Oxford University Press

English Language Teaching Global Blog

1 Comment

Classroom Management and Using Smart Devices

Can Smart Devices really be used for learning? Thomas Healy, co-author of Smart Choice Second Edition, shares his ideas ahead of his webinar on 9 and 11 December on the subject. 

I’ve always been intrigued by the lines in the David Bowie song, Cat People (Putting out Fire), where he sings that he’s “been putting out fire. With gasoline.” In a sense, this is what I attempted to do when I first started using smart devices and social media extensively in class, as a response to my frustration with students’ attempts to text and play with their phones in class.  Rather than banning them and reprimanding students, I decided to use the devices whenever it made sense. Since all of my students had them, I used smart technology to turn every classroom into a T.E.C. (Technology Enhanced Classroom).

In order to evaluate the effect of the devices on teaching and learning, I used the following graphic organizer.

Figure 1. Evaluation Graphic Organized

Figure 1. Evaluation Graphic Organized

  1. Dealing with distraction.

First of all, I considered my own role and behavior in class.  I used to be extremely frustrated when students started texting class. Now, for the most part, I ignore this behavior.  I don’t let it distract me. Also, I know from my own texting behavior during meetings and conferences, that it is quite possible (especially for this generation) to do more than two things at the same time. I intervene when the behavior clearly inhibits the student’s individual learning or when an individual student tries to distract other students in the class with something that they are doing with their smart device (like looking at pictures of puppies).

Students also know that at any time I can ask them to take a photo of their work and to upload it to Learning Management System (see fig. 2). We use Facebook groups for this. I can ask them to message the image to me privately or to post to the group for peer review. I have found that this is a very effective way of keeping students on task.

Figure 2. A paraphrasing activity which a student posted to Facebook for peer review.

Figure 2. A paraphrasing activity which a student posted to Facebook for peer review.

  1. Time management

One of my priorities is helping learners develop their presenting skills. This is a very time-consuming process, as in addition to the presentations themselves, we have to give each student feedback. Rather than fiddling with cameras, I have every student record their own presentation with their phone. We improvise camera stands (see fig. 3).

Figure 3. Improvised camera stand.

Figure 3. Improvised camera stand.


We also save time by having students upload their presentation slides to the Facebook group before class, rather than fussing with USB drives and the class computer. A great timesaver is doing the feedback outside of class entirely. Students upload their presentations to the Facebook group. We discuss the evaluation criteria in class but use the comments feature of Facebook for the actual feedback, which is done outside of regular class time (see fig. 4)


Figure 4. Posting a recording of a presentation and using the comments function for feedback.

Figure 4. Posting a recording of a presentation and using the comments function for feedback.

  1. Classroom procedure: keeping a record.

Pop up grammar refers to grammar points which arise in class and but are not part of the lesson plan (see fig 5.). I used to be quite frustrated that students would sit and listen to me explain a grammar point, but not take any notes.

Figure 5. A pop-up grammar lesson written on the board.

Figure 5. A pop-up grammar lesson written on the board.


Now, I ask a student (and as a course progresses, I don’t even have to ask) to take a photo of what I learned on the board and upload it to our Facebook group (see fig. 6).

Figure 6. The pop-up grammar lesson posted by a student to our class Facebook group.

Figure 6. The pop-up grammar lesson posted by a student to our class Facebook group.

  1. Action plan

Using the graphic organizer above (figure 1), I have tried to measure the impact of using smart devices and social media on how I teach. While the potential for students to get distracted (by Candy Crush or any other of the infinite things they can do) definitely exists, I have found that by using the extensive features of social media platforms and the smart devices themselves, the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages. The key is to make the technology a central part of the process, rather than just a fun, occasional thing to do from time to time. Doing so reinforces the notion that the technology is a powerful learning tool, rather than a plaything.

Take part in Thomas Healy’s live webinar – “Classroom Management and Smart Devices” – to discuss how technology can become a powerful learning tool in your classroom. Register today!


Using Social Media and Smart Devices Effectively in the Classroom

use social media in ESL and EFL

Image courtesy of Jason Howie

How can you use digital technology to bring course material to life in the classroom? Thomas Healy, co-author of Smart Choice Second Edition, shares his ideas ahead of his webinar on 23 & 25 September on the subject.

It’s an old joke that although the Internet is one of the most important inventions since the wheel, most people just use it to look at pictures of puppies. Certainly, I believed that people, especially younger people, wasted a lot of time on the Internet and on their smart devices. Then I observed an eighteen-year-old student in my class trying to enlarge an illustration in her textbook by pinching it, like an image on a touch screen. This was a wake up call for me. Having grown up with the technology, this student actually expected content to be digital. As someone who prided himself on providing interesting, motivating as well as enriching materials, I looked at my photocopied supplemental activities and wondered how she, and indeed the entire class, must be experiencing them. Her smart device, along with everyone else’s, was in a pile collected at the start of the class, next to a computer that I rarely used.

