Flying cars. Personal robots. Invisibility suits.
There are a lot of futuristic tech innovations we’re still waiting on.
But when it comes to ESL teaching, there’s no need to wait for the most powerful technology.
From gamified lessons to virtual tours of the globe, there are tons of exciting techie tools to take advantage of. And making these innovations part of your curriculum won’t just support students’ English acquisition, it’ll also get them more engaged in your lessons and motivated to learn.
Ready to become an ESL teacher of the future?
Why Technology Is Vital in Today’s ESL Classroom
The digital era is certainly changing the way students learn, and classroom technology will continue to evolve and be more innovative as each year passes. In fact, technology can be a boon for teachers, students and school systems, and ESL educators are no exception. Incorporating technology into your ESL classroom will give your students an educational edge.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, educational technologies can actually increase classroom productivity by helping students learn faster. Ultimately, this means better use of your time as a teacher and faster results for your students, which will push them to keep learning.
Still not convinced? Research on education technology indicates that:
- 96 percent of teachers think technology in the classroom boosts student engagement.
- 86 percent of teachers believe classroom tech to be important and essential.
- 89 percent of teachers believe that technology in the classroom will increase student outcomes.
- 92 percent of teachers would like more tech in their classroom.
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Types of Technology for the ESL Classroom
Most ESL students, from young learners to adults, have devices they use outside of the classroom. The technology they use every day, from smartphones and tablets to e-readers and gaming devices, can be used to help them soak up English language concepts!
But how can you transform those devices into English teaching tools? We’ll show you some specific resources below, but here’s what to keep an eye out for as you enter the world of ESL classroom technology:
- Online ESL platforms
- Websites for highly authoritative global publications (Smithsonian Magazine, the New York Times, etc.)
- English language e-books
- Blogs (ESL, travel, food, culture, geography, etc.)
- Online worksheets, quizzes and games
Technology for the ESL Classroom That Your Students Can’t Resist
1. ESL Blogging
One of the easiest and most fun ways to integrate technology into your ESL classroom is to create a class blog. Your students will be able to post and share articles, images, their proudest work and more.
Along with boosting your students’ English writing practice, a classroom ESL blog brings the entire class together. They’ll be collaborating to create English language articles and build a blog everyone wants to share.
A class blog is also great for students’ parents/guardians as well. They can access the blog, see what their kids are up to in English class and review it together at home.
How to set up your classroom ESL blog:
- First, sign up for a free domain and blog via WordPress.
- Once you’ve set up the blog, upload some images and a brief summary of your class values or semester goals for your fist blog post. This serves as a demonstration for students of what can be done on the blog.
- After your first classroom blog is posted, brainstorm the next one together. Here’s a classroom blog example you can draw ideas from.
It’s important to also include parents in the class blog. Parents can use it to discuss English at home and take part in their child’s learning goals.
Utilizing podcasts as a way to integrate technology into the ESL classroom gives your students access to the outside world of English. Listening skills are of course at the forefront with this classroom technology, but there are also other skills you can incorporate into your ESL podcast lesson plan.
For instance, you and your students can discuss a number of key vocabulary words you’ve plucked from a podcast episode. Discuss the meanings of each word and cover pronunciation.
Next, listen to the podcast as a class, and after, have your students whip up a few sentences using those new podcast vocabulary words.
Podcasts don’t always need to be ESL specific. In fact, any podcast can be transformed into class material with a little teacher creativity and class engagement. Entertaining podcasts for your ESL classroom include:
- Travel with Rick Steves: This travel podcast lets you and your students travel the world with renowned travelogue writer and host Rick Steves. Students can learn new vocabulary, hone their listening skills and ask questions in English about what they experience during the travel podcasts.
- Maryland Zoo Podcasts: Learning animal vocabulary and discussing the different verbs and adjectives associated with certain animals will be more exciting with these zoo animal podcasts.
- National Geographic: Like the Rick Steves travel podcast, this podcast by National Geographic brings the places, sounds and cultures of the world to your classroom. These podcasts will let your students engage in English grammar in a fun and exciting way.
