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Express Publishing (ELT) Teachers' Corner - Mobile phones

Mobile phones have many features and can provide great opportunities for activities. Here are a few ideas to get the most out mobiles in lessons, starting with exploiting text messaging.

Fast texting

Tell students your phone number then get them to prepare to write a text message. Explain that their aim is to type in an exact copy of a text you will show them. When ready they should send it to you. The first three perfect answers you receive will be the winners. Reveal a prepared short story (using any grammar items you want to practise) written on the board or a large piece of paper. Students must now rapidly enter and send the text. The unpredictable speed of phone transmission will add an element of randomness to which messages you receive first. Check the texts carefully and reject those with any mistakes.

Mini sagas

The standard text has a limit of 160 characters (letters and spaces). This can be used to set an interesting challenge, especially for higher level students, e.g. ‘Write a complete story that has a beginning, middle and end in less than 160 characters’. Try other ideas e.g. ‘Write a complaint to a shop’, ‘Write a poem’, etc. Make the writing more challenging by requiring the text to be exactly 160 characters – not any more or less.

SMS translation

(Note: SMS = a ‘text message’ or a ‘text’.) Download and make copies of an SMS dictionary from the internet (web-search: ‘SMS dictionary’). This will tell you lots of abbreviations such as CUL8R (See you later) LOL (Laugh out loud) T2GO (Time to Go). Distribute a short message to groups and get them to use the SMS dictionary to translate it into using abbreviations. Then do the reverse – hand out a short printed message that uses some of the abbreviations and ask groups to prepare a translation into ‘real’ English.

SMS consequences

Each group of students discusses and writes the first line of a story (max. 50 characters) then sends it to the next group. Each group then continues the story they receive (again max. 50) and sends it on again. This time they finish the story (60 characters). There will be some fun reading the results.

Predictive text

Many phones have predictive text – i.e. the phone guesses the most likely word you want based on which keys you press. But this can lead to some errors too. For example, typing the word ‘home’ uses the same keystrokes as ‘good’ (‘ghi’ share the same key – as do ‘mno’ and ‘d-e-f’) and the phone may choose the wrong word. Write a short text including some of these errors e.g. “Last might I arrived good at 6 o’block” and see if students can work out the correct words by studying their phone keyboards for letters that share keys.

English ring tones

Some phones can now record voices and use them as ring tones. Get each small group to discuss, agree and write out a sentence or two that would make a great ring tone, e.g. Hi. How are you today? I’m trying to call you! (I’m sure your students will come up with something cleverer!) After you’ve approved the words, each group should record their ring tone on a phone. At the end, get all groups to play their ring tones and the class can vote for the best.

This is the off button

Pre-teach some key lexis (e.g. buttons, menu, fascia, screen etc.) and phrases (e.g. It drives me mad; so badly designed etc). In small groups, students introduce their phones to each other and briefly talk through any special features or oddities. They then describe the single most annoying feature and explain why it is so annoying. Extend the activity by asking students to teach others how to do something (e.g. take a photo) – using verbal instructions only – i.e. without demonstrating. Students may need reminding of useful verbs (e.g. press, cancel, select, go back, etc).

Phone book secrets

(Only do this if your class agrees to it.) Make pairs of students who don’t know each other very well. One student should look through the phone book on their partner’s mobile and ask questions to find out interesting things and start a discussion about a few of the people. (Of course, the phone’s owner can refuse to answer any questions!) You could pre-teach a few curious enquiry questions such as So, who’s Peter Andrew, then? Tell me about Mary Leman! etc.

My perfect phone

Discuss how mobiles have evolved in recent years – with new features all the time. Brainstorm all the things that phones can do now and then start a second list of what they might be able to do in the future. Pairs then discuss, invent and list the features they’d like in their dream phone in ten years’ time, possibly drawing a sketch as well.

60-second movies

With movie-making facilities in their pockets, students can now create their own 60-second masterpiece. Explain that they must plan a complete epic film that lasts just a minute. They should write a script, rehearse it (making sure it only lasts 60 seconds) and then film it. Hold an Oscar ceremony at the end to award the prize for Best Film.

Phone whispers

Distribute a phone number list. For homework, tell each student to be free between certain times. Start by phoning someone and leaving a complicated message in English. Each person should then phone the next one on the list. The last person should call you back. Next lesson, tell them the original message and the final one. Were they the same?

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ELT Teacher´s Corner

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