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20 ideas-for-using-mobile-phones-in-language-classroom-

  1. 1. Hay o Re i n d e rs. Twenty Ideas for Using Mobile Phones in the Language Classroom. T hese days it seems mobile mobile phones are relatively cheap phones are used everywhere and increasingly powerful (Chinnery by everyone, which leads to 2006; Kukulska-Hulme and Traxler the obvious question: How can mobile 2005). Another benefit is that learn- phone technology support learning ers are used to working with them, in the second language classroom? often more so than with comput- The answer is “in a number of ways” ers. Thornton and Houser (2003) because mobile phones come with report that young Japanese learners ever-increasing functions that most prefer to use mobile phones for many students are adept at using. In this activities, from emailing to reading article I describe 20  practical ways to books. Research on the use of mobile use mobile phones to support second phones for the delivery of vocabulary language learning, both inside and materials to English learners in Tai- outside the classroom. Most of the wan shows that students enjoy using activities will work with most mobile their phones because of easy access to phones and do not require special materials and the ability to practice knowledge or additional software or anytime and anywhere; in addition, hardware. I will also discuss drawbacks some students like the screen size lim- such as cost, increased workload, and itations, which make the amount of other problems that might impact the content more manageable than that use of phones in the classroom, and of other teaching materials (Chen, will suggest ways of mitigating them. Hsieh, and Kinshuk 2008). There are several pedagogical rea- Mobile-assisted language sons to consider using mobile phones learning. in the second language classroom. Recent interest in the potential Most importantly, phones are social for mobile phones and other portable tools that facilitate authentic and rel- devices to support learning and teach- evant communication and collabora- ing has been driven by the fact that tion among learners. This makes them 20 2010 N u m b e r 3 | E n g l i s h T E a c h i n g F o r u m
  2. 2. an ideal tool to support situated learning teaching I have sometimes asked students totheory, which states that learning is more likely work together in small groups and share oneto take place when information is contextu- phone that had the required capabilities.ally relevant and can be put to immediate use(Lave and Wenger 1991). For example, second Twenty practical ideas for using mobilelanguage learners can use mobile technology phones in the language classroom.to access relevant vocabulary and expressions The following ideas for using mobile phoneswhile at a bank opening an account, to look for second language learning generally focus onup movie reviews while at the theater, or developing the four skills and in many casesto discuss weekend plans with an English- integrate speaking with listening and readingspeaking friend. Since mobile phones are part with writing. The material and activities canof students’ everyday routines, they help mini- be modified to conform to different syllabi andmize the separation between the classroom and are easily adaptable for different ages, learningthe outside world. Applied linguists agree on levels, and interests. It is important to note thatlittle when it comes to theories for explaining the names of the features used here may not belanguage learning, but one thing seems clear— the same for all mobile phones.more exposure to the target language and morepractice, or time on task, explains most of the Idea 1: Use the Notes feature to collect every-variation in students’ success. Any tool that day language.can increase students’ access to the language Most mobile phones have a feature thatwill contribute greatly to their progress. allows them to take notes. Ask students to Another compelling argument for using use this feature to take notes on the Englishmobile phones in the classroom is that they they read or hear outside of school and eithergive students control over their own learning. present the notes to the class or send them toStudents control the medium, and teachers, you as a text message. Instead of giving regularby elaborating how best to use the medium, homework, you can ask students to hunt forprovide a blueprint for autonomous learning, specific language forms (e.g., common nouns,especially during the wide range of daily social the past perfect tense, formulaic expressions),activities where mobile phones are most likely and the student who collects the largest num-to be used. ber of correct samples wins. Learners have a tendency to tune out when a classroom lessonPreparation. is over; this activity helps circumvent that Before asking students to pull out their cell problem by breaking the boundary betweenphones in class, you need to have a plan. As class time and daily activities.with any other teaching activity, ask yourself Idea 2: Use the Camera feature to take pic-what you are trying to achieve. Are you focus- tures of text.ing on speaking, listening, reading, writing, One of the easiest ways to use a mobileor some combination of the four skills? Or do phone