5 ways to use WhatsApp in the ELT classroom

whatsapp elt

How the instant messaging app can be an effective language learning tool.

In our recent post looking at the hottest trends from the 2017 ELT Teacher Awards, we shared how a large proportion of the entrants embraced using mobile devices in their classrooms, with WhatsApp being a particular favorite.

What’s WhatsApp?

WhatsApp is an immensely popular, simple and versatile messaging app. It’s currently used in over 180 countries, and over 50 million messages are sent on it every day. As of July 2017, more than 1.7 billion people were actively using WhatsApp, which makes it the world’s second-largest social network.

WhatsApp: familiar to teachers and students alike

Whatever their attitude towards technology, most teachers are at least somewhat familiar with WhatsApp and its capabilities. Maybe you, like many other teachers, already use it to stay in touch with your friends and family. This means that it’s only a small step towards using it as a teaching tool.

Students are also familiar with WhatsApp, with many young people actually preferring this type of communication to face-to-face interaction. This combination of student and teacher familiarity makes WhatsApp one of the most accessible apps to use in English language learning classrooms, as well as potentially one of the most collaborative.

Throughout the 2017 ELT Teacher Award, we noticed teachers around the world are using WhatsApp in a variety of different ways to solve problems and encourage their learners. The following are five ways to use WhatsApp in the ELT classroom – and there are many more!

1. Encourage collaboration

Collaborative tasks can be very productive but also very time-consuming. Encouraging students to work together in groups outside of class time is a good way of getting around this, but needs careful organizing to ensure they work together successfully.

WhatsApp groups are good in this respect because they can be used to create a closed space that is accessible by everyone at any time, allowing for easier communication and exchange of materials. Students are used to communicating with each other in this medium, and are familiar with the idea of sharing messages via screenshots or forwarding media. When using WhatsApp students benefit from having their own personal space, and as a result don’t feel as lost as they otherwise might in a very large class.

2. Extend learning time

Teachers often find themselves under pressure to cover a large number of tasks in a very short amount of lesson time. Iranian teacher Mojtaba Jahanshahi came up with a solution for this by using WhatsApp to extend his classroom. After noticing his learners needed to practice their productive skills, but without sufficient time in class to address it, he set up a WhatsApp group with regular tasks that required students to write or record their speech in English. As a result, he found that his students became more motivated and started communicating more freely. Using WhatsApp gave them the opportunity to practice writing and speaking in an environment they were familiar with, and in ways for which the school timetable had not allowed sufficient time.

3. Manage large class sizes

Yassir El Hajel Sheikh was the winner of the 2017 Pearson ELT Teacher Award People’s Choice for Africa and the Middle East. Yassir has a large class of 50 elementary students, which makes it impossible for all of them to get the same practice time and feedback in class. To try to get around this difficulty, Yassir started a WhatsApp group where his students record voice messages, send them to the group, listen to their peers’ messages, and then comment on them. Yassir reviews the students’ messages himself, giving feedback to help them deal with frequent errors. He also uses WhatsApp to record his own audio messages, questions and images. As a result, the students in Yassir’s class now have a direct channel to access feedback on their work, as well as a space to receive personal support from Yassir himself.

4. Flip the classroom

WhatsApp is also a great way to help teachers flip their classrooms. Neusa Pretzel, a teacher in Brazil, shares links to videos via WhatsApp with her students. The students watch the videos before class and then ask and answer questions about the videos in their WhatsApp group. In this way, Neusa uses WhatsApp to flip the traditional teaching model on its head and give her class more quality teaching time in the classroom. By getting her students to engage with texts as self-study, important classroom time can be used to discuss the content, work on exercises related to it, or develop concepts in greater detail. For teachers whose students have very limited time available, this can be a great way to help them make the most of the time they do have.

5. Build confidence

Mauricio Vidal Gheiler, a teacher in Peru, found out that his shyer students often turned out to be very active communicators when they used WhatsApp and other social media apps. Furthermore, the confidence they gained by using WhatsApp started to impact on their classroom activity too! As many students are comfortable with using social media, this type of communication can help build their confidence and have a positive effect on their attitude to learning in general.

How to set up a WhatsApp group

It’s very easy to set up a WhatsApp group for your students. First you open the app and go to the Chats screen and tap the New Group button at the top. Next, you add the group participants by selecting or typing the name of the contact. Then you add an icon for the group by tapping on the empty photo box. Finally, add a name for the group and tap Create.

So, don’t hesitate to do what many other teachers are doing with WhatsApp – download the app, play about with it for a while if you need to, and start using it as a force for good in the classroom. As these teachers demonstrate, most students are enthusiastic about using WhatsApp and will get involved in the activities you set them. Your students will almost certainly thank you for giving them a chance to learn through this familiar, simple and versatile tool.

You can read more about how teachers are using social media in our 2017 Pearson ELT Teacher Award entries. If you use WhatsApp or social media in an innovative way remember to share it with us by entering the 2018 Pearson ELT Teacher Award and compete for a trip to IATEFL or TESOL, then you can find out how to take part here.

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