Ways of Working with Vocabulary on iPads.

Part One: Connecting Theory and Practice

Hirsh and Nation(1992) “In order to comprehend a text and guess unknown words from context- learners need to know 95% of text : 1 unknown word every 2 lines.”

“Lexical knowledge is the strongest predictor of readability/ inability” Tom Cobb 2007

Nation, Schmitt, Folse, Laufer, and others recommend the explicit teaching, practicing and testing of the most frequently occurring vocabulary at the early stages of language learning, because a lack of basic lexis prevents learners comprehending reading texts and using learning and communicative strategies successfully. This is often called the “learner’s paradox” as language learners need to understand texts in order to work out  the meaning of words and notice patterns of use, but they cannot do these things because they do not know what the meaning of the words in the text. Research strongly indicates that the acquisition of vocabulary based on extensive reading and listening is not as efficient as focused instructed vocabulary learning which includes activities that encourage the conscious studying and reviewing of target vocabulary items.

Vocabulary learning is facilitated by periodic recycling activities which form part of an “expanded rehearsal” process in which words are reviewed on the same day, next day, 7 days later, 28 days later etc. because students need multiple exposures to a word to be able to use it productively in real time communciation. Atkins and Baddeley suggest 11 encounters are necessary whilst Nation says that 5-16 encounters are required. Regardless of the number, lexicographers all agree upon the need for the regular lexical item recall which firms up the neurological link between the form of the word and its corresponding meaning. E-learning helps educators provided these multiple encounters with words in a fun, gaming manner which helps students ” cope with prodigious amounts of information within an artificially short time” Folse 2007. And also, as repeated exposure to and the use of target vocabulary are necessary for learning to take place, a certain amount of timetabling work is necessary.  Since vocabulary is reviewed at specific intervals, students (and teachers) need to keep records of the dates when lists of vocabulary were first taught and the dates one week and one month later when they will be practised again. I hope that computerised calendar systems will make this easier in the future.

The first stage in learning L2 vocabulary is understanding meaning. Traditionally this has been done using L2 definitions or through both a definition in L2 and a translation of the word in L1.  Research shows that initial L2-L1 translation work and the meaning mapping of the new word against the mother tongue is an extremely effective first step in the process of learning vocabulary. There has been resistance to L2-L1 meaning mapping since the 1960s possibly for two reasons:

so many native speaker English teachers did not speak the L1 of their students

students in international classes in the USA, UK or other English-speaking countries were from a variety of L1 backgrounds and so a common language did not exist.

However, it can be and effective, efficient initial vocabulary learning strategy with online programmes since well-developed bilingual dictionaries and materials can be more easily found. Research suggests that initial L1 translation work is more effective and faster than L2 definitions and pictures, films, graphics, gestures, movement, examples, and guessing meaning from context. However, after the initial encounter with a word, trying to learn the L2 vocabulary meanings from context, definitions or examples in isolated sentences are really important methods to help learn the appropriate use and word grammar of L2 vocabulary lexical items. In an iPad class, students can work in pairs and have one screen with the target word lists and the other showing a bilingual dictionary. Flashcards and word books often have a translation facility or section added to them.








Corpus linguistics has really changed the way we decide which lexis to forefront. Computer compiled word frequency lists of the most common 2000, 3000 words in English have been created using data from the analyses of large collections of texts such as the British National Corpus, which comprises 100 million words of text. Teaching and studying high-frequency vocabulary has a higher, faster surrender value for learners. University prep programs and the course books and graded readers that cater to them, often focus on the most frequent 2,000 words. Our institution has compiled unit lists drawn from the most frequent words. These lists can easily be uploaded to a variety of Apps and/or websites.

When these course book unit target vocabulary lists are introduced several days prior to students reading or listening to the texts which incorporate them text comprehension increases because the brain has had time to transfer the new vocabulary from short term to long term memory. Realising how much the memorised words make reading or listening easier provides contextualised repeat exposures and can improve motivation to learn and encourages further vocabulary study.  This preparation for learning, so that knowledge studied in isolation can be utilised communicatively in class, is one of the main pillars of flipped classes.

The forgetting that begins immediately after encountering a new word, can be reduced by in-class activities at the end of the vocabulary lesson. The traditional activities done with the words on the lists such as: L2-L1 definition matching exercises, spelling test dictations, multiple choice sentence completion activities, L2 word-definition matching, word-picture matching or gap fill are now frequently found in gaming formats in lexical Apps.

A major advantage of computerised activities over static paper-based word lists is that digital formats can vary the order of the words as students learn them. This is important as words in lists tend to prime students for the next word. For example word A is always followed by word B. so word A will always prepare students for the word B. The digital randomization of words means students have to recall meanings without such unconscious prompting.

Part Two: A Review of Several Apps

 Teacher created unit specific/ week specific lexical lists created in Numbers


  • Easy to create a table on which students can write definitions and sample sentences, sentence grammar- noun, era, adjective etc.
  • Easy for students to find words within a spreadsheet using the search function
  • Very visual when students colour words belonging to lexical sets and words connected with ways of describing places, talking about the past etc. one colour.
  • Easy to resort data according to alphabetical order, countable/ uncountable, word grammar, known words unknown words etc.

Tip.  Add a date column to the spreadsheet and give each month a significance e.g. One: January = countable nouns, February = uncountable nouns, March = non- nouns.

E.g. Two: January = well known words, February = partially known words, March = unknown words. Tap on the screen just above the date column, select “sort” and the vocabulary will be arranged into the designated groups of words for the students to work with.

  • Easy to send to students via email or have students retrieve spreadsheets from a platform such as iFiles, Dropbox or Ebackpack. and have them open it in Numbers


  • Difficult to add images without making the spreadsheets so long that you can only see a few words per page.
  • Not possible to add voice recordings for pronunciation.
  • Is not included in the general iPad spotlight search.