- NPR Kids and Family Podcasts: NPR allows your students to hone their ESL skills in an interactive way. Not only will they be developing listening skills, but they’ll also learn how to speak, ask questions and hold conversations in native English.
There’s certainly nothing like a real-life example when it comes to English.
Ready for a techie twist on ESL videos? FluentU is an innovative platform that transforms entertaining authentic English videos—like movie trailers, funny YouTube clips, news broadcasts and more—into interactive learning experiences.
It’s got a huge collection of authentic English videos that people in the English-speaking world actually watch on the regular. There are tons of great choices there when you’re looking for videos for in-class activities.
You’ll find movie trailers, musical numbers from cinema and theater, news interviews, commercial jingles and much, much more.
On FluentU, all the videos are sorted by skill level and are carefully annotated for students. Words come with example sentences and definitions. Students will be able to add them to their own vocabulary lists, and even see how the words are used in other videos.
For example, if a student taps on the word “brought,” they’ll see this:
Plus, these great videos are all accompanied by interactive features and active learning tools for students, like multimedia flashcards and fun games like “fill in the blank.”
It’s perfect for in-class activities, group projects and solo homework assignments. Not to mention, it’s guaranteed to get your students excited about English!
4. Translation Technology
The innovative technology available for your classroom should certainly extend to translation apps and online platforms. Translation apps and online translation tools you can integrate include:
Using translation apps or online translation platforms in a class activity can be a fun way to wrap up the week for your students. You can use them to boost engagement and learn new words for the coming week.
Here’s a quick example activity using a translation app:
- First, think a week ahead. What are the target vocabulary words you’ll be covering next week in your lesson plan?
- Make a list of your upcoming new words and compile them all into a worksheet. This is a good vocabulary worksheet template you can use.
- Once your vocabulary worksheet is ready, it’s time to head to class.
- Gather your class into one unified group and open up one of the translation sites/apps listed above.
- Hand out your worksheets and ask your class to say the first word.
- They’ll say it in English, giving you a chance to correct any pronunciation inconsistencies.
- Next, type the new word into the online translation app and say it aloud in your students’ mother tongue.
- Let them correct your pronunciation.
- Continue the activity until all new words have been covered.
In this way, technology makes a range of teaching goals easy to accomplish. You’re using these translation apps not simply to present new vocabulary, but also to build a strong rapport with your students and give them more agency in the language education process.
5. Native Speaker Skype
Skype is a great way to let your students take the reins in an English conversation. Connecting your ESL class with native English speakers around the world will help students hone listening skills, build confidence and boost engagement.
Here’s how you can make Skype part of your ESL classroom technology:
- First, if you don’t have Skype, you can easily download Skype to your laptop or phone. You can even create a class Skype account to keep your personal account private.
- Once you have a Skype account for your class, connect with friends or family who are native English speakers and who are willing to chat with your class. Add them to the account prior to class. Maybe even do a test call to ensure you aren’t wasting valuable class time on tech issues.
- After everything is set up on your laptop or phone, schedule a call with one of the English speakers and head to class.
- Gather your students around the computer and connect with the native English speaker of the week or month.
- Introduce your class and then have each student take centerstage, introducing themselves and asking the native speaker a few questions.
After the Skype session, you can expand on the Skype call with a little classroom Q&A. Ask your students about key points in the conversation. For instance, what does the native speaker do for work, or what hobbies do they enjoy? This will bring the activity full circle and hone those essential ESL skills even more.
6. Gamification of the ESL Classroom
Gamification is becoming a very popular learning tool for students. In fact, 70 percent of teachers said that students were more engaged when using educational video games.
Does this mean you should bring your Xbox to class? Probably not, since not all games are good for learning. However, there are a number of games that have learning value for the ESL classroom. Pokémon Go is a good example of a game that can be tailored to learning.
