August 2014
Jody Fernando, The School of Arts and Enterprise, Pomona, California, USA

Using technology with beginning level adult learners can be a daunting challenge for many teachers— especially those in low-resource contexts. While there are great challenges to incorporating more technology in our classrooms, technology also offers rich language resources for our adult students. In today’s modern world, technological skills rival literacy and numeracy skills for adults. As a result, incorporating technology in our English language classroom also helps students develop invaluable life skills.

Many teachers assume that the only way to integrate technology in the adult English language (EL) classroom is through access to a state-of-the-art computer lab. However, there are many ways to incorporate technology without such resources.

If a classroom has access to only a few computers or tablets, students can do group or pairworkon these devices. This is a particularly beneficial approach when students have varying levels of technological proficiency. Alternatively, students can use their personal devices (phones or tablets) to access helpful resources in class, like, where they’re able to get a broader understanding of both vocabulary and semantics. Personal devices can also be used to search for pictures and cultural references to supplement class activities.

Another way teachers should consider using technology is as a professional learning network. Developing a personal learning network helps teachers stay current in the field by allowing them to follow conversations, trends, and resources available online. Interacting with other TESOL professionals on sites like Twitter, Learnist, Pinterest, or ScoopIt also gives EL teachers opportunities to connect with others working in similar contexts. On Twitter, many teachers participate in group discussions (e.g., #ELLCHAT and #ELTCHAT) that strategize and dialogue about issues in the field.

Many teachers may erroneously assume their students don’t have access to technology. The best way to address this assumption is to directly ask the students which resources they have access to. One way to accurately assess technology access is through giving a formal technology survey in class that asks students about their access to technological resources, such as cell phones, smartphones, laptops, tablets, and home Internet connections (Gaer, 2014). This information will aid the teacher greatly in determining the actual reality of his or her students’ access to technology. Here are two examples of such surveys, one that would be used as a paper document, and another that is online.

If students have access tocell phones, there are many sites available for classroom use. Remind101, a free online texting service, allows teachers to text groups of students reminders, documents, and messages. PollEverywhere, a free online polling service, is an excellent way to poll student opinion or knowledge via smartphones in class and project instant results for discussion starters.

Students can also use their camera phones to complete writing activities and e-mail them to the teacher. Teacher Susan Gaer suggests having students photograph items for writing prompts such as “My favorite piece of clothing,” “My Family,” or “My Pets” (2014). For more advanced users, a wide variety of video making apps gives students ample opportunity for storytelling and audio slideshows.

In the computer lab, Edmodo is an excellent platform to manage student learning. Its Facebook-like design makes it easy for students to navigate. Using Edmodo, teachers can set up quizzes, surveys, and discussions for their students. It also offers a gradebook feature and unlimited document storage. Using Edmodo is best for classrooms with access to a computer lab so that students with low technological literacy have the opportunity for guided and consistent practice. Edmodo also allows users to post useful website links for student use outside of the classroom.

Sites that provide more developed ESL curricula are also quite useful for student use in computer labs or at home. USALearns, LiveMocha, and Memrise are all free websites that offer learning units to students. Mango Languages is also excellent and often available through public libraries.

For classrooms that only have access to a teacher computer/projector, there are a variety of websites that feature videos specifically for English language learners. EnglishCentral hosts thousands of videos searchable by level, and provides mini learning units to accompany each one. It can be modeled to and used with the entire class and then recommended for student use at home. ESLVideo and We are New York also offer great videos for beginning learners. GCF LearnFree is a site that offers a vast array of interactive tutorials on life skills, covering topics like finances, technology, and career. TV411 also offers videos with similar purposes. YouTube is also packed full of English teachers providing their own explanations. Some great YouTube series include Jennifer ESL, Fluency MC, Speak English with MisterDuncan, and EnglishAnyone.

For teachers who have no computer access in the classroom, technology can still be a fabulous tool. Sites like Kizclub, BusyTeacher, EnglishforEveryone,iSLCollective, and Teachers Pay Teachers offer endless numbers of both free and paid activities and lesson plans for beginning level students. While the students may not directly interact with technology itself, they are still benefitting from the teacher’s access to it.


Gaer, S. (2014). Using mobile devices. Technology and Distance Learning Symposium. Lecture conducted from Baldwin Park, CA.

Jody Fernando is a teacher educator, curriculum writer, and adult ESL teacher in California. She also blogs occasionally at Adventures in TESOL and maintains TESOLTech, a website for EL teachers to share lesson plans for teaching technology to adult learners. Follow her on Twitter or check out her extensive ESL and EdTech boards on Pinterest.