Teacher created unit specific/ week specific lexical lists created in Spelling City( Free Version)


  • Lists are easy to construct. Teachers can embed their own definitions and sentences or use those provided by the App.
  • Target vocabulary can be introduced, practiced and tested through 8 different activities covering meaning, spelling and pronunciation.
  • Gaming element keeps students engaged.
  • Students get instant feedback on their performance.
  • Recycling vocabulary is possible due to variety of activities and the ease with which teachers can modify definitions or sample sentences, so that students are working with slightly new material.
  • If the login name and password are shared between a group of teachers, everyone has access to the website and can create lists to be utilized by all members of the group and their students.
  • Accessed through the App. Students login using a common user name and password. Students login each time they access the App.


  • Images cannot be added to the definitions
  • The new update has removed the word definition match and so this App cannot be used as a presentation tool. Only as a follow up tool.
  • Only a limited number of lists created by other teachers are available.






Teacher created unit specific/ week specific lexical lists created in Quizlet ( Free Version)


  • Lists are easy to construct. Teachers can add their own definitions and images from Flickr.
  • Target vocabulary can be introduced and practiced through a flashcards and a scattered matching game.
  • ‘Learn it’ mode prompts students with either images or definitions. Students can control the type of prompt they require.
  • Answers can be typed in or entered orally using the built in dictation microphone.
  • Gaming element keeps students engaged.
  • Students get instant feedback on their performance.
  • Vocabulary lists are easily edited.
  • There is access to many more lists created by other teachers worldwide, than in Spelling City. For example, 25 lists cover different units of Headway Beginner.
  • Accessed through the App. Students login using a common user name and password. Students only need to log in once, afterwards they type in the specific list name.



  • Definitions and sample sentences are not automatically added by the system and so more preparation time is needed when creating lists than in Spelling City.


Teacher created vocabulary companion (similar to those provided as a separate vocabulary booklet at the back published course books.) developed in Creative Book Builder and stored as an iBook on each students bookshelf.

A good reference tool for lower level students who do not have access to a low level commercially produced dictionary and whose English is not extensive enough to cope with the free dictionaries provided on the Web.

  • A good way of developing basic dictionary skills, such as scanning the A-Z organization pattern, and distinguishing definitions from example sentences.
  • When creating the vocabulary companion, teachers will be aware of lexis already covered in class and add relevant unit references, synonyms, antonyms etc.

The same images, example sentences etc. can be used in the iBook, on flashcards and    other worksheets aiding student recall of target vocabulary.

Once created they are permanent and infinitely reusable across classes, and semesters.

  • They are a good resource for class based vocabulary games, student to student dictation activities and simple cover the word, recall the word, check the word activities.


  • Creating the book and editing it later in the light of new insights into how vocabulary is recycled throughout the syllabus can be time consuming.
  • Creative Book Builder Books can be difficult to share. They need to be opened in an iPad email account or both sent from and received by the same type of institutional email.


Student generated lists and vocabulary logs.


Spelling lists created in Spelling Free


  • Students add words they personally frequently misspell or want to learn to spell

E.g. Teachers can highlight words to be added to Spelling Free Notebook when correcting a student’s written work. Students look up the correct word in a dictionary and type it or copy paste it into a list. Similarly, they can use the App in conjunction with reading exercises.

  • Spoken renditions of most words are available. Users can add their own recordings of the word.
  • Definitions and or sentences can be recorded in place of the pronunciation of a word.
  • During spelling tests, students control how many times they hear a word.
  • Immediate feedback is given and a tracking system presents misspelt words more than those correctly spelt.
  • Correctly spelt words are immediately starred.
  • A history function provides evidence of student work.
  • Results can be emailed.


  • Images or written definitions cannot be added.
  • Lists cannot be shared or downloaded and used within the App.

In conclusion, Apps which facilitate the learning of lexis help teachers and learners put the theory behind vocabulary learning into practice. In addition, digital tracking systems make lexical learning tailor made, consequently alleviating the prohibitive task of recycling so many new items per day. The gaming element and accompanying reward systems are motivating and the anytime, anywhere facility, allows students to keep to an “expanded rehearsal” process in which words are reviewed on the same day, next day, 7 days later, 28 days later etc. However, one caveat is that we need to put word lists onto a number of Apps, and still use varied approaches to prevent App burnout.

Working With Graded Readers and iPads

There is a lot of evidence to prove that sustained silent reading is exceedingly beneficial both inside and outside the classroom and a key advantage of  mobile devices is the  ease with which students can have access to rich reading resources. Additionally, it is also possible to follow the written word on the page, whilst listening to an oral rendition of the text. This is particularly important to students whose mother tongue is written in a script that is not the Roman Alphabet and as in the case of Arabic, does follow the same spelling rules. Vowels are often not represented in written Arabic,: and thus students forget to incorporate them into their written English.

Our institution subscribes to the Oxford Bookworms Series of Graded Readers for EFL students. I would like to share some of the activities I have done with my students using this online reading resource and other digital programmes.

Conventional Pre and Post Reading Activities

I listed and used the conventional pre and post reading activities frequently employed to test comprehension, enrich vocabulary acquisition and foster prediction skills when a class set of readers is used. These included:

. Saving pictures from the book onto the Camera Roll and using the slideshow function to present them to students.  During the slide show students predicted the genre,possible plot, and the role certain characters would play. I also elicited target vocabulary.

. Playing snippets of conversation of the story to the students and asking them to predict the next few scenes. I did the by playing the audio on one iPad and recording the excerpts with another iPad using Sound Note.

. Creating vocabulary reinforcement exercises in Spelling City, Quizlet and Socrative.

. Creating follow up comprehension questions in Socrative.

. Playing You Tube videos connected to a key theme or event in the book. For example, after listening to a description of the skies darkening before a volcanic explosion in ‘Last Chance’, we stopped the audio and quickly switched to a volcanic eruption on You Tube which caught the students imagination and enhanced their understanding of the dangers the protagonist was facing.

. Saving several pictures from the online book into the Camera Roll and then inserting them into a Pages document as visual prompts  which scaffolded the students  recapping of  the story.

