Text message abbreviations and emoticons. A lesson with a worksheet for your pre intermediate English students

Can’t be bothered to read the post and just want to see if the worksheet might be something you could use? Click here for the word document: Emoticons and text messages
Do you hate people writing ‘u’ instead of ‘you’ or ‘B4’ instead of ‘before’? Lots of people do. Is it normal to feel that in some way, the language you learn, love and use is being cheapened by it being abbreviated?
As someome who teaches and writes an awful lot, I couldn’t really care less how people spell. As long as they get their message across in the right way, then what’s the problem. You wouldn’t want students to use text message abbreviations in an exam, but in the same way you wouldn’t expect them to use long winded phrases in a text message.
Here’s a lesson that gets students to think about where emoticons come from and also teaches them the most common text and web speak abbreviations.
Here’s the link Emoticons and text messages

If you like it and use, please get in touch and tell us how it went!

More ideas for using Text Messages to teach English – Grammar Texts

After using text messages to try and get students to think in English (click here for the blog) and also to follow instructions outside class (click here to read that one) , I decided I could use the great power of the text to tackle grammar.

I used these texts as part of homework tasks, using an account at www.pageone.co.uk  to send text messages to students’ own mobile phones.

1. Comparing two sentences. What’s the difference? 

I sent these texts to students as part of their homework depending on what we were studying and asked them to come back with an answer next session. This gave them time to think about the problem, internalise it and come up with a solution. In class we could talk about possible answers. The following examples were very much applicable to my classes and you should use any sentences which are relevant to your students and lessons. I also haven’t included any answers to the questions below – that would take too long…

– Tell us the difference between:’ What is your brother like?’ and ‘What does your brother like?’

– Tell us the difference between ‘I am living in London’ and ‘I live in London’.

– Tell us the difference between ‘She is really depressed’ and ‘She is really depressing’

2. Fill in the missing word.

These are straight forward questions that I sent to students on their phones.

– ‘Which one word will fit into all spaces? 1.  What’s it ___ in  London? 2. Do you ___ football? 3. What would you ___ to drink?  (the answer is ‘like’)

– ‘Which one word will fit into all spaces? 1.  Where are you ___? 2. Who are you ___ out with? 3. The price of petrol is ___ up. (going)

– ‘Which one word will fit into all spaces? 1. Where are you ___?  My country is different ___ the UK 3. Where did you buy that beautiful coat ___? (from)

3. Correct the mistakes

Always a favourite, students have to correct the three sentences you send them and say ‘why’ they are wrong.

– Please correct these sentences! 1. He is speaking English very well. 2. She living in a big house. 3. We all lives in the USA 4. She no like football. (present simple and present continuous problems)

– Please correct these sentences! 1. I came to the USA before three years. 2. He doesn’t come to class yesterday. 3. I did go to work last week.  (past simple errors)

– Please correct these sentences! 1. You mustn’t come to work tomorrow it’s Saturday. 2. You don’t have to have a passport to travel. (incorrect use of modal verbs)

Teaching English/ESOL/ESL with SmartPhones – ten things I’d like to do.

In the UK you can get a smartphone for £100 and they are only going to get cheaper as more people want them. A device with a camera and video camera, access to the internet, with thousands of apps and the ability to share and recieve information will have a profound effect on education if we work with it. Here are some lessons I’d do if all my students had Android  powered Smartphones with access to the internet and cameras:

1. Mess about with googlemaps. I’d spend ten to fifteen minutes making a virtual tour of the town where we live and then ask students to log on and follow it in teams of two on their phones answering the questions I set them as they went. I actually did do this, but my students didn’t have the technology to access it. I’d go even further than this and get students to make their own tours on googlemaps with commentary, get other students to follow them and decide if they were good or bad.

2. Get students to take photos of things in pairs or teams, I blogged about this a long time ago here (click here to read it), I asked students to follow instructions to take snaps of various easy things like ‘a chair’ or ‘a book’ and then made it much harder by asking them to capture ‘sadness’ or ‘happiness’ to stretch their imagination. It worked really well and if we could do this with smartphones on the internet then we could instantly share the pictures on facebook or googledocs. I’d also get students to make films – something which I’m experimenting with at the moment. This is huge area for development.

