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Tips on Using Technology in ESL Class

Making Sure Things Run Smoothly and Taking Advantage of Students' Gadgets


Here's a rather obvious statement: The internet provides us with an incredible teaching resource. However, at times it seems that these resources are so overwhelming that it is hard to know how to integrate them into class beyond encouraging students to take advantage of the them. Personally, one of the biggest challenges I find is that I'd often like to use a video clip from YouTube or other resource for an activity, but it seems the effort involved in finding a projector, and getting everything set up seems to be more effort than it's worth to use in the classroom. Perhaps, I'm just being a bit lazy, but the logistics involved in using a laptop with a projector can quickly become overwhelming when something malfunctions and the class is left waiting for you to take care of the problem. If these seem like similar problems, then you might find the following tips on using technology in the ESL classroom helpful.

Tip 1: Get Students to Help Out

Let's face it: Students often know more about technology than we do. This is especially true if you, like me, grew up in an era where digital gadgets were less common. There generally are a few "geeks" in class. Enlist their aid, especially if you have students that are struggling in other areas. Asking for their help will boost confidence in their ability to make a positive contribution in class, which will lead to a more positive attitude towards learning English. Here are some suggestions:

  • Have a discussion about technology use in class. Find out who feels most comfortable with technology and ask them if they would like to help out.
  • Bring in the technology you'd like to use in the class. During the warm up, or introductory section of your lesson allow your student helper to set up and test to see if everything is working correctly.
  • Reward accordingly - providing an extra mark, some bonus points, etc. will ensure you have lots of volunteers.
  • Rotate student helpers. Chances are you'll have more than one student who would like to help out. Make sure everyone gets a chance.

Tip 2: Take Advantage of the Gadgets in Your Classroom

In today's classroom, teachers find that they often have to compete with technology to keep students interest. It's important to recognize that a) students use this technology b) they will use it in class. Short of taking students' smart phones, tablets, etc. away from them at the beginning of each class, most teachers have to learn to work with technology in the classroom. The struggle to deal with inappropriate technology use in the classroom can be mitigated to some degree by integrating its use into the lesson. Below you will find a number of suggestions.

Tip 3: Use Email to Your Advantage

It's often useful to send out an email to students with resources that you want to use during the lesson. If you want to use web resources, create a class email list to send out a short update with clickable URLs that students can use to access materials. There is nothing that will slow a class down more than writing a long, unwieldy URL on the board and asking students to type it into their smart phone, iPad, etc. to access.

Tip 4: Set Up a Class Blog / Learning Site

There are numerous online services that allow teachers to set up an easy to maintain class blog / site. You can use this to post assignments, give homework, keep students informed with resources, etc. Ask students to bookmark the homepage and you can provide a short blog posts with resources students can use during a specific lesson as suggested in using email. This makes using students' gadgets even easier!

Tip 5: Revisit Common Software in Terms of Learning Possibilities

Take time to find out what software packages students are using on a daily basis. Once you have a short list, spend some time with the packages to find out what tools they provide to help out with English learning. For example, using a text editor such as Word for Windows you can help students set up spell check in English as students type. Instruct learners to try to correct their own spelling mistakes signaled by red underling BEFORE they check the correct spelling. With a few simple instructions these tools can become powerful self-study aids.

Tip 6: Keep Technology Use Limited and On Task

This principal is similar to any teaching task. The more general an objective or activity is, the easier it becomes to lose focus. For example, imagine that you are using a video in class to work on comprehension. Instead of watching an entire episode of a sitcom, use a service such as Hulu or English Attack! to watch individual scenes. This will help you students keep integrate new vocabulary, improve their comprehension through repetition.

Tip 7: Have a Backup Plan

Always have a backup plan in place when technology fails. Unfortunately, this still happens and it's a shame to have to change lesson focus entirely just because Windows needs to install the latest version of Flash to play a video.

Tip 8: Use an Interactive Whiteboard

If you work at a school with deep pockets, I highly recommend working with an interactive whiteboard.

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