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Going Mobile: A Q&A with Nicky Hockly

Girl in park with tablet computerNicky Hockly is Director of Pedagogy of The Consultants-E. She has worked in ELT since 1987 with teachers all over the world. She has also written several prize-winning methodology books about new technologies in language teaching. Her latest book is Focus on Learning Technologies

During my recent webinar Going Mobile, I described activities that use mobile devices in the classroom, and that I have used with my own EFL students. This included two QR code activities, which generated quite a few questions from the audience! QR (Quick Response) codes can be read by mobile phones, and can deliver a text message to students’ mobile phone screens (among other things). If you are unfamiliar with QR codes, you could take a look at this post on my blog: A dummies guide to QR codes.

The two activities I described in my webinar are also described in detail on my blog. Both were carried out with a beginner (A1 level) class of EFL students in the UK. The first activity involved four QR codes, each of which (when ‘read’ by students with their mobile phones), gave them a question reviewing recent vocabulary and grammar. You can read about how the activity worked in practice here: Intro to QR codes.

The second activity was a treasure hunt, in which QR codes were placed in various locations around the school. The students went in pairs and threes to each location, read the code with their mobile phones, and carried out a task that was delivered in text message format via the QR code in each place. The tasks included looking for information and taking notes, taking photos, interviewing people in the school (two receptionists, the Director of Studies, and myself), and audio recording two of these interviews. You can read about how the activity worked in practice on my blog here: QR codes: A treasure hunt.

Based on these two activities, here are some of the questions that the audience asked:

What didn’t you give them these questions on a paper [instead of using QR codes]? Why all that time-consuming work? 

This is a great question, and probably the first one that needs to be asked! I could certainly have given students the questions on pieces of paper stuck on the wall. There are a number of reasons I decided to use QR codes instead. Firstly, although most of the students in the class had seen QR codes before, it turned out that not a single one had a QR code reader on their phones, or knew how to read QR codes. So by getting them to download a free QR code reader app (using the school Wi-Fi), and showing them how QR codes work, they gained an additional digital skill. But more importantly, using QR codes had a direct and visible impact on the students’ motivation and engagement in the lesson. It got them up and moving, it provided variety, it was something new, and there was the element of ‘cracking a code’ – you don’t know what a QR code says until you actually decipher it via a QR code reader app on your mobile device. But the important point to make here is that the two lessons were not about QR codes. The QR codes were simply a means through which to deliver the task instructions. The tasks were where the students really had to work, by answering questions, by the interviewing people, by finding information. Some of the tasks (like carrying out and recording two audio interviews with native speakers) were very demanding for A1 level students, and they worked hard at it. This is where real learning took place.

The second question is also an excellent one. Creating QR codes is not particularly time-consuming, but the great thing is that you can reuse these activities with different classes. Also, if various teachers in your school are creating different QR code activities, the codes can be put on cardboard or laminated, and then used by different teachers with a range of their classes. Creating any new materials for your class (handouts, slides, tests, etc.) will require you to invest a little bit of time, but if the materials are effective, they can be reused.

Did you design the QR codes yourself? Or did you use them from a coursebook? Which QR code generator do you use? 

I designed the QR codes myself, because I wanted the QR code messages to review recent vocabulary and grammar that my students had studied in class. I’m not aware of any adult EFL coursebooks that integrate QR codes as part of language review activities (which is what my two activities did). To create the QR codes before class, I used a QR code generator called Kaywa. But another very good one is QR code generator, which both reads and creates QR codes, and is easier to use than Kaywa. The students in my class were using their own mobile phones, so we had a range of mobile platforms (iOS, Android, Windows and Blackberry). For them to be able to read the QR codes, I asked them to download a cross-platform QR code reader called i-nigma, which I’ve found to be excellent. ‘Cross-platform’ means that the same app works on different mobile operating systems.

 I’ve got 40 students in my classes. Do you think I can still do the QR activities?

Good question! I was lucky to have very small classes, with around 12 students per class. So when my students were moving around the school in the treasure hunt activity (in separate pairs and threes), there was very little disruption for the school. With large classes (and assuming your school Director gave permission for students to be moving around the school!) you could include more QR codes with tasks (say 20 in total) and have them in lots of different areas of the school, with pairs of students working with different QR codes in different locations at the same time. Essentially this is a question of logistics, and it’s going to depend on the size of your school, the age (and noisiness!) of your students. You’d need to make sure that there is enough space in the school for this activity to take place without everyone crowding into the same place at same time!

Can I do this with elementary school students? What about primary students? Do you think these activities are more suitable for teenagers?

