purposes.

WhatsApp or similar messaging services can help overcome these obstacles. If our classrooms are not well equipped, we can take advantage of the technology that students have on their phones, even if there is no internet available in class. Many activities can be set up by the teacher and extended beyond the classroom when students later link to Wi-Fi. Alternatively, students can show each other their phones at different stages of activities.

Many self-confessed, techno-phobic teachers that I know use WhatsApp on a regular basis in their private lives, so already feel quite comfortable with it. However, the trick is to set up activities that make students do all the work without the teacher needing to share contact details. Each student need to have a WhatsApp buddy in the class who they communicate with via WhatsApp and carry out the activities.

Here are 25 ideas of how to make good use of WhatsApp for language learning. WhatsApp was the starting point for these ideas, but teachers will see that other applications and messaging services will work just as well. For these activities I make use of the following five features: text, photo, video, audio and emoji.




#EFLproblems – Phonetics and Pronunciation

Talking in someone's earWe’re helping to solve your EFL teaching problems by answering your questions every two weeks. We’ve received some queries about phonetics and pronunciation, specifically how to make pronunciation apps part of the class.

Talk to your students

There are many apps and the first thing a teacher should do is ask their students if they’ve got a pronunciation app and how they use it. Being aware of students who have a pronunciation app will help the teacher integrate it into the class. Then, it is also important to talk to the students about how they use their app. This discussion will also generate some ideas. The discussion may also make some students curious about a pronunciation app and how they could use it.

So, let’s now explore how to integrate the use of the app into the classroom.

Let’s consider first the sounds chart.

Be a resource for students

As the teacher, you can help your students understand certain concepts. For example, voiced and unvoiced sounds. Having a brief discussion on this in class will help students use their app better. They will see that /p/ in “parrot” is unvoiced and that /b/ in “be” is voiced.


Ask students to find 3 sounds on their app that they find difficult. Tell them to write the sample words and the sample sentences from the app. Then, tell them to find 5 other words they know for each sound.  Ask them to write a short sentence with each sound, as in the app.  Finally, ask them to record the words and sentences, and to play it back. How do they sound?

As the teacher you may want to confirm that the words a student has chosen do represent the sound they have difficulty with. You can also ask students to compare their pronunciation of the voiced/unvoiced pair.

Chart your Progress

If you can, provide students with a small sounds chart. They can probably find one on the internet. Ask them to indicate with a small arrow the 3 sounds they find difficult. Then, as they progress and feel comfortable with the sound, they should put a tick next to it, and add another sound to their list.

Work with others

Encourage students to share their experience with other students in the class. When students find they have difficulty with the same sound, they can help each other, comparing their list of words and sentences. Then, they could also record each others’ words and sentences, comparing their pronunciation with each other as well as the example in the app.

If pronunciation is important for your students, have a sounds chart in the classroom. This will reinforce their work with the app. It is important that they notice not only the sounds they have difficulty with, but also to be aware of the sounds they find easy.

Help them improve

Students may sometimes need you to check on their progress. Be available to help. Maybe once a week, at the end of a lesson, ask about their progress with the pronunciation apps. Ask if they need any help. They may ask you to record a sample sentence. You could offer sample words that may be more helpful than those they have chosen. And, of course, they may have made some mistakes you can correct. Remember, you can help your students get the most from the pronunciation app.

So, you as their teacher can be a resource as well as a helper. In the first case, you can add to their knowledge. In the second case, you can facilitate their progress.

Play the game

Students will usually play the games that come with pronunciation apps. Encourage them to chart their progress.

1. Encourage them to keep a list of the sounds they got wrong

The app will give them immediate feedback on this, so students can simply write the word/sound before moving on to the next one. They can do this in a notebook or simply indicating the difficult sounds on a sounds chart.

2. Encourage them to play a game regularly

Suggest they play a game at least twice a week; once after the English class, and another time on a day when they don’t have English. Ask them to chart their scores for each time. Is there any difference? Students may discover that their scores after English class are generally higher than the others. This may indicate that a student does better when English is fresh in their minds. They may want to listen to English outside of class on a more regular basis. They could listen to music, or watch a movie or TV show without subtitles.

Playing the games will give them information about their learning which they can use to improve their learning of English.

These activities will link their English lessons with their use of their pronunciation app. This alone will help students focus. It will organise their use of the app and make it a useful tool in improving their pronunciation. Making the app part of the lessons will also bring another dimension into their learning, their experience outside the classroom. Finally, helping your students to use the app adds to your role as their teacher, the role of facilitator and resource.

Invitation to share your ideas

We are interested in hearing your ideas about using pronunciation apps, so please comment on this post.

Please keep your challenges coming. The best way to let us know is by leaving a comment below or on the EFLproblems blog post. We will respond to your challenges in a blog every two weeks. Each blog is usually followed by a live Facebook chat to discuss the challenge answered in the blog. Be sure to Like our Facebook page to be reminded about the upcoming live chats.


