Just a few decades ago, the classroom teacher faced a much different set of challenges with students. Classroom disturbances were more along the lines of passing notes, chewing gum, and occasionally throwing paper airplanes. Teachers now face a classroom of students who are constantly connected via cell phones. Who would have thought that every student would own a device in which they can instantly send a message to another student without leaving their seat or even raising their arm to pass a note? While we’ve all fought that uphill battle to get students to put away their devices and focus on our instruction, perhaps as educators, we need to switch up our routine from time to time for a bit of variation. As an alternative, what if we let them use their phones?

It may sound a bit crazy when I say it like that, but of course I do not mean at their leisure to surf the internet and text their friends. Have the students use their phones to participate in classroom activities in the target language. EMC’s Passport Learning Environment offers a variety of options for engaging your students with their phones in the world language classroom. Students can access eBooks straight from their phones by visiting Passport.emcl.com, signing in, then clicking on the eBook, which is also downloadable. You could have students do the eBook activity during class time to reinforce what was taught. Students get instant feedback, and you as the teacher can see when they have completed the assignment and the score that was achieved. If pronunciation practice is what you desire for your class, the vocabulary sections of the eBook have sound. Students can click on the word or phrase to hear it pronounced by a native speaker. Using their phones, students can also do listening activities as well as watch the video series and complete accompanying exercises. Audio and video are playable straight from the eBooks. The video series can alternatively be played by scanning the QR code from the textbook.

If you really want some excitement in the language classroom, try using Flipgrid as an in-class activity. The Flipgrid app allows students to record videos using their phones; just search Flipgrid in the app store to download it for free. Have students record video responses in class, either alone or in pairs. As students’ videos appear on the grid, screen several videos and pick a few to play. Play different students’ videos for the class each time you do this activity that way everyone at some point gets to be the “star.” Students stay engaged, they can hear classmates speaking in the target language, and they love seeing their videos instantly appear on the grid. They grow to like being in front of the camera like they are with many of the social media apps they currently use. The teacher benefits from this exercise as well. It cuts down on time spent with students moving around the classroom, and provides more opportunities to hear student examples than during normal speaking activities. In addition, there is now a record of class participation. This is an ideal way to have more of a student-centered class, all while using cell phones in a productive manner.

It’s understandable that every language instructor has days that he or she does not want students on their phones. However, allowing students to use their phone for in-class activities can be a way to keep them engaged with a device that they now seem to not be able to live without. So the next time you feel tired of asking students to put their phones away, consider doing the opposite and ask them to take their phones out. It might just turn into a fun and productive class!


by Jon Bach, Learning Solutions Specialist, EMC School

Why cell phones belong in the language classroom

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