Using Text Messages to teach English – Part 1 ‘Think Texts’


‘A lot of students have mobile phones and as teachers, we often wrestle with how to get them to turn them off in class (although I’ve stopped bothering now). But what if we could use them as teaching tools to deliver content and get responses from our students?’ – I’m tired of reading and writing this kind of thing and was pleased to finally get to using text messages to teach rather than talking about it. Thanks to a UK Molenet project, I was able to do so.

How to do it

We signed up for an account with they specialise in all sorts of communications to do with texting and have a great service for education. Once we were set up, the interface was easy to use and also allowed us to schedule text messages we wanted to send. One constraint was that the maximum length for one text message is 107 characters.

Homework Messages

The most obvious thing is to send students their homework using text messages. You could text them an essay title or a question for them to answer in writing but this could just as easily be done in the classroom. Text messages are much more personal, a phone is something you carry around with you all the time and when someone sends you a message you read it straight away if you can. You might be sitting on a bus or having your lunch or even sitting in class. What I wanted to do with these ‘Think texts’ was get students to have a kind in internal dialogue and get ready to tell themselves and other students about it. I explained to my students that I was going to send them a text and here is the first one I sent on a Sunday evening,  as their homework for the next day.

‘Think about the last time you told a lie. Tell yourself the story in English. You’ll tell the class about it tomorrow.’

This may seem a bit quirky – asking students to talk to themselves – and it might be worth pointing out that students can do this silently in their heads. This idea of a student developing their inner voice is something discussed and explained by  writer and materials developer Brian Tomlinson, among his many books (click here for a list) you can find reference on how to develop this in second language learners. Brian also explains this theory very clearly in the The Journal of Imagination in Language Learning and Teaching which you can read online.

Did it work?

Of those who had ‘done’ their homework, there were mixed responses, students who had thought about the question came up with lucid answers and this generated a good discussion on ‘white lies’. Students were clearly motivated by texts and did feel that the opportunity to the ‘think’ rather than write an answer was useful for their English.

Here are some more ‘think texts’ I sent to students

Think about the best things about your country. Explain them to yourself in English. You’ll tell the class about it tomorrow.

Think about the most important person in your life and why they are/were important. Describe them to yourself in English. You’ll tell your partner about it tomorrow.

Think about your ambitions. Explain what you hope to do in the future to yourself in English. You’ll tell the class about them tomorrow.

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