Teaching and learning has changed in many ways over the past two decades. The use of technology to encourage and explore learning is not a new thing and there is now a lot of technology available to second language learners.
Here, we take a look at some of the best technology for English learners…
This is an online virtual world, where learners can exist as avatars and become immersed in a richly contextualised universe. Second Life offers learners the chance to connect and collaborate with classmates and teachers out of class. As the learner explores their path of exploration, they can converse with fellow learners and become immersed in the language they are learning.
This is a state-of-the-art, six-level gaming product that has English learning built into rather than on top of it. Students receive instruction in class and the content that they receive online is directly related to what they are doing in class – ensuring that it is relevant in terms of language and level. Poptropica appeals to young English learners, while playing to the strength of the teacher through a suite of classroom materials.
A commercial game can offer hundreds of hours of gameplay without becoming repetitive. The result of this is that players – learners – are always tempted to come back for more. This means that they are in control, which is a factor that can be very motivating – especially when they can learn something as they play. Edtech expert David Dodgson explains how Minecraft can be useful for learners: “Despite its retro appearance, this is an incredibly complex yet easy to ‘pick up and play’ open world game. Start a game in creative mode and the only limit is the player’s imagination. That makes it something players want to talk about and collaborate on.
“I have seen nine and ten year-old students create amazing projects in Minecraft, such as entire cities and farms. They have then produced screencast videos narrated in English to show in class or share with friends. The language is completely student-generated and the end product is completely student-owned.
“Learners can also keep notes (in English) as they explore the game and then write a journal from the point of view of their in-game character. Or they might get together with friends to reflect on their experiences, exchanging ideas as they do so.”
The great thing about podcasts is that they exist about almost any subject. If a learner can combine learning with their favourite things, it’s hugely motivating. They can pick a topic and listen to a podcast in English. To take it further, they can use a smartphone voice-recording application to talk about what they learned, and how it has informed their knowledge on their favourite theme. One of my all-time favourite English podcasts is published by Freakanomics – the topics are incredibly diverse and thoughtfully researched material.
There are lots of photo-editing and drawing apps, such as Photoshop Sketch and ArtRage, meaning there’s lot of potential for learning English while being creative. Learners could draw, paint or manipulate a photograph and then describe to family, friends or classmates what they did and what their image means to them.
Nik Peachey, a teacher trainer and learning technology specialist, believes that one of the fundamental enablers of engaging learners is a backchannel. A backchannel is a simple chatroom, such as TodaysMeet, that students can join. Once in the backchannel they are able to communicate with their teacher and other learners and share useful links to other digital resources. The two-way conversation encourages responses from the whole group.
Although there is no actual spoken language in this smash indie game, the platform/puzzle format of Limbo lends itself perfectly to practising language around predictions or conditionals (“If I pull that lever, the door will open”), recounting events (“I was chased by a giant spider!”), strategising, and so on.
To find out how teachers are utilising technology like this in their classrooms, take a look at our Blended Teacher blog series.
What technology has helped your learning? Tell us about it in the comments section below…