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The 1-minute guide to the mobile classroom

Photo by Milica Sekulic

Wondering how to start introducing elements of mLearning (mobile learning) into your language classes? Here are five ways to do so, starting from simple recognition type activities to more complex project work.

1 Show and tell
Let students talk about their mobile phones, and what they use them for. Many of us develop serious emotional attachments to our phones, and love showing or telling others about them. See this lesson plan introducing the topic of mobile phones from Jo Budden.

2  Texting
Carry out a short focused classroom activities in which students use their mobile phones. For example, give students a short dictation to take on their phones. Watch Lindsay Clandfield talking about this and other simple one-off activities with mobile devices.

3 Reading
Engage reluctant readers by sending them simple serialised stories or questions via daily sms messages. See Carol Rainbow’s account of this project.

4  Recording
Get students to audio and/or video record themselves in pairs while carrying out a speaking task. Let students use this to monitor and feedback on their own speaking performances. Watch Claire Chapman and her students try this out in class.

5 Creating a treasure hunt
Get students creating treasure hunts/ quizzes for each other using quiz apps on smart phones. Read about Anne Fox’s local history treasure hunt project for groups of students on mobile devices in Denmark, and download her lesson plan.

See more suggestions on getting started with mobile learning from David Read’s blog post (scroll to half-way down).

What about you? What ways could you start using mobile devices with your learners? What ways have you already tried?

Nicky Hockly
The Consultants-E
January 2012


  1. Rakesh Bhanot says:

    it is helpful little things like this that help me overcome my technophobia.

    1. Nicky Hockly says:

      Glad to hear it, Rakesh! If you try any of these activities with students, let me know how you get on :-)

  2. Charles Rei says:

    Here are a few ideas to add.

    – I didn’t see phone calls mentioned. I don’t really like the back-to-back setup to practice phone conversations. So I typically have one partner leave the room and they have real phone conversations. Monitoring can be difficult but other students can help by peer-monitoring.

    – Sometimes I like to add a time pressure when performing a task, the stopwatch lets them time themselves. Sometimes it is to fill a block of time, sometimes to goal it to fit the task in a short time. One example: Give a 30 second update on what you have done today. The groups complete the task in turn and vote on the best (most complete/relavant/concise). Then the groups change and the students must update the new group on what they and their “colleagues” have done from memory.

    – Last, the phone works great with technical types. In pairs they draw a schematic of what they think their phone looks like on the inside. Smartphones contain all the basic computer parts so are great tools. They present how they think the parts fit together, how the manufacturer saves space, etc. Then we can watch this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCf1b974vxI and see if they are correct. Note: The video is boring for people who don’t like gadgets but leads nicely into a technical instructions lesson.

    1. Nicky Hockly says:

      Thanks for these great ideas, Charles. The one drawback with having students make real phone calls on their mobile phones is of course cost. Depending on their data plans, students may be reluctant to do this (or it may be unfair of us to ask them to do so).
      I love your 30 second update task. Giving very precise time limits for simple tasks, especially oral tasks, is an excellent way to get less confident and lower level students doing fluency activities. and, as you suggest, letting them a handle a stopwatch (e.g. on the phone) is a good way of allowing them to control the task.
      A variation on the drawing task is to get students to design their ‘ideal’ mobile phone with any way out functions they’d like (e.g. a phone that makes the toast, dispenses cash etc). Lots of fun.
      Thaks agian for stopping by th blog and contributing your ideas!

  3. Lorena says:

    Hi Nicky,

    Great post. Thanks too for publishing this on facebook.

    I have actually tried to use my mobile phone with a MFL teacher that wanted to upgrade her writing/reading skills. We created a short story about a local Superhero (the idea about the superhero theme came from the book you recommended: Virtual play by Stanley and Mawer great book by the way-). It was great fun!

    We used our mobiles. There were two rules: 1. to answer a message within the same day of receiving it from the tutor 2. there are a max of 160 caracteres, you should use at least 20 words in each message.

    This is the way I have used the mobile phone in my teaching.
    I look forward to reading other entries

    1. Nicky Hockly says:

      Hi Lorena! What a great idea and thank you for sharing it here. Fabulous.

  4. Number 3 might be an interest way to start exploring ML in an my ESP class next semester.
    Miguel Mendoza recently posted..Learning Technologies (2011): some insights; my turnMy Profile

    1. Nicky Hockly says:

      Thanks for dropping by, Miguel, and glad to hear the reading activity suggested above might be useful. I’d love to hear how to it goes with the group, if you decide to try it.

