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#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.


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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.

Summary

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.


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10 (mostly) free apps for creative language learning

Girl in park with tablet computerHaving shown us 10 free apps for teachers to use for planning and classroom management, Shaun Wilden returns with 10 more apps to aid language learning in creative ways.

More and more teachers and schools are using mobile devices and tablets as a tool in and out of the classroom.  While the use of mobile assisted language learning is not just about using apps, it would be remiss to ignore the wealth of resources that are available.

Apps, if chosen wisely, can provide not only engagement and language practice but also create new ways of doing tasks. Utilising either the teacher or school’s tablet or employed as part of a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy, apps provide an excellent addition to a teacher’s toolbox. Actually, like any tool, it is not the app that matters but what you do with it. If chosen for clear educational purposes, apps can be motivational, lead to creativity and enhance student collaboration.

With thousands to choose from, coming up with a list of ten is quite challenging. We’ve tried to choose a range from those that give a new spin on an old activity, e.g. Bill Atkinson’s photocard that allows you to create postcards, through to those such as Aurasma which brings augmented reality to the classroom.  While some of you might complain not all the apps are free, those that do have a price are chosen because of their versatility and ability to be used time and time again.

Aurasma app iconAurasma

Free. Available on iOS and Android.

Augmented reality is tipped to be “the next big thing”. This app is an easy introduction to augmented reality providing a unique way to bring students work life. The easy-to-use app works by overlaying video on a chosen image. By doing this students can bring written work to life. This can be used for example, to create video book reviews of school readers, give audio commentary to a piece of written work and even be used to develop student created information guides for school.

PhotoCard app iconPhotoCard by Bill Atkinson

Free. Available on iOS.

Many course books include postcard writing in them though in reality it is likely that our students haven’t sent a postcard in a long while. This app is an engaging way for students to send a digital postcard. Though there are many postcard apps for both iOS and android, they often involve a cost for printing and sending of the postcard. In this app you can simply email your postcard. Being able to use your own photographs and also include voice recording make this a versatile app for creative students.

Bitsboard app iconBitsboard

Free. Available on iOS.

Bitsboard is an example of a flashcard app. It is a very easy way for you and/ or the students to create flashcards of the vocabulary topics in a course book. Either by using images in the app library or by adding your own, you can create flashcards on any topic. As well as using images, the app allows you to record the word so the flash card is both visual and aural. Having created the flashcards the app provides nine mini games for the students to practice the vocabulary.

Camera app iconCamera apps

Available on iOS (as default) and Android.

Creativity is not all about the apps. All tablets have at least one camera in them and the power of images and video should not be overlooked. Using the camera makes for a simple but effective piece of homework. For example, taking a photo of your free time, turning vocabulary lists into visual dictionaries or taking a photo to contextualise a language point. The video camera can be used to bring role plays to life.

Comic Life app iconComic Life

£2.99. Available on iOS and desktop.

This app is an excellent way to get students creatively writing. Using photographs the students have taken on their phones or digital cameras, they can create comics. The students simply drag and drop the photos they wish to use into a template and then use speech bubbles and captioning to create the text for the story. Once finished, the comic can be read on the tablet or saved as a PDF.

Pic Collage app iconPic Collage

Free. Available on iOS and Android.

Pic collage is an example of a collage maker, of which there are many in both stores. A collage maker allows you and the students to gather photos together into one image. .  A student can use their mobile device to take photos on a topic for example, ‘English words in their town’.  The photos are then put into a collage to make a poster.  Students can be tasked to make tasks similar to those that appear in oral exams by again taking photos then combining them into a collage. Handing task creation over to the students is an excellent way to increase motivation and engagement.

Puppet Pals 2 app iconPuppetpals 2

£2.99 (though you can download the original for free). Available on iOS.

This is a very popular app with teachers who teach children though its charm will spark creativity in anyone. Basically the app allows you to make an animated movie. You can choose from a wide variety of characters, locations, vehicles and music. You can also take a photograph of yourself and animate that. Using the characters in the app, students can tell and record their stories. These can be saved and shared.

Rory's Story Cubes app iconRory’s Story Cubes

£1.49. Available on iOS and Android.

This is the app of the long established cube story game.  By shaking your devise you get a random selection of 9 cubes.  These can be used for a number of classroom activities.  The cubes provide prompts for language practice e.g. linking two of the cubes together using a grammatical structure. The 9 cubes can be used as prompts for story writing or collaborative story telling.

Socrative app iconSocrative

Free. Available on iOS and Android.
NB: there are two apps you need for Socrative – student and teacher.

Socrative describes itself as a smart student response system. In real terms socrative is a way to set quizzes for your class. The quizzes can be answered on the students’ mobile devices or if a student doesn’t have a device, via the website. The quizzes can be multiple choice, written responses and also be image-based. The app can be used to review revise vocabulary and language points. The app aids differentiation as each student is responding through their own device and at their own pace. The teacher app provides you with a report of how each student did and allows you to get feedback from each student.

Spreaker app iconSpreaker

Free. Available on iOS and Android.

Spreaker is an app that turns your mobile device into a simple recording studio. It allows you to create an off-line recording for a podcast or even broadcast live online. Each recording can be up to 30 minutes in length. This is an excellent app for making podcasts. It can be used in many activities from creating audio dictionaries through to a weekly class radio podcast.


