It is not my objective to discuss the pros and cons of this kind of law, but rather to bring up the incredible and powerful potential cell phones may have in an EFL class. Just to give you a very simple example, in a class of teens aged 11 - 14, I asked them who had a cell phone; to my surprise, half of them raised their hands affirmatively. Some of them had powerful smartphones (a blackberry, an iPhone, a Nokia N95 etc) and some of them had ordinary ones. It goes without saying that all of them were able to send a simple SMS. The grammar topic was GOING TO + VERB and the lesson theme was "resolutions". In general, what most teachers do is, in a way or another, exercise the structure in meaningful contexts by having them write sentences. Well, any teenager can do it, but they get bored. So I wrote my number on the board and challenged them to think of a problem (anything they felt like sharing) and their resolutions. After that, I turned my mobile on so that everyone would be able to listen to the message beep. It was amazing to see how engaged in texting they were. No single student was disruptive. All of them, even those who didn't have a cell phone available, were either typing or helping a friend to send the SMS.
In a matter of seconds I got the first SMS and I quickly read to the class: "My brothers sometimes piece me off. I'm going to trap them into a role". Funny? Morally appropriate? Correctly written? It does NOT matter! The main point here is they produced authentic sentences, based on their previous knowledge and used the structure which had just been taught. By not being judgmental (although I would refuse to read swear language and could also manipulate to pronounce the words correctly) students could feel free to participate actively. In some cases, especially when the structure used was not the one we had been working on, I read it aloud so that all the class could highlight any problems, increasing their awareness of form and appropriateness of language and grammar use, such as the following example: "My problem is my shape. I will try to stop eating so much!".
Nevertheless, there might be drawbacks too:
- students who do not have a cell phone or cannot send messages may feel left out. To minimize this problem, I reinforced the students' participation positively, making sure they would have their identities kept in secret as well; this way they could have their sentences read aloud too as if they had sent an SMS and no one would know they didn't have a cell phone to send it.
- Some students may feel free to use their phones the way they wish instead of taking part in the group activity. Fortunately, this group of students got so involved they didn't cause any trouble.
- This kind of activity costs money, no matter if they spend just a few cents, some parents may complain their kids have spent too much in the English class. This is the most difficult issue in my opinion, because it is pretty hard to control the way they use their cell phones and even more difficult to prove the teacher is not responsible for any extra expenses he or she has been blamed on.
To sum up, regardless of these and other drawbacks I haven't thought, it was such a nice experience. Using their own cell phones to promote language learning and increase motivation was worth the risk and I am pretty sure come up with many other ideas. For instance, two groups of students in different rooms could exchange messages with questions, problems, puzzling situations, etc and receive replies prior to their meeting face-to-face (F2F). This activity could also be followed by another F2F activity with food and drinks or just music for students to live it up. I hope you all have inspiring moments after this reading and, please, do share your ideas, I'm looking forward to trying something different again!