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Nifty ways to use a smartphone in class

When I taught I didn't make huge use of tech, though like most teachers I had my favourite activities. I wasn't much of a phone user either, but many teachers do interesting things with smartphones. Schools have rules about phone use, of course, some have. BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), some ban them outright or more commonly ban their use in class. Many language teachers find the restrictions on phones a bit frustrating and just ignore no-use rules (I don't blame them really, as long as use is tightly monitored).

The phone or phablet is an amazing resource in your pocket. How can it be used in the languages classroom in productive ways? Thanks to colleagues on Twitter and Facebook for some of the ideas below. All can, of course, be done with a tablet.

I never did most of these and would only say what I usually do about tech: does it give you a good return on investment? Is the task at least as productive as a non-tech alternative?

Conversing with a digital assistant

IPhone has Siri, Android/Google phones have the newly named Google Assistant (hitherto known as Google Now). In case you were unaware, you can ask your phone questions in your chosen language (just use settings) and make a note of the answers, receiving good quality language input in the process. You could set a number of questions which your students have to ask then the students make a note or transcribe the answers they receive.

Listening to podcasts or watching video

You don't need a tablet or computer to do useful listening tasks. If the bandwidth is sufficient, students can watch an online video or listen to an audio podcast while doing a comprehension exercise. The video listening sheets on fit the bill well. Advanced students could use News in Slow French or its equivalents in other languages. Audio Lingua is another great source of listening, as is the brilliant Lyrics Training which allows you to follow song videos and do gap-filling of lyrics.

Some teachers use Google Classroom to share online videos with students.

I've always believed that tech is at its best when it provides great quality language input.

Using instant messaging

As a writing exercise, pupils can send each other messages via a social medium such as Facebook. Instant messaging is one of the main reasons for writing these days, so messaging gives writing a real life purpose in the classroom. You'd just need to be sure your class would do the task properly and be prepared to monitor it carefully.

You can also use SnapChat to have students send recordings of speaking assessments to a central class account. Some teachers report that students are less self-conscious working in this fashion.

Gianfranco Conti has written about "interactional writing" in detail here

Recording audio and video

Students can read aloud, perform dialogues and sketches, then listen back to their performance or upload it to YouTube. The benefits of this hardly need spelling out. They could even send target languages messages to someone else. Some teachers also get pupils to video role-plays and sketches. Students can also record memorable class songs, e.g. simple tunes for verb chanting; these can also be set as ringtones. Audioboo and Spreaker are apps you can use for recording podcasts.

Pupils can record the teacher speaking, then listen at home. This could be a grammar explanation or some target language for summary or some other task.

Pupils could keep a photo or video record of an exchange or study trip abroad, then share it via social media. they could also record conversations with an exchange partner.


It's common practice nowadays to photograph things for later reference. Students can therefore take a picture of language on the board to use for revision or pass on to an absent friend. In schools where pupils can't take textbooks home, pages can be photographed for homework. Dyslexic pupils can find this particularly useful. Some teachers get students to write on their tables with felt-tip pens, then photograph their work. Images can be saved on OneDrive, Google Drive or Evernote, for example. Some pupils just like to show their work to family members.

The Office Lens app trims, enhances and makes pictures of whiteboard
Notes and documents more readable. It can convert images to editable Word and PowerPoint documents.

One teacher says she gets her students to take a picture of the view from their bedroom and send it to a friend to be described in the TL. Another has an alternative to the Postit note method of learning vocabulary. Pupils take a picture of a list of words and us it as a lock screen image.

Students can photograph a vocabulary list to be learned and look at it on the way to school.

Using phone as a timer alarm/buzzer

Many paired or small group tasks involve a time limit. Since pupils frequently don't wear watches, the phone becomes the obvious means of counting down tasks.

Assessment for learning

Some teachers enjoy using Plickers. Plickers lets you poll your class, without the need for pupils to have their own device. You give each student a card (a “paper clicker”), and use your smartphone or tablet to scan them to do instant checks-for-understanding, exit tickets, and impromptu polls. The data is automatically saved, student-by-student, at Plickers.

Socrative is also used for interacting with classes in various ways. There are versions for the teacher and pupil.

Behaviour management

ClassDojo is a behaviour management tool. Each pupil has a profile – complete with their own avatar – to which you can attach positive and negative points ('dojos') throughout the lesson. The programme can be operated from a phone, tablet or computer and each time you award a point an (optional) sound plays to alert the class. This information is recorded on students' profiles so that it can be reviewed throughout the year. Parents also have logins so that they can view their child's achievements from home. Class Dojo is quite widely used.

One teacher has written:

"I have so far introduced ClassDojo into MFL lessons in two schools, and the results from both were very positive. All students, including a student with SEN who rarely engages with the classroom activities, have been motivated and actively participating in lessons. During the trial lesson in which I introduced ClassDojo for the first time, every single pupil in the room contributed verbally to the lesson and had put their hand up to volunteer an answer. Disruptive behaviour was reduced considerably and all pupils worked hard to not have points deducted from them. In all of the lessons taught with ClassDojo, pupils were without a doubt more engaged and were focused on constructing complex sentences spontaneously in order to earn the extra bonus points won by using the language independently in class."

Too Noisy is a fun little app which records noise levels and displays them graphically on a phone or on the interactive whiteboard. The app can be programmed to react when noise levels go beyond a certain point. Tech geeks might like this for pair and group work.


Edmodo: "With intuitive features and unlimited storage, quickly create groups, assign homework, schedule quizzes, manage progress, and more. With everything on one platform, Edmodo is designed to give you complete control over your digital classroom." I'll have to take their word for it, but I know many teachers find it very useful.


Kahoot, Memrise, Quizlet, Duolingo, Cramit, Brainscape, Bitsboard, Zondle, StudyStack. Most apps are of the vocabulary/flashcard type which I'm not a huge fan of personally, but some teachers and pupils really like them.

Memrise is one of the most popular vocabulary apps. Some teachers have pupils use it while setting up at the start of a lesson or packing away at the end. Why not encourage students to use it on the bus?

Quizlet Live can be used to pit teams against each other.

QR codes

Aurélie Charles has produced a useful Prezi all about QR codes in MFL.

There are more ideas here

Dictionary work

Probably a marginally quicker way to get the meaning of a word. For advanced students Wordreference provides a wider range of references than any paper dictionary you'd find in a classroom. Teachers also use Larousse and Linguee. Other online French dictionaries are listed on Specific dictionary tasks can be set. How many of us still use paper dictionaries?


I'm told that some advanced level students use their phones for researching topics in class. Maybe their eyesight is better than mine. They could certainly plug in their headphones and watch/listen to film extracts and interviews with actors and directors.


Students can create their own blogs and update them with their phones. I am writing this post lying in my bed with the radio on on my iPad using BlogPress, an app which works with Blogger. (Too much information?)

Interactive grammar

Languages Online, Language Gym and Conjugemos are widely used. Textivate is also used for grammar as well as all sorts of comprehension and text manipulation tasks. A tablet may suit these sites a bit better than a phone, though.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


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