Bringing Technology to Life for Your ESL Students in Four Simple Steps

Bringing Technology to Life for Your ESL Students in Four Simple Steps

Susan Verner
by Susan Verner 16,737 views

Do you remember the excitement that filled the classroom when the teacher dragged out that great little gadget that would silence the teacher like nothing else?

Film strip day! Okay, I may be dating myself, but those days were great. No instruction! Maybe even no homework! Then disappointment when the teacher just could not figure how to thread the film strip through the projector. Plans were changed. It was a normal class period after all. Better go back to playing with jelly bracelets and memorizing the lyrics to “Like a Virgin.”

Ok, film strips may be going back a bit far, but whether it was connecting the VCR to the television, cueing up the DVD player, or some other sort of technology malfunction, high-tech and classroom instruction are often like oil and vinegar. They just don’t mix.

But just because you may have experienced classes like that growing up doesn’t mean that technology can’t work in the classroom. In fact, in today’s high-tech world, it’s easier than ever to include technology in the classroom. And you don’t have to reserve the reel to reel film player and get movies out of cans to do it. Here are some very simple ways you can include technology in your classroom today.

4 Tips for Bringing Technology into the World of ESL

  1. 1

    Encourage Smart Devices in the Classroom

    The days of confiscating cell phones in class are behind us. Or they should be. What was once a distraction from class can now be key to successful participation. Not all schools have the resources to have a set of computers in every room. Many do have a computer lab or language lab, and that’s great when you can get your class in there. But what do you do when you want to use technology in class but don’t have the resources to do it? Ask students to get out their phones.

    Particularly if your school offers free Wi-Fi to students, having the members of your class use their phone to access the internet in class can be a life saver. Students can do research, access email, and do just about anything on a smart phone that they can do on a computer. Not to mention all the great apps that are out there for learning English. You can encourage your students to download one or more of these apps (find a great list here) and actually encourage them to play on their phones during class.

  2. 2

    Assign and Receive Homework via Email

    In an age when many companies are going paperless, consider doing something similar in your ESL classroom. Use email.

    While it is still worthwhile to teach students how to write letters, they will use email far more often in their futures than paper communication. Why not start in your ESL class? Take some time in the first days of class to help students set up a free email account. Try Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail, or Google for setting up student accounts if your school doesn’t offer them. Then sent out a class test email in which you ask each student to respond to confirm their account is set up correctly. Then make a habit of sending out homework assignments over email. Receiving homework that ways is especially good when you assign essays or other written projects. You can feel good about using less paper, and your students will be able to access their homework from anywhere. Plus you’ll be getting your class ready for real world communication.

  3. 3

    Keep a Classroom Blog

    Whether you think your classroom life is interesting or not, you might want to consider starting a classroom blog. You can set up a blog for free on or any of several other similar websites. But having a blog doesn’t mean you have to do all the work. In fact, part of the reason to have a classroom blog is so your students can get in some very real, very practical writing experience.

    Distribute some simple blog posts to the members of your class and talk about what makes the posts effective. Then assign topics to the students in your class to complete in groups of two or three. Students then do the research and the writing before submitting their post to you for review. Once students have the okay to post, give them written directions on how to post their blog post on your classroom site.

    In addition to having students write posts, you can also post assignments or information that students will need to complete assignments on your blog. Don’t forget links to sites that they can use for homework or additional study, too. Encourage your class members to read the blog regularly and see what their classmates have written. Even if the blog focuses on the personal experience of learning a foreign language rather than research and articles, it will be a success. And you never know. You might get a follower or two in the mix.

  4. 4

    Consider a Flipped Classroom

    Traditionally, instruction happens in the classroom, and students do extension activities, practice, and deepen their knowledge through homework assignments. A new trend, called a flipped classroom, flips the traditional model on its head. Students receive instruction outside the classroom and then use class time to depend, expand, and practice that knowledge. This model works well for ESL classrooms and language students since putting linguistic knowledge to practice is key to fluency. That’s why we strive for communicative classrooms, after all and that’s exactly what you will be doing in a flipped classroom.

    All this to say that when you use a flipped classroom model, technology takes high priority in instruction. Students watch videos, do activities on websites, and listen to movies, songs, lectures, etc. online while at home. They key to a successful flipped classroom is making at home activities as media oriented and interactive as possible. Then when students come to class, they put that knowledge to practical use in communicative activities.

    You don’t have to do a major overhaul of your entire year to try a flipped classroom. You can start with doing one lesson or one unit with the flipped model. If you do choose to integrate technology into your classroom this way, you’ll want to find resources that your students can access outside the classroom. Even better if they can do the assigned activities on their phones. Just check and double check that the links you send out are working, and don’t assign too much work to complete outside of class. Consider setting up a personal website and posting the links there for your students to access at any time. This would also be a great time to use your classroom blog.

Technology and education can mix, and they can do it well.

These four simple strategies for including technology in your classroom can make a huge difference to how students view class and how much they participate. Give one or more a try and enter the world of high-tech classrooms. And don’t forget to toss the film projector while you’re at it.

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