5 Apps Every Teacher Should Have in 2014

Mobile apps

Image courtesy of Jason Howie via Flickr

Sarah Fudin, Community Outreach Coordinator for USC Rossier Online, shares 5 mobile apps that every teacher should be using in 2014.

2014 brings a new year and many changes in education nationwide. As innovative technology is developed, new and updated apps are making it easier for teachers and students to integrate technology in the classroom.

Here’s a list of the five apps every teacher should have in 2014:

1. Evernote

Evernote app iconPlatform: Android, iOS

Evernote is a great platform for organizing notes, pictures, and voice memos. For teachers, it can be a great tool for collecting media. Evernote allows a person to take a photo and add a note. All information is stored in easy-to-organize tabs for simple retrieval. How can this app be used? A math teacher might catch sight of some great buildings downtown to use as examples in his geometry class, and he can quickly capture and remember it for use later in the classroom. Equally, students can use this app to collect and store data for projects or homework.

2. Socrative

Socrative app iconPlatform: Android, iOS

Socrative brings a spark to class assessment. It takes three minutes for teachers to set up and 30 seconds for students to download on their phones. With this app, teachers have a variety of assessment tools they can use to gauge student process. Questions are shown on a screen, and students use their phones to answer the questions. Results are automatically tallied and stored for the teacher to review. One feature, Space Race, allows students to work in teams to answer questions. For each correct answer, their team’s rocket moves up on the screen; the first team to get their rocket to the top wins.

3. Shakespeare in Bits: Hamlet

Shakespeare in Bits: Hamlet app iconPlatform: iOS

Shakespeare in Bits is great for English teachers. With narration and animation that accompanies the text, this app allows students to read books with greater comprehension. The app also contains an analysis section complete with a summary, discussion of themes used and descriptions of various images.

4. School Fuel

School Fuel app iconPlatform: Requires iOS 4.3 or later and Android 3.0 and up.

School Fuel puts students, teachers and administrators within a school on the same page. This app serves as an interface that organizes all the apps that teachers are using while allowing students to access them at any time. Instead of teachers having students download apps from a variety of sources, students can simply use this app to view and access all the apps the school is using. Teachers can also look to see what other teachers are using and add apps to the database.

5. Springpad

Springpad app iconPlatform: Requires iOS 4.3 or later and Android 2.2 and up.

Springpad takes organization a step further; this app not only gives you access to everything you save on all your devices, but it also recommends different places and tasks to you based on what you already have. For example, if you have a list of school supplies you are working on, Springpad will give you local options of where you can buy those supplies. Every note, list or project can also be shared with other teachers and classmates to make collaboration easier.

For many teachers, downloading and learning how to use new apps can be a daunting task. This list can help you discover new tools to enhance your classroom in a more efficient way to jumpstart a productive new year!


#EFLproblems – Cell phones in the adult classroom: interruption or resource?

Student with phone in classWe’re helping to solve your EFL teaching problems by answering your questions every two weeks. This week’s blog will respond to Pat Mattes Mazzei’s comment on Facebook about the challenge of adult students using cell phones in the classroom.

Although students using cell phones in the classroom can make you feel like you have lost control of the class, it’s important to find out what students are using their cell phones for. Calling or texting friends or family during lessons may not be the best use of class time, but more and more often students are using their cell phones – especially smartphones – for learning and organisational purposes. Being on the cell phone does not necessarily mean the students are ‘off task’.

Establishing phone use guidelines

Adult learners may have valid reasons for leaving their phones on. Business people, for example, may have a mandate to keep in touch even whilst in class, or parents may need to be available for calls related to children. At the beginning of term, it’s a good idea to negotiate rules for phone use with students. Discuss when, if ever, it is OK to use phones for calls or texting and establish cell phone etiquette for the classroom. This should be done with maximum student input so that the rules are agreed rather than imposed.

Some examples of acceptable use of cell phones in the class might include:

  • Using the calendar to schedule meetings with other students
  • Taking notes using a note app or recording function
  • Audio recording the lesson (with teacher’s permission)
  • Looking up unknown words
  • Adding peers to their contacts list
  • Photographing board work or homework assignments
  • Sharing photos when related to class content (for example, family photos on a family unit or holiday pictures on a holidays unit)
  • Doing web searches

Maximising cell phone use for learning

You also might begin to think of ways to exploit cell phones further. Some ideas are explored below.

1. Educational apps for phones have been developed to help students learn English. Encourage students to replace their digital translators with a good dictionary app. Students can look up new words themselves rather than relying on the teacher all the time. When doing activities in which students must guess the meaning of new words from context, simply ask them not to use dictionaries for the activity. To help with pronunciation, point students in the direction of a pronunciation app that they can use to hear the correct pronunciation and record themselves or each other. The Headway Phrase-a-day app could be an engaging way to begin the lesson with students trying to create a dialogue in which the phrase can be used naturally. (For ideas on how to use apps, see Gareth Davis’ blog ‘Translation Tool or Dictionary’ and Verissimo Toste’s blog ‘Enhanced Learning – Using an App in Class’)

2. If students (or at least one student per group) have smartphones, then they can easily go onto the internet to research questions they have related to course content. Encourage students to look up information to support an argument or to satisfy their curiosity about topics discussed in class. Get them to research a topic to report back on or ask them to find an image to illustrate a difficult vocabulary word. For example, in one of my classes, the word badger came up. Describing a badger is fairly difficult, but a student with a smartphone quickly looked it up and passed the image around to the rest of the class.

