Experiences of an English Language Teacher

Using Smartphones During Classes: Lesson Ideas

ELT Pics – Technology © 2011

I don’t know about you but a lot of my learners have a smartphone with a camera attached to it.  More often than not, they have their heads down in their laps looking at their phones or updating their Facebook status instead of focusing during the lesson and completing various tasks.  This got me thinking about how us teachers could incorporate smartphones into lessons and I prepared some lesson ideas.  Anyhow, I suppose we are constantly fighting to engage learners in the lesson and getting them to complete tasks.  One tenet of Dogme ELT is to include the resources that learners bring into the lesson and if learners (both young or adult) have a smartphone on their possession, how can we exploit this piece of technology.  Here are some of the ideas that I have used in class before:

  1. Picture Hunt – get learners to complete various tasks by using the camera (if one is attached to the smartphone) to take photos of different things.  I have included some material below for those that are interested in this activity.  Basically, students have to take a photo of something circular, something that is red, etc.  It develops the learner’s attention to detail and improves focusing during activities.
  2. Role Scene Pictures – another activity for learners to exploit the use of the camera.  Learners take photos of particular scenes (once they have completed a story brainstorming session in class) and then have to produce the story using a set number of images.  Students could then email you the pictures for you to print out and then they can produce a storyboard which can then be presented in class.  A variation of this activity is to get learners to create the same storyboard by using a listening/reading activity from a coursebook as the basis of the story.  It provides some structure if learners have difficulty to creatively produce a story.
  3. Mini WebQuest – the most popular form of researching is through the use of an internet quest.  Learners traditionally use computers or laptops to find answers to particular questions or support their writing.  Obviously, learners that have a connection to a wifi (if one is available in your school) could use the internet to find answers to particular quizzes (such as the cultural quizzes that I posted last week – British Culture & About the Queen).  A variation of this activity is whereby learners take photos of the QR Codes spread around the classroom to find out the answers of particular questions.
  4. Creating and Writing a Blog – smartphone technology these days offer people to write blogposts on the go.  If you school has a blog, you could get learners to write up a blog post.  It could supplement some form of speaking, listening or reading (What do you do in your free time?, Describe your family, etc).  Learners then work in pairs to type up their blog post and then you could (if you have an IWB or projector) show each of the blog posts to elicit feedback or error correction.  A variation of this activity could include using Google Docs as this is now available for iPads or iPhones.  You could create a Google Docs account for learners to logon, complete their writing so that it is then available for printing and error correction the following lesson.
  5. My Music – you could get learners to describe what music they listen to on their smartphone to partners and compare different styles of music.  It should generate a lot of discussion and a lot of language for scaffolding.  Learners are keen to play music on their smartphones to the class.  You could exploit this by creating a music quiz (learners have to write down the name of the artist, the song and the year it was released (bonus points for this one)).
  6. My Pictures – as with the above activity, you could get learners to share their pictures either on their mobile phone or from a social networking site such as Facebook.  If learners are willing, they could show pictures of family, their hometown, friends, etc should these be available on their phone or their social networking site.
  7. Classroom Text Messages – this activity could introduce learners to text message language in English. I know in Korean that there are a lot of characters used to express emotion.  In English we use acronyms so this could be introduced at the beginning of the lesson.  The next activity learners complete is for students to share their mobile phone numbers with each other and send each other a text message.  Put the students’ phone numbers on the board and they can create a message to share with each other.  Give the learners space and this will develop naturally.  It will provide learners the opportunity to practice writing short messages in English and responding to them.
There is a template lesson activity for the Picture Hunt activity below.  I hope it is useful.
What do you think about the use of smartphones in the classroom?  How have you used smartphones in lessons before?  Do you have another activity that has worked well in the past which you would like to share?

As ever, please share your ideas, experiences or opinions below in the comments.

Some links as suggested in the comments:

Google QR Reader


  1. Hi, this is a very nice post! I have recently started using smartphones and tablets in my classes and I have even created a blog to share my ideas (mthatlearning.blogspot.com). I loved the activity about music, it has actually inspired me to develop an activity around it. I really believe we can benefit from these tech devices if we learn how to use them effectively in class!

  2. Thank you so much and your blog ideas about using smartphones alongside complementary apps are wonderful. I particularly like the iTalk app (http://mthatlearning.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/teaching-tip-italk-app.html) that you recommend. Being able to record conversation between learners offers so much potential: emailing conversation to learners, transcribing text for following lessons, sharing conversations on blogposts, etc.

  3. great stuff Martin. I'm really big on ideas using mobile tech in class. Actually I'm in Colombia presenting workshops for teachers on that very idea. I find that QR codes are a great way to stimulate student activity, so I have my students download a QR reader on the first day of classes. Some of the activities I do are jigsaw readings/or listenings, whereby different groups receive different codes to scan, and activities to complete. Also treasure hunts, as you do, whereby the answers to questions are embedded in QR codes around the room and students move around scanning and checking. I've also started embedding answers to activities in QR codes so students have self-access materials for home.

    With pictures, you can get them to create a voicethread (voicethread.com) – which is a type of digital story combining images and audio. It's sometimes tricky to upload directly from phones, but a flickr account can provide an intermediate means. There's also voicepic on the iOs, to take photos and add a short audio snippet, then share.

  4. Thank you niitsugaijin for sharing all those apps and the QR activities you use in the classroom. One question: do all your students have access to a smartphone in Columbia? Do the students have a chance to share the smartphone in groups when completing activities.

  5. Sue

    I'm new to TEFL, and wondering whether to take the Online CELTA as my current job doesn't allow me enough time off to do the four-week course. I stumbled upon your blog because of the article you wrote in April last year; I haven't yet seen if you have updated on that.

    Anyway, I taught a two week course earlier this year, my various other qualifications being enough for someone to allow me to do so and, although phones were officially banned in class, I expect to stop texting/facebook, etc I allowed them for just the reasons you state above. Not all the students had dictionaries, so we used translators, and learnt the various ups and downs of such, and how to use “define” in Google to get a dictionary definition.

    The music stored on their phones was used as background music to create atmosphere for the play they devised over a couple of lessons and homework, working on dialogue, conversation, etc. Parts of the play were captured by them on video on their phones, mostly for their amusement I think but also used to look back at what had been said and how it could be improved.

    I used Google images to provide pictures for them. They took photos whilst on trips or downloaded images for discussion as part of their “unseen object” exam preparation.

    And they used them to get their long-awaited exam results. It seems only fair to me to be able to say 'excuse me' when the really important call you have been waiting for comes through. I would never dream of stopping the adult learners I teach in my 'other life' from taking an important call. Why shouldn't the same apply to a 17yo?

    I'm looking forward to exploring the rest of your blog.

  6. Ann

    Hi Martin,

    Have just posted about this as one of TeachingEnglish's favourite current blog posts if you'd like to check there for comments.
    It came very close to winning our September TeachingEnglish blog award so keep up the good work! And please do keeps us updated on the page when you make your next post.


  7. Ann

    Thank you for your comment and consideration for the blog award. It is greatly appreciated and I am glad you enjoyed this blog post about the use of smartphones in the classroom. I will of course let you know of future blog posts on the TeachingEnglish Facebook page.



  8. It''s quite impressive.

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