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WhatsApp in the classroom to foster listening and speaking
I would like to start this post by saying that when I hear some people say that mobile phones are dangerous devices for humankind, I cannot help smiling while recalling that I had to hear something similar about the dangers of TV not so many years ago. In fact, TV was called “the idiot box” and you had to be very careful because spending some hours watching it could kill your creativity forever. Fortunately, it seems that did not happen to many of us who learnt how to benefit from watching TV.
Below these lines I would like to defend that nowadays mobile technology can help teachers to find new ways to improve students’ language/content learning. Although there are plenty of applications that would ensure a pedagogical benefit of using mobile phones in our classroom, it goes beyond the scope of this essay to dive deeply into them. Therefore, I will just outline a classroom project which will help you to integrate WhatsApp in your classroom with the purpose of improving students’ oral skills.
Before describing the project I wish to share with you, I would like to mention that the difficulty teachers would have with sharing their own personal mobile phone with a large number of students has been easily overcome in the schools where teachers are using whatsApp with a pedagogical purpose by using an external phone (flat-rate data). A school in our area did that and the Mobile Phone Operator they contacted offered them a cheaper phone rate than the one they had. We could say they killed two birds with one stone.
Another obvious drawback is the policy your school has decided on regarding the use of mobile phones inside the classroom. Most Secondary schools in my area allow their use with a clear pedagogical use and under the supervision of a teacher but it is not a general policy yet. It depends on each school.
Setting the rules
It is essential that students know what the teacher wants them to do, the deadline for the different tasks they will have to carry out and how they are going to be assessed. I recommend handing out the project rules and assessment criteria in printed form.
Once you have set up clear rules, you can proceed to describe the project. The one I am going to lay out briefly aims at improving students’ oral skills by asking them to choose a topic from a list of topics which matches your classroom planning.
In our teaching contexts, oral presentations are part of our classroom practice both for English teachers as for teachers who implement different subjects through English. In order to help teachers to work on oral skills, we spent some seminar sessions on this issue and I also wrote a blog entry to try to help with assessment criteria some years ago:
You must be wondering how WhatsApp can help to improve students’ oral presentations. First of all, by no means will WhatsApp take over so many tools, strategies and procedures we use to work on oral skills. WhatsApp recordings of presentations should be just another tool and it will not cover all aspects of an oral presentation because there will be no way of measuring body language or visual contact. Therefore, we can incorporate this tool and combine it with the variety of activities we use to foster oral practice.
What are the advantages of incorporating WhatsApp for students’ oral presentations?
Students are enthusiastic about using it because they get engaged very easily and they enjoy listening to each other’s presentations in silence and the number of times they need to accomplish the task.
Those students who do not like speaking in class overcome their anxiety by being able to prepare an audio file on their own and send it to the teacher when they feel comfortable about it.
Students work in silence to concentrate on listening to their peers’ recordings. A silent atmosphere is not an easy goal and we need it to develop the listening skill.
Teachers will find it very useful with large classrooms because it will offer opportunities for personal assessment and audio files are a very good way of keeping track of students’ progress.
Practical suggestions for the classroom
► Assign each student a topic related to your classroom purposes ( Renewable energy sources, healthy life, your favourite Music, types of plants, types of rocks, helping to protect our planet, the best inventions for humankind, advantages of tourism, etc). Tell them they will have to prepare a short presentation on the topic.
► Hand out a task to each of the students so that they know the questions they have to answer or the information they have to include in their presentation.
► Tell students the deadline so that they prepare their presentation and send it to The class WhatsApp group.
► Share the assessment criteria with them and explain what they mean so that they know what is important in order to get a good mark. You can use this one or another one you prefer for your classroom context.
► Recommend students to use on-line pronouncing dictionaries and text-to-speech tools to help them with vocabulary and pronunciation.
► Once every student has sent his/her recording, listen to them and mark them according to the assessment tool you have chosen.
► Prepare a handout for students with a list of questions that they will be able to answer by listening to their peers' recordings.
► When students come to class after you have done the previous tasks, let them listen to all students' recordings and ask them to answer the questions in the handout you have prepared for them. You can collect the handouts at the end of the session and give students some feedback on them. They will be helpful revision resources for students.
All in all, it is not a perfect tool and it has its drawbacks, which have to do with the need of a good Internet connection. Remember to ask the school for an external phone if you do not want to use your personal mobile phone with students. It is not very expensive and you will keep your intimacy.
Last but not least, this tool should not replace the usual procedure by which students present their work in front of the peers but it will help students who feel anxious in public to relax and it will also create an atmosphere of concentration which is key to effective listening.
Please, let me know if you have tried using WhatsApp in your classrooms and your conclusions about it. I will be eager to know what you think about it.
Loli Iglesias comes from the Basque Country and has been teaching English at Secondary level for 17 years. She is currently working as a teacher trainer for the Department of Education of the Basque Government. She develops seminars on Professional Development and CLIL. Her main interests are CLIL and ESL methodology. She blogs at clilingetxo.blogspot.com.