for learning is to record samples of theyou simply want students to reflect on their target language by taking pictures. Students canlanguage use outside the classroom? Start by take pictures of English text by using the Cam-identifying a specific teaching objective and era feature on their mobile phones. They canthen structure a mobile phone activity around then make a collage of the images or uploadthat. Ask yourself if there is an added value the pictures to a shared Flickr account (www.to using a phone for the activity you have in flickr.com). If students do not have a data con-mind. If there is none, perhaps it is better to nection (or if you do not want them to incurfind an alternative. data costs), they can transfer the pictures to a The next step is to take stock of the computer and upload them from there.resources that you have available. There is anenormous range of phone makes and models, Idea 3: Use free programs to organize lan-and the technology is always advancing. Many guage samples.of the following ideas will work with all but An extension to Ideas 1 and 2 is to use athe most obsolete phones, but some require free program like Evernote (www.evernote.the use of more recent models. In my own com) to upload notes and pictures to yourE n g l i s h TE a c h i n g F o r u m | Number 3 2010 21
  3. 3. account (which can be accessed from any Idea 7: Use free programs to make flashcards computer). One neat feature is that the pro- for mobile phones. gram recognizes words in pictures (such as If you do not want to create your own on billboards or even handwritten notes) and vocabulary lists, there are several companies converts it to text, generally very accurately. that produce flash card software that runs on Students can use this program to organize per- mobile phones, such as www.flashmybrain. sonal notes on their account and share it with com (there is a charge to set up an account). a group or the whole class. Different accounts You or your students can create vocabulary can be exchanged, compared, and discussed flashcards that can be retrieved, shared, and in class. Again, to avoid data costs notes could practiced anywhere. be transferred from the mobile phone to the computer for uploading. Idea 8: Use the Text Messaging feature for circular writing. Idea 4: Use the Voice Memo Recorder feature The reality is that many students do not to record language from media outlets. like to write. They associate writing in the Most phones include a memo recording school context with boring assignments and a feature that can collect language samples from punitive environment of criticism and nega- TV or radio. The students’ collected samples tive feedback. In other words, the fun is miss- give you an opportunity to analyze the lan- ing. However, if one considers writing as any guage, discuss where they were collected, and form of textual communication, it becomes provide feedback. clear that students actually write a lot. The number of text messages, status updates on Idea 5: Use the Voice Memo Recorder feature social networking sites, and instant messages to record conversations outside the classroom. (IMs) sent by the average young learner is Students can record interviews or con- staggering; clearly, a lot of writing is going versations they engage in outside the class- on! The challenge is to encourage that type of room. Obviously you will have to consider writing that helps students learn English. privacy issues and impress upon learners the If students are not ready to write essays, importance of obtaining their interlocutors’ they can practice with shorter texts to develop permission before they do interviews, either their writing skills. One activity is circular with each other or native speakers. Students writing, where students create a story together can play the interviews and conversations in by contributing one text message at a time. class for feedback and discussion. I have used Each student writes a sentence or two and this idea to send students on quests to collect then sends this on to the next student, who information from sources in the community, adds another message, and so on until the including from native speakers (Reinders and story is complete. The teacher is copied and Lewis 2009). Although we used iPods with has a record of the story as it emerges. You can a microphone, the same task is now easily experiment with different text types such as accomplished with mobile phones. The prin- narratives (as in the example above), or shorter ciple remains the same: try to get students to forms such as news reports, instructions, and use the language as much as possible! warnings. Idea 6: Use the Text Messaging feature to Idea 9: Use the Text Messaging feature for reinforce vocabulary learning. tandem learning. A study by Thornton and Houser (2003) Interactive writing can be encouraged shows that Short Message Service (SMS) text through tandem learning. In this activity two messages can be used to send out vocabulary students who wish to learn each other’s native items at spaced intervals, thus increasing language pair up and exchange text messages. student retention. For example, you could I recently used this technique with a group of text the words covered in class to encourage 16-year-old high school students from Taiwan students to review them outside the school preparing for a trip to the UK and a group of context. By sending out the words multiple London-based students taking Chinese lan- times, you increase the chances that students guage classes. Here is a good example of the will remember them. situated learning I referred to earlier:22 2010 Number 3 | E n g l i s h TE a c h i n g F o r u m
