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Utilizing New Technology in an ESL Setting to Limit Smartphone Use

Utilizing New Technology in an ESL Setting to Limit Smartphone Use | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Depending on which part of the world you are in, more often than not, you will find that majority of your learners, especially the younger ones, tend to be very tech-savvy nowadays. This is especially true in a Prep-Year setting in Saudi Arabia, where I’m currently based. When I speak about a Prep-Year setting, I am referring to young adults, between the ages of 18-20 who have just finished high school and must complete a year of English language studies to begin their major.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Mohammad W. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

Teaching such learners brings about several challenges.

One of the biggest being mobile phone usage. Now, it’s true that mobile phone usage can be a challenge anywhere in the world, but, here in Saudi Arabia, where about 70% of the population is under 30, it can be a big classroom management challenge.

Although school policies with regards to mobile phone users can theoretically help limit mobile phone usage, in practice, this is not always the case. Such policies at times can also be restrictive in terms of what classroom management techniques you can employ. As an example, the place I currently work at makes it clear that mobile phones should be on silent and kept in pockets at all times unless otherwise told so by the teacher, this is not always the case in class. Students do tend to get their phones out now and then which leads to disruption in teaching. Whereas some places permit the teacher to take phones away for the duration of the lesson should a student not abide by the policy, or, ask all students to put their phones in a box at the front of the class as they walk in, here, we are not allowed to do this. We are extremely limited to only speaking to the student privately should it be a frequent occurrence, or, informing the student affairs unit who will deal with the matter. The problem with the latter is the negative impact it has on rapport and the animosity it then creates between the learner and the teacher can be hard to repair.

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So, we know the problem and we know the restrictions. What can we do?

The first thing is to understand why students may feel the urge to use their phones in the first place. There is no simple or straightforward answer to this. It can be for several intertwined reasons. From finding the lesson material boring to the feeling of missing out on an important notification. My personal experience with learners here in Saudi Arabia generally has been that they are so attached to technology and phones that it is almost second nature for them to check their phone frequently even if there is no real need to.

So, how do we address this while at the same time meeting our lesson aims?

Over the years, I’ve learned that young learners can be extremely competitive and when you combine the competitive nature with technology, you generally have a winning formula for success. Traditionally, many teachers would possibly allow mobile phone usage for a limited time for students to look up a word in a dictionary or to find photos, etc. While this is good, students don’t necessarily find this exciting.

My approach, the few times I have been in the classroom here and taught, has been to blend technology into the lesson in such a way that the students feel they are having a break but at the same time they are learning and as a teacher, I can test understanding or use this as a review or revision session.

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So, how do I do this?

Simply by incorporating apps such as Kahoot, Socrative, or EdPuzzle. Kahoot and Socrative for me have been the most effective in this area and have helped limit phone usage in my classes. Not only do they bring out the competitive nature in the learners but they also make learning fun. The beauty of Kahoot and Socrative is that there are thousands of readymade quizzes already available which you can use as templates and customize as needed. You will have exercises converted to quizzes from popular textbooks like Headway and Q: Skills readily available for all to use.

While Kahoot is mainly used for live quizzes, Socrative gives the option for teachers to create quizzes with their tips and also the ability to add open-ended questions. This means students can complete the quizzes at home and the teacher can provide feedback. I have found a mixture of both makes learning fun and vastly helps in the reduction of unnecessary phone usage.

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In conclusion, mobile phone usage in Saudi Arabia is huge and can cause classroom management issues, but, at the same time, it presents opportunities and if the right tools are utilized in the right setting to make learning fun and interactive, correct and approved mobile phone usage changes from a source of disruption to a tool for learning.

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