My students were a mixture of teenagers and adults (aged 16 – 45), and activities were definitely suitable for both age groups. Essentially, we’re talking about using QR codes as a prompt to a language activity, remember. I can see this working with younger students as well (primary and elementary school), assuming your students have access to mobile devices. In the case of younger learners, they are unlikely to have their own mobile phones. But if your school invests in a ‘class set’ of mobile devices (for example, low cost Android tablets) students could use one tablet per pair to read QR codes which give them tasks suitable to their age and language level. For example, for primary school students, imagine they’ve been learning vocabulary for colours, simple adjective or shapes in class. You could have QR codes asking them to use the mobile device to take photos of things of different colours, sizes or shapes. Each QR code task might say something like: ‘Take a photo of something red’, ‘Take a photo of something small’, ‘Take a photo of something square’, etc.

Thanks to everyone who came to the webinar! And good luck if you decide to try out any of the webinar mobile activities with your own students!

If you missed the webinar and want to catch up, feel free to visit our Webinar Library, for this session and previous recordings.

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Going Mobile: Choices and Challenges

teenagers-tablets-learningNicky Hockly is Director of Pedagogy of The Consultants-E. She is the author of several prize-winning methodology books about technology in EFL, and her most recent book is Focus on Learning Technologies (OUP, 2016). Today, she joins us to preview her webinar ‘Going Mobile: Choices and Challenges’, on March 15 and 16.

Using Mobile Devices with Students Effectively in the Classroom

Do you already use mobile devices with your students in the classroom? If not, would you like to? Perhaps your students use their devices regularly during your classes, or perhaps you’re just starting out – either way, there are several key things to keep in mind to make sure that things go smoothly.

Pedagogical considerations

First off, ask yourself why you’d like students to use mobile devices in your class. Answers might include: it adds variety to my class, in motivates my students, it enables us to do activities we couldn’t otherwise do in class, it supports their learning. It’s important to have a clear reason for mobile based tasks, and that these enhance the learning experience. You want to avoid using technology just for technology’s sake. Good, meaningful task design is key here, with mobile based activities supporting your syllabus and learning aims. You’ll find some examples of mobile based classroom activities on my blog here and here.

Good, meaningful task design is key… with mobile based activities supporting your syllabus and learning aims.

Logistical considerations

Of course, if you’d like your students to use mobile devices in your classroom, they will need access to devices! There are a couple of options. Mobile devices are becoming increasingly ubiquitous, and whatever your teaching context, your students are likely to have a mobile phone. This may be a smart phone, or it may be a simpler ‘feature’ phone (e.g. with photo and audio capabilities). Your tasks will need to be designed around the devices your students have. For example, if your students have feature phones, you can design tasks in which they need to take photos (e.g. of examples of English that they find in signs/restaurant menus/billboards outside of the classroom), or audio recordings (e.g. of spoken pair work, interviews, etc.). Students using their own devices is known as BYOD (bring your own device). You can find one of my articles about BYOD for the language classroom, with some activity suggestions, here.

But perhaps you teach younger learners, who don’t have their own mobile phones. In this case, some schools invest in a ‘class set’ of devices – that is, a set of 10 or 15 tablets, which can be stored in the school. Teachers then book out the class set for their students to use in pairs during class. The class set option is also effective if you are concerned about some of your students having devices, and some not, or about some students having the latest most expensive devices and others not. Finally, there is a ‘hybrid’ option. Here students can choose whether to use their own devices, or one of the school’s class set devices.

Technical considerations

These include having a decent Wi-Fi connection for your students in your school/classroom, especially if you want them to do activities or use an app that requires an Internet connection. Also, if you’d like your students to use a specific app for an activity, and you are using a BYOD approach, you will need to ensure that your chosen app is ‘cross platform’ – that is, no matter what sort of operating system (OS) your students have (Apple, Android, Windows…), they can all use the same app. If the app is not available for all OS, then you need to recommend similar apps for each OS, so that students can carry out the task no matter what device they have.

Classroom considerations

Teacher are often concerned about classroom management with mobile devices. For example, how to ensure that students don’t get distracted by their mobile devices, and start messaging their friends, or checking Facebook, instead of doing the task you have set? Setting engaging tasks with a short time frame, and ensuring that students need to actually produce something with their devices, can help mitigate this. Another concern that teachers have, especially with learners under the age of 18, is the inappropriate use of devices. For example, teachers worry about cyber-bullying, or students accessing inappropriate content in class, or taking unsolicited photos of classmates or the teacher and publishing these online. These are legitimate concerns. If your school intends to use mobile devices with learners under 18, it’s important that a robust digital policy is put in place beforehand. Parental permission needs to be sought for the use of students’ own devices, and many schools include an acceptable use policy (AUP) as part of their schoolwide digital policy. The good news is that you don’t need to create your AUP from scratch. There are plenty of excellent examples available online that you can adapt – simply search for ‘acceptable use policy’.

… set engaging tasks with a short timeframe, and ensure students need to actually produce something…

These are just some of the areas that teachers need to keep in mind when using mobile devices with their learners. Come along to my webinar ‘Going Mobile: Choices and Challenges’ on the 15th or 16th of March, where we will discuss these and other issues in more depth. We’ll also look at some more activities that you can do with mobile devices in class!



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!