Gasp. Really? Phones? In class? Blasphemy! Heresy!
If this is your attitude, you’re fighting a losing battle. Can phones be a distraction? Certainly. But they are also a resource, and one that is fundamentally altering the way we communicate. Here are some ways to use phones as a resource in your English language classroom.
When students are out of class and don’t have native-speaking friends around, Google Translate is probably already their go-to resource. I know some teachers who try to wean students off of the service, but I favor shaping how they use it.
In my free time I sometimes try to read in other languages, and I’ve found Google Translate to be invaluable to that learning. I don’t search every word I don’t know. Before searching for a word, I try to guess its meaning, part of speech, recognize any relevant collocations, and so on. I also don’t just type in the word; I use the speech-to-text feature and attempt to pronounce the new word, or even the whole phrase or sentence. Though dictation software is still far from perfect, if Google understands you, it’s likely that others will as well. I try to teach my students to use Google Translate in these ways, and I believe it’s a huge asset to language learning in the digital age.
The ability to record students is extremely powerful, especially to increase noticing. I’ve used this in all number of ways, such as having students make a video of themselves during a public speaking presentation or mock job interview, which can help students become aware of filled pauses, pronunciation issues, and even volume and posture.
These days it’s easy to forget that phones are phones, and the ability to talk on the phone is for me the hallmark of an independent user of the language. I try to assign low intermediate students in-class telephone tasks such as ordering a pizza, making an emergency call, and navigating a phone menu. Connect to a Bluetooth speaker to make these into whole-class activities.
In adult ed, our students are often learning to navigate a new community/neighborhood/city/state/country at the same time as their new language. Using a smartphone’s native maps app or Google Maps can be a great way to spice up lessons on street directions, places around town, even places in a building as more and more public building maps are available on Google. Again, connecting to an LCD projector is a great way to make these into whole-class activities.
As I discussed in a recent post, I like to set aside some time in which students provide authentic content from their daily lives. This is a much richer option if you encourage (or assign) students to take photos and videos. What is this thing called? What is it for? How can I describe a thing like this? What does this sign mean?
These are just a few tips, but the key is changing your mindset from phones-as-distraction to phones-as-resource.