Category Archives: Teaching ideas

Clever ways of using mobile phones for learning

Video activities

Using the video recording function of a smart phone or iPod Touch is a fun, interactive and engaging way for learners to practise their speaking skills. Video activities can help with fluency, confidence and presentation skills in English.

In each of the activities below, you can decide how much ground work is involved before the final video is created. This could involve research at home or brainstorming in class, depending on the learning goals.

About me (Individual task / Pair task with students being interviewed by a classmate)

Students create a short video (1-3 minutes) and talk about an interest they particularly enjoy.

Points to include:

  • What is the interest?
  • How did the interest come about?
  • How much time do you spend doing it?
  • Why do you enjoy it?
  • A demonstration of the interest, if possible?

Welcome to our city / region / country (Collaborative task)

Students create a 2-3 minute video with a partner or group showing visitors a place they would like to take them in their city, region or country.

Points to include:

  • Why is this place is worth visiting?
  • Background history
  • Access
  • Opening hours / best season to visit


Students create a 1-2 minute promotional video about a product they use, or an invented product.

Points to include:

  • Picture of the product if invented, or the product itself
  • Description of the product
  • Why is it useful?
  • Where can it be bought?
  • Price

Mobile phone photo discussion

Ask your students to take a picture of something with their mobile phones in their own time outside class. The next time they come to class, they talk about their pictures in pairs / groups and discuss the reasons why they chose to take this particular picture, and their classmates can ask questions to find out more information.

You can set different picture taking tasks:

  • Something the students see on their journey between their homes and school
  • A scenery picture
  • A picture including people
  • A picture of something they have seen in a magazine or shop that they found interesting / curious
  • Something the students could not live without
  • Something the students don’t like
  • A meal / food dish

The possibilities are endless, and the task can be as short as long as you want, with extension possibilities including:

  • Short presentations
  • Students describing the picture for their classmates to draw
  • Students describing the object for their classmates to guess
  • Explaining how to make the recipe of a meal / dish (can be in the style of a cookery programme demonstration)

If you try this activity, let me know how it goes in the comments!

Twitter reading practice

This idea is adapted from an activity in Going Mobile, the latest book from Nicky Hockly & Gavin Dudeney called Twitter Celebrities.

If some learners don’t already have a Twitter account then classmates can show them how to set one up and explain how it works.

Prompt your learners to think of a famous person that interests them and who tweets in English (sports personality, actor/tress, politician singer, T.V. personality).

The learners ‘follow’ the celebrity on a daily basis and once or twice a week as classes permit, allow students 10-15 minutes to discuss in groups/pairs the tweets and activities of their celebrity.

This encourages students to engage with English outside of the classroom using technology that they may already use regularly in their L1.

If you try this activity, let me know how it goes in the comments!

Pronunciation video correction

The best way to know how you do something without a doubt is to be able to see yourself doing it!

Get your students to record each other for 30 seconds to 1 minute with the video function of their smart phones so they can see and hear for themselves how they come across when they speak English.

Students can spend 5 minutes to write down 6-8 questions that they would like to ask their partner. This can be a free activity or lexis, grammar determined by the teacher.

Students then interview each one at a time while simultaneously recording their partner using their smart phones.

During the play back, students are encouraged to think about their pronunciation and their voice projection. They decide whether they speak clearly or if there is something that could be improved.

Another variation would be for the teacher to give the students a text containing sounds that are difficult for their learners, in order for the learners to see how they are pronouncing the sounds and if they could do it differently.

If the class is large, pairs could be grouped in fours for the playback stage to compare and contrast pronunciation with more peers.

If you try this activity, let me know how it goes in the comments!

Digital flashcards

This idea is adapted from the blog post about Memrise.

We can encourage students to create personalised digital flashcards of new lexis for them to review on their own devices.

Get students to find a picture on Google images that is relevant for them to remember the lexis. The image can then be saved on the desktop, copied onto a Word doc and labelled. The same process can be carried out on an iOS or Android platform by taking a screen shot and labelling the picture with an App like Photo Label Free for example (iOS).

This may seem like a time consuming process compared to using a notebook to record lexis, but how many lists of words are recorded by students never to be looked at again? This method encourages students to input and store the lexis because it is fun and visual, meaning there is a greater chance they will take the time to review the word on their phones or other devices, and be able to retrieve it.

If you try this activity, let me know how it goes in the comments!

Debate – Mobile phones should be banned in class

no-cell-phone-clipart-niBXGzGKTI created this activity after becoming tired of confiscating mobile phones in class one summer and having to deal with a class full of sulking teenagers that didn’t want to participate afterwards!

Debates can be tricky to motivate students to take part, and they often find it hard themselves to become enthusiastic about the topic. I usually couple a debate class with lexis based on giving opinions.

So, I decided to incorporate mobile phones and debating into the same lesson. Here’s how I did it.

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  1. The mobile phones are used as a form of realia. Students interview each other in groups/pairs about the uses they employ for their phones showing and explaining with the phone. They ask about apps, communication (Whatsapp, texting, Skype, calling, social networking sites, facetime), calendar, photos, videos, notes, alarm etc. Students discuss which ones they use, why they installed them, what they use them for and how often.
  1. Students are then prompted by the teacher to think about how they could use their mobile phones to help them learn English. The teacher monitors to encourage, but not to offer ideas, the thinking comes from the learners.
  1. Next the students are asked to make a list of positive (it motivates students) and negative attributes (students may start using their phones for non lesson related activities) to using mobile phones in class.
  1. Finally, the class is divided into 3 groups that are going to debate open class regarding the use of mobile phones in class: Students (pro), Teachers (50/50), Parents (against).

Lexis for giving opinions could be brainstormed and boarded between stages 3 and 4 if needed.


If you try this activity, let me know how it goes in the comments!

Encouraging autonomous learning via reading blogs

Technology offers so many opportunities for autonomous learning, but students need to be guided. Online reading has become a major source in the field of ELT. It is easy to access, up to date and diverse.

Encourage your learners to search for a blog they find interesting in English. It can be about anything; a hobby, their home country, sport, a celebrity they like…

The information and findings on the blog can be used as the basis for varied activities:

  • A weekly writing summary on site or on line
  • A short presentation on site
  • A vodcast using vimeo or a smart phone
  • A podcast using a voice board or podcasting site
  • Interviewing classmates


If you try this activity, let me know how it goes in the comments!

Smart phone oral Pictionary – any level

Pictionary is a great activity to use as a warmer, to introduce topic specific lexis, or as a reward at the end of a hard lesson. The lexis can be graded depending on the level of the learners. To generate the lexis, there are many options:

  • Reward Upper Intermediate – ‘Don’t Say It’
  • Lexis from previous chapters in the course book
  • Students select their own words and write a list of 10-15 words each before starting the game
  • Students choose words they know in their L1 but not in English

In groups students describe their words for the other students to guess. Smart phones can be used when the students know the word in their L1 but not in English. They look up the word on a dictionary, and check it matches with the original. Students can then note down the new lexis in their notebooks.

Another variation is that students show their group a picture of a word they don’t know in English from Google images. The chances are that if one student in the group doesn’t know the word, the others won’t either! The students look up the translation in English and the first one to guess correctly gets a point. All students then note down the new lexis in their notebooks. This activity works well as a brainstorming activity for a new topic.


If you try this activity, let me know how it goes in the comments!