  4. 4. messages, share pictures, and generally inter- act online in a myriad of ways. Most of the interaction takes place in writing, and simply asking students to use English instead of their native language produces a great deal of writing practice. Some teachers actively useIdea 10: Use the mobile phone to keep a blog. such sites to keep in touch with students or A more advanced form of using the mobile to organize activities online. The sites can bephone for writing tasks is keeping a blog. This accessed through mobile phones, and it coulddoes require a phone with a connection to the be good fun to ask students to post on eachInternet (or the use of a wireless network at other’s pages in relation to a topic you havehome or perhaps at school). Students use the just discussed in class. This activity is bestText Messaging and Camera features to add used within range of a wireless network, so itmessages and post pictures to their personal may not work for everyone.blogs. This is great for writing about personalexperiences, places visited, and people met, Idea 13: Use the mobile phone for a languagebut it can also be used as an activity in which exchange.students collect information and report on it Using phones for speaking may not seemlike journalists. Teachers can read these blogs like an original idea, but one way to encour-and provide feedback, request more informa- age reluctant students to start speaking is totion, or ask students to comment on each establish a language exchange. In this activityother’s work. two students who want to learn each other’s native language talk in that target language forIdea 11: Use the mobile phone for microblog- half of the time. This activity may be expen-ging on Twitter. sive unless students can use Skype on their No report on mobile writing would be mobile phones.complete without mention of Twitter, thepopular microblogging service. Microblog- Idea 14: Use the mobile phone for “phlogging”.ging involves sending short messages (with a To encourage students to practice indi-limit of 140  characters, including punctua- vidual speaking, they could start phlogging, ation and spaces) from a computer or a mobile recent form of blogging that entails calling aphone. Initially intended to provide friends number and leaving a message on a website.with status updates (“Now going to the gym,” Some programs like the currently free www.“Watching Lost in Translation,” “Feeding ipadio.com will even automatically transcribethe hamster”), Twitter is now used by many the recording. This is an excellent task-baseddifferent professions, including educators, to learning tool for students to update oral andkeep people informed about who is doing written reports about a given project.what. You can use Twitter for a wide variety ofassignments, such as asking students to report Idea 15: Use mobile phone memory to dis-on their daily activities. To focus on specific tribute listening material.aspects of language, you could ask students Many phones have memory for graphics,to write down each idiom they find in a book photos, and music that you can use to down-they are reading or to report when they hear load listening material for your students, whosomeone use a negative adverb such as seldom can in turn transfer them to their phones oror hardly. You may not be able to (or want to!) other media. This could be a recording of yourread all the comments, or tweets, yourself, but class, a podcast, or course listening materials.you could ask students to follow some of their In addition to providing hundreds of existingclassmates’ tweets and respond to them. podcasts for English language learners, the iTunes U website (www.apple.com/education/Idea 12: Use the mobile phone for social itunes-u) will upload your own podcasts tonetworking. which students can subscribe. Like Twitter, Facebook and MySpace are Audiobooks are another source of listeningenormously popular social networking tools materials. These can be downloaded in a vari-that allow groups of “friends” to meet, post ety of formats and can then be transferred andE n g l i s h TE a c h i n g F o r u m | Number 3 2010 23