These were all effective activities, but I wanted to utilize the social networking possibilities of m-learning and engage students in tasks they normally do outside of the classroom in their real lives. So I turned to iFaketext.com.

This site allows you to make realistic counterfeits of documents such as SMS texts and Facebook accounts.

The Facebook Account of Police Woman Sue Parker from Police TV ( OUP) .

I created a Facebook Account which situated Sue Parker in central London. It was easy to add photos saved and cropped from Camera Roll and to enter the key events in the story as events in her calendar. I then wrote an open comment saying that she was worried about the number of thefts that had recently occurred in North Street and asking her Facebook friends for suggestions on how to catch the thief.













Students logged into Sue’s page as User Name: SueParker, Password:english because I felt this was a safe way to proceed. I did not want students to use their own authentic Facebook accounts and disclose personal information. However, several students decided to do so and others who had not previously owned an account, felt motivated to open one. The task was simply to read several pages of comments, photo albums and event recordings and to feedback to the class the information they had gathered about the police officer. Each group took it in turn to reveal more information and not to repeat the information provided by other groups. This gave students a reason to listen carefully to their peers. Afterwards, students chose the comments or pictures they wished to reply to. Whilst moving around the class, I was able to post answers to student comments, encouraging further reading and writing.

There was a strange blurring of fiction and reality. Although I had created the account using iFaketext.com and the character was obviously from the storybook, the verisimilitude of the Facebook text and the authenticity of the tasks set,  led to some students questioning whether or not  they were corresponding with a real person.

Warning: A good activity goes wrong. 

I used a fake document website, rather than the actual Facebook site so that the information posted was not in the public domain and to substantiate the point that this was a classroom based simulation type activity. I used my own email address to create the document, but had to add a fictitious gmail address for the protagonist.  I did not need to create an authentic gmail account before creating the Facebook account. However, during the activity someone must have changed the class shared password for Sue Parker and once I had exited the account, I could no longer log back in. I tried to rectify the situation by creating the make believe email address, but a genuine Sueparker@gmail.com exists and so I have not been able to get the security code to change the password and now need to create the bogus account again. It would therefore be prudent to register an email account under the book character’s name before developing their webpage. This really does blur reality and educational exercises!

SMS Texts

IFaketext.com also helps you produce text messages. I created one from the police officer to the class. I could not get this sent properly and so I took a photo shot of it and emailed it to students, who opened it in Skitch and typed in their responses. Sue Parker asked them a personal response question about how things were going in Abu Dhabi first, and then asked them questions referring to the plot of the book, asking them to infer who the thief was. This started students asking how they could contact an English speaker abroad with whom they could genuinely text.









A Puppet Pals Interview Between the Police Officer and a Suspect

As the target language at present includes simple past question forms, students worked in pairs to write, rehearse and then record a dialogue in the form of a police interview that took place between Sue Parker and a character from the book who many students believed was the thief. An advantage of Puppet Pals is that photos saved from an online book can be turned into the background and characters of the puppet show. Hats off to technology, photos can be manipulated in such a way that a character who is looking left in the original photo, can be made to look right on stage and during a three person dialogue characters can actually change the way they are facing to look at the speaker!






Students uploaded their dialogues onto eBackpack from where they were viewed via Apple TV. The whole class discussed the merits of a dialogue, awarding points for the variety of questions asked, the usefulness of questions asked to the police investigation and the accuracy of the grammar and vocabulary. eBackpack has a review function into which grades and comments are entered, and saved by the teacher(as a representative of the class) and viewed by the material’s creators.

In conclusion, students interacted with the content of the short stories in creative,mobile, social, visual, gaming and story telling ways, meeting all five educational materials criteria recommended by Dr Ruben Puentedura,Founder and President of Hippasus, and designer of the SAMR model of change and innovative implementation.


Their language use, especially in the Facebook activity was meaning focused and not simply for display purposes. In the last three  e-learning activities outlined here, students not only used language communicatively,  but also developed many digital literacies.




The Socrative Quiz Building  Programme comprises two apps: Socrative Teacher and Socrative Student. Teachers create quizzes on a laptop via m.socrative.com. On enrolling educators are given a room number which is the passkey by which students can access their quizzes. Quizzes fall into three response categories: open ended, true/false and multiple choice. Quizzes can be teacher paced: moving on to the next question when they teacher wishes to; or student paced: progressing at the pace of individual learners.

Real Time Feedback Systems

The real value of a Socrative Quiz is that it provides detailed reports of all student answers, allowing for targeted feedback and personalized student tracking, which are both keystones of m-learning (John Couch, Vice President, Worldwide Apple Education, First Annual Global Mobile Learning Congress 2012, Al Ain, United Arab Emirates).  Reports can be live: illustrating how many students chose which answer in bar chart form, and post activity, documenting the discrete decisions of each student. If instructors design tests so that the same item tests the same linguistic phenomenon over a series of quizzes, it will be easy to discern if a student is making progress in a certain area or not. For example, if every grammar test item five targets third person ‘s’ and a student always gets question five incorrect, then both the student and teacher knows that remedial work is necessary in this area. Even if quiz design is carried out in a laissez faire fashion, students benefit from an analysis of their results.


An Element of Fun

Dr. Reuben Puentedura, creator of the SAMR model of change and innovative implementation, says that the gaming element of e-learning engages students and this seems to be the case in Space Race, a quiz set up that pits teams against each other in their attempt to drive their rockets the furthest, the fastest. Rocket fuel equates with getting all members of the team to answer a set of questions correctly, developing student interdependence and promoting student to student teaching.


Many Cooks Make Light Work


Socrative Teacher is generative in that quizzes created by one teacher can also be used by others through an invited share system. Student designed quizzes can also be created on a Socrative Teacher platform, encouraging lessons from the learners. For example, groups of students can decide upon the questions that should go into a quiz and whilst classmates work on alternative tasks, group secretaries can take it in turn to enter test items. The quiz is then used with the class as a whole. Such quizzes are often deemed to test what has been taught, and students report that they learn more from reviewing the learning items covered to decide what merits entry into the evaluative task, than from taking the test itself.

