Wednesday, March 15, 2017

New Ideas for Technology in the Classroom

Jenny FettersJenny Fetters is an ESL instructor at Howard Community College in Columbia, Maryland.

As teachers, we have a love/hate relationship with technology, don’t we? We’re always on the lookout for tools that will push language production in our students. However, what often happens is that the very technology we seek ends up making our students passive receptors of language rather than active users of it. Here are two fun ideas that provide opportunities for students to put all that English learning to good use!

A New Way to Use Cell Phones in Class

Running out of new, engaging ways to get your students to practice that vocabulary or grammar structure you just taught them? Are you frustrated with how often they’re looking at their cell phones instead of speaking with their classmates? Use some of your class time and send them outside of class! This past summer I asked my Vocabulary and Idioms class to grab a partner and their cell phones and look for examples of what they learned in class. The task was to take snapshots all over campus, either of places or objects, that represented an idiom they had learned. The students could place themselves in the photo interacting in the situation if it helped explain the idiom. After they had collected at least 5-6 examples, they were to text all of them to me and be prepared to present their photos to the class.

I know what you’re thinking:  I would never give out my personal cell phone number!  Fortunately, Google Voice has made it easier by allowing you to choose your own phone number. When students text that number, you can arrange for those messages to get redirected to your Gmail account. My students’ photos were easily downloadable once I logged into Gmail; I accessed them and projected them onto the screen from the classroom computer for them to explain to the class.

This activity got the students (a) working together cooperatively and creatively and (b) applying what they had learned in class with a productive activity.

Screencasting’s not just for online teachers

A very common speaking assignment in ESL classes is to have students present step-by-step instructions (as in a recipe) that practice sequence words (first, second, next, then) and imperatives. If you have access to a computer lab, consider using screencasting with your students to accomplish this language goal. Screencasting allows you to produce digital presentations by capturing what you are doing on the computer screen with narration.

A simple search on YouTube will render hundreds of screencasts made by teachers and non-teachers alike, ranging from lectures on physics to how to make kimchi soup. However, this technique isn’t available only to instructors. Anyone can make a screencast. Students can make a simple PowerPoint with free online apps such as Screencast-O-Matic, Jing, or Screencastify. These apps are accessible from any computer with an internet connection and are easy to download and use.

Screencasting is not just limited to beginning students presenting how-tos and recipes. Students could produce an advertisement or argue an issue (persuasive language), retell a story (past/past continuous, past perfect), give a “virtual tour” of their school or home (present tense, adjectives), or promote a favorite vacation destination (modals for necessity and recommendations, comparatives, superlatives). The ideas are endless!

Here is one screencast created by a beginning ESL student. She is talking about her school and her daily schedule. You will see her using simple present, demonstrative pronouns, and school-related vocabulary.

(Teresa’s Tech Toolkit, https://sites.google.com/site/esltechtoolkit/listening-skills#TOC-Student-Created-Screencasts , accessed 1/28/17)

In addition to practicing written skills such as grammar, vocabulary, spelling, and punctuation, screencasting is an excellent way to practice pronunciation skills such as segmental sounds, speech rhythm, intonation, and pausing.

As you search for new ways to engage your students in the classroom, ask yourself these questions about the technology tools you are considering using:

  1. Does it allow the students to construct language on their own?
  2. Does it integrate all language skills (listening, speaking, reading, writing)?
  3. Will this tool help me provide targeted support in a necessary skill?
  4. Can all language proficiencies be utilized with this technology tool?

More and more students coming into our classrooms are members of the digital generation. Many of them have grown up with technology and use it for entertainment and communication. It is our job as ESL/EFL teachers to harness that technology and guide our students toward productive use of English. It just requires a simple paradigm shift. Start looking at the apps you use with a fresh eye. Those tools that used to be the bane of your existence could very well become your best instructional tool yet.

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