Sunday, 29 November 2009

A fun warm up with your mobile phone

This is a nice activity using your mobile phone; however, it does require you giving you number out, so if you aren't keen on that, don't do it...alternatively if you can borrow someone's phone for the lesson that the students would have no reason to call, that might be better.

Anyhow, the basic idea is that students work competitively in pairs or groups to answer a list of questions with two choices, each choice having a number attached to it. Here are a first few examples from the activity I did:

1. The government are trying to implement (0)/activate a law (1) to ban smoking
2. You will get better at English if you use a variety of effective study (8)/learning (7) strategies

If they get all the questions correct and write the numbers down that correspond with the correct answer, it will show them your mobile phone number. They then have to phone you (you don't need to answer it!) to check if they got them all correct. If the phone doesn't ring, they know they have to go back and change some of the answers.

I've done this a few times with different groups, and they absolutely love it. Just the competitive element plus the technology part really motivates them.

I'm not sure if this is technically using your mobile phone for language learning, but it's certainly a good activity to do and that's why I've included it here.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

In for a good MALLing?

When I started this blog a week or so ago, I wasn't quite sure what name to give it because I didn't think it was something that people had started taking seriously yet...and of course I was wrong, there is a whole field of study related to using mobile devices for language learning. We've had CALL (computer-assisted language learning) and TELL (technology-enhanced language learning), now welcome to MALL (mobile assisted language learning). Just having a quick scoot round the web brought up some interesting sites and links. It's clearly still a young area as educators are just discovering the power of mobiles, but here are some things to read up on if you are interested:

  • naturally Wikipedia have a page devoted to it
  • This video shows how one university in America have been providing ESL lessons on students' iPhones.
  • A couple of interesting articles about how some schools are beginning to use mobiles in the classroom. This one about a couple of schools in Sheffield introducing it and this one about mobiles being used for Spanish language learning in the USA.
  • MOLEnet seem to be an organisation devoted to the exploration of mobile learning and their site has a wealth of information and links to follow.

Mobile phones review lesson plan

A nice authentic reading that also gets students talking about and exploring their mobile phones in class.

Type: Reading

Level: Intermediate and up

Time: 70-90 minutes

Objective: Students will be able to identify which reviewers of a mobile phone expressed which opinion from the online review text in order to discuss which features of mobile phones they consider most important for their daily lives.

Lesson Stages :

  1. As a lead-in, ask students to get out their mobile phones (which they generally do anyway in class!) and ask them to note the physical differences between them. Elicit terms like flip phone (or clamshell), slider, candy bar. Put on board round bubble containing the word mobile phone. Elicit one or two features their phones have (e.g. mp3 player, alarm, camera). Give them time to work in pairs/small groups to come up with a list of other features their mobile phones have.(5-7 mins)

  2. T After they have had 4-5 mins to do this, ask one person from each group to come to front and add ideas to the board. if the class is big, you may just want to elicit or to give them papers to stick on the board. Check any vocabulary that students aren't familiar with. If you are not sure about some of them, get students to explain, they normally know more than the teacher about technology :-) (10 mins)

  3. T Now give out a description of one mobile phone from a website - this one is the Nokia N95 - here it is - and ask them to look through and a) check which features it has that are mentioned on the board and b) any extra features it has that were not mentioned. Give them time in pairs to do this. There is a lot of technical info so don't get too involved in dealing with questions about strange technical words, though you may want to clarify some more obvious ones.Get feedback open class.(5 mins)

  4. First reading: Explain to the students that they are going to read a text about mobile phones. Tell them that the first time they read, they just need to identify what kind of text it is. Give them three choices to choose from a) an advertisement for a mobile phone b) reviews of a mobile phone by users C) an article in a magazine about the phone. Elicit what will help them identify which kind of text it is (big pic for ads, personal opinions for reviews etc) (3-4 mins)

  5. T Hand out the text, which is here, but put it face down on their desks and tell them not to turn it over. Explain to them that they will only have 15 seconds to answer the question. Check that they shouldn't try and read the text just look over it and look for visual clues. Tell them to turn it over and give them 15 seconds, then tell them to turn it back over. Then ask them to work in pairs to check their answers. Elicit open class the correct answer and ask them to justify (stars to show opinion, different names, no pictures etc)(5 mins)