3. I’d do loads more things with text messages – except that I wouldn’t use text messages because they cost money, I’d use the email feature of Facebook. I’ve already blogged about using text messages on here and use them to give students ‘thinking homework’ click here to read that one, and sending students out on a treasure hunt using messages they recieve digitally to tell them what to do – click here to read that one. With smartphones linked to the internet, this would be quick and more importantly, free

4. I’d get students out of the classroom with a text to read from either Amazon’s Kindle store via their ap or through googledocs, or even their email. When they’ve read it they can come back. And… I’d get students to read comics on their phones as homework.

5. I’d have students download the ‘my tracks‘ app which would track their every move via satelitte. I’d ask them to record their movements for one full day and then upload the ‘track’ to googlemaps so they could share it with the rest of the students. In class I’d get them to explain what they did and where they went using the map as a presentation tool.

6. I’d make students play games together, I mean multiplayer games where they play at the same time. Stratergy games, platform games, farmville type games – anything as long as they play together and it makes them interact with each other in the target language either to tell  each other how to do it, or how to cheat.

7. I’d ask students to interview someone in English, record it, edit it with something like audacity and then present it to the rest of the group.

8. I’d get students to use the radio and  listen to the news/a radio play/ in English at a certain time, write down some information from it and then share what they learned with the class in the next lesson.

9. I’d get students to listen  to music, any type of music as long as it’s in English. They could share it with each other, talk about it, learn lyrics from songs and find out about the singers or the group. I’ve also blogged about using youtube in lessons and those ideas would work perfectly well on smartphones.

10. Finally…I’d call them. Sometimes during the lesson, sometimes for homework. I’d phone for a chat or to ask them their opinion or to tell me something they found out. I’d also ask them to phone each  other – as long as they spoke in English.

My prediction is this: a decent,cheap smartphone that is compatible with the internet and has all the features needed to work with a PC will be able to dominate the educational landscape of the future. Students buy and maintain the device but the books  and the materials that might be needed be them audio, video or text, are transmitted to this device by the educational institution. We would need paper of course but there wouldn’t be the need for nearly as much. The technology is here now.

Is there anyone out there who agrees…?

Is there anyone out there who wants to lend me a bunch of smartphones to teach my students with?  Please get in touch of you’ve got a project on this!

Using Text Messages to teach English – Part 2 ‘Following Instructions’

The lesson

In this lesson I used ‘text messages’ to give students questions that they had to answer in pairs. They left the classroom and went out into the surrounding environment and received messages from me at three minute intervals. I made sure that each group got a different message. I managed this, in the business sense, by writing down the numbers of each question, one to eight, next to each team name and crossing out each number as I sent the messages.

The Rationale

Yes, it’s nice to send text messages that students read on their phones but it wasn’t so much the technology that I wanted students to communicate with, rather, each other. Students had to talk to each other in English to accomplish many of the tasks, and actually answering the questions correctly was not as important as talking to each other to find it.

Here are the rules

–         You must stay together.

–         You must answer all the questions

–         You can find out the answers anyway you like.

Here are the questions that were sent

  1. Go and find a book from the library with the word ‘fish’ in the title, write the name and author.
  2. Find a joke in English. Write it down.
  3. Get onto the internet. What is the temperature in your country today?
  4. Find out what films are on the TV tonight. Write them down.
  5. Tell each other something you’ve done that you’re proud about. Write it down.
  6. Have a chat together about something. Write down what you chatted about.
  7. Teach each other an English word that you didn’t know before. Write them down.
  8. Find out the principal of your institution. Write their name down.

How did it go?

– students loved the tasks. By putting outgoing students with slighly more shy students they were able to complete the activities well.

– Some quick students said that three minutes was too long to wait between each text message.

There was a lot of cheating, which for us was good. My students live in the target language and so any speaking with local people they means they are improving their English. This might not work so well where students live in a country where people don’t speak the target language.

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 www.pageone.co.uk 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.