A Survey Tool and a Brainstorming Tool.

As answers are collated, the Socrative quiz is an ideal information gathering tool. For example, at the beginning of a semester students can write down important information, email addresses, learner preferences etc. and this is all stored in one sheet in the quiz report. Teachers can elicit information on which aspects of the lesson learners find most useful or least useful using an Exit Quiz. Similarly repeated questions, to which students have to provide different answers can be a fertile brainstorming device. For instance, students may be required to voice different reasons for becoming a vegetarian or for switching to alternative energy sources etc. The ensuing report provides all students with a comprehensive record of all ideas put forward, ready for selection and use in a writing or speaking activity.

In conclusion, I believe that Socrative can meet a range of classroom needs, whilst varying the interactive focus, and pace of a lesson. It seals students into a here and now virtual world, which they find motivating and the immediate feedback facility makes the learning experience very personal for them.

This review first appeared in Perspectives Volume 19 No.3 produced by TESOL Arabia and was published here with their permission.



   ”Popplet is a platform for your ideas. Popplet’s super simple interface allows you to move at the speed of your thoughts. With Popplet you can capture your ideas and sort them visually in realtime.”  https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/popplet/id374151636?mt=8

With its simple interface, Popplet allows iPad users to create visual mind maps in seconds. As teachers, we have been using Popplet to plan our lessons and create workflows. With a tap, it is possible to put differently colored popples, connect/disconnect, move and resize popples on the pinboard. Popplets can be saved as photos on  iPads or e-mailed as PDf or jpeg fies. Teachers can name the popplets with the date of the workflow, or the theme of the lesson for record keeping.




We have also been encouraging our students to use Popplet, especially for brainstorming before writing. The easiness of being able to crate a colorful visual mind map has been welcomed greatly be our students. They have been brainstorming on Popplet before writing and inserting the Popplet into Pages to refer to while writing. This, we must say, works really well and makes Popplet one of our most commonly used Apps!

The iPad “Can Dos” Students Have Developed Over 8 Weeks of iPad Driven Lessons

Our students have 20 hours of English per week. In weeks 7 & 8 they took a progress exam which tested the fours skills, grammar and vocabulary. As yet, there is no part of our assessment which evaluates their up take of digital literacies. Wikipedia defines digital literacy as ” the ability to effectively and critically navigate, evaluate and create information using a range of digital technologies…. Digital information is a symbolic representation of data, and literacy refers to the ability to read for knowledge, write coherently, and think critically about the written word.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_literacy retrieved 3.11.2012). I personally do not have a clear idea in my mind of the digital literacy learning outcomes I am trying to promote. As an institution we need to work on a taxonomy of these and incorporate them into assessment criteria, as a substantial part of our classroom time is being taken up developing iPad skills. So in the interim I have compiled a list of iPad Can Do Statements that iPad based workflows require my students to perform, and that I have observed them carry out. I have not given this list to students to fill in, as the terminology would be a barrier to its completion. Hence, the list has been compiled from field notes, impressions of the classroom and an analysis of learning outcomes. Field notes were  based on an iPad Orientation Checklist created by Tony Priest, Andrew Blackmore, Sheila Andon and Peter Waters.

Students can or are developing the ability to:

Core Processes

Navigate between iPad panes including the home screen, additional panes and the search page left of the homescreen

Turn the iPad off completely and put it into sleep mode

Use iPad switches to control volume and luminosity

Set up auto-lock

Set a screen saver and background which personalizes the iPad

Use multitasking finger gestures to operate the iPad effectively

Split the keyboard and add or delete multi- language keyboards

Use the home screen dock and navigation bar to move between a number of Apps

Turn on and use Location Services and find my iPad

Use Accessibility to alter font size on built in Apps such as Notes, to make work visible to a group of people

Project onto Apple TV using mirroring

Print using air print


Set up an email account

Move between a number of email accounts

Specify which email account they wish to send a document from using the ‘from’ tab

Use the search bar to locate specific emails quickly

Create VIPs to be alerted to important sources of information

Email from a variety of Apps such as Creative Book Builder, iMovies

Delete emails

App Store/Itunes

Set up an iTunes account and use Apple ID to acquire Apps

Delete Apps

Use the spotlight search to find Apps quickly

Manage passwords by saving them in a table or by taking screen shots on which passwords are written in Skitch

iCloud/ File Share

Set up iFiles and eBackpack

Download files from  iFiles and eBackpack

Set up a WebDAV connection between eBackpack and various Apps to enable files to be uploaded to eBackpack

Navigate the hierarchical folder system on file share platforms


Understand the generic function behind frequently reoccurring iPad symbols. For example, an arrow coming out of a box means move on to another option, + means insert something, a house means home page, a book means bookmark for easy access.

Organize Apps into folders

Use the set Apps including Note, Pages, Keynote, Puppet Pals, Creative Book Builder, Numbers, iMovies, Neu Annotate, Skitch, Spelling City, Quizlet, Audioboo

Decide which App to use depending on the function required e.g. annotate a PDF, write creatively, record

Arrange files into folders within an App

Use word processing functions such as select, cut, copy, paste, change the font, highlight, define, replace etc                                                                                                                                                     

Annotate a PDF document or image using Neu Annotate

Set up and use calendar appointments

Photos and Images

Use the camera  to take photos

Download images from the Web

Use camera roll to insert them into various documents

Save photos or videos into albums

Create slideshows


Create iBooks in Creative Book Builder

Access institutionally made iBooks via email or eBackpack and open them on the correct iBook shelf

Refer to instructional iBooks such as one providing step by step accounts of how to use specific Apps, or carry out specific functions in order to work independently

Refer to course book unit specific iBook dictionaries 



Abilities we have not developed yet

Using tags

Using Explain Everything

Using Popplet

Systematically adding  reminders in a calendar

Co authoring with wikis

On reflection, the students and I have followed a steep     learning curve and it has very much been a joint venture. I was asked if my students saw me differently, now that I am teaching with iPads. My answer was that they must see me as more of a joint learner on our iPad journey. We are very dependent on each other to solve technical glitches and to remember how to do things within certain Apps. As my students also have 6 hours of tuition from another teacher, they have become more expert in the Apps she frequently uses than I have. I believe that this puts us on a positive equal footing. I have a genuine opportunity to model a ‘growth learning mindset’. When I do not succeed I explore alternative ways of approaching the task, ask for help, or look at reference materials. Hence, I am demonstrating the resilience and resourcefulness that my students need when improving both their English and digital literacies.



