Teaching language is a lot of work.
You’ve got lessons to plan, lectures to give, homework to grade and activities to organize.
Well, if you’ve got a computer, tablet or smartphone, you have the power to totally streamline your teaching work.
All you need is game plan, a bit of imagination and some amazing apps. If only you knew where to start…
Read on, fellow language teachers, and prepare to have technology change your work life forever!
Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)
Top Reasons Why Apps Work for Language Lessons
Technology has changed everything around us, from the way we search for information to how we organize it.
Technology has become a great ally of teachers around the world. If you still haven’t discovered the great possibilities that it can bring to your classroom, just have a look at how apps can impact teaching and learning.
Make lessons fun and engaging. In many cases, using tablets or computers provides a break in students’ learning routines. That’s why students get really excited about this opportunity. Even those that least look forward to their language lessons will enjoy this new and fresh approach to learning.
Make your lives easier. Planning, marking, assessing and filling in paperwork takes up a lot our time as teachers, time that we’d love to spend on many different things that don’t necessarily include completing and organizing the workload. Tablets provide a space in which we can keep all our important teaching information, including lesson plans and students’ portfolios. They let us keep all of that key information in the same place and take it along with us wherever we go–without having to carry twenty books. They allow us to work with existing templates of seating plans. We can finally store a range of lesson plans, organize the information and share it easily with colleagues, students and parents.
Teaches students how to access information. One of the biggest problems some teachers face is having pupils that are used to being spoon fed instructions and information, and that have a complete inability to find answers unless the teacher guides them through every step of the journey. Teaching students how to use technology to access information, instead of relying on memory or the teacher’s directions, allows them to become more independent and allows us to focus on what’s really important during the lesson. Teaching students how to find good sources of information and how to interpret that information will ensure that they make faster progress.
Opens us to differentiation in our teaching. The amount of resources teachers have available through apps makes it much easier to target students’ levels effectively. We might ask some students to use different apps as tools to find out how different grammar rules work. With others, we might want them to have access to a dictionary or a verb conjugator while completing a given exercise. We might provide special needs students with apps that feature flashcards and pictures to facilitate their understanding. All of these exercises can be done at the same time during a lesson rather than making everyone participate in a cookie-cutter activity that doesn’t address individual needs.
The only problem with apps becoming more and more popular is that it’s even harder to find the most useful ones. It’s tempting to download every single app you see in the App Store and try them all out but, trust me, you’ll lose valuable time with many apps that aren’t even worth a small amount of effort.
If you’re looking to get started with apps or just want to find some new ones to freshen up your collection, here’s a compilation of our favorites.
11 Elementary Language Teaching Apps You’ve Gotta Keep Handy in the Classroom
I’m no ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) technician. My knowledge of apps comes from basically using them and spending time on them. Therefore, when I download an app, I know straight away what I’m looking for. It takes me about 5-10 minutes to decide whether it’s something that’ll just waste space on my tablet or whether we’re on to a keeper.
All of the apps that you’ll find in the following list have two things in common. They’re free and they’re easy to use, two “musts” when choosing apps. Have a look and give them a go!
Language teaching and learning apps
When we’re teaching our students a language, we sometimes focus so much on them memorizing grammar points, words or verb conjugations that we forget that this isn’t necessarily the best way to get our students to be successful linguists.
Speaking a language doesn’t mean being able to memorize every word or every rule, it’s about understanding the language overall and knowing where to find the information needed to communicate (whether it’s inside your brain, in a book or in an app). The following apps are great tools for language students and can be trusted by teachers to help their students in their learning.
To give your students an immersive, interactive learning experience, you’ll love using FluentU in your classroom. It’s designed to get students familiar with foreign vocabulary in a fun, friendly, totally approachable way. FluentU makes it possible to learn languages from music videos, commercials, news, inspiring talks, cartoons and more.
Using FluentU, students will be more engaged, have fun and learn better. Not only does FluentU offer video, but it offers scaffolding across seven skill levels that isn’t available anywhere else, ensuring that students will find authentic content that’s approachable and within reach.
While watching videos, every spoken word is subtitled in English and the target language. Plus, the subtitles are interactive and allow users to view an in-context definition, images and multiple example sentences for every subtitled word. You can even click on a word to see how it’s used in other videos across the site. Say goodbye to spending hours searching for good videos on YouTube and hello to focusing on actually teaching your students.
Every student is guaranteed to find videos they love to watch, and you’re guaranteed to find videos that meet your teaching needs. FluentU has a very wide variety of videos (browsable by category and level), as you can see here:
FluentU has interactive captions that let you tap on any word to instantly pause the video and see an image, definition, audio and useful examples. Now native language content is easily within the reach of any student, at any skill level, thanks to the interactive transcripts.
You can learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU’s unique Learn Mode, which asks questions based on what each student already knows. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
Plus, FluentU always keeps track of vocabulary that your students are learning. It uses that information to give students a 100% personalized experience by recommending videos and examples just for them.
You can organize chosen videos into “courses,” name your courses and assign them to your students for homework or in-class activities. They can each sign in using nothing but a secret password that we bestow to you, the teacher.
Then you can track their progress individually and as a group. How many videos and activities have they progressed through? What percentage of the exercise questions are they getting right? You’ll be able to see all this information and more.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes store. Available in English, Spanish, French, German, Japanese and Mandarin Chinese.