When I considered using smart devices and social media networks with my students, I wanted to devise activities that the class would immediately recognize as being central to the goals of the lesson. If the activities were just games or ‘fillers’, then I imagined that students would naturally gravitate to games such as Candy Crush that they already had on their devices. I also wanted to harness what most of my students seemed to be doing on their smart phones when not playing games: writing messages and taking photos and videos, which they shared with their peers.

Using Social Media as a Learning Management System

21st Century learners live in a world where they are constantly producing, sharing and commenting on content. In order to have a place where we can share messages, images, videos and word files, I create a Facebook group for each class. I use this platform because all of my students are already active members. Within Facebook, a group is a private, members-only space. Students can join a group without becoming my friend.

Facebook groups

When creating activities for Facebook, I started by looking at the supplemental materials I already used in class. Many of these activities practiced, expanded, or personalized the contents of the textbook. Could these be enhanced or transformed by being completed in the digital world?

Using Smartphones with Facebook

A smartphone is like a portable recording studio. Students can readily practice and personalize the target language of the textbook by using the video function. In one activity I use, after teaching a unit about clothing and colors, students go to their favorite store and describe the clothes and colors that they see while videoing the manikins. I ask students to post the videos to the Facebook group, and comment on others’ videos.

iPhone video

This ability to make and narrate videos can bring important but potentially ‘dry’ units to life: those that deal with rooms and furniture, directions, or food. Sharing the videos online provides a lot of additional, fun interaction between students, as well opportunities for language, accuracy and pronunciation analysis.

Making a Digital Projector Interactive

Since 21st Century learners are engaged by content that they can interact with, I have tried to make the digital projector an active rather than passive experience for my students.  Together with the projector, I use an audience response app, Socrative, which students download for free.  For example, as we work through grammar activities in the textbook, Socrative enables me to project additional practice items on the screen, which students complete on their smart phones. The app automatically checks answers and provides feedback to the class in real-time. Used in this way, digital technology is not merely engaging but plays a central part in achieving the goals of the lesson.

Socrative app logo

Making Digital Technology an essential rather than peripheral tool

My students sometimes forget their textbooks, but they never forget their phones. Therefore, every classroom we use is a technology-enhanced space. Smart phones, social media platforms and apps have allowed me to bring my materials to life. I can create colorful, interactive activities and I can encourage students to bring the real world into the class by using the video and photo functions of their classrooms. Instead of having students put their devices on a table by the door, I now ask them to make sure their phones are fully charged when they come to class. They understand that we are not using digital technology and social media for ‘fun’, or when we need to take a breather. Together, we have made digital technology a key part of their learning experience.

Take part in Thomas Healy’s live webinar to further explore and discuss how the digital technology your students love to use can become a key part of their learning experience. Register today!


Using a social media project as a tool for motivating young adults learning English

Close up of smartphone with social media icons

Image courtesy of pixabay.

Stacey Hughes, former EFL teacher, is a teacher trainer in our Professional Development team. Here she uses course material from Network to explore how social media can be used in the classroom to motivate young adults learning English.

Want to get young adult learners really motivated? Then make the language they are learning meaningful by linking it to authentic English practice opportunities. One way to do this is to set up a social networking project in which students can apply the vocabulary, grammar and communication skills they have built up in class. In this blog I will first list some of the pedagogical benefits of using a social media project. I’ll then suggest a few ideas for projects before outlining how a social media project can be set up in class.

Why use a social media project?

A social media project provides English practice opportunities in an environment that is familiar. Many of our students frequently use social media already when they tweet, post questions or comments online, blog, share videos or links, and chat online. By linking this social media use to English learning, students feel that what they are learning is meaningful for authentic communication and they can personalise learning as they build a network of classmates and peers to communicate with. Social media also provides plenty of models for how language is actually used and endless opportunities to use critical thinking skills to evaluate sources of information. Finally, social media projects can show young adults how to apply social media skills to further their professional growth.

Examples of social media projects

Social media projects aim to get students to use social networks to perform authentic tasks or solve authentic problems. Smaller projects include creating a profile or uploading and sharing a photo with a comment. An example of a larger project might be researching to find a place to live or places to stay on holiday. The projects can be chosen to suit the language level of the student.

Below is a list of social media projects you can do with your students.