  5. 5. played back on any phone that has sufficient instant reflection replaces the formal e-port- audio capabilities. Numerous commercial folio. However, it is important to explain websites sell audiobooks read by professional what you expect in terms of the amount and readers, but there are also websites where pub- frequency of reflection (and explain why!), so lic domain audiobooks can be downloaded for that students take the activity seriously. Ask free, such as http://librivox.org. students to document their use of the lan- guage outside the classroom and any problems Idea 16: Use mobile phone memory to dis- they encounter, such as a communication tribute reading material. breakdown or misunderstanding, as well as Similar to the listening idea above, you any successful communicative interactions. could download reading materials for your Be creative! Some teachers use portfolio assess- students. There are numerous sites with free ment to give credit for work done outside reading material, including Project Guten- the classroom, which is also possible with a berg (www.gutenberg.org), which also has mobile phone portfolio. many audiobooks available. Many books are In addition, you could encourage students now published in mobile friendly formats. As to use the Calendar feature or other produc- one exercise, you can ask students to use the tivity tool available on most phones to set voice recorder to take notes about the book goals, deadlines for assignments, and remind- while they are reading. The books, along with ers to rehearse material covered in class. students’ reflections, can then be discussed during the next class. Idea 19: Use the mobile phone to check stu- dent comprehension and get feedback. Idea 17: Use the mobile phone to play games. The previous ideas focus on learning, but Many of the free games for mobile phones, mobile phones can also help you in your such as Scrabble and crossword puzzles, teaching. One way is to add an element of involve a focus on language. Although not all interactivity to your classes through audience of them may be suitable for second language participation. Polleverywhere (www.pollevery- learners, they at least encourage students to where.com) is a free program that allows the engage with the target language, and to do teacher to pose survey questions to students. so in the context of entertainment. Once Students respond by texting their responses students determine that their phones have the and the results show up immediately in a Pow- capability to play games, they must download erPoint presentation or on a website. This is and install the programs. very useful for checking student comprehen- sion and to get their opinions. You could, for Idea 18: Use the Voice Memo Recorder, Notes, example, ask students to choose from one of and Calendar features to keep a portfolio. several options for the next classroom activity. Most learning inevitably takes place out- This tool is particularly useful in larger classes side the classroom. Students need to process where it is not easy to get feedback from all new information and assimilate it into their students. interlanguage, which is their current stage of second language development as reflected by Idea 20: Use mobile phone memory for their control of grammar, syntax, and vocabu- research and data collection. lary. Encouraging students to reflect about Mobile phones are now becoming indis- their language acquisition helps them to take pensible for research and data collection. control of their own learning and positively Being small and light, they are excellent por- affects the assimilation process. table tools for researchers to collect socioeco- Many students either do not enjoy or do nomic, health, and other critical information not have the discipline to keeping a formal from communities worldwide. Searching for journal or portfolio to reflect on their learn- the term “data collection” at http://mobileac- ing, even an online one such as the European tive.org will show examples of this type of e-portfolio (www.eelp.org/eportfolio). Mobile research and data collection. As an advanced phones, by virtue of their portability, lower project, students can replicate similar projects this barrier. Ask students to document their on a smaller scale, or come up with original learning progress by using the Notes and mobile phone research tasks. The phlogging Voice Memo Recorder features. In this way, tool mentioned in Idea 14 is another way24 2010 Number 3 | E n g l i s h TE a c h i n g F o r u m
  6. 6. to record research data or, by using a micro- your school. The messages are then free forphone, classroom interaction. students to send, and the costs are borne by the school. Another free alternative is toPotential problems and solutions when send text messages from a website that offersusing mobile phones in the classroom. free texting, such as www.textmefree.com; a Following are some potential problems downside is that these types of websites typi-associated with using mobile phones in the cally display advertising. A fourth alternativeclassroom, along with some possible solutions is to request funding from your institution orand suggestions a government entity; for example, my univer- sity makes text message bundles available onLack of access to mobile phones. request. Not all students in all classes will havemobile phones, and the concerns around lack Noise and disruption in class.of access are valid; however, it is probably Despite the exciting potential for mobilesafe to say that of all the technologies avail- phones to increase opportunities for learning,able to teachers, mobile phones are the most the prospect of allowing noisy phones intowidespread. I remember visiting Lake Tana a classroom may seem a bit daunting, espe-in northern Ethiopia in 2005. There was no cially if one has little experience using themInternet, no computers, not even electricity as a teaching tool. As with music, movies,for much of the day. I took a boat trip across and computers, their usefulness depends ona remote part of the lake