5 tips for using smartphones in an English class

Technology. Is there any word that generates more of a negative response from the teaching community? Observation, maybe. Cancellation, perhaps. Technology is in good company at least. It’s not so much plain, simple negativity that tech provokes, but indifference, reluctance and/or resistance.


The ‘original’ smartphone, the IBM Simon, launched back in 1994

Why is this? Well, teaching is a tried and tested type of job. Teachers who have tons of experience and know their chosen material inside and out probably won’t feel the urge to experiment with unfamiliar things. There is also a quality issue here, as teachers feel they provide good classes already without using new technology. We also face planning issues. Time is always precious and of course, it takes longer to prep something you don’t know a lot about. Not to mention technical problems such as reliable internet connections and lugging around heavy equipment all day (that’s if equipment is even available to you in the first place)

The last 10 years or so have seen a slight bucking of the trend. Skype classes are now reasonably common and provide flexibility for both teacher and student. Several major school chains such as Berlitz and Linguarama offer online learning resources that run alongside face-to-face English courses. Generally, however, technology is something that has not be fully embraced by the TEFL industry.berlitz

Smartphones have dramatically increased in popularity in the last 5 years or so (apparently more than 2 billion are in use around the world), to the point when almost every business student has one.

As well as being essential for any self-respecting workaholic, they can be very useful tools for your English class. Having a smartphone means access to the internet, the ability to make calls, send emails and watch videos. Here are 5 tips for using smartphones in class:

Things to check before

One great thing about smartphones is that students bring them anyway, meaning you don’t need to plan a week or so ahead. But still, a few key points to check:

  • Do your students actually have smartphones? No explanation needed…
  • Can you get internet/wi-fi? – This is important as some companies don’t give access to wi-fi and that kills some activities you can do with the phones


A great way to use smartphones is as practice for a class on emails. Put your students into pairs or small groups and ask them to send an email to each other and then write a reply. Although it’s tempting for both teacher and student to do writing practice for homework, this has worked really well for me in the past as it has a ‘real-life’ feel to it and students appreciate that.

One potential problem – students don’t want to share their email addresses. No problem! Set up a couple of Gmail accounts in advance and use those.


The obvious one. Using real phones is essential for an effective telephoning class. Other solutions like sitting students back-to-back just don’t cut it. Of course, calls cost money. But the good people at Whatsapp give the option to make an internet call for free – that is, when you have access to wi-fi.

Credit:  TakuyaMurata https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:IPhone_keyboard_unblurred.jpg


Watching videos

Genuine materials including videos are great for learners, especially higher levels (I wish we did this in my German class). You can watch your video all together as a group on a laptop or TV screen sure. But don’t underestimate the usefulness of having 6 screens. This way, you can watch different videos, ask the students to give summaries of their videos or give presentations on the content after. You can send these videos from your phone or laptop via email or bluetooth.

Finding articles

One last idea is as part of a news class. You might focus on one aspect of the news, space exploration for example. Next ask your students to find an interesting story on their smartphones, read it and give a summary to the class.

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1 Response

  1. Swifty says:

    I love shakespere and the other guys like dan brown and dave mcfetridge

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