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 Digital Cameras in the ESOL / ESL / IELTS classroom Part 2

Can’t be bothered to read the blog? Download the lesson here https://chrisspeck.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/telling-stories-with-photographs.doc

This is the second time I’ve blogged about using digital cameras in the language classroom, so if you missed it, here’s a link to my first effort. https://chrisspeck.wordpress.com/category/using-digital-cameras/

Last time I got students to take photos of different nouns, and also some abstract nouns like happiness and sadness. This worked well and generated lots of language between the students as they did the task as well as more  when they presented their pictures to the rest of the class via a slideshow on PowerPoint

This time I wanted students to really communicate with each other and try to tell a story using pictures and themselves as actors. This would generate huge and meaningful discussion as they did the task as a group and would also provide opportunities for presentation. I knew it would be hard for lots of students to understand a visualize what they had to do, so I found my own picture slide show for them to watch first.

Lesson Plan

I used this lesson with a group of older teenagers from various parts of the world.  To carry out the lesson we used: Digital Camera (many students used their phones), computers that we could upload the photos onto, an interactive whiteboard or projector so that students could show their work to the class. You also need a copy of the worksheet – which you cut up into four sections and distibute seperately: Get the worksheet here – https://chrisspeck.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/telling-stories-with-photographs.doc

1. Ask students if they read comics or picture stories in the newspaper or anywhere else. Elicit their views on them, do they think they are good way to tell a story?

2. Show them the first comic slide show – snoopy and ask what them to tell each other the story.

3. Now pass them the second picture slide show. Ask them to tell the story to each other once again.

4. Explain that they are going to try and make their own picture story using digital cameras. Before they do this, it’s a good idea to go through the language section in Part 3 so that students are aware and have the tools to be able to make a story together.

5. Put students into groups and get them to do Activity 4. It might be tough for students who aren’t very creative but remind them that it doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. Indeed, this is an English class and not a photography or film class so the real task is not making a photo story but using English to do so.

6. Ask students to work in their groups, uploading their photos to software that will allow them to show their images and write some captions. Perhaps the easiest program to use is PowerPoint, but there many more avaliable including Picasa, Windows PhotoStory, Windows Moviemaker or even Flickr. They could also audio commentary.

7. Have students display their photo stories to the rest of the class. Encourage feedback and questions.

– When I did this lesson I was unsure whether students would ‘rise to the challenge’ and make a story, but they were very creative and surpassed my expectations.

Further Reading

21st Teaching has some good ideas on using photo stories http://21stcenturyteaching.pbworks.com/Ideas-for-Photostory-3-Projects

Students taking Snaps – Ideas for Using Digital Photos in your ESOL / ESL / IELTS class.


If you haven’t got time to read – here’s the lesson


Students and teachers alike enjoying having their mobile phones switched on in class so they can look at text messages recieved, share photos of new editions to their family or tweets from people they have never met. Sadly, convention causes us to have our ringtones on silent and to gently chuckle along to ourselves as we read, look at a picture or digest the philosophical tweet. What, as someone in teaching recently has probably said over and over again, we turned the tables on this and used the phones as a teaching tool?  I’ll be looking at this in more detail in other blog posts but here, we’ll deal with photos.

Most mobile phones have decent cameras in them these days and with that much power, students have the ability to snap away at anything they like, for free. Of course, none of us are the very talented and famous photographer, David Bailey so we don’t really care what the photos really look like, what’s more important is the language that will be produced by talking about then before, during and after the process.

Before we start – some possible issues.

Not everyone will have a camera phone. This might make some activities difficult, especially homework tasks. Your institution or school might have some digital cameras you could lend students, or they might want to consider investing in some.

How do you share or show the photos? The best way to share photos is if you have an Interactive Whiteboard or a projector, but even just a standard computer monitor will do. Students can gather round to look at the photos together.  Annoyingly, lots of mobile phones don’t have standard USB connection ports and this might make it difficult to quickly upload photos from the phones as students will need their special connectors. One way might be to ask students to upload their photos to a repositiory, you might have moodle at your institution or something similar, but you could also use the fabulous www.flickr.com and ask students to store their photos there or even facebook. If you do have an interactive whiteboard or will use a central computer you could ask students to store their photos on memory stick which they could plug in. 

Using Photos in Classroom Time.

1. In pairs students go away and take photos of  a series of increasing ly difficult objects to find. This is the only idea I’ve had enough time to develop into an actual lesson –  I’ve made a worksheet for this here.


2. Signs. In pairs students take photos of signs.  They then come back and discuss these in class.

3. Where is it? Students take photos of familiar places that are not obvious, other students have to guess where it is.

4. Recreate these photos. Student have to try to reproduce famous photos or pictures. (not sure about this one!)

Outside class time – photo lessons that need some preparation.

1. Tell me about your favourite photo. Students bring in their own photo and talk about why it’s important to them or why they like it.

2. A day in your life – in photos. Students take a sequence of photos showing a day in their life which they can them show and explain to the rest of the class.

3. What happened at the weekend? The same as the task about but this time about the weekend. This could also be extended to include a celebration or other party.

4. My favourite place/ food/ person.

Feedback- How did it go?

Will let you know. Please let us know of any other digital photgraphy lessons you’ve done.