Teaching and Learning Principles

Teaching and Learning Principles

A key goal of education is to enlighten ourselves in order to contribute to the evolution of mankind and our world. We can only grow through challenge, interdependence with others and reflection both whilst in action and on the responses we choose. In order that our learning is grounded in reality, decisions need to come from close observations of the situation we are operating in and be based on data offering multi-perspectives, so that we have as full an understanding of the issues as possible. In this way, we can build on principles and proceed accordingly. In teaching, we ask how we can empower ourselves, our students, our departments and our institutions. E-learning and m-learning is making this all the more possible.

Maximizing learning opportunities by ensuring relevance to student goals, needs and learning styles

Learning cannot be equated with the memorization of facts, learning takes place when students see relationships between facts and then are able to relate for example, these causal or comparative relationships to their own lives in order to meet goals and progress. Students need to see the added value of the information, skills and competencies they are being asked to acquire during their education, in order to expend effort to learn them. Our job as a teacher is to help students gain a comprehensive vision of how the discrete activities they engage in at educational institutions will help them become lifelong learners capable of adapting and growing in our postindustrial society. Together we build bridges between the skills and language they are learning in class, with that which they will need in the next step of education, for autonomous learning and in their professional lives afterwards. For example, we help students see the relationship between learning vocabulary using visual, audio and psychomotor cues and using the same technique to remember key formula, times of meetings or the names of people when networking in a business environment. We ask them to identify the situations in which efficient note taking skills, tagging and annotation techniques will prove useful in language courses, university faculties and in their everyday lives. Once students see the value in what they are doing, they are more capable of committing themselves to learning it. In addition to this, we encourage students to use internet based self-analysis questionnaires such as VARK in order to discover their learning preferences and study accordingly. In class a lot of input activities are conducted in groups with similar learning preferences so that students gain greater insights into how they can study from likeminded people. As, these learners process material in similar ways, they can really help each other comprehend texts and ideas. Alternatively, during output activities, groups comprise different learning styles enhancing creativity and giving learners insights into alternative ways of working. Tolerance and celebrating diversity is a key classroom principle of many teachers and access to a wider PLN (Public Learning Network) through blogs, You Tube and Skype pals etc. enables students to move beyond the confines of the geopolitical groups they live in, and become part of the 21st century global village.

 At all levels, we make motivation skills and stress management an integral part of our classes for once a person is able to manage their internal states and deliberately alter nonproductive learning states into positive states for learning, they can chose their responses and become in control of themselves and architects of their education.

Maximizing learning opportunities through social support networks

People think and learn more deeply when they are in a supportive environment in which they are respected as an individual and in which their personal contribution is valued. In our classes, the self-esteem of students is as important to us as their academic success. We do not have classroom rules as much as rights and responsibilities. For example, everyone has the right to ask questions, to make mistakes, to be listened to ,to have enough time to finish their work in and be informed about classroom procedures in advance so that they can prepare for them. Simultaneously, everyone has the responsibility of creating a positive learning environment in the classroom, of speaking English as much as possible and of upholding co-selected classroom rituals and routines. One routine is to regularly acknowledge what individuals have contributed to the class either orally or by reflecting their work on Apple TV.

Students often work in study groups, especially for homework projects such as making a film, preparing for inter-class debates or challenged based learning. Students are allotted roles such as time keeper, minute taker, Mother Tongue monitor, motivator etc. The work is shared out and deadlines set, and students complete the bulk of the work on shared platforms such as Google Docs, Yahoo Docs, Evernote etc. After completing tasks individually, they carry out some form of create, relate, donate activity so that the group come together create something new from their homework, such as completing a quiz on Socrative or Nearpod, together. This is to increase intra group accountability, and build up the understanding that you do not do homework just because the teacher told you to, but to fulfill your responsibility to the achievements of your group and yourself. The group then carries out a higher thinking skill activity such as prioritizing which information is the most important to their overall goals, before regrouping and sharing this information with study teams. Students “donate” new ideas, vocabulary, their best practices to each other by photographing their “new creation” and emailing it to the class or by uploading it onto a class blog,  wall poster or into a ‘Best Practices’ iBook. Hence, accountability to the group is again encouraged by requiring such create, relate, donate feedback procedures which cannot be fully completed unless all members of the group have done their share of preparation for class work.

There is a clear distinction in class between follow up steps homework to reinforce personal learning such as writing or speaking portfolio work, short answer question work and vocabulary notebooks ( necessitating discipline and responsibility to self);  and pre-lesson preparation for learning work or flipped classes, as described in the group projects above, which encourages students to equip themselves with the necessary ideas and language to be able to engage in new learning activities in school ( necessitating discipline and accountability to the teacher, class or a study group).

Fostering autonomous learning through learner choice and negotiated interaction

People commit themselves to actions more thoroughly when the outcomes of these actions are meaningful to people and when they feel they have a choice in the course of action taken. Hence, we try to offer variety and choice in class so that the learning is a shared construction. E-learning makes this possible for it is easier to organize a multitude of digital resources which lead to similar learning outcomes. Students can choose those that suit their particular learning styles or the needs of their present emergent language development. For example, with vocabulary learning, students can chose to learn through games such as those found in Quizlet or Spelling City, or to work with Excel type sheets in numbers.