and on my return having clear tasks for your students to workrealized I had left my money in the hotel. with. Phones can be disruptive. For example,My guide pulled out his cell phone and said it would be counterproductive if they rang in“Why don’t you just text me the money?”, class in the middle of a silent reading activity.referring to a widely used practice in many Clearly some ground rules are needed. It isparts of Africa that allow payment by sending also possible that your school either prohibitssomeone text credits. I was stunned as this was cell phone use in class or does not yet haveunheard of in the “developed” country I lived a policy. In that case you will need to com-in at the time. municate your intentions to the head of your It is also important to make sure all stu- department.dents have access to phones that have thecapabilities you need. In 2010 it is likely that Privacy considerations.most phones have most of the features men- It is paramount to consider issues of pri-tioned above, but do check. One solution is vacy before using mobile phones in class. Ifto share phones between students for certain you teach younger learners, you may need toactivities. get parents’ consent to use mobile phones in school. Some students may be reluctant toCost of mobile phones and wireless services. share private information with others, so it It is important to realize that not all stu- is important to explain to them what yourdents have access to mobile phone technology intentions are and find out if they have anyand to not place a financial burden on your concerns about using their phones for learn-students and their parents by requiring stu- ing activities. Similarly, you need clear rulesdents to have phones. Activities such as tex- about when and how phones can be used soting, going online, and of course making calls that students do not use them for inappropri-cost money. Not every student has an unlim- ate purposes.ited calling plan. Some of the ideas aboveinvolve sending and receiving text messages, Increased teacher workload.which could be a problem because not all Finally, the use of mobile phones, or anystudents subscribe to a texting plan. In some new technology, has the potential to increasecountries this can be expensive (subscribers in your workload. There may be a learningthe United States, for example, pay even for curve, which is an investment that will hope-receiving messages). fully pay itself back in increased student Transferring text messages to a computer motivation and engagement. However, thereis one way to avoid texting charges. Another is also the question of how to deal withalternative is to create a free text number for the extra communication that use of phone Continued on page 33E n g l i s h TE a c h i n g F o r u m | Number 3 2010 25
  7. 7. Twenty Ideas for Using Mobile Phones… (Continued from page 25) generates. For example, what happens if all References of your students start texting you? Just like Chen, N. S., S. W. Hsieh, and Kinshuk. 2008. with emails in the 1990s, you will need to Effects of short-term memory and content representation type on mobile language learn- set boundaries and make it clear to students ing. Language Learning and Technology 12 (3): what they can send to you when, what you 93–113. can and cannot respond to, and what you Chinnery, G. 2006. Going to the MALL: Mobile will respond to individually and in class. assisted language learning. Language Learning and Technology 10 (1): 9–16. Even receiving 50 text messages may not be Kukulska-Hulme, A., and J. Traxler, eds. 2005. an issue if they all relate to the same assign- Mobile learning: A handbook for educators and ment you set in class and you can follow up trainers. London: Routledge. with the whole group. There are also tools Lave, J., and E. Wenger. 1991. Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: that can help you manage text messages. Cambridge University Press. Programs like Notepage (www.notepage.net) Reinders, H., and M. Lewis. 2009. Podquests: let teachers respond to multiple text messages Language games on the go. In Language games: or send out bulk messages from a computer, Innovative activities for teaching English, ed. M. Andrade, 76–85. Alexandria, VA: TESOL. thus greatly reducing the time needed to Thornton, P., and C. Houser. 2003. Using mobile respond. web and video phones in English language teaching: Projects with Japanese college stu- Conclusion dents. In Directions in CALL: Experience, experi- All the ideas above allow you to offer ments and evaluation, ed. B. Morrison, C. Green, and G. Motteram, 207–24. Hong Kong: increased opportunities for language learning English Language Centre, Hong Kong Poly- by taking advantage of a tool that students technic University. are intimately familiar with and carry around at all times. Dealing with the challenges of Hayo reinDers is Head of Language using mobile phones may seem daunting, but and Learning Support at Middlesex teachers I know who use them have found it University in London and editor of the to be a worthwhile investment of their time journal Innovation in Language Learning and a welcome addition to their language and Teaching. His webpage is teaching methods. www.innovationinteaching.org. E n g l i s h TE a c h i n g F o r u m | Number 33S