One way or another – teaching with (a little) technology

Natilly Macartney

If you’re worried that your young learner classes have become frozen, or stuck in one direction, Natilly Macartney has some ideas for combining some fairly basic technology with popular culture to engage your learners.

Technologies for language teaching are revolutionising the language classroom, and Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) is an exciting sub-field of linguistics. However, despite the potential of new technologies, such as interactive books and games, English teachers working abroad often have limited access to such resources. I know this from first hand experience after having spent nine months teaching English in two primary schools in central France. The classrooms I worked in were simply rooms with twenty or so wooden desks facing a chalk board. Unlike the classrooms in the UK, they were not equipped with interactive whiteboards, and I didn’t have access to the internet.

When you have limited resources, a personal laptop is an essential, and surprisingly its most basic features can go a long way. At Christmas time, I taught the children a Christmas carol. Spotify is an incredible resource for music because albums which have been specifically designed for children learning English are available on the app. Furthermore, all of the items can be saved and played offline. Following a few rehearsals of We Wish You a Merry Christmas, I then recorded the children singing using the microphone on my laptop. Afterwards, I played it back to the class and sent the files to their teachers so that they could use them again.

An effective way to engage with learners is to value the activities that they participate in outside of the classroom. For many learners, these activities involve using some form of technology, whether it be television, mobile phones, video games, etc. When I was teaching in France, the film Frozen was at its peak. The children I taught could not believe that ‘La Reine des Neiges’ was a film originally made in English.

That night, I made a presentation. The next day, I showed the children a short clip from the film. When the children saw Olaf the snowman singing in English they felt more connected to the language, and they found it to be more relevant to their lives. As a child, there really is nothing more satisfying than being able to speak like your favourite film character. With a helping hand from technology, I had been able to use current and authentic material in my class. Even more, by doing this I had changed some of the student’s attitudes, and I had encouraged them to see the value of learning English.

In another class, whilst talking about likes and dislikes, I found out that the children adored One Direction. I set myself the challenge of including something One Direction related, yet relevant, into my next class. In a previous lesson, the children had learnt the various landmarks in London. After browsing Youtube, I finally came across a video by One Direction called ‘One Thing’, which was filmed in London. I downloaded the video from itunes and I played it to the children. I paused the video occasionally and asked the children what they could see. It was a great way to recap a previous lesson, and again engage with my young students in a fun and interactive way.

New technologies are powerful resources in the language classroom, which have the potential to connect learners all around the world. The activities I have mentioned may not be the first ideas that spring to mind when thinking about technology for language teaching. However, the pressure to use the ‘latest’ resources should not mean that more practical and affordable ways of incorporating technology into the classroom are overlooked. So don’t worry if you don’t have access to the latest technology – many teachers already have the tools they need to create dynamic and engaging content.

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