      1. Sure I’ll keep you post it (I will write about it in my blog)…Have to decide which group, English I or IV…and if it’ll be an optional or compulsory/required activity…I understand Gavin & you will be guest speakers in the PCE in IATEFL this year (I just received the Conference Preview)…It’d be interesting to attend Challenges and limitations in MALL…Checking out with British Council (Venezuela) if they are paying one of these PCEs…otherwise it’ll be IATEFL Associates’ day…
        Miguel Mendoza recently posted..Learning Technologies (2011): some insights; my turnMy Profile

        1. Nicky Hockly says:

          Look forward to catching up in Glasgow, Miguel!

  5. […] The 1-minute guide to the mobile classroom – e-moderation station What about you? What ways could you start using mobile devices with your learners? What ways have you already tried? […]

  6. Anne Hodgson says:

    Hi Nicky,
    My students have recorded each other giving elevator pitches and taking a stand in a debate. Most of them have netbooks, though, so working on tasks like text editing in a wiki is nö longer a big deal. I just got an iPad that I can go online with without logging onto university or company networks, which had become a problem due to their restrictive policies. It’s an investment, but much easier to show them how to use online tools.

    1. Nicky Hockly says:

      Hi Anne, thanks for sharing how you use mobile recording with your students. What sort of reaction do you get to this from your business English students? Do they find it useful? Do they find it a bit threatening the first few times? If so, what advice would you have for teachers nervous about getting students to record themselves in pairs?

  7. Melisa says:

    Mobile Learning has teouendrms opportunities for increasing the available time and reach for students to consume content, review / reinforce lessons and information and build community. I believe one of the most easily accessible benefits for any education environment is to realize the social networking that is happening on mobile devices and to leverage that activity and enthusiasm for education. Students will (many already do) collaborate with their peers around the clock and from any location via mobile technology. The degree to which we can facilitate this activity and make it more effective and efficient will strengthen behaviors that are already there.Tools and environments like Edmodo, Collaborize, ClassLink, MOBL21 and platform implementations like Project K-Nect are making great strides with early adopters. Districts are struggling with questions around AUPs, equal access (devices and connectivity), platform support, security (MDM/MAV) and compliance (CIPA/FERPA). Of course, cost-to-benefit and funding sources remain major talking points as well.

    1. Nicky Hockly says:

      Thank you for your comment, Melisa, and apologies for not approving it earlier- it had ended up in spam for some reason. You make lots of really useful points about some of the wider issues that educational insitutions need to deal with, not least the cost issue. Hence the growing interest in the BYOD (bring your own device) option, I think, which also has the advantage of student ownership of the device- a big area in terms of committment and motivation.
      Do drop by again and I’ll keep my eye on WordPress’ over-zealous spam filter :-)

  8. paul forster says:

    Thanks for your great insights Nicky. I delivered a PD session this weekend for English Australia’s PD Fest up in Queensland, and had a fantastic response from participants. A couple of things I drew from it:
    1. Teachers are genuinely interested in mobile learning, but there is an underlying fear perhaps stemming from a lack of confidence in their own abilities, and a lack of ideas.
    2. There seems to be a shift towards acceptance for devices in the classroom, particularly from the younger, perhaps more tech-savvy teachers. However, the fear of controlling student behaviour limits teachers.

    I gave some really practical ideas (1-minute or more), such as using photos as discussion prompts, and videoing for pronunciation practice. Perhaps the most fun for participants was had exploring how learners can be engaged through audience response technology such as socrative.com, or polleverywhere.com.

    It’s great to see what people are doing out there. Hopeful of doing some conferences later in the year, so keep the ideas rolling in.

    1. Nicky Hockly says:

      Thanks for dropping by Paul, and for sharing your ideas here. Yes, it does seem that teachers can get stuck on the technology itself, and can find it difficult to see mobile devices as simply another tool. The devices easily lend themslves to being integrated into what we already DO as communicative language teachers, as your examples about photo discussion prompts, or recording for pron, clearly show. Teachers often find it difficult to see this though. I think the best way to start is with what teachers already do in class (and what sts do out of class) to provide language practice, and to look initially at the little ways that tech (incl mobile) can be used to carry out, support, and enhance (a key point)these things.

      I’m speaking at the English Austrtalia conference in September 2012- hope to meet you there?

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