Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Free iPad Apps for the ELT Classroom


One of the great things about having an iPad in the classroom is the quick and immediate access it gives you to relevant and authentic content. It’s the perfect tool for a materials light, one to one teacher like me because something interesting can crop up in conversation and I can almost instantaneously bring up a great resource to share with the student.

Recently, a student told me that she was tired of all the lies in the media and I jumped on YouTube and showed her a clip of Bill Hicks talking about “the truth” (she’s the kind of student who’s not offended by Bill Hicks!) Another time she told me that her favourite place in London was Waterloo Bridge, and one minute later she’s listening to Waterloo Sunset by The Kinks.

So it goes without saying that YouTube is an essential app, but since I’ve had my iPad for a couple of months now, I thought I’d compile some of the apps that I’ve found most useful in the classroom, or see potential in although I haven’t had the opportunity to use them so far.


Here I go, banging on about the Guardian again, but their Eyewitness is a beautiful and simple app that have used several times. It’s a ‘picture of the day’ app, so every 24 hours there’s a new sumptuous image that could be used in a variety of ways. The photograph below was very useful after the London riots, especially used in tandem with the next app.

The app from Life Magazine has collections from their extensive photography vaults. It begins with a handy map of the world, so you can check for pictures for the area your students are interested in. You can also search by theme. I used the collection of London during the war photographs to contrast with the riot photo from the Guardian app.

For more images, you could also try the Heritage app for pictures from UNESCO world heritage sites.


For news, there are plenty of interesting apps that give you quick and easy access to what is going on the world. BBC News is clear and easy to use, as is the Channel 4 news app. I also like the News360 app because you scroll through news stories by picture alone, and could get the students to choose a story based on nothing other than the image. Newsy is also a good source for up to date content.

Hitpad is another interesting way to access what’s going on in the world. It presents the news in a series of streams (news stories, videos, tweets, photos and web). It’s a great resource for getting information on a topic from a variety of sources.


ShowYou aggregates a variety of different and unusual videos from a range of sources (which you can preset, if you wish). It has an almost unlimited potential to give you something interesting to use with your students. Square Eyes is a similar app.

Videojug specialises in ‘how-to’ videos, so if you’re looking to use an instructional videos, they have a huge selection to choose from.

And of course there is TED, which has two apps, the normal TED app and, especially for learners, a fantastic app with subtitles. The script scrolls at the bottom of the screen, and can be used to control the video. So if the learner wants to go back because they didn’t understand a particular phrase, they just touch that line in the script and the video will jump there. I think it’s pretty obvious how useful that could be.


For business students, you can download copies of the Economist’s Intelligent Life magazine and Entrepreneur magazine for authentic and interesting materials.


If you’re lucky enough to use literature with your students, there are thousands of free books available. However most of them are out of copyright, and being over 80 years, they may present a challenge even for advanced learners. My favourite books app, apart from the native iBooks app, is the aptly named Free Books, which is browsable by topic area, such as epic epics, banned books, ghost stories, pulp and young readers.

Other great book apps include Shakespeare, Poetry (a random poem generator), Stanza, and the British Library’s beautifully presented 19th Century Books app.

Teacher Tools

From a more obvious educational standpoint, there are some lovely whiteboards apps such as Screenchomp, where you can record what you write or draw and send it to the students, and ShowMe, which is very similar. I’m also very curious about SpeedGrader, which seems to allow you manage your classes homework, amongst several other things, but since I’m teaching one to ones at the moment, I haven’t really explored.

Finally, I’m not a fan of using the phonetic chart in my classes, but if you are, then you really need to download Macmillan’s gorgeous app. Not only do you have the chart in your hand, but you have the sounds too, in either British or American English.

I’m always looking for new apps, so if you have any that you’d like to recommend, leave a comment below. Thanks.

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Friday, 9 September 2011

Getting to know you activity: personality test

At this time of year, it seems appropriate to share a ‘getting to know you’ activity. I came across this quickfire interview (for want of a better word) with the singer Emmy the Great in the (occasionally NSFW) music magazine The Stool Pigeon:

I thought it would make an interesting way to introduce yourself and the students to each other at the beginning of a new class. Obviously, you need to make your own (I dream of having a class where I can discuss the relative merits of Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy vs Bill Callahan!), but I think it’s easily adaptable for any type of class.

Here’s how I’d use it in my classes:

1) Give the students the following on a handout:

2) Explain that this list is a way for them to find out more information about each others personalities. Write the first line on the board. Explain that on each line there are two choices which could be considered opposites, using the line on the board as an example.

3) Explain that you want to make sure they understand all the choices before they make a decision. Ask them to read them to read the options and discuss any problem vocabulary with a partner. Do a CCQ to make sure they understand exactly what you want them to do, especially since you don’t want them to take the test yet.

4) Get feedback and discuss any new vocabulary as a class. Make sure that you don’t give anything away about your own personality at this point.

5) Now ask them to individually take the personality test, highlighting or underlining the choice they think best reflects their personality.

6) Once they tests are complete, ask them to compare their answers with their partners and discuss their similarities and differences.

7) As a class, get some feedback from the pairs. Ask them to share some of the similarities and differences they found.
8) Ask everyone to stand up. Tell them that you are going to divide the class into two groups, so we can find out more about each other. Choose one of the lines from the test and divide the class into two groups by the preference. For example, you could ask the ‘cat people’ to stand on the left and the ‘dog people’ on the right. Put them into smaller groups if there are too many people on one side, and ask them to discuss why they chose cats over dogs or vice versa.

9) Do this three or four times with different lines from the test.

10) To sum up, ask the class if there was anyone who was in the same group every time, or 3 times.

11) Now ask them students in small groups to create four or five (depending on the size of your class) personality quiz choices to find out more about you. Once they’ve finished, depending on time and the size of your class, go round the class and answer the personality test questions they’ve written for you.

Note: There’s a danger that this part could become too teacher centred (“Now it’s your chance to learn alllllll about me...”), but I think this can be avoided by not spending too much time on it and by doing the activity after they’ve had the chance to speak to each other first. You’ve already shown them that they are the priority. It’s also worth remembering that the students really do want to learn about you, so I think in this early class you can be a bit more egocentric than usual.

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