Easier said than done: using mobile phones for a test | IATEFL 2017 session summary

iatefl 2017.jpg

This talk had a lot of promise but unfortunately didn’t live up to it. I suspect partly because the presentation lacked specificity (perhaps for proprietary reasons) and partly because in actual implementation, the idea of taking a test on a mobile device isn’t revolutionary at all, it just replicates test formats from a computer with some adjustments for mobile UI.

The speaker, Adrian RapRaper and Sean McDonald from ClarityEnglish and TELC explained that this pilot was in response to the challenge of providing a placement test to 2000 students at Asia University in Taiwan. They had to work with a smaller screen size, and move away from true or false and MCQs but ensure reliability and validity.  They suggested that new devices enabled new types of interactions and new items which you can’t do on paper including cross-skills testing. They were quite vague about these new test types and only explained one in detail: moving a word into a right place in a sentence, which is a fairly conventional digital activity and not all that uncommon in assessments. They described a reading test where candidates can look at the text and questions by flicking between the two but again this was described quite superficially.

Much of the presentation dealt with the security issues that come with using mobile devices such as the fact that candidates could go into Google if they’re using their own device. They suggested that the two ways of dealing with this is through a time limit and through question type. They claimed that the item type that involves moving a word into the right place in the sentence is fairly cheat proof. I really doubt that – Google can show you sentence patterns with a general search.

The way it works is that the candidates download the assessment app before they come to the test centre. At the centre, they are given a code to access the test. In case of poor connectivity, the app puts answers into a queue similar to how Whatsapp operates but the upload sizes are only about 23kb which is really tiny. The other issues they touched on were more interesting such whether the type of device has any impact on performance, the latest iPhone vs. an older smartphone. They are are collecting data about this in their pilot. They don’t currently offer gap fills or writing item types because of the problems associated with typing: auto-correct and the default language on the device which might not be English.


Get them speaking & learning with digital icebreakers | Webinar summary

You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. Plato

This is a round-up of activities shared by the ever-prolific and resourceful Shelly Terrell in last week’s IATEFL webinar. Shelly suggested that we spend over 4 hours a day on our devices, perhaps writing more than Jane Austen ever did, and that digital icebreakers are a natural extension of this trend while allowing Ts to guide Ss towards a more mindful digital presence.

Shelly recommended digitizing icebreakers to teach good digital citizenship because iour digital behaviour influences our rituals, customs, values, learning and communication. Most significantly, she told us that digital cultures are causing language to change. For example, selfie was the Oxford word of the year in 2014 and selfie stick was the gift of the year. Ss are creating and developing language every day through technology and once a word or a phrase becomes accepted and incorporated into the dictionary, as Ts, we become responsible for it.  So beyond, getting Ss to know each other better, Shelly explained that some of these activities are designed to get Ss to think about their digital actions. Essentially, they are introductions to both Ss and digital cultures.

Digital bingo 

Works along the lines of conventional bingo with Ss mingling to get three facts validated down, across or diagonally from their peers.  However, the contents of the bingo handout are digital in nature. She did say that she uses it mostly with teachers. You can either print it out or have them do it on their devices with a stylus.  Beyond helping Ss cultivate relationships, Shelly stated they’re also learning new digital words, forming questions and responding in English during this activity.

digital bingo


Get them to create a digital representation of themselves. They then need to explain to their peers the rationale for creating their avatar in a certain way.  There are range of avatar creation tools for different ages as some people may find some of the avatars a bit childish. With younger learners, get Ss to think about the fact that their avatar is like a real person in the digital world and consider the things they should or should not do. Ask Ss questions about why they chose to have their avatars look a certain way and get Ss to think through the choices they have for how they can portray themselves online.

See Shelly’s curated samples of avatars here.

Emoji introductions 

Show statements about yourself in Emoji and ask Ss to guess what it means. Then, ask them to create their own emojis and have other Ss guess. There’s an Emoji translation app as well as a Emoji dictionary. This could work well for virtual classes.

Shelly emoji

Participant map

If you teach online, you could use participant maps using Thinglink. Here’s a sample.  Ss create videos introducing themselves which are then placed on an interactive participant map.

321 introductions

An activity that was originally designed by Nicky Hockly where Ss use any tool they want to share the following information:

  • 3 things we should know about you
  • 2 places you love to visit
  • 1 job you wish you had

About me poem with word clouds 

Generate a word cloud that highlights things about yourself using sing Tagxedo. Here’s a sample. You could also generate word clouds using a mobile app like Image Chef.

Digital goal collages/vision boards

Use any of the following tools to create get Ss to set goals and create a visual collage to represent them: Buncee, Canva, Tackk, Piktochart, Biteslide, Smore, Glogster, PicCollage, ImageChef and Muzy. More details of this activity are available on an old post by Shelly.

About me pictionary 

Get Ss to make a deck of cards on their mobile phones which would say something about them such as their likes and dislikes.  They could use any free drawing tool to do this.