3. Students can use their phones to practise speaking and telephoning skills. Speaking to someone without seeing them is more difficult and requires students to use clear pronunciation and phrases for clarification. This adds a layer of authenticity and can help students gain confidence. Give them a speaking or telephoning task to do with someone across the room where eye contact is difficult. Alternatively, ask them to leave a message that their partner has to respond to.

4. Cell phones can themselves be a springboard for discussion and a way to practise new language. Students could compare and contrast the functions of their phones, describe how an app works, argue for or against phone features, or even give instructions for how to play a game.

5. You might be interested in exploring more advanced uses of cell phones by investigating resources such as Wiffiti for sharing brainstorms or Poll Everywhere and SMS Poll for free ways to get immediate class feedback.

Cell phones play an increasing role in everyday life and can be seen as an integral part of students’ learning rather than as an interruption to it. When students do use phones in class, especially smartphones, don’t assume that they are doing something ‘off task’. Students may be using their phones for a number of educational purposes. Cell phones can be seen as a valuable learning tool and an aid to student autonomy.

Invitation to share your ideas

We are interested in hearing your ideas about using cell phones in class, so please comment on this post and take part in our live Facebook chat on Friday 25 October at 12pm GMT. Our next blog will address one of the other issues raised by you on this blog, on Twitter (using hashtag #EFLproblems), and on Facebook. Please keep your ideas coming.


Enhancing learning – Using an app in class

Girl using mobile phoneVerissimo Toste, an Oxford teacher trainer, looks at how technology can enhance a student’s ability to learn a language. 

I’m interested in how technology enhances a student’s ability to learn a language. Resources are plentiful, but incorporating them into the classroom is not always easy. So when I saw the “Headway Phrase-a-day” app by Oxford University Press, I became curious as to how it would help students enhance their learning.

Students get a phrase a day, such as “You’re pulling my leg”. To help them understand the phrase there is a picture, a sample sentence, and a similar expression that is easier, in this case, “You’re teasing me”. Students can search for a phrase, add certain phrases to their list of favourites, and play some games based on the phrases they have already learned.

All very well so far, but, how could a teacher use this to help their students learn more effectively? Here are a few ideas:

phrase a day

1. Sharing

Students come to each lesson with a new phrase. They must be able to use the phrase to communicate something about themselves. This should lead them to personalise their learning rather than simply memorising the phrases. The teacher can quickly go around the room with each student saying their sentence. Alternatively, students can write their sentence on a piece of paper and display it in class for everyone to see. By sharing their sentences with their classmates, students further strengthen their ability to use them meaningfully.

2. Favourites

Of course, some phrases will be easier than others. In order to focus on the phrases they find more difficult, students can move these into their “Favourites” folder. This will give them a list of those phrases they need to focus on.

To provide more work on these phrases, the teacher can provide some class time in which students discuss the phrases they have found difficult. The discussion alone may help many students overcome their difficulties. The discussion will also give students a chance to share their successful learning strategies with each other, giving students having difficulties alternative ways to improve.

As a phrase becomes easier, they can remove it from their favourites. In this way they can assess how well they are progressing. Their “Favourites” folder should never have more than 10 words.

headway phrase a day

3. Games

Every 15 phrases, a student will be able to open up one of the games. These games will help the student assess more closely how well they have learned the phrases.

Ask students to bring their digital devices to class. Tell them they are going to play the game at the “easy” level. This level gives them 3 minutes to match all the answers. Before they begin, ask them to establish a time they would consider successful. This gives them a personal goal to strive for.

Once they have played a game, ask them to register their times in a notebook. Get these times from them, and display the average in class. In this way, each student will then be able to compare their time with the class, increasing their confidence as they do well, or motivating them to do better.

The games can also be played at “medium” level, with 2 minutes to match all the answers, and at “hard” level, with 6 seconds for each phrase. Tell your students that their goal should be to do the “hard” level and match all the phrases. Any phrases they don’t match they should put into “Favourites” folder.


Using the phrase app as part of lessons gives students a structure to use it more effectively. It provides them with a space in which they can help each other. It provides the teacher with the opportunity to help them use it better.

The app enhances students’ ability to learn by giving them more contact with English outside the classroom. It allows each student to tailor their learning to their individual needs, taking a phrase and using it to communicate their own experiences and opinions.

The app also provides students with immediate feedback. They can quickly use this feedback to adjust their learning in order to make it more effective. Equally important, the app allows students to see their progress as they work through the different phrases, giving them a sense of achievement as they reach their goals.