In recent months, I’ve been trying to come up with ways of putting learners’ smartphones to good use in the classroom and converting a possible distraction into something that supports their learning. One important lesson I’ve learnt from this is that playing to their devices’ strengths by making things quick ‘n’ easy is what usually works best. So, here’s a quick ‘n’ easy example of using a ‘backchannel’ tool in the classroom.
- Smart phone, tablet or laptop connected to the Internet either with wifi or 3G (learners)
- Laptop or tablet connected to the Internet (trainer)
- Projector (trainer)
This simple example of using mobile devices comes from a lesson with a group of general business English learners that have been working on extending their range of vocabulary. We’ve been building awareness of collocation and other vocabulary items that comprise more than a single word, such as phrasal verbs and idiomatic expressions.
In this lesson, we’d worked on some phrasal verbs that had come up in a listening activity. We’d checked the meanings, but one problem learners often have with phrasal verbs is knowing just how to use them (see examples below). So to quickly work on this, each group member was assigned a phrasal verb and asked to write a sentence relating, if possible to their job, company, or industry. I’d already set up an online ‘back channel’ room using TodaysMeet.com, and asked them to follow the link (they’d loaded QR code readers on their phones in a previous lesson so they could simply scan the code I gave them for the room) using their phones and enter their sentences there when they were ready.
My laptop was connected to a projector so the group could see the sentences appear in the room ‘live’ as they added them. Here’s a screenshot of what could be seen projected onto the wall of the classroom:
Once all the contributions had been added to the ‘room’ we could quickly deal with some of the problems in the sentences as well as praise the good work done.
Perhaps the first thing that should be said about this is that it could all have been done quite satisfactorily with nothing more technological than a whiteboard. The point though is that using smartphones comes naturally to learners such as these (all in their early twenties) and in some ways, it’s closer to their everyday experience than writing things on paper or on a whiteboard. Secondly, they found it quicker, more spontaneous and fun than doing it in a more traditional manner. Also, being in digital format, the sentences were easily reproduced and added to the group’s course wiki as a record of what we’d done. But maybe the biggest gain was that the transition from working alone on their phone to contributing to the group’s combined effort was instant and visible for everyone to see. This was motivating and definitely resulted in slightly more care being taken over the sentences. So, rather than a distraction, the devices were concentrating minds on the task at hand!
I’m sure there are lots of ingenious ways we can exploit a tool like TodaysMeet.com. So if you do happen upon this post, your ideas are very welcome!