Sequencing and Time Choices

Teaching and Learning Programmes usually state which learning points have to be covered for gatekeeper exit exams or even progress assessments. However, as class members, teachers and learners can negotiate which language focus areas and skills they would like to do and when. Skills are often integrated, thus over several days it is possible  to incorporate a reading, listening, speaking and writing element into the lessons and often one receptive skill leads into a productive skill, which in turn leads to a finished product through which the learner can evaluate how fully they are acquiring the target language or skill. Once the workflow for the day is given, students can decide on which input/ output combination they wish to work on first. The whole class does not necessarily have to work in lockstep as laptops or iPads and online resources increase flexibility. One advantage of asymmetrical work is that a student who starts with task B, then becomes an “expert” and can explain the process or related language to other students in the class. Thus, in a class of 16 students and 1 teacher there are 17 teachers.

Choice of activities & topics

Students may choose how much time they want to spend on an activity. If they believe that they are stronger at writing than reading, they can decide to write a shorter piece of work, and then re-read a text in more detail. This flexibility encourages learners to identify their own needs and channel their energy accordingly. Likewise, a student may not believe that a writing portfolio is the most exciting way to learn to write. They are welcome to come up with alternatives such as creating short documentaries or recording interviews on key content ideas. The key is that students spend a reasonable amount of time on the task and are required to employ the target skills or language designated. Students can also be asked to complete extra tasks if we think their original idea does not develop their critical thinking skills enough. For example, we can add any of Blooms higher taxonomy question types, to their work, and they can choose the mode of expressing their answer. During this process, it is vital to keep thorough records of homework and preparation for lesson work completed, so that the teacher is able to negotiate with students if they have a deficit of practice in one area. There are many work done charting apps such as iDoceo and In class, to help track student achievements.

Students can be asked to prepare or select news items, presentations and lectures for which they prepare worksheets on topics of their choice. They become the class expert on this area which reinforces their individuality and increases confidence. The same can be done with Apps. Students can become App experts in class, or even work at institution wide

Maximizing learning opportunities through mixed ability classes

The multi levels nature of all classes is a great challenge for us, as we believe that learning is deepest when students are made to think deeply and engage with the material, whilst feeling secure that with a reasonable amount of effort they will be successful. Thus, it is our responsibility to offer students a range of levels at which they can interact with the material, so that they feel both challenged and successful. If the level of difficulty is too low, students can go on to complete a range of critical thinking skills questions which relate to the main ideas of the text to the reader’s own life or require them to select information from the text that would answer a specific question according to a certain viewpoint. Alternatively, we can make or collate extra fast finisher tasks, which further exploit the text, available to the students. Delivering such materials is so much easier with e platforms such as eBackpack or Dropbox. Students can also be encouraged to set their own time limits and/ or to identify how many questions they will answer. Being able to embed explanations and instructions into worksheets or Apps such as Explain Everything, makes this all the more possible than with a pen and paper approach.

In their future educational and professional lives, students will most likely need to work in groups and sometimes direct feedback etc. Hence in class, we get students accustomed to managing groups and chairing meetings, by asking them to lead feedback. Fast finishers can check their answers, highlight important issues and prepare to stand at the front of class as the teacher and to mirror their answers onto the projector. Students with lower language competence can be given such a task for homework so that they have sufficient time to prepare and rehearse. During student led feedback, we sit on the outside of the circle and only speak if everyone agrees on the wrong answer. This approach entails genuine communication in English and encourages learners to really listen to each other and to articulate their understanding to help others learn.

Minimizing mismatches between my teaching style and learner preferences

In order to make all aspects of teaching and learning transparent so there will not be unnecessary friction in the learning environment, we get regular formative feedback from my students on the things that positively affect their learning and the obstacles that block their learning. If we have a question about any aspect of my teaching we often write closed questions such as “ Does my using 4 different coloured board  pens   and visuals on the whiteboard help you understand target language patterns more easily? Please comment.” “Do you think we spend too much time using colour codes and pictures on the whiteboard? Please comment.” Feedback is easily given anonymously via Socrative, Survey Monkey or Eclicker. Such ongoing feedback attunes our teaching style to the students before us. Furthermore, students frequently write what they have learned and what they would like more teacher student interaction on, at the close of the day on slips of paper which are collected in a feedback box. This helps us reflect on the days lessons and see where we were unclear, or gave inadequate practice. We share this feedback with the students, explaining why some points need further attention. 

Managing disruptive behavior

Our responsibility as  teachers is to encourage people to think more deeply and work harder than they may choose to do on their own. Whilst we try to create a warm, relaxed atmosphere in the class, it is our duty to set clear boundaries and not let students evade their responsibilities, either to themselves and to other class member. Students must not be allowed to steal other people’s learning opportunities. Hence, we employ the Broken Glass Approach to classroom discipline: we set up classroom practices and enforce them from the beginning so that students feel that we will not let them slip out of responsibility. They realize that we constantly monitor the class, in order to assist where necessary and also in order to ensure that students are gainfully occupied. There are many new apps such as iDoceo, Teacher Pal and Teacher Kit that help us record details of classroom life in order to track work done, seating plans etc.

A priority is not to cause students to lose face in front of their classmates and so we give students post it with personal messages on them. These messages could be praise for effort, error correction or a warning that the student’s behavior is unacceptable at present. This allows students to reflect on their behavior in private, whilst in a class of 17 other people. Students receive 3 post it warnings before I give them a set of questions specifically asking them to think how their actions are contributing to the learning of the class as a whole.

In an attempt to make classroom expectations transparent we operate a traffic light system indicating the level of attention required by the current task. Green means that this is a routine activity such as a vocabulary revision game, and some off topic discussion and moving about in class is allowed. Red alerts students to the fact that our point of focus is either a key learning point or central to assessment. We expect a hundred percent attention from students and anyone disturbing others is asked to leave the room and reflect on their behavior.  Amber represents a half way stage, for example during a writing buddy activity when students compose a written texts in pairs and can look at the works of other duos, but they are expected to be task focused and complete the work at hand in the negotiated time.


