Technology in the Classroom

Apps and Other Stuff for EFL Teachers

People have been learning languages with just a trusty chalkboard, paper and pencil, for hundreds of years. Using advanced technology in your classroom may not make or break your efficiency as an English teacher, but it might brighten up your lessons and provide breakthrough opportunities for students who have different learning styles.

Music Gets a Class Going

First of all, let’s talk about the benefit of music in the classroom. You can bring in musical instruments and get your students to beat a rhythm while you drill pronunciation—that’s lo-fi. Or, you can bring in a CD player, computer, or hook your MP3 player up to speakers to bring professional musicians right into the classroom. Music not only provides text for listening assignments, but can signal breaks between sections of the lesson, set the mood for conversation practice, and help moderate the energy levels of young learners. (Need them to perk up? Rock and roll in the morning is magic. Too rambunctious? Classical piano soothes and comforts.)

Computers Aren’t Just for Facebook

Next, computers. If your classroom already has a computer or several computers, you might use them to run PowerPoint presentations, show short video clips or scenes from movies, or even run an interactive game with a small group of students. Many foreign teachers choose to bring their personal laptops in to the classroom to show photos. Laptops are good for this because they can be passed around. They’re bad for this, because there’s always the risk of having someone drop it or spill something on it.

App It Up with Tablets

And then, tablets. Tablet computers combine the multimedia potential of audio and video recording and playback with the functionality of a piece of paper. You can take notes, make sketches, and show “handouts” right on the tablet, without wasting a lot of paper. There are tons of educational apps, including beautiful, bright flashcards; dictionaries with pronunciation guides; and, if you’re really stuck on a student’s question, instant translator apps. There are also language-based games on tablets (things like word scrambles) that could provide a nice reward for early-finishing groups while you wait for the slower students to finish their lessons. Some schools are providing teachers with tablets, while some teachers just decide to bring their personal ones into the classroom. Your students may also have their own tablets that they bring to class to use.

Interactive White Boards are Fun and Functional

Finally, interactive white boards. I’ve noticed more and more ESL job ads boasting that they give their teachers interactive whiteboards, like the ones from the brand SmartBoard, which allows you to save any board work written on it and email it to your students later. The danger of these is that the classroom becomes more board- and teacher-focused, but if you’re teaching higher levels, students may appreciate being able to annotate in class any PowerPoints shown for difficult sections of the text, and the brainstorming you do with the class on the board will be useful to them later when they read through the emailed notes.

However, just because great technology is possible to use in the classroom, doesn’t mean that when you come to class it will actually work. You should always test technology before a lesson and have a backup plan in case something is not functioning the day of your lesson. Every experienced teacher has had that sinking feeling when they press “Play” and nothing happens. This is usually followed by a moment of panic as the teacher wildly tries to figure out what they’ll do instead of the listening assignment, DVD clip or multimedia presentation. Save yourself that moment of discomfort by trying everything out beforehand, and embarking on “Plan B” if that doesn’t work. Plenty of teachers have wasted precious class time crawling under desks trying one plug after another. If it doesn’t work when you want it to, let it go and try again another day.

Ted’s Tips #1:  Don’t let the technology become the lesson. It should aid you in presenting your class in a new way, or let students interact with language and each other in an interesting manner. But, don’t let your lesson plan just become: play a video. That will get boring pretty quick.

Ted’s Tips #2:   Have a backup plan in case the technology doesn’t work on the day you want it to.

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