Okay, not everything is about memorizing, but learning vocabulary is an important part of language learning. This app lets teachers create their own flashcards and share them with students, who can then practice the vocabulary games. You can also search for previously made flashcards that other teachers have uploaded or ask students to create their own. Something I find really useful is to print out the flashcards to support my special educational needs students when doing activities in class. Bitsboard is only available for iOS.
3. Verb Trainer
This app comes in different languages and it’s a great way for your students to practice conjugations. I believe practice is the best way to actually learn verb conjugations, especially when it comes to irregular verbs. This app not only provides the conjugations, but also explains how each tense works and gives examples on how to use them. Verb Trainer is available in many languages for Android. Other similar verb training apps are available for iOS.
One of my biggest fights as a language teacher is to get my students to stop using Google Translator and start using WordReference. I’ve downloaded the app to both my iPad and the school’s iPod Touch so students can learn and get used to finding words, synonyms and idioms with it. With some luck, they’ll fall in love with it and start using it at home too. The WordReference app is available for both Android and iOS.
If you’re a newbie to the world of apps, you’ll probably be overwhelmed when you see everything Edmodo has to offer. Edmodo is basically an extension of your classroom in the world of apps. You can share documents with your students here, so you’ll be able to send them polls, quizzes and assignments. They can complete and submit these via the app, as well as keep a record of their progress. Edmodo requires students to have their own login information, so you’ll have to check out your school policies to ensure you always follow the procedures and get parental consent when necessary. Available for Android and iOS, as well as accessible through a computer.
6. Be Seated
This app helps you put together your seating plans in less than five minutes. You just have to create a room, place the tables, create your list of students and then attach their names to the tables. If you want to pay for the upgrade, you can have access to more rooms or import your list of students, but the free version is perfect for me. I really like how I can easily email the seating plan to any teacher that’s covering my lesson. It’s also really easy to shuffle the seating plan around to create a random seating plan and it gives you the ability to choose students to answer your questions if you’re a fan of the “no hands up” approach. With just a click, Be Seated will choose a pupil for you. Be Seated is only available for iOS.
I used to have a teacher’s planner where I would keep all my records of assessments and attendance. With Additio, I can now do this on my tablet very easily. This app offers a grade book, attendance tracker, class diary and planner, all in one. It’s incredibly easy to use, and it allows you to export the data so you can print it out or email it. The only catch is that the free version only lets you have two groups of students. However, that’s enough to get you started and decide whether it’s worth paying for the upgrade or not. Additio is available for both Android and iOS.
8. Three Ring
If you’re the kind of person that takes books or folders home to mark them, you’ll love Three Ring as much as I do. This app allows you to create a student portfolio by taking pictures of their work and uploading them. You can then add comments and send them to parents and students. It makes marking pieces of work really easy and it also allows you to have quick access to everyone’s work, which I find most useful when filling in reports. It’s also a fantastic tool to address behavioral issues, as parents can receive a copy of the work (or notice of their lack of work) straight away. Three Ring is available for both Android and iOS, as well as on their website.
General teaching and learning apps
9. Show Me
This app is a basic whiteboard in which you can draw, add text and include shapes just like if you were using a magic board. The difference is that you can also record a video of whatever you’re drawing on the computer and include your voice as a narrator. I use Show Me when I’m explaining grammar points to my students, like verb conjugations or adjective agreement. I create the video and then share it with my students so they can go over it at home when completing the exercises. It’s a great tool for flipped classes and it gives you access to many videos created by fellow teachers that can provide inspiration for your teaching methods. Another great idea is to ask your students to create a video themselves explaining how a grammar point works to check their understanding. Show Me is available for iOS.
This program works in both tablets and smartphones as an app or on the computer via their website. It allows you to create quizzes and tests for your students to complete, with instant feedback for them and a tracking tool for you to review their progress. It has a teachers’ version and a separate one for students that does not require them to create a login or include any personal information. They just have to write their name before taking the test so that you can identify them. Fast, easy and a fantastic way to assess their learning and have all the data instantly to inform your planning. Available for both Android and iOS, and very easy to use on a PC as well.
11. Voice Record
It seems pretty basic, but a voice recorder is a fantastic tool for learning anything–especially for learning languages. As a student, I used to record myself explaining specific topics and then play the tracks back to review my material while I was on the way to school or getting ready in the mornings. When teaching languages, a voice recorder enables students to focus on pronunciation and self-assess their speaking skills. As a teacher, this app allows you to record students while doing oral exercises or exams and email the track to them. You may also edit it and choose certain parts of the audio to give them specific feedback or to use as examples for the rest of the class. Voice Record is only available on iOS, but there are many similar apps for Android too.
Apps also offer an amazing opportunity to develop and implement an immersion experience. They’ll get your students closer to the country you’re willing to explore and they provide many opportunities for discovering culture. Check out these two ideas:
- Have a language exchange through Skype or use this software as a way of building a relationship with a school or group of students somewhere else in the world. That kind of connection can be hugely beneficial for your students!
- Use online radio apps like Tune In Radio (Android and iOS) or download the apps of the main TV channels in the language you’re teaching. It’s a great way of incorporating authentic videos and audios to your lessons!
With the world of apps, the sky is the limit. You only need a smartphone or tablet, imagination and time to put something amazing together!
Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach languages with real-world videos.