Challenge Ss to get their friend to smile and laugh by taking creative selfies on their phone.  Shelly then introduced the idea of the epic selfie and this guy who travels the world taking epic selfies. She talked about how most people take selfies in their bathrooms in a suggestive manner and that kids tend to replicate this behaviour. She suggested that we need to encourage Ss to think about how these selfies portray who they are in the digital world.  Ask Ss to make the epic selfie their goal for the day and the week – with interesting locations and non-conventional angles. Younger learners may not be able to take selfies so instead show them Animal selfies and have them explore language related to animals.

I spy with my device 

Ask Ss to take a close up shot of an object for a peer to guess. (I really like this one) 

Animate a bucket list adventure

Get Ss to use a mobile app such as BuddyPoke 3D Avatar creator to video-narrate their bucket list adventure.

Digital interviews 

Ss use GoAnimate or Buddy avatar to interview each other

Share a picture

Ask Ss to share an image on their image from their phones with their peers.

Recreate an image

Challenge Ss to collaborate with each other to recreate an image from the net. (A fascinating idea)

Mingle activities

Ss mingle using questions from the Icebreakers app. The advantage is that only the T needs to download the app. Instructions for this activity are provided here.

Draw your favourite 

Use a drawing app to draw your favourite cartoon character. Show the drawing to peers and have them guess which Ss share the same favourite cartoon. As a follow-up task, Ss they share some information about the cartoon character.

Match the joke & punchline.

Generate QR codes for jokes and their punchlines in different colours and get Ss to match ’em. Ss will need a QR scanner on their phones. You don’t need connectivity for the QR scanner to reveal the text. Ask Ss to tell each other the answers.

Create trading cards

Ss use the iOS Trading Cards app to design their own cards which they then trade with their peers.


  • Shelly’s webinar slides are available here.
  • Community building activities  (a curated gallery of Shelly’s ideas – enough stuff to keep you occupied for hours)
  • 30 goals (a fab initiative that Shelly came up with in a book of the same name)

I highly recommend having a dekko at the Powerful Tools for Teaching and Learning: Web 2.0 tools MOOC over at Coursera which actually covers a lot of the same territory as this webinar.

Karen Eini’s BeSIG workshop | A quick summary

Karen EiniYesterday’s BeSIG weekend workshop was facilitated by a teacher from Israel named Karen Eini and was titled “Breaking out of your tech comfort zone”. Although a lot of the territory Karen traversed, would have been familiar to people who follow edtech trends, she was quite the “enthu cutlet” as we often say in Indian English and the session was very engaging.

Here’s a quick round-up of some of the links, tools & resources that I found interesting:

  1. Practice prepositions of time and place using Ss’ own personal fitness apps such as their Crossfit training schedule instead of the traditional Jill Hadfield style weekly schedule cut-ups.
  2. Use QR codes to capture and review vocabulary from a lesson by using the plain text option (check the screenshot)
  3. Get Ss to use their smartphones to record vocabulary in context to listen to later.
  4. Use Speech Analyzer from SIL for visualising and practising pronunciation (credit to Jennie Wright)
  5. Use Movenote – an instant video messaging service which allows side by side interfacing with documents such as PowerPoint presentations and integration into Google.
  6. Create a group space for your class for hosting content, resources and other stuff using Wiggio.
  7. Take shareable minutes of the meeting with Minutes.io
  8. Incorporate game based learning into your lessons with Kahoot.
  9. Collect and review vocabulary online with Lingua.ly

QR code

Verbal questions, Visual answers | An apptivity


At TEDx Gateway 2014, there was a surprise speaker named K.K. Raghavan under the business maverick category. He spoke about all sorts of things but the crux of his talk was on how new technology has zombiefied us to a certain extent and leeched us of our humanity. Among his solutions is an app called Flipsicle – a combination of Twitter and Screenshot_2014-11-30-08-26-13Instagram-like features, whose goal is to evoke empathy. I’m not so sure about the empathy bit but I quite like the app’s main function. Any user can post a question just as people often do on Twitter such as “What motivates you?”. Other users respond by posting an image either from the image libraries on their phones or by taking a fresh photo. The creators of the app have already raised $2 million in seed capital. The app was designed “as a reaction to the two knowledge systems most prevalent in the world today — expert knowledge, which Raghava says is too biased to one person’s understanding, and crowd-sourced knowledge, where the truth that prevails is the one that “survives the edit war”, essentially, “the lowest common accepted bias survives.” This got me thinking and I managed to suss out a language activity.

In lessons on functions, we focus a lot on language for sharing one’s own opinions. However, in the modern, collaborative workplace, you are frequently required to talk about your colleagues’ opinions.  For example, “Jenny feels that we should go ahead with our initial plan however Rob’s take on this is that we ought to wait for leadership approval.”  Although I like Flipsicle, I chose not to use it because it’s got a couple of bugs. The main screen scrolls really slowly and asking questions of a private group is a feature that’s available but not activated. Additionally, some of the questions that have been posted make no sense.