  6. T Second reading: Quickly elicit how they know which people like the phone and which don't (from the stars and words next to them like 'poor' 'excellent'). Ask them to suggest which adjectives can be used to describe positive feelings about something and which negative. Give them time to come up with ideas and add to board. Then ask them to read through the text and find as many as they can which they mentioned and also to see if there are any more. Give them five minutes to do on own, then check in pairs, then get feedback open class.(7 mins)

  7. T Third reading: now explain to them that they are going to read the text more closely and try to match the statement to the reviewer. Below is the task to give them (if you feel it's too difficult for the students, you can reduce the number of questions or write your own).
    Task: which of the reviewers...

    a) is unhappy with the battery life of the phone (3 answers: Alex, Stuart, Mark)
    b) really likes the camera on the phone (4 answers: Alex, Ash, Adrian, Mark)
    c) took it back because of problems or general dissatisfaction (2 answers: Alex, Stuart)
    d) didn't like the fact that the maps were not included with the phone (2 answers: Alex, J Dixon)
    e) compares the phone with other phones (2 answers: Alex, Adrian)

    Do one of them as an example, then give students plenty of time to answer the questions on their own, and then compare their answers with their partner. Elicit answers open class, making sure that they justify their answer with reference to the text.(15 min)

  8. T Post Reading: There are various options here depending on your students, their level and their interests. Option One: Get them into groups and get them to design the 'perfect' mobile phone, they can draw it on poster paper and write the description/features next to it. Option 2: Get them to do a class survey on what students use their mobile phones for most. So, they can write questions and ask each other how much in a day they use it for music, messages, phone calls, taking pictures etc. Option 3: get them to write a review of their own mobile phone for others to read and then they decide which other person's phone they would like to have. (15-20 mins)

What your phone can do for you in and out of class

There's a hell of a lot more you can do with your mobile phone than most people know.

The other day I was in the staffroom and another teacher wanted a dialogue recorded for her class but the tape recorder wasn't working. I told her we could do it on my phone and then I could send it to her via email and she could play it off the computer in the classroom. Now, this is a very simple thing to do, has been possible for many years, but my colleague looked at me like I'd beamed in from the future with some kind of hi-tech
gadget that teleports organic matter.

So, just in case you don't know, here is a list of things you can do with your mobile phone and some suggestions for how they can be applied in the ESL classroom.

1. Hook up your mobile phone to a TV or projector

A lot of phones nowadays come with the ability to connect to a TV and for you to show what is on the phone screen on a larger display. Here is a video to show you:

Classroom use: displaying photos for discussion, brainstorming, showing video for listening/discussion; sharing students pictures with the whole class for them to talk about

2. Sending messages/pictures from one phone to another via bluetooth

Most phones today come with bluetooth, a neat little technology that allows phones to send information/pics wirelessly from one phone to another at short distances. Since it doesn't use a phone signal, it costs nothing.

Classroom use: students can text each other information (e.g. gossip) to practice reported speech, such as John told me that he kissed Amy at the weekend, or again for students to share pics about their families/travel for discussion.

3. Share photos/updates directly from your phone to social networking sites like Facebook, my space or photo sharing sites like Picasa, Flickr etc.

Most phones now have applications that allow you to directly send the photos you take with the camera to these social networking sites. Normally you can set it up so that as soon as you have taken the picture you have the option to upload it to the site of your choice. Here is a video of this in action which also gives you help on set-up if you use a Nokia smartphone:

Classroom use: creating class groups on Facebook etc and then getting them to share their photos and experiences at weekends through the sites. Can really help create a sense of community with the class.

4. Record reasonably quality video

Most people know that phones can both take photos and record video. Some of them can take very high quality indeed, good enough to display on a large TV or computer screen without serious reduction in quality.

Classroom use: Recording groups discussions/presentations for later playback to analyse performance or provide corrective feedback. Pronunciation work - either you or the students can video each other saying words and then watch it to see if they mouth was in the right position.

Here are just a few suggestions of how some of the features on mobile phones can be used in class. There are many more and I will post on these in the weeks ?

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Creating a 'live' listening using your mobile phone.

Often in class I like to create completely improvised or semi-scripted listenings for my students and deliver them 'live' in class. Having the listening done by the teacher can be less stressful for the students because they are familiar with the voice and also having the visual support (face, body gestures etc) can make it easier for them to understand.

