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Tech in the ESL Classroom: Avoid Obsolete Teaching Methods

Jul 11, 2019

Tech in the ESL Classroom: Avoid Obsolete Teaching Methods

By: Ted Salonek

There was once a time in China where expats were bound to using simple blackboards and flashcards to teach their students the ins and outs of the English language. We now live in a world where nearly each and every classroom is connected to the internet, and is most likely equipped with a computer, a projector, or a smartboard. On top of this, students are commonly carrying a smartphone capable of participating in a few very engaging classroom activities that you may or may not know about. I have spoken with a few seasoned, professionally trained, certified teachers on what they use in their classrooms to keep their young, tech-savvy students engaged and often impressed with what is happening in their learning environments. Let’s explore what we came up with:


In the smartphone age, teachers face new challenges. I’m sure every teacher who is reading this can think of a situation where a student (or a classroom of students) with phone in hand has completely disengaged from the lesson. By default, smartphones can be a hindrance to the learning environment we are hoping to facilitate, but after speaking with my former professor at the University of Redlands, Dr. Michael Adams, he brought a very useful app to my attention.

When asked to share an app he found useful in the classroom, he replied to me, “Quizlet is a wonderful online tool and app that can be used in the classroom. Teachers are able to sign into their account and create resources for their students based on what is being taught in the classroom. At times, you can even allow your students to have an in-class study hall or pre-test review using the resources you have created for them on Quizlet.”


Students can listen to podcasts to improve their comprehension. Teachers can also use podcasts, or clips from podcasts, as a warm-up and discussion exercise in the classroom. A quick search for “ESL” or “English Learner Podcasts” on Apple’s podcast app (or whichever podcast app you prefer) will reveal an abundance of podcasts that are created solely for ESL or ELL learners.

Students can also be tasked with making their own podcasts based on their interests as well. This is a wonderful activity that I did with my students while in China. My students were able to choose a topic that interests them and create a 10-15 minute podcast with a classmate talking about that topic; sharing information, opinions, and ideas with their make believe listeners. It was a great authentic learning exercise and my students loved it. All they needed was a microphone-equipped smartphone or computer, and the ability to record their conversation.

Grammar Bytes

I spoke with Nicole Allen, a current middle school English teacher, who was in my M.Ed. and licensure program, about the technology she likes to use in her classroom. She brought Grammar Bytes to my attention. “Grammar Bytes has premade, interactive powerpoints, handouts, and lesson materials based on grammar. They also have teacher-focused materials meant to help the teacher get a quick ‘refresher’ on what aspect of English grammar they will be covering that day. The presentations are never boring, and my students love them!”

She went on to explain her past difficulties with getting her students into a grammar lesson. Grammar Bytes has helped her and her students immensely and has activated their fascination with English grammar. Pay their website a visit and see if they have any supplemental materials that fit into your lesson plans! You won’t regret it.

Pen Pals

The days of snail mail are winding down to a close. We now live in a world where we can correspond with one another immediately regardless of geographical location. Finding your students some pen pals in another country is a great way to get them excited about using their English. By using emails or a discussion board, connect your class to a class in your home country. This may take a little bit of coordination, but the students will love it.

The classroom-connecting website, ePals, is a great resource for ESL teachers who are interested in having their students connect with other English language learning students around the world. Simply visit their webpage, select the appropriate filters based on what you are learning, class size, etc., and you will be shown a list of potential classrooms around the globe for you to connect with. I personally used this resource with one of my junior high school classes in Beijing, and my students were thrilled to reply to the messages they received.


ClassDojo, another suggestion from Ms. Allen, is a free resource for teachers that gets students excited about learning. Students can download the app and take part in a wide range of classroom activities. Teachers are able to award ClassDojo points, place students into groups, message parents (with the ability to instantly translate messages into 30+ languages), and allow students to share their work.

Complete with a teacher tool-kit, ClassDojo is an all encompassing toolbox for teachers. You are able to turn on background music, monitor the noise level of a class, facilitate a think-pair-share activity, and set timers. On top of all of this, it is guaranteed free for teachers forever!


Kahoot! is a game-based learning platform used in classrooms everywhere. Its learning games, called "Kahoots", are multiple-choice quizzes that allow user generation and can be accessed via a web browser, phone, or the app itself. If you have a quiz or a test coming up and you are looking to play a little review game to get the students on the same page, you may want to check out Kahoot!

As the teacher, you will need to prepare the review game by making a quiz for the students to complete. At the start of class, the students will need to download the app or visit the Kahoot! webpage and enter a PIN that will allow them to access the game. After this, the teacher will display the quiz on the projector, and the students will answer the questions in live-time. After each question, the class will be able to see how many of them got the correct answer.

Get Up to Date!

Teachers are creatures of habit. We know what works in our classroom and we often dread the idea of experimenting with something different. By bringing this new technology into your classroom, you may find that it not only makes your job easier, it also makes your students more engaged, and a more engaged classroom can make for a less disruptive classroom, if you know what I mean.

All classroom management and lesson planning matters aside, school administrators and supervisors love to see a teacher who is innovative, creative, and unconventional (in a good way, of course). If your principal or department head peeks into your classroom and sees the students engaged in a technologically advanced activity, it leads them to believe that you are a very valuable teacher whom they want to keep at their school, or even offer a raise or leadership role. If you know of any other technological tools for teaching or have questions about using technology in the classroom, please reach out to us. We want to hear from you!

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