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Published March 3, 2020 | Languages and Literature

How and Why to Use Apps In The ESL Classroom

I have been interested in integrating technology in my classroom since I started teaching ESL (English as a second language) at Cégep de l'Abitibi-Témiscamingue. I find it is even more important at the college level where many lessons can still be dominated by teachers talking.

Most educators agree that for learning to take place, it's important to get students engaged with the material, participate in class and collaborate with each other. Since the new generation of students loves playing on smartphones and tablets, I believe that apps have the potential to inspire and educate in a fresh new way.

How do I go about it?

Rather than picking an app and trying to find a place for it in the classroom, I decide what I want to do and then I choose a tech tool to make that happen.

I have 3-hour classes and a 4-hour class supported by the Centre d’aide à la réussite. It is more important to vary teaching strategies when the students are in class for 4 hours.

From week to week, I alter the activities and the time that the apps are used. My courses are divided into units. In each unit I try to have 2 activities using technology. A unit can last 2 or 3 weeks. Every task that the students work on is different.

Activities with apps can be used at every level. With the lower level students I model how to use the app. I show the students both the teacher’s and the students’ versions. So they really understand how the app works. When I start using an app, I slowly teach students how to use it, step by step especially if the app is to be used for homework.

Sometimes I have the students present their activities in stations, so when the students know that they are creating a video or a game to present to other students it pushes them to do it better than if it was just for me. So I always explain how to use it and I explain the goal.


Image by William Iven from Pixabay

What do I use apps for?

I try to make grammar teaching and learning more interesting. After teaching a grammar point, I create a review activity using Socrative, Kahoot! or any other app that allows me to create a questionnaire. We always do the activity together in class so that I can give feedback, but if the students want more practice they can do it at home. It’s good practice and it’s a bit more fun than the traditional pen-and-paper exercise.

That’s what I like about apps, students can always continue at home. Students are grateful for that opportunity. There are a lot of anxious students, that’s a reality nowadays and, to have all of these resources available anytime makes them feel more confident. So before a quiz I always post a little review exercise and they can do it as many times as they want. I have students who do that, it’s a great way to practice and not feel as anxious.

Homework can be challenging for students. They don’t want to do it, they come to class and they haven’t done it. When the activity assigned is different and more interactive it motivates them to do it. I like to use Socrative and Adobe Spark for homework.

  • Socrative is a student response system. As a listening comprehension activity, I give them a video to watch and they have to answer my questions on Socrative.
  • The Adobe Spark app is a video editor and slide show maker. I ask students to transform a short story into a video. The activity helps them understand the structure of the story in a more original way.

Speaking in front of a class can be intimidating for some students. Creating a video using Adobe Spark is a lot less anxiety provoking:

  • Beginners (604-100) are asked to prepare a slide show or video that presents a person who is a role model for them.
  • Advanced students (604-102) created a 2-minute rant on the subject of their choice. They shared their videos with their peers in small groups (stations).

I also use an app for an “exit ticket” activity. I use it especially with my 604-100 students at the end of the class to make sure that they understood the content of the day’s lesson. Before I started using the app, I had them submit a journal entry or write on a Post-it and leave it on the door on their way out. Now I have them use Padlet. The advantage with Padlet is that the students have access to each other’s comments, questions or whatever they post. However, I had to make an adjustment when I realised some students felt shy or anxious about being required to post under their own name. So now I give them each a number at the start of the session and that is how they post anonymously on Padlet. The other students don’t know what number corresponds to what student. Now students aren’t shy to express themselves either to answer questions that I ask about the lesson or to give their opinion in a brainstorming activity.

I would be really interested in hearing about other apps that you have tried. Please share in the comment box below.

About the Author

Josianne Beaudoin-Lacroix She currently teaches ESL at Cégep de l’Abitibi-Témiscamingue. During her studies in the TESL program, she received a SPEAQ award for academic achievement and professionalism, as well as five scholarships for her academic achievement and involvement in the community. Passionate about her job, she loves to innovate using various teaching methods in class.

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