Three enjoyable smartphone activities to get learners talking

Recently I have been experimenting with using mobile devices in my university communication classes. Here are three enjoyable smartphone activities that have helped to get my learners talking.

I have been experimenting with using mobile devices in my university communication classes over the last couple of years. I have had some success and in other cases it hasn’t worked as well. These days, all of my learners have smartphones and they use them a lot. I have teacher friends who have tried banning their use in class but with not a great deal of success. I guess they are part and parcel of a student’s life and I wanted to find ways to best utilize them in class. As I mentioned, I tried various ways of using them and here are three activities that worked well with my learners.

Say What You See

This activity is very simple to set up and administer and my learners find it a lot of fun. However, I have found it works better with higher level learners. With lower level learners I would recommend scaffolding the activity by teaching phrases and strategies to help them describe a picture or photo before. I start the activity by putting the learners into pairs. I then ask one of the pair to get out their smartphone and find a picture to describe to their partner. I ask the other to get out a pencil and piece of paper. The aim is the first student describes a picture they found and their partner will draw it. I generally suggest they show pictures of cartoon characters, scenes of nature, or scenes from movies or characters they like. This activity certainly brings the energy levels of the class right up, and it works well as a warm up activity. 

Changing the Environment

This second activity involves more preparation. Last semester, I did this activity every second week with one of my speaking classes. During the first week, we would cover a relevant topic. For example, after the New Year’s break the topic was good fortune. In Japan, many people go to a shrine to pray for good luck for the coming year and buy an omikuji and omamori. (The first is a piece of paper that predicts your fortune and the second is a good luck charm.) During the first class, the students discussed visiting a shrine and different superstitions in Japan. The following week, the learners made small groups and were given 20 minutes of class time to go out of class with their friends and make a short video with their smartphones of a superstition or something lucky or unlucky happening. The only limitation was their imagination. When they returned to class, I gave them a worksheet with a series of simple questions about the videos they had made. They then had time to work with their group members and prepare their answers to these questions. Once they had all done this, they edited their video and shared it amongst their group members. Each group then took their worksheets and smartphones and talked to people from another group and shared their videos.

Video Speed-chat

This is a variation of a blog I wrote for the British Council Magazine last year. If you are interested, you can check it out here: Video Speed-chat is an easy to implement activity and only requires learners to have their mobile device. It is a concept which involves learners talking about a single topic for a few minutes before rotating to a new partner and repeating the process. I like to do this activity after a break in the semester but it can be done anytime. I ask the learners to get out their smartphones and choose several pictures to talk about. For lower level learners, I prepare a list of questions for them to answer or give them a list of Wh questions, but for higher level learners I just give them a couple of minutes to think about what to say to their partners. Each learner then takes their smartphone and they make two lines facing each other and talk for a couple of minutes before rotating to the next partner. 

What do you think? Have you tried any activities similar to these? Would these work with your students? Let me know what you think in the comments box!

Average: 5 (2 votes)

You don't need any special apps for Padlet, just access to the internet. It's just a URL. Here's one of mine used recently. Not all students have internet access phones or PCs etc.. I have collected a few 'old' early version ipads... You can pick these up here fairly easily. They are stripped of any unecessary apps and I just use them for simple internet, taking pictures and typing direct to Padlet.

Submitted by carl hibbs on Wed, 04/05/2017 - 13:11

Hi Neil, This is a great article and I think we may have discussed this subject on a MOOC somewhere. I will try some of your activities. One activity or method I use is with Padlet. I create a padlet wall for the lesson or subject theme and they work directly from their phones on to the wall in real time. It works very well and everyone is happy with this easy-to-use technology. Carl.

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