A Review of Week Four of EFL Through iPads: Learner Independence Begins

A Review of Week Four of Teaching ESL Through iPads.  Learner Independence Begins

This week was so productive week as we succeeded in work creatively through producing both teacher and student driven material in line with learner outcomes. Students were able to see the interconnectivity of one eight hour block of work, using teacher authored materials as models or points of reference when creating texts of their own. They moved between Apps of their own volition, as they are now more familiar with where they can get the type of help they needed in written or audio form. Hence, some learner worked really independently, reaching targets and showing others that they had all of the resources they needed to do so in the one compact device in their hands.

Describing People’s Appearance and Personality.


  • To give students the language and vocabulary to enable them to write and talk about people they know.
  • To provide students with models of people describing themselves and others.
  • To provide students with a platform through which they could share their descriptions of peers.
  • To make students aware of where they could find information they needed.
  • To provide students with both extensive and intensive listening practice.

Vocabulary Input

Key lexis lists were created in Spelling City, flashcards were made in A Pro +, and a You Tube Video link was shared. Students had access to these resources at all times and it was evident that they used them as a dictionary or, going back to them for the words they wanted. I encouraged this by sharing the following ‘where to find the resources you need ‘ Popplet mind map with students.

Initially, students were given an hour to work with these three vocabulary learning vehicles in any way they wished. Some students worked purely on line, whilst a few chose to enter words they did not know at all into paper based notebooks. No one used the British Council My Word Book App. I am not sure whether this is because they find it difficult to use, and need more training on it, or if they feel they do not need another digital resource.

Language Input

Audio input

The Audioboo IPhone App was used to create three short oral descriptions of People. (see the lesson plan section of this blog)  My best friend Claire, was followed by a Socrative Quiz which was student paced, i.e. students decided when to move to the next question) The audio was played from Apple TV and each student had the Socrative Quiz open on their iPad. Quiz results were emailed to students, informing them of which items they answered correctly and where they had gone wrong. Students individually listened to the Audioboo again, so that they could listen specifically to erroneous items. For example, one student had confused 50 with 15, one student Rose with Rosen. This type of personalized feedback is one of the key benefits of digital programmes.

In a display what you know, team recap game, students were encouraged to reiterate the information they had just heard, encouraging input to become output,

At a later stage, students listened to other spoken descriptions of two men. They were asked to spot the differences between a written tape script and each recording.

Written Input

Students were presented with a PDF worksheet downloaded from the website-Lesson Plans for English as a Foreign Language (EFL) Teachers, created by Catherine Schell . This provided them with language form focused work.  Several students referred to the descriptions here, when composing their own texts. More students used the Pages document accompanying the Audioboo,  as they were able to copy paste and make changes to it. How much is this a danger of the purely softcopy issuing of materials? Fortunately, the soft copy version was in first person singular and so students needed to transform all of the verbs, giving them practice in subject verb agreement.

Converting the Written Word into the Spoken Word

Using the Speak Selection function in Pages students were able to listen to a spoken version of the text they had written about their friend. This is activated by tapping on, Settings, General, Accessibility, Speak Selection, choose a slow pace.  When iPaders select all and highlight a text, the Speaker option appears. Tapping this option initiates a spoken rendition of their written word. Some students were able to identify errors in their writing as they are more accustomed to hearing language. For example, one student asked why the auto voice read out Live ( adjective  form pronounced like alive) and not live (verb form). I asked if his verb and subject agreed and he immediately realized that it did not and corrected ‘He live’ to ‘He lives’.  Students listened to the rendition of their work several times, shadowing it, i.e. repeating the sentence in the same manner as the computer read it out. Afterwards they recorded the text on Audioboo and shared it with the class via email.I was able to leave a comment on each students work, directly on Audioboo.  Students will then add this work to their spoken portfolio in Creative Book Builder, adding their Audioboo as a link.

Providing Students with Extensive Listening Practice.

It is difficult to find extensive listening practice at the correct level for beginner students. As yet, our institution has not been able to purchase audio tracks that accompany a digital book. Hence, I used iMovies to record myself reading an elementary graded reader. I read through the video camera screen, stopping after each page do that the movie could be emailed to students easily. I gave each email a clear title, so that students were able to open up each audio attachment and save it to camera roll. They created an album in camera roll, by using the edit button. They saved the graded reader iMovies into the Album labeled with the graded reader’s name.  When they tapped in slideshow, they were able to listen to graded reader being read aloud for as long as they wanted to.  Our teaching team is planning to record several readers in this way, so that students have no shortage of audio books at their level. In addition, we are planning to allocate one page of a graded reader to each student. They will rehearse reading the page aloud and then record it via iMovies and send it to the class email. I need to experiment with putting the iMovies into iBooks.











A Review of the First Two Weeks of Teaching EFL Through iPad to Lower Level Students

A New Layer of Mixed Ability Learners Compounded by a New Lexical Field

Our initial premise that some students would be familiar with Apple icons, touchscreen technology and multiple gesture screen management because of their out of school use of iPads and iPhones, proved correct. However, equally correct was our concern that other students would be totally new to it all. Whilst this created an obvious opportunity for student to student interdependence and co-operative learning, it also encouraged an undesirable level of mother tongue in English classes. In addition, if teachers were to use iPad based getting to know you activities, this group rapport building needed to be intertwined with both iPad training and ‘vocabulary for iPad’ slots. Hence, classes started off with a Keynote Presentation naming multi-gestures such as pinch, drag, tap etc. This lexical set was then recycled on subsequent days via A Pro+ Flashcards. Unfortunately, different Apps use an array of instructional language such as accept, reject, submit, enter, load, next, etc. which can cause stumbling blocks during none teacher fronted, lockstep lessons.

