Using cell phones as teaching and learning tools


This morning after reading, “Thumbs Race as Japan’s Best Sellers Go Cellular,” I learned about a new genre of literature called the cell phone novel. Not surprisingly when you think about it, young people across Japan (especially women) are using their commute time to tap away at best selling novels on their cell phones. For example, the New York Times article notes:

A 21-year-old woman named Rin, wrote “If You” over a six-month stretch during her senior year in high school. While commuting to her part-time job or whenever she found a free moment, she tapped out passages on her cellphone and uploaded them on a popular Web site for would-be authors.

After cellphone readers voted her novel No. 1 in one ranking, her story of the tragic love between two childhood friends was turned into a 142-page hardcover book last year. It sold 400,000 copies and became the No. 5 best-selling novel of 2007, according to a closely watched list by Tohan, a major book distributor.

This article immediately brought back memories of my time teaching English and early literacy classes in Japan 5 years ago. All of my students had cell phones. In fact, I constantly had to tell my 7-year-old students to put away their phones during class! That said, after reading the aforementioned article this morning, I began thinking about cell phones not as villains of the classroom, but as teaching and learning tools. Children love their cell phones, so how can we get children to use cell phones in a manner that might help build their literacy skills?! Some ideas:

1) Have students type their own cell phone novels. Make sure to okay this with parents in advance! Text messaging can be expensive without a prepaid package!

2) Have students make a photo documentary using the camera function on their cell phones. After they take a sufficient number of photos, they can upload them to sites such as Flickr and type narrative descriptions for each picture to share with classmates, family and friends.

3) Have students create educational podcasts with their cell phones (or home phones) using free services like Gabcast that allow users to record podcasts using their phones. The podcasts can then be uploaded to blogs or other multimedia sites to share. Thanks to Liz Kolb for sharing this idea!

4) Have students text message their parents homework assignments so that after school there is no confusion as to what is due the next day.

For more ideas on how to use cell phones as teaching, learning, technology and literacy building tools, check out this excellent video presentation by Liz Kolb filled with ideas on how to incorporate cell phones into classroom and homework activities. Her ideas are guaranteed to get your students excited about school assignments! Thanks Liz!


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9 Responses to “Using cell phones as teaching and learning tools”

  1. 1 Liz Kolb January 22, 2008 at 4:48 am

    Wonderful blog! Thanks for the shout-out to my presentation. I’m glad you found it useful. Great ideas for cell phones, I really like the cell phone novels. I’m currently looking into using mobile Evite as a way to do instant polling with students (where they can also text quick explanations of why they select a yes or no answer). I think the use of cell phones as a learning tool have a wide variety of applications.


  2. 2 readinggal January 22, 2008 at 12:44 pm

    Fantastic idea! Keep us posted with new developments around your research projects! Feel free to share and post your ideas with other Literacy is Priceless readers! Thanks again! Anna

  3. 3 Tami February 21, 2008 at 5:17 am

    I found this to be so exciting and interesting with regards to the future of instruction and literacy instruction, specifically. I am not sure where we (United States) are in terms of being on the same page with Japan on the prevalence of cell phones and students; however I know that we are rapidly approaching that point. Definitions of literacy and literacy instruction are expanding with new technologies on a daily basis. There are so many ways to be literate in today’s world. I think that it is important for teachers to keep on top of new technologies and integrate those into the classrooms. Many students today are bored with traditional, “old school” instructional methods since they are natives of the technology age (which means we are immigrants). Instruction needs to integrate the technologies that students are using and use those as stepping stones to develop writing and literacy skills. Some may think of it as, “If you can’t beat them, join them” philosophy. I am in favor joining them! I read the corresponding article from the blog and the success of the cell phone novelists is astounding. As an educator I find this idea to be an exciting way to engage students they may be less inclined to do so in a “normal” classroom setting.

  4. 4 readinggal February 21, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    Thanks Tami!

  5. 5 Britney | Cell Phone May 5, 2008 at 5:49 am

    Excellent blog really technology must be used in a proper manner and then only it can serve as a miracle to mankind.Cell Phones is one similar example here.

  6. 6 Joni June 22, 2008 at 2:40 pm

    Unfortunately, the proliferation of high stakes testing from the elementary grades through high school and college has led to the opinion by many educators that cell phones are just the latest way to cheat. This opinion is all too often based on actually catching students in the act of photographing a test or texting questions back and forth (as I did). ATS has found that, with the 3 hour time difference across our country, students on the west coast can, and do, get copies of the Advanced Placement test questions in time to look up the answers.

  7. 7 Sudeb August 11, 2008 at 6:46 am

    Cell phone is within the reach of lower middle class, even the poor. So it can be very wise to use it to strengthen teaching learning of english. it can be through text message, through some programming where the learners can get pronunciation of words or can check their grammatical mistakes.

  8. 8 Syed shams ali January 1, 2009 at 8:27 am

    Amazing Site I like It It Was Interesting

  9. 9 Elizabeth Peterson April 26, 2010 at 4:35 am

    Great ideas! Thank you for sharing them. It is fun to learn new ways to integrate technology into our classrooms. So motivational to the students… and US!

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