My New Best Friend

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by Manuel Dos Santos

If you walk around the school or the college campus, you’ll see students glued to their smartphones. The smartphone has become an extension of their bodies, like an added limb.

Surveys from different sources conclude that over 90% of students bring their smartphone to class, and that the majority of them would enjoy using it as a learning tool.  In general, schools have a policy against the use of cell phones in class because they say it distracts students from learning and disrupts the class. So how can we use this ICT (Information and Communication Technology) to our benefit as teachers? How can we take advantage of this technology to help bridge the gap between the classroom and the real world?  The answer is to use the smart phone responsibly and for a specific purpose. Clear limits must be established to students beforehand.

The following are some suggestions on how to incorporate the use of smartphones in the English class.  Besides the authentic input that smartphones can provide, they also help to motivate the class, and students feel that they are responsible for the learning process.  The smartphone is definitely an added benefit, and can be used even at a very elementary level.

Almost every beginner’s course will include the following topics: talk about your family, friends, pets, your house, the weather, pastimes, vacations, and so forth. Let’s see how we can use the smartphone to complement some basic teaching goals.

Family
Traditionally you would ask students to bring photographs of their relatives to class and to describe the people, give their names, their profession, their age. Instead, get students to show photos of their family on their smartphones and to talk about the people. You may start off with your own family using your phone, and elicit what you expect them to say. Example: This is my husband. His name is Antonio. But we call him Tony. And these are my children. Martha is thirteen and Gerardo is eleven. She has straight brown hair. He has black curly hair. Martha is a good student, but Gerry is lazy. His favorite sport is baseball, etc.
Get students to work in groups, and discuss their relatives showing photos on their smartphones. Go around the class and listen to their descriptions. You may ask for volunteers to show you photos and describe their family. Personalization encourages students to talk and makes the class much more interesting.

Pets
If you’re teaching possession, verb “to have” and possessive ‘s, ask students if they have pets and what. It’s advisable first to elicit: I have a dog and two cats. The dog’s name is Lobo and the cat’s name is Sugar. You can use the same procedure as with the family. Ask students to show you photos of their pets and to describe them.

Friends
Get students to show selfies of themselves with friends. Describe where they are (location) and what they are doing (Present Progressive).
This is a selfie of me and my friend Carol. We are in a restaurant. We’re celebrating her birthday.

Weather
In groups, get students to find out the weather conditions in different parts of the world. You’ll be combining weather vocabulary and expressions with the subject of geography: It’s snowing in Beijing, China. It’s winter, and Beijing is in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s sunny and hot in Buenos Aires, because Argentina is in the Southern Hemisphere, and it’s summer there. Get students to compare and contrast the different weather reports.

The principal use of the smartphone is to get students to look up or gather information related to the subject matter being discussed in class – real world challenges. However, there are many other possibilities to use the device as a useful tool for the learning of English. For example:

· Recording:  When reading or role-playing a Conversation from the book, get students to record it and have them check for errors in pronunciation, and other mistakes.

· Dictionary: Get students to look up the meaning of a word in a dictionary application.

· Translator:  Ask students to translate sentences. Sometimes the online translator is inaccurate, so the activity is a good opportunity for error correction.

English: What are you doing next Saturday night? 
Spanish: ¿Qué estás haciendo próximo sábado por la noche?

· Text Messages: Introduce some common acronyms in English at the beginning of the lesson – TKS = thanks, TC = take care, 2day = today, GL = good luck, etc. Have students share phone numbers. Divide the class into groups and get them to send each other messages. To simplify, you may want to write the content of the message on a card for each group. Example: Group A, invite Group B for a party on Friday night. Give time and location. Tell them to bring . . .

As they say, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” Teachers have to find ways to co-exist with the smartphone in class, because smartphones and other ICTs are here to stay.

Copyright: Manuel dos Santos                 June, 2015

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