Hence, whilst blog and Twitter accounts of iPadogogy, suggest that the iPad and its Apps are leading to more student centred classrooms and student led workflows, this does not seem to be so readily the case in classrooms where students have a very low level of English. We have found that it is now necessary to not only pre-teach the key vocabulary of the EFL task, such as introducing yourself to others, but it is also necessary to teach the instructional language that a particular App requires. For example, before students used Puppet Pals to create a dialogue with the dual function of practicing asking and answering questions to share personal information with their new classmates, the teacher needed to use A Pro+ Flashcards to familiarize students with words such as accept, reject, use and replace, which do not occur in instructional rubric outside technology driven classrooms. Our experience so far, suggests that students who are confident iPad users ignore unknown vocabulary, progressing through exercises, whilst iPad newcomers are hindered by the wide variety of commands. One solution is to sit experienced and inexperienced iPaders together, but as previously mentioned, a downside for the EFL classroom is that all aid so far has been given in the mother tongue. Hence, a syllabus aim is to identify the communicative meta-language needed for student to student iPad instruction such as:

What do I tap now?

How do I get back to my work?

Tap here.

Use the arrow in the top right hand corner.

Who will I email this to?

This will need to be given in addition to the usual classroom communicative meta-language that students are encouraged to use such as

Who is in group one?

What is the answer to number three?

Who wants to write this down?

Who wants to start?

Can you look up this word in a dictionary?

Our initial impression is that four levels of ability are emerging when teaching through iPads:

Students who are competent iPad users, have comparatively good levels of English and so finish tasks quickly.

Students who are less competent iPad users, but have comparatively good levels of English and so finish tasks in average time.

Students who are competent iPad users, but have comparatively good levels of English and so finish tasks in average time.

Students who have lower levels of proficiency in both iPad use and language and who struggle to finish tasks.

One challenge for the teacher is to provide fast finisher activities for the first group of students that does not require a lot of setting up. So far, we have used the Apps Spelling City, onto which we have uploaded unit based key vocabulary, Note and Sound Note. Students need to be encouraged to bring headphones for Spelling City as words and sentences are vocalized aloud and can be a distraction to others. Fast Finishing students have also been encouraged to summarize what they have learned in writing or orally, using Note and Sound Note, accordingly. Fast finisher activities were boarded and explained to the students, before the main learning task started. The danger is that fast finishers may start playing non-educational games, thus losing learning opportunities. Fast Finishers can also check their answers against an answer key and then be asked to mirror their answers onto the board and be prepared to talk though them, taking the role of co-teacher.

Another challenge is to provide enough scaffolding and support for the last group of students. At present we are trying to decide whether it is better to group such students together and encourage them to actually finish a task at their dual iPad/language level, so that they learn through doing, or to pair them with a competent user for immediate support. Initial observations indicate that competent iPad users tend to complete the task for their partners, reducing learning opportunities for the inexperienced student. One solution may be to divide the class into experienced and inexperienced iPad users in some lessons, providing the experienced iPaders with integrated skills workflows for self-study, whilst the teacher takes inexperienced users through a series of integrated iPad training and easy level language tasks in lockstep.

Levels of Task Focus and Time Spent on Task

Regardless of ability, students seem to be more engaged in completing tasks through iPads, especially when there is a polished, finished product that can be shared with a wider community of learners. For example, possessive ‘s was introduced to beginner students using a teacher created Scribble Press book. Students were then sent on a college wide scavenger hunt to photograph things that belonged to people and places. This served the dual function of orientating students to the campus, and providing a haptic experience of ownership and the possessive ‘s structure. To create an information gap and prevent all students swarming the college in unison, small groups of students can be given different scavenger hunt lists. Students returned to class to create their own Scribble Press books writing the owner in blue, ‘s in green and possessed noun in red in order to increase their ability to notice the grammatical form and meaning. Students then regrouped and presented their books to classmates from different scavenger hunt groups. Although this activity took 45 minutes, students remained on task and were eager to produce grammatically correct, meaningful sentences and share their books with others. They were engaged with the target language in written and spoken form again and again, and will be in the future when the books are used for recycling purposes.

Another example of student engagement took place in a co-authoring writing lesson. Students were divided into four groups, with each group being provided with details about a university student’s life. In groups they worked to understand and internalize the information. They were allowed to write down key names, dates and numbers in Note, before being re-grouped so that each member of the new jigsawed group had read a different text. Students took turns at recounting the information from their texts from memory. They then returned to their original groups and shared the information they had gained about the student, Antonia. The Socrative App was used to provide a multiple choice quiz which focused on both the content of the reading and key language structures such as like + gerund and possessive ‘s. E.g. Content Focus: What does Antonia like doing in her spare time? Language structure focus: Which sentence is correct: a) Antonia’s brother’s name is Mark b) Antonia brother name is Mark. The beauty of Socrative is that it provides instant feedback on the answers students have chosen, allowing for on the spot identification of student misconceptions and remedial explanations. Students were then asked to write an account of Antonia’s student life in threes in Note. Key information such as names, boarded by the teacher, provided scaffolding, but all texts had been collected in. Past experience shows that students are not necessarily keen to produce summaries of information covered in class, but co-authoring on the iPad seems to engage students more. Students went to Settings, General, Accessibility, Large Text, 40, so that the emerging text was easily read by all three members of the group. They also took turns and being the typist and the teller. Each group was asked to add two pieces of misinformation about Antonia, giving other groups a reason to read their work. Finished texts were then emailed directly from Note to all members of the authoring group. Students finally formed new groups and read each other’s summaries to find the miss information. Students remain engaged throughout this integrated skills lesson and showed initiative to facilitate learning. For example, one jigsawed group photographed other group members key words in Note, at the initial sharing of information stage.

Thus, on concluding the first two weeks of teaching EFL through iPads, it seems to be the general consensus that students are spending more time on tasks than they had previously, even though some tasks are taking a lot longer to carry out than they used to with a course book, pen and paper. Hopefully, this means that deeper learning is taking place.

Recap of Key Ideas

Teach iPad rubric vocabulary prior to using an App.

Introduce communicative classroom meta-language enabling students to use more English during lessons.

Identify iPad-competent and iPad-newcomers and decide on a seating strategy.

Board fast finisher activities that require little teacher supervision.

Run some lessons in tandem with competent users carrying out a series of iPad based tasks independently, whilst others are given lockstep iPad tuition.

Students are putting more effort into their work and they take the form of polished, finished products such as books, iMovies, and presentations that students are proud of and that are more readily sharable with a broader learning community.










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