Other gamification tools you can integrate into your lesson plan include:
- The Oregon Trail: The Oregon Trail is one of the first interactive computer games, and though quite old, still has value for your ESL students. There are English questions your students will need to answer along the trail.
There are also a number of new vocabulary words to discuss, from oxen to purchasing goods.
- Education.com Games for Kids: The English skills you and your students can hone using these videos include counting in English, spelling out common vocabulary words, learning the alphabet and telling time.
- Pokémon: Pokemon boasts a wide range of characters, story lines and interactive gameplay your students can use to hone their ESL skills. There are even printable worksheets you can gather online to support your next Pokémon lesson plan.
- The Sims 3: The Sims 3, or any Sims game, is great for English learning. You and your students can explore the nuances of everyday life within the game. From pizza parties to buying furniture for the Sims classroom home, there’s much to explore.
One of the best things about using gamification in your classroom is that your students have probably played some of these games before. This makes implementing them easier. Your students will also be familiar with the English used in these games, allowing you to build upon the skills they already have.
7. Live Webcam Classroom
You may be teaching English as a second language in a small town in Asia or South America, but that doesn’t mean you can’t travel the world together as a class. With technology for the ESL classroom, you and your students can visit everything from national monuments to world-renowned zoos to beaches.
Here are a few live webcams your students can experience in class:
- Smithsonian’s National Zoo Webcams: The Smithsonian is home to a variety of resources you can put to use in your ESL classroom. One that’s highly engaging for your students is their zoo webcams. Your students can learn new animal vocabulary and action verbs while exploring the zoo together and describing what’s going on.
- U.S. National Parks Webcams: The U.S. National Parks can serve up plenty of lesson plan material for you and your students to dive into. You can build geographical vocabulary while discussing the history of each enticing location.
- New York Times Square: Most ESL students will have some idea of where New York City is, and some may have even heard about Times Square. From New Year’s Eve ball drops, to the sights and sounds of locals and tourists passing one another along the bustling crosswalks, there are plenty of ESL skills to cover.
Allowing your students to discuss and ask and answer questions using this webcam will give them the confidence to one day use their English in New York.
- Bondi Beach Surf Cam: From honing vocabulary skills to discussing things one could do during a sunny day in the sand, the Bondi Beach Surf Cam can bring up a variety of ESL skills.
- International Space Station Webcam: It’s certainly an exciting time for space exploration, and now you and your students can explore it together. There are a surprising number of science and tech vocabulary words to discuss, and this webcam is great for older ESL students.
You can use webcams to support lessons or develop entire lesson plans around them as well. However, it’s important to have a webcam backup lesson plan in case a zoo animal is being shy that day.
8. Digital Globetrotting with Google Earth
Google Earth is another virtual-word-travel technology resource for your ESL classroom. You and your students can globe trot around the world with a just a few keystrokes and a click.
Many students that are learning English have a curiosity about the world. Now you can help them explore some of the regions of the world they may have on their bucket list. This may not be the most traditional ESL resource, but with a little teacher creativity, you can hone a number of ESL skills.
For instance, before you and your class take a virtual journey to Mt. Everest, discuss vocabulary associated with the location, such as hiking, mountain climbing, Sherpas and tents, to list a few.
The world is big, so here are a few fun locations to explore in class:
To make the most of Google Earth in the classroom, you’ll need to do a bit of homework before heading to class. You’ll want to ensure the images are good, and you should have a few videos lined up to complement the globetrotting ESL journey with your students.
Using technology for the ESL classroom opens up a lot of opportunities to learn in new and exciting ways. It’s also important to encourage your students to use these online resources at home with family members, and even share them with friends.
Educational technology and the innovative devices that facilitate online learning will continue to grow. Adopting tech for your ESL class now makes you a teacher of the future.
Stephen Seifert is a writer, editor, professor of English and adventurer. With nearly a decade of teaching experience to students worldwide, he enjoys the many aspects of culture and traditions different from his own. Stephen continues his search for writing inspiration, boldly enjoying life to the fullest.
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