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10 free apps for teachers to use for planning and classroom management

We know teachers can find it hard to make time to plan their lessons, or to manage their classes both in and out of the classroom, so Shaun Wilden has compiled a list of his top 10 free apps to help make your planning more productive and time-efficient. You may also find some of our apps for learning English useful.

Over the last year there has been a large growth in the number of apps aimed at educators. There are now apps that can do everything from helping you plan your lesson to helping you take attendance. Though your school might not yet be ready to move into a paperless world; given you are likely to be carrying your mobile device with you to and from school there are a number that can make your life easier.

The apps I have chosen are ones you can use with a class on your own device. While you might not want to use all of the apps suggested, I hope the ones I have chosen will provide you with some useful tools as well as whet your appetite to discover others for yourself. The apps have been chosen to highlight the range of possibilities for a teacher. Some, like ‘Too nNisy’ provide a simple classroom management tool while others, like the ‘Evernote’ and ‘Dropbox’ help you keep track of notes and plans by synching with your computer or cloud. Apps like ‘Skitch’ allow you to write on photos, while an app like ‘iBolt’ can be a life saver when you want to use an online video but find yourself in a classroom without a connection.

ClassDojo app iconClassDojo

Available on iOS and Android.

ClassDojo is a classroom tool designed to help teachers improve student behaviour. It is particularly effective in young learner classes and is, essentially, the 21st-century version of a reward system. A teacher sets up their class, giving each student an avatar. Using your mobile device you can easily reward student behaviour, task completion and homework.  ClassDojo allows you to save, analyse and print reports on the class.

Dropbox app iconDropbox

Available on iOS and Android.

Dropbox is an example of cloud-based storage. If you use dropbox then rather than have your documents scattered over many devices, you can store them online and access them anywhere. It is also a great way to share files, photos and so on with students.

Edmodo app iconEdmodo

Available on iOS and Android.

Edmodo is becoming increasingly popular with teachers who want to collaborate with their students outside of the classroom. Edmodo provides a secure network for teachers and their students to collaborate and share content. Though also accessible from a computer, the Edmodo app allows you to access the network from anywhere.

Evernote app iconEvernote

Available on iOS and Android.

Many teachers have turned to this app as an effective way to lesson plan.  It is a note taking app that allows you to create notes that include text, photos, video and audio. Once created, Evernote synchs the note between your devices and your computer.  This makes it ideal for a teacher to plan their lessons, create to-do-lists and even store copies of documents that can be accessed anywhere.

iBolt app iconiBolt Video Downloader & Manager

Available on iOS.

This app is the solution to no Wi-Fi in the classroom when wanting to watch a video online. Ibolt allows you to download a video from a webpage. It is easy to use; simply type the URL into the Ibolt browser and press the download link.

Screen Chomp app iconScreenchomp

Available on iOS.

Screenchomp is an example of a screen recorder. You can find a number of examples of screen recorders on iTunes and each teacher has their favourite. Screenchomp is made by the same people who created Jing. I prefer it as there is no need to create an account and after recording you are given a link to your recording, which you can share with your students.  By recording your screen you can create personalised tutorials for your students or video explanations of language points. Screen recording is popular at the moment due to the interest in the ‘flipped classroom’ approach to teaching.

Skitch app iconSkitch

Available on iOS and Android.

A stand-alone app that is part of the Evernote suite of tools. Skitch allows you to annotate photographs, charts and PDF. This makes the app useful for highlighting, explaining, and for creating language practice activities. For example, the students can use the app to illustrate both grammar and vocabulary.

TeacherKit app iconTeacherKit

Available on iOS.

TeacherKit is an app that covers most teachers’ classroom administration. TeacherKit manages everything from attendance records and grades through to seating charts. It also allows importing and exporting your files and synchs with dropbox. It’s an excellent way to keep track of all your students and reduce paperwork.

Too Noisy app iconToo Noisy

Available on iOS.

Too Noisy is an app to control noise levels in the classroom. Particularly affective for young learner classes, this app shows if there is too much noise. The app is simply a display of the noise level in a room. When there is a smiley face the levels are acceptable but if the noise becomes too loud the smile turned to a frown. However, in speaking activities, the teacher can encourage noise by asking the class to make sure the smile disappears.

Stop Go app iconStop Go! / Traffic Light Timer

Available on iOS and Android.

An app such as traffic light gives the teacher a different way to control and time activities. Setting the timer and the colour of lights shows to students if and how long they should be doing an activity. The red light is also useful for controlling when things can and can’t be used in the classroom. For example, putting the light on red when a student is not allowed to use their mobile phone. This can be particularly effective if the tablet is being projected.

Have you found other apps that have helped your lesson planning or classroom management? Let us know what they are in the comments below.


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Introducing the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary App

The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (OALD) is a world best-seller. And it’s now available as an app, with the full A-Z dictionary, real voice (not text to speech) audio, and My View to customize your screen. It has been developed by the same editors from Oxford University Press who created the printed dictionary, working together with Paragon Software, a leading software developer for mobile devices.

Find out how you and your students can learn on the go with the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary app. Look up words, hear them spoken, and listen to example sentences!

Available for download at http://oxford.ly/eltapps (opens iTunes Store) or more information at http://oxford.ly/oald8.

Available for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad.

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