Using technology to teach English as a Second Language

Updated on June 25, 2016

Technology is a tool, it is not the solution.

Many people study English as a Second Language. Some are immigrants who are starting a new life in the United States, some are students that want to study at a university in the U.S., and others are business people who need to improve their English fluency for international business. Whatever the student’s goal, technology can help him or her learn the English. It also provides the teacher with another set of tools for teaching.

Technology is a tool, it is not the solution. It is not an either/or proposition, for example, I only use technology in my class or I don’t use technology in my class. It is best used when needed either in a flipped classroom setting or a blended classroom setting.

Technology in the classroom - infographic

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Flipping the classroom

A flipped classroom reverses the teaching/homework paradigm. The students watch a prerecorded lecture at home and use the classroom time for exercises to reinforce the lesson. This allows the teacher to answer questions that arise as the students test their knowledge and understanding of the lecture.

This setting works well for teaching grammar. Have the students watch a few grammar videos about a particular tense at home and then use the next day’s class time to have the students do some grammar exercises, rewrite an article using the learned tense, or write a short essay using the learned tense. Walk around the class as the students do their assignments and see where they need help. Encourage your students to ask questions.

As previously stated, this does not have to be an all or nothing method. You don’t have to use the flipped classroom for every class. It may work well for a few classes a week or maybe not at all. I would probably not use this for a beginner level class but I believe this would help students gain confidence and instill a proactive behavior for intermediate students. When I teach, I always try to encourage students to look for answers on their own. Most of their learning and questions about English will occur when I am not there


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Some video resources

YouTube provides a wealth of ESL grammar videos. For beginners, the JenniferESL series is nice. They display subtitles that help students with beginning listening skills.

JenniferESL series

For intermediate and advanced classes, I like the JamesESL series.


JamesESL series

Blended classroom

A blended classroom, as the name suggests, incorporates technology into a traditional setting. For example, a grammar lesson may use a YouTube video to explain the grammar point. The teacher can then continue the explanation in his or her own words, present additional examples, give the students practice exercises, and so on.

I find that this method works well for teaching listening skills and as a starter for a conversation or debate class. However, you could use it for teaching a grammar point or any other topic.

Begin the class with a short lecture about 5 minutes or if the class is advanced maybe a 10 minute lecture. While the level should naturally be appropriate for the class, it’s OK for the lecture to contains some vocabulary that the class is not familiar with. There is nothing wrong with challenging the class a bit.

Mix between traditional and online learning

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Voice of America and Khan Academy

There are many videos and podcasts that are excellent for listening exercises. I have had a lot of success with Voice of America’s Learning English. This site provides current events and news stories as the basis for listening exercises. Stories are grouped into different levels.

Khan Academy has an excellent series of interviews with entrepreneurs. This site also has a wealth of short lessons on many other subjects including math, history, economics, and many other topics.

Implementing videos in your class

How can you implement these videos in a class? Let’s say you use one of the Khan Academy interviews with entrepreneurs. Prepare a short summary and some questions ahead of time. Have the students listen to an interview once or twice depending on how well you feel they understood it. Ask some students to summarize what they heard. Refer to your written summary to see if they got all the important points from the interview. If not, jog their memory. Then, either ask them the questions or use the questions as a quiz to evaluate each student’s listening ability.

You can break the students into groups and have them discuss a business that they want to start. Then have each group member make a short presentation about the business their group decided to create. You could also have the students work alone and make a presentation about a business they want to start.

For TOEFL students

If students are studying for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), it is best to provide a quiz so students can measure their comprehension. Here is an example that contains a short lecture about the poet, Sylvia Plath.

Using Facebook

I’m sure many of your students are on Facebook. You can create a private group on this site that your students can use to practice writing. For example, you can create a post with a writing topic, for example, How is American food different from food in your country? Give at least three examples.

Why Facebook? Students are familiar with the Facebook interface. They know how to use it. This allows them to concentrate on the writing and not the technology. In addition to writing, students can provide constructive criticism on their classmates’ essays, provide suggestions, and corrections.

Classrooms Without Walls

While I am not currently teaching, I still have my website that provides different resources for both the ESL teacher and student. Feel free to use it.


In review

  • Technology is a tool, not the solution.
  • You can implement a flipped classroom where students watch lectures at home and use class time for exercises and questions.
  • You can implement a blended classroom where you use technology within a traditional classroom setting.
  • Use YouTube, Khan Academy, and other video sites for lectures and listening exercises.
  • Use Facebook as a place to practice writing. Your students are familiar with Facebook so they can focus on the writing and not how to use the technology.
  • Technology is not an either/or proposition. If the technology helps your class use it, if not, use traditional methods of teaching.

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