  1. Build a personal or professional profile
    Students decide how much information to share and the best image of themselves to project, where to post the profile and how to share it so others can see it.
  2. Post a blog or comment
    Students respond to another blog or set up their own personal or professional blog. They comment on and rate an article, product or event.
  3. Connect online
    Students find an old school friend or a new friend in another country, join a group online that shares their interests, or collaborate on a project.
  4. Investigate something local
    Students learn about a local problem, find out about local events, or contact an organisation in their community.
  5. Find out
    Students find places to stay when travelling, find a job or a place to live, find a suitable restaurant – the possibilities are endless.
  6. Evaluate a website
    Students decide whether the information on a website is credible or not, or if a site or posting adheres to accepted ‘netiquette’.
  7. Game
    This may seem an odd choice, but there is a lot of language involved in learning the rules of the game and playing it well. Many games also have online forums and opportunities to link up online with other gamers.

Lesson plan for setting up a social media project

The following example of a social media project could be done over several weeks.

Use social networking to find a job

Level: Elementary and above

Aim: Students will research job finding resources and present their findings to the rest of the class.

  1. Lead-in: use an image or anecdote to begin a discussion about finding a job. Ask students if they have experience looking for a job and what resources they used to find one. Find out if they use any social networks (friends, family connections or social networks online) to look for jobs. This discussion could bring up some interesting cultural differences.
  2. Put students into pairs or small groups to brainstorm resources they could use to find a job. They should list a variety of resources, not just online ones. Ask each group to share their list with the class. Example resources include a career centre at school, newspapers, websites, professional networks, company web pages, jobs fairs, and personal networks (friends and families).
  3. Write the following questions on the board:
    1. Where is it?
    2. Who can use it? How?
    3. What kind of information is available?
    4. Do you get personal attention?
    5. Can you set up interviews?
    6. What employers use this resource?
  4. Ask each group to research the job-finding resources they have brainstormed and answer the questions. You may ask each member of the group to research a different type of resource, or each student could research them all. The research can be assigned for homework.
  5. If you are doing the project over the course of several weeks, ask students to bring in examples of new vocabulary they have found. Use these new terms to create vocabulary walls or a class wiki.
  6. Bring the groups back together to share the information they found. Ask them to create a group presentation. The presentation could be on a poster or could use presentation software such as PowerPoint or Prezi. Encourage them to use tables, charts or bullet-points for a good visual effect.
  7. Each group can practice their presentation in front of another group. Ask the groups to give each other feedback by posing questions: Was there anything you didn’t understand? Do you have any questions about the information that the group didn’t answer?
  8. Ask each group to give their presentation. Encourage groups to listen to each other, take notes and ask questions.
  9. As a follow-up, ask the class to write a short blog listing ways to use social networking to find a job. Ask each group to list 1-2 ideas, then collate these into one document. Share the document online and invite other classes in the school to read it.

(This project plan was adapted from Network 1 Teacher’s book, page vii)

In conclusion

The plan above demonstrates how a social media project can bring the real world into the classroom and make language learning meaningful for authentic tasks. It brings in a range of related vocabulary and grammar, and practices all four skills, but keeps the focus on the task. This focus is motivating and completing the task can give students a sense of achievement, especially if they then have a live audience to share with.


Webinar: Changing with the Times: The 21st Century Classroom

Ahead of his webinar on 30th January on the same topic, Gareth Davies asks: How can we as teachers adapt to the changing needs of learners in the 21st Century?

Next time you are on public transport have a look at the range of technology on show. People will be playing computer games, reading from e-books, checking the internet, messaging their friends, listening to music, watching video, or if we are lucky, actually doing some English homework. The world has changed; our students have become digital.

How does this digitalisation of life affect our students when they come into our classrooms? Have their expectations changed or their behaviour patterns? Should we be looking to adapt our methodology to meet the modern challenges of 21st Century teaching?

I am not suggesting that we should completely revolutionise our teaching, it is not realistic to go completely digital; there is not the equipment available for a start. But what I am suggesting is that we can observe our students’ behaviour patterns to see how we can tinker with our methodology to allow the students to get the most out of our teaching.

Let’s take Social Media / texting as an example. Teachers who claim their students don’t even read or write in their own language are wrong. Students might not read long novels or write descriptive prose but they communicate frequently through this medium, making reading and writing an essential part of our syllabus. But students are used to dealing with messages of around 140 characters, so we need to adapt what we do in class so the reading and writing texts don’t seem too daunting for them.

In my webinar I will be looking at this and other examples of students’ digital behaviour to see what we can learn as teachers and how we can harness their new learning styles to bring success to their English learning. Remember: changing with the times does not mean throwing the baby out with the bath water and completely changing our teaching, it just means learning from our students and responding to them to help prepare them for the 21st Century.

