What You Can Do with a Cell Phone: 7 Great ESL Activities

What You Can Do with a Cell Phone
7 Great ESL Activities

Claudia Pesce
by Claudia Pesce 82,207 views

In the ESL classroom, do you consider the cell phone your friend or foe? Yes, it’s a huge distraction for teens and adults, and the use of cell phones in the ESL classroom should be managed appropriately.

But here lies the key. IF managed appropriately, the cell phone could be a wonderful, powerful tool in the classroom, particularly if you have adult learners. And to prove this, here are some great things you can do with a cell phone in class:

7 Great ESL Activities That Involve Cell Phones

  1. 1

    Number Crunching

    This is a very useful way to practice saying very large, 6 or 7 digit numbers– no need for you to have to write them all down on the board. Ask students to use the “calculator” function in their phones. Give a student two numbers to add – 354,455 plus 21,998. Students add the numbers and must say the result correctly in English.

    It’s also useful when you practice shopping situations, and they must calculate percentages and say them in English. If you have Business English students ask them for more complicated calculations like taxes or the bottom line in a Profit and Loss statement.

  2. 2

    One-sided Conversation

    Take your cell phone and pretend you are talking to someone. Students will hear only your side of the conversation. When you’re done talking ask students to guess who you were talking to and what the conversation was about. This is something you can really target to your students’ needs: you can have all types of business scenarios like complaints, delays, deadlines, etc…

  3. 3

    Matching Conversation

    Say you are teaching your students the four seasons. Use your phone and pretend to talk to someone about the weather. Have four different conversations. Students have to match the conversation to the right season. For example: “Oh yes! Just lovely!....... I’m enjoying this weather so much…..Went out for a walk. You know, after spending so many months indoors, it was so nice to enjoy the fresh air…….Have you seen how many flowers are blooming?.....” Students would have to guess you were talking about spring.

    You can also match type of holidays, professions, sports, etc….just remember that you can’t give away any of the key words. Students must guess from other clues.

  4. 4

    Take a Snapshot!

    This is a wonderful activity for ESL learners who are either in an English-speaking country or are traveling to one. Many ESL students don’t feel confident enough in an English-speaking setting. So, provide them with a great tool. Show them just how useful their cell phone camera can be.

    Play this fun game. Take pictures with your own phone of important intersections in town. Ask students if they can identify them. They must name the exact intersection and if possible famous landmarks that are nearby. Show students that they can do exactly the same when they are in a foreign location and take pictures of key streets and locations.

  5. 5


    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could play back everything students say to show them the mistakes they’ve made? With a cell phone you can! Use your phone to record a student speaking about a topic or a role play between two students. Then, play the recording and see if students can correct their own mistakes. Play back a second time for you to show them the mistakes they didn’t catch.

  6. 6

    My Favorite Things

    What are the chances of getting your students to bring some of their favorite items to class? If they are small enough, that’s no problem, but what if you want to talk about their favorite clothes, shoes, or even a room in their house. This problem is easily solved with a cell phone camera. Ask students to take a picture of their favorite room in the house. They must bring it to class, share it with the group, describe it and say why it is their favorite.

  7. 7

    How Far Have You Progressed?

    Film your students with your cell phone. They may be participating in a role play or discussion. Save this video till the last day of class. You may ask them to have a similar role play or ask the very same discussion topic. Ask them if they can tell the difference and see how much they’ve advanced!

Please note that for the One-sided Conversation and Matching Conversation, you may choose to use a toy phone, and it will get the job done just as well as a real phone. Also, these activities don’t include tasks that involve texting or emailing you, for example, but those are also great options.

It has become increasingly difficult to completely ban cell phones in the ESL classroom, especially in ESL schools. Can we ask students to turn them off during class? Absolutely! Can we ask them not to bring them to class? It is very likely that our request will be met with reluctance. So, why not use this tool instead of fighting it? Your students will certainly be more motivated!

Do you think your ESL class could benefit from these activities? Would you be more willing to use cell phones in your class? Share your thoughts below!

And be sure to read our latest article Back to School Dilemma: Technological Gadgets in the ESL Classroom?

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