The difficulty with them is that they are difficult to reproduce more than once accurately unless you completely script them, and we do often want them to listen more than once so they can answer more in depth questions or listen for particular uses of language. For example, the other day I gave them a semi-scripted (I had jotted down a few notes of what I wanted to say on a piece of paper) lecture on my home city of Southampton. The first time they listened they had to answer some questions about the content (population, tourist attractions etc) and the second time I wanted them to listen for signalling language in lectures (e.g. first, I want to talk about, another thing I want to tell you about etc)

One way to ensure you can listen more than once to the same recording is to use the voice recorder function on your mobile phone. Basically you use the first listening to do the recording and then all subsequent listenings can be played from the phone itself. Almost every phone has a voice recording function that allows it to work as a dictaphone. Hunt through the menus on your phone until you find it.

One thing you can do is to use the headset that comes with your phone to help you record it more discreetly. This is normally the small headphones with a cord that attaches to the phone and has a microphone somewhere on the cable for talking to people handsfree. It will probably look something like this:

You can attach this to your phone, wear the microphone near your mouth and keep the phone in your pocket. Once you have finished recording the listen, press stop and the file should be saved somewhere on the phone (each phone is different so I'm not sure where it will be stored on yours, but often in a folder called 'recordings' or 'sounds' or something like that).

To play it back, you have various options. If it's a fairly small class, you may just be able to play it back aloud from the phone itself and it might be loud enough for the students to hear. If not, you will probably have to use computer speakers to play it through to increase the volume. These are two relatively small speakers that plug into the mains and also have a small plug to go into a computer or a MP3 player/mobile phone. Depending on your phone, you might need a small adapter to make sure that speakers can plug into your device. Again, these can be bought very cheaply and will prove indispensable for all kinds of recordings/play back in class.

And there you have it, a quick and easy way to do live listenings in class without needing a huge amount of preparation and a great way to create a store of listenings that can be used in the future.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Please turn on your mobile phones

For ESL teachers (and indeed teachers of all subjects) mobile phones have become a growing irritation in the classroom. The constant ringing, vibrating, chirping and tweeting. The student who has to just 'pop out' of the classroom to take that important phone call. The teenager who surreptitiously texts his friends with his phone tucked under the table and is dumb enough to think that you can't see... I'm sure when teachers see this video, they silently cheer that someone had the guts to do it..

And yet, and yet, aren't we missing something here? As educators we are constantly being asked to make our lessons 'interesting' 'appropriate' and 'relevant to our students' needs'. Clearly mobile phones are interesting and very much meeting their daily social needs. How can we exploit that?

Now, the purpose of this blog is not to say that students should be allowed to freely use mobile phones in class. I can think of nothing worse. But at the same time, it's clear that students find mobile phones engaging, often far more engaging than the lesson we're actually teaching! Maybe it's worth asking the question how we can use that technology and harness it for learning both inside and outside the classroom. I read an article that discussed this issue in relation to kids studying in impoverished neighbourhoods in New York and one comment after the article very neatly summed up my feelings.

It seems to me that it isn't a question of whether or not mobile phones are useful for learning, everything is 'useful' for learning, we are always learning, learning can't be turned off.

The question is more of pedagogy and of getting kids to learn the things we want them to. Cell phones are not useful in school when pedagogy does not use them to support the kind of learning wanted. While the kids in a class are 'distracted' by their phones, they are learning an enormous amount, just not what the teacher intends. The easy answer is to ban the technology, the more difficult but far richer answer is to develop pedagogy that exploits it.

Kids fluency and engagement with mobile devices should be viewed as a wonderful resource and indication of their engagement in things they want to learn, not as a distraction that has to be silenced to make lessons easier.

Another point worth considering is that mobile phones are becoming more ubiquitous and more powerful every day, to the point where the processing power of your 3-5 year old laptop is probably lagging behind some of today's higher end mobile phones. So why not make use of them? I find it oddly contradictory that teachers are actively encouraged to use multimedia with their students, doing stuff on computers or the internet is very much seen as being a good thing, whereas the mini computer that almost every student and teacher is carrying in their pocket is immediately switched off as soon as we enter the class.

In this blog I will give advice in the following areas:

  • How teachers can use mobile phones to prepare varied and interesting material for their students.
  • How mobile phones can actually be used in the lesson to help them learn English
  • Software that can be installed on your or your students' mobile phones to help them learn English
  • General guides for both teachers and students on how to get the most out of your mobile phone, which phone to buy and what accessories to buy for it.
Just to give you a sense of what this blog is about, in my next post I will give a very quick example of how mobile phones can be used to help create a live listening in class.