To find out more about adapting your teaching to suit 21st Century learners’ needs, register for Gareth’s webinar on 30th January.


#EFLproblems – Teaching writing in the age of WhatsApp

Examples of text speakWe’re helping to solve your EFL teaching problems by answering your questions every two weeks. In this week’s blog, Stacey Hughes responds to Klaudija Pralija’s Facebook post. Kaludija’s problem is not only getting students to write more than just short messages, but also teaching them to use appropriate language and grammar in more formal writing.

The challenge of text speak

Klaudija outlined a common problem in many classrooms. Students who are used to texting short messages full of emoticons, jargon, abbreviations, acronyms, and other non-standard English can feel it is acceptable to use these same features in more formal writing. On the plus side, if students are texting in English, research conducted by the British Academy (2010) suggests that this may have a positive impact on their language development. It is also worth noting that social media discussions can be the starting point for later articles, reports or studies.

For example, an idea brought up in a blog discussion or Twitter chat amongst EFL professionals could spark ideas that lead to a conference presentation further down the line. So students need to learn when it’s OK to use text language, and they need the flexibility to be able to switch between it and more standard or formal language.

To work on this flexibility, ask students to match common ‘text-speak’ with more formal phrases, which could then be used in whatever writing task is coming up. So, for example, in a unit where students have to write a formal letter, students could match items as below:

🙂 = I would be pleased/ delighted to…; I am happy to…
!? = Could you please clarify…
Thx = Thank you for…
i wanna = I would like to…
cu l8r = I look forward to seeing you later

Alternatively, ask students to choose a recent text message and ‘translate’ it into standard/formal English. If their texts are not in English, they could even do some research to find out the English equivalents. Discuss when text speak is an appropriate form of writing to help students begin to have an awareness of different types of writing for different purposes and audiences.

Another idea is to have a checklist that can be used for all student writing:

  • I used full sentences
  • I didn’t use abbreviations
  • I didn’t use slang
  • I used full forms rather than contractions
  • I used standard spellings

Writing in standard English

Getting students to be motivated to write longer texts can be challenging, but it’s not impossible. The key is to get students invested in the task. Let’s imagine that you are on a unit in which students need to write a report with arguments for and against something. Start by brainstorming something that the students feel strongly about. This could be related to something happening in the school (putting in a new vending machine, creating a new club, etc), in the community (building a new supermarket), or in the wider world.

Once you have decided on an issue (or issues if you want students to work in groups on different issues), ask students to use whatever social media channels they wish to discuss it. They can tweet about it, blog about it, Facebook chat about it, WhatsApp it – whatever they choose. With younger learners, issues of safety online should be addressed before this stage. Another alternative is to provide a chat wall where students can put up ‘tweets’ or messages using post-it notes. Chatting about issues via social media mirrors what happens in the real world and shows students how these channels can play a role in laying the foundation for other types of writing.

The next step is to decide who to write to about this issue – the Headmaster? The Mayor? The President? This audience awareness will help students focus on using more standard English and more serious arguments. Discuss why a headmaster or government official might want arguments for and against something and not just a one-sided viewpoint (e.g. s/he wants a clear picture of both sides of an argument, etc.). Discuss why it needs to be in more formal language (e.g. to be taken seriously; the headmaster doesn’t understand text speak, etc.).

Students then work to extract ideas from the chats and put them into more standard or formal language. They will need to evaluate the arguments to decide which can be used in their report. They will also need to decide which arguments are stronger and which they support. They may also wish to write recommendations. Finally, students write the report. If possible, allow students to write it on the computer so they can use the spell check and grammar check function built into word processors. Far from being a ‘cheat’, these tools force students to look carefully at what they have written in order to correct it (or not – computers make mistakes, too!). Typing out a report also makes it look and feel more ‘official’. Build in some peer review of the report, too. Again, this collaborative approach mirrors what happens in the real world and can lead to better work.

Ideally, if appropriate, students can send the report to the intended audience. What better motivator than to know their work is actually being read!

Invitation to share your ideas

We are interested in hearing your ideas about getting students to write in standard English, so please comment on this post and take part in our live Facebook chat on Friday 8 November at 12pm GMT.

Please keep your challenges coming. You can let us know by commenting on this post, on Twitter using the hashtag #EFLproblems, or on our Facebook page. Each blog will be 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.

Here are the topics for the next three blogs:

27 November, 2013: Motivating younger learners
04 December, 2013: Learning English beyond the exams
18 December, 2013: Written self-correction for younger learners