Friday, 5 August 2011

QR Codes in the ESL Classroom

Over the last few weeks I've been training a group of Korean teachers here in the UK as part of a development programme organised by their Ministry of Education. As it's been recently announced that Korean schools will be completely digital by the year 2015 and all textbooks will be replaced by tablets or laptops, I've been exposing them to a variety of different technologies and web 2.0 tools to help them see how they might apply them in their own classroom context.

Among the tools we've used are Posterous Groups as a way for them to share pictures and experiences; Google Docs as a way of sharing materials and handouts; we've also discussed the value of digital storytelling via various web 2.0 tools and they all created a Voicethread in one of the sessions.

In the classroom I've been actively encouraging them to use their mobile devices, either smartphones, tablets or laptops as a means of checking words or as a way of finding information out about the topic we're discussing.

One thing I decided to try on this course was the use of QR Codes as a form of peripheral learning. These are basically barcodes that can be read by mobile phones and contain embedded information that the phone can decode. It can be a link to a webpage, a chunk of text, an SMS message, a calendar event, pretty much anything you can think of. Most mobile phones have free QR code reader apps available for them. For example on Android, you can download QR Droid (my personal favourite), QuickMark BarCode Scanner or  BeeTag QR Reader. On iPhone there is QR Reader, QR Scanner and numerous others. To actually create a QR Code there are various websites, my personal favourite for ease of use is QR Droid. it took my a matter of seconds to create the QR Code below, which contains a link to this blog.
I'd never really been impressed by the idea of QR Codes, I'd read a lot of things on the web about them but it always seemed quite a complicated procedure to extract a fairly simple piece of information such as a weblink or a calendar event. The old proverb about using a hammer to crack a nut came to mind.

However, after reading this excellent article by Kimberley Hogg explaining how she used QR Codes to create a direction-based treasure hunt with her ESL students I decided to give them a go. By  the way, the advice she gives in her article about how to accustom students to using these codes is really fantastic, I strongly recommend you read the article to find out more.

I decided against preparing a structured activity with the teachers, instead I decided to just put lots of codes around on the wall with different information embedded in them. For example, some of them were links to instructional You Tube videos about teaching, some linked to our online course documents and others were part of a quiz on Britain I'd created for them. I put ten questions on different QR Codes around the room and they had to use their phone to decode it and find the question. Once they'd done that, they had to find the answer, then send the correct answers to our group blog. Below is one example of what they saw on the wall.

Most of them were not familiar with QR Codes, so I helped them download the relevant app and then explained how they could read them. On each paper on the wall I included some information about the app they needed to download.

I wasn't really expecting much interest from the teachers, but I was pleasantly surprised just how many actually downloaded an app and read the codes. In fact, when one of the quiz questions was removed from the wall (by mistake I think), several of them came up to me and asked me to print it out again and put it back up. When I asked them why they liked doing the tasks with the QR Codes, they said things like, 'it's different', 'mysterious', 'a puzzle'.

And really, that is the appeal of them I think. In the end all I'd created on the wall was a series of normal quiz questions but the QR Codes made the process much more appealing to the teachers. How long the novelty will last is difficult to tell, but it definitely is still a novelty for most students so we might as well exploit that while we can!

Possible uses in the ESL Classroom 

Here are some ways that I think QR Codes could be used in the classroom:

  • As I did with my group, posting up questions to answer. These could be language questions on vocabulary/grammar etc, general knowledge questions or discussion questions. Students could be encouraged to create their own QR Code questions as well. 
  • Posting up answers to homework
  • Creating a treasure or scavenger hunt. Students are sent to one QR Code, they are provided a clue which then takes them to another. The individual or group that finishes first is the winner. This would be particular good for practising things like direction language. 
  • Embedding links in QR Codes to useful websites for students to visit to improve their English. 
  • Posting up calendar events that are taking place in the school. 

I think there are many other possibilities, these are just a few that spring to mind. In researching about QR Codes, I found a few online resources very helpful. 

I plan to use them a lot more in the coming term and get feedback from students as to how interesting/useful they find them. I would love to hear from any ESL teachers who are using them to learn more about how they can be used to enhance language learning. 


  1. Thank you so much for this excellent article. lots of thumbs up!

  2. Wow! This article is great! I never really gave much thought about using QR codes in this manner. I suppose it's because I never owned a smartphone until recently. I shied away from buying one, however, as an instructor for 6 years in China, I noticed that one can hardly live without it. It has become a lifestyle necessity for that culture, especially for the students that love to shop and enjoy leisure time and entertainment. I've watched them use QR codes to get discounts or the latest information about their favorite 'hangout.' Using it as a classroom learning tool seems so beneficial and it's something I will continue to research to find ways to incorporate it for future lessons! Thanks so much! Kudos!