Come up with a list of questions that your Ss will find interesting and write them up on a slide or a flipchart. Bear in mind that you will need to set the task as homework.


Your Ss will need phones with cameras.



  • Display the slide/flipchart with the questions and ask Ss to take a picture of it/or write down the questions.
  • Tell Ss that you would like them to answer these questions for homework. As the inevitable groans start coming in, inform them that the answers must be visual. They will need to take pictures with their phone as responses to each of the questions either at work (if that’s allowed), or on their commute home or back to work the next morning.
  • Encourage them to take lots of pictures but select only one as a response for each question. Ask them to keep these identified images together in a single folder, deleting the others or shifting them into another folder. (This is to ensure that they don’t get distracted showing each other extraneous images).
  • Sample questions:
    • What motivates people to come to work?
    • What is power dressing?
    • What is the colour of success?
    • Why is it important to have friends at work?
    • What sort of a person should a mentor be?
    • What leads to a demotivated workplace?
  • NB: Ss seem to respond much more energetically to negative questions like their nightmare boss than positive ones but it’s really up to the T based on what kind of discussion she wants to facilitate.


  • Ss merrily click pictures on their phones, hopefully not causing offence to anyone.


  • You may want to start your lesson with this activity.
  • Ask Ss to navigate to the folder where they have their visual answers. Bring up the questions on the slide or flipchart. Ask Ss to spend a minute thinking about why or how each of their images answers a question i.e., what does it represent? You may need to demonstrate with one.
  • Get Ss to stand up. Announce the first question. Have Ss mingle, showing each other their visual responses and explaining what it means. After a couple of minutes, move on to the next question. Ss keep mingling, trying to talk to someone new for each of the questions. They should attempt to pair up with at least two people for each question so they hear two different perspectives in addition to their own.

Language focus

  • Divide Ss into groups of four and ask them to share what they heard from their peers for each question.
  • Monitor for language used to share opinions expressed by others. It might also be worthwhile to observe how Ss use discourse markers to contrast differences in opinions.
  • Board some examples of phrases such as “Jaya is of the opinion that”, “Dev feels that”, “Samir’s perspective is that” and ask Ss to think back to the expressions they used to and work as a group to add to the list. Ask groups to compare their lists, adding from each other until each group has a long list of phrases.
  • Identify patterns and move the phrases into frames and slots and ask Ss to write these down individually.

News Exchange | A structured sharing activity

Some of my learners have jobs that require them to keep abreast of what’s going on in the world. In fact, for most of these professionals, the focus of their work is the United States where their clients and key stakeholders live. It’s a good idea to know what’s going on there. I came up with this activity to address this need and also provide a segue from the work that Ss are constantly wrapping-up on their laptops as they walk into my class.  The activity uses a Japanese news aggregator called Newsmap which visually represents trending news stories. The more space a news item takes up on the map, the more buzz it’s generating online. When you hover your cursor over a news item, you’ll see the first two or three sentences of an article linked to it. The newsmap can be customized based on a number of countries and the type of news (world, financial, tech etc).

I quite like this activity because it helps me meet multiple goals. It gets Ss connected to trending news. It serves as a warmer and a quick reading cum speaking activity which requires Ss to mingle and talk to each other.



No preparation necessary.


WiFi enabled classroom & digital devices (BYOD) to access Newsmap, timer (old school version or an online timer such as the ones available on Triptico). Noisemaker such as a whistle. Check variations for a low-tech version if you don’t have a connected classroom.


  • Ask Ss to close all their work related applications and open up their browser and connect to Newsmap.
  • Bring up the timer and set it for between 90 seconds and 3 minutes depending on your learners’ reading ability.
  • Ask learners to skim trending news items – hovering their cursors over these titles and getting a sense of what’s being talked about.
  • Call time and ask Ss to pair up with someone from the other side of the room. In pairs, Ss should share top news stories of the day and should ask each other questions to get more details. Encourage them to speculate and make predictions if they are not certain about the details.
  • Blow the whistle after a minute and ask Ss to find a new partner. Repeat exchange. Continue this procedure as long as time permits


  • At the end of the activity, ask Ss the following questions … Was there any news that …
    • you missed on the map which you found about later while talking to your colleagues?
    • you found interesting or exciting?
    • you found boring?
    • you think might be relevant to your project, work or to your clients?


  • Low-tech version 1: Take a screenshot of the Newsmap before you head into class and simply project using your LCD projector so all the Ss can have a look. The downside is that they won’t be able to read the first few lines and make predictions about the content of these articles.
  • Low-tech version 2: Ask Ss to access Newsmap before they come into class and come prepared to discuss trending news.
  • Low-tech version 3: Take a few printouts of the Newsmap and post them around the room.
  • Mobile version: Newsmap has an Android and an iPhone app but il y a un problème. The app requires flash which doesn’t work on all phones.