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How Can Cell Phones be Used for Class Activities?

Joelein Mendez

When someone says “technology in the classroom” I am instantly reminded of the Star Wars trilogy, specifically the scene where the “padawans”, or students, are being taught to wield lightsabers with the force. These days practically every student has, hidden away in their pocket, a device disguised as a social lifeline that is full of educational potential; a mini-computer capable of just as much good as class-disrupting evil. That device is the cellular phone. While generally a “no cell phones in the classroom” rule is the norm, one must push aside the feelings of annoyance at ill-timed ringtones and clandestine texts to see the possibilities offered by such a device. What was once a bane to every teacher’s existence can transform itself into a tool wielded by the student.

Create an account at www.polleverywhere.com and, like magic, a cell phone becomes a student responder. Poll everywhere allows users to create quizzes and surveys that participants respond to via text message. The service is free to groups of up to 40 participants, and the answers are displayed in real time on the website. Imagine the possibilities. Keeping students engaged in the classroom won’t be hard when they are actively participating in a way that appeals to even the shyest speaker.

These days practically every student has, hidden away in their pocket, a device disguised as a social lifeline that is full of educational potential; a mini-computer capable of just as much good as class-disrupting evil.

As a language learning tool, a phone becomes an entertaining way to practice outside of class. “Talk on the phone for 15-20 minutes” or “Facebook chat using proper grammar” hardly seem like arduous homework for today’s tech savvy student, but asking for those things to be done in another language is a way for students to connect outside of class and practice within their comfort zone. Set those twitchy, texting thumbs to work for you by encouraging digital conversation (outside of class) with that day’s lesson in mind.

Personally I have noticed a common habit among students when it comes to writing summaries. I have seen that many language learners have trouble summarizing their ideas and many times end up rambling and writing more than they should for a specific topic. In order to help your students be more direct with their ideas have them describe certain topics in a one page long text message. When students see how limited their writing space really is, they will begin to get into the habit of being more brief and concise. Give your students a topic related to your lesson and have them send you a few sentences about it through a text message. Doing this activity every once in a while is a great way to get them to practice their summarizing skills.


If language is retained better when connected to a visual cue of some sort, then why not use a picture with which your student is already familiar. Having language learners use personal pictures for assignments will foster emotional connections between words and their meanings which textbook illustrations don’t quite inspire. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the average student is carrying around a veritable library in their pocket—put it to use.

More things to try:
Hide and Go Seek
Bring back grade school memories with a tech twist. Have students hide outside of the classroom and text clues to their location, in their target language, to the seeker. For example, “me encontrará al lado de la puerta roja.” Go ahead and translate it on Google, you know you want to. This is a great way to have the students differentiate spatial relationships (i.e. in front of, next to, under, etc.).

Mystery Date
Have a pretend conversation with a prospective date over the phone. Talk about their likes and dislikes, job, family, or anything really. Have students try to figure out what it is you are discussing from your half of the conversation. Give it a try: “Oh yes, that’s my favorite animal too…uh huh, very long ears…carrots mostly, but they’ll eat practically any vegetable…” Can you guess what I’m talking about? I’ll give you another hint: they are thought to be compulsive thieves of Trix cereal.

Become a Paparazzi
Let students embrace their inner journalist by taking cell phone pictures of different scenes outside of class and use them to write scandalous exposés full of lurid, albeit made up, details.

Accept it or not, cellular phones are a force to be reckoned with. Make like Luke Skywalker and use that force for good instead of letting it go to the dark side. Do you have other methods for using phones in the classroom? Let us know! Extra credit goes to anyone commenting from a phone.

About the author

Joelein is a sassy stay-at-home mom and part-time writer. She enjoys Korean soap operas and reading everything from classics to children’s books.