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How and When Should I use Technology in the Classroom?

Henry Stephens

My first attempt to use an mp3 player for teaching was memorable for the wrong reasons. Fumbling with the unfamiliar device in front of a fairly senior local government official in Spain, we were suddenly treated to a loud blast of Arctic Monkeys. Luckily he had a sense of humour – “the best bit of the class”, he joked. We are all getting used to new technology. In general it probably makes learners more independent of classrooms and teachers, in terms of what’s available. In my view, any benefits in the classroom are mainly a matter of convenience. Still, in this case I quickly found out that, as with cassettes, it’s necessary to ready the relevant listening before class!

Let’s consider the demise of the cassette player. What’s the advantage? Well portability, and sound quality to begin with. Sure, Mp3 players are smaller and perhaps more fiddly, and getting familiar with your device is key to using it smoothly in class when under pressure. Another great advantage is that you can take all your listening tracks with you. If you want to change your mind and use a different lesson plan, for any reason, several gigabytes of your resources are there in your hand. You just need to find them on the device. And yet, aside from practical advantages, when and how we use audio material for language teaching remains pretty much the same.

There are so many ways that technology can be brought into the classroom it’s impossible to discuss them all here.

What about recording? Jettisoning cassettes doesn’t preclude this. I’ve found that the recording facility on a phone was absolutely fine for most purposes, and perhaps less intrusive than the churning cassette recorder and microphone. In a one-to-one, where recordings can very easily used it to re-examine and reformulate output, I’ve also noticed that students are often more comfortable using their own phones, since they retain the recordings. Again, really, not much has changed apart from practicality. Recording can still be used, for example, in those adventurous classes where groups decide on what to say, how best to say it (perhaps with some help from the teacher), and then press (or ‘touch’) the record button for a final version.

As well as Mp3 audio, many teachers are now becoming familiar with interactive whiteboards. I’ve found they take some getting used to. Others make it look so easy; my tip for novices is to practice well before the students come in! What’s great is that they enable us to use a pre-prepared projected document and then up write over that. On the other hand, didn’t clunky OHPs do that as well…?


Interactive whiteboards also make watching short clips far easier than ever before. And here again it’s also not something entirely new. VHS video has long been a resource for teachers. Now DVD, or Youtube can be used in similar ways, but with far more flexibility. The lengthy process of choosing suitable material, analyzing the language, and preparing worksheets has not changed. Nor is it any less risky to use Youtube in a random way than simply turning on the TV in class.

There are so many ways that technology can be brought into the classroom it’s impossible to discuss them all here. New devices allow us to be more up-to-date in the way we teach, and broaden the range of resources we can use. Cloud computing allows you to have your scanned documents or uploaded audio accessible from anywhere with online access. For one-to-one or small groups, apps for tablets abound with possibilities. I like to use ‘Ladybird’ fairy tales. They have an app where you can tap and record the text about well-known characters like ‘Rumplestiltskin’ or ‘Puss in Boots’…! Learners like to engage with the technology – they get a lot of good practice with pronunciation and can invent dialogue for the characters as well.

For business classes what about The Economist app? Students can use it to read aloud from free articles, and then compare their version with the downloadable audio in order to improve. This also lends itself to ‘shadowing’, where the learner reads at the same time as the audio track.


I’ve covered just a few of the many ways hat we can bring technology into language teaching. Teachers will have their own tricks and tips I’m sure. There are a few points that we can probably agree on. First you need to practice what you intend to do before class begins, to avoid getting into a muddle in front of your students. Second, technology merely seems to upgrade and extend tools that we have had for years. It doesn’t change the fundamentals of what we teach and how we can approach it. We live in exciting times technologically, and there is no reason at all why we shouldn’t exploit these advances for language teaching.

About the author

Henry has been working in teaching EFL (English as a Foreign Language) since 2001. Henry is married with one young son, and he lives in Harrow, London. In his spare time he enjoys playing the piano and practicing his Spanish whenever possible.