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July 2012
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iPads for Student Learning
by Kathleen Mitchell

Many institutions are investing in iPads; I work at one such institution, INTO Oregon State University.  In fall 2011, we purchased 30 iPads for classroom use. Now we are exploring how these devices can promote learning. While the devices easily engage students, we need to focus on good teaching practices and learning outcomes over flashiness.

The learning goals we have tried to address with the help of iPads range from vocabulary acquisition to presentation skills to paraphrasing. We meet these objectives by taking advantage of three primary components of the iPad:

  • Portability— This allows us to bring class materials and activities into settings that might be more interesting or authentic.
  • Connectivity— This allows us to access materials from around the web, simplifying dictionary searches, research, and so forth. It also allows us to publish on the web more easily.
  • Multimodality—This allows students to escape their black and white books for a world of interactive videos, pictures, and multimedia authorship. These features can help create meaningful learning opportunities, including creating multimodal digital flashcards and analyzing sources found online.

Incorporating iPads in the classroom is an interesting challenge. iPads, while popular, are often seen as a personal device, used for gaming, shopping, and surfing. There are, however, unending educational possibilities. They span the entire table of the revised 21st-Century Bloom’s Taxonomy (Anderson et al., 2001) from remembering to creating.

The multimodality of the iPads is the most exciting. The activities aren’t always revolutionary, but they are adapted for and enhanced by the iPad. With that and Bloom’s Taxonomy in mind, below is a list of ideas and activities to do with iPads. They range from simple to complex and showcase the added value of iPads.

1. Remembering

  1. Students can use sites like Quizlet on the iPad and create multimedia flashcards. In addition to normal flashcard functions, Quizlet automatically generates quizzes, games, and other activities with the words you input.
    Activity: Assign a group of students five to ten words. Have them create multimedia flashcards with definitions, example sentences, and pictures. Once the cards are created, students can trade iPads to work on a different set of words or share the link so work can be done at home.
  2. Students can use applications like Choice Board to do simple multiple-choice question games. The activities can be created specifically for your class and integrate images and sound.
    Activity: Create a Choice Board activity to test preposition knowledge. Have students choose the image that best matches the sentence. (As a higher-level activity, students could create these activities themselves, too.)

2. Understanding

  1. Students can illustrate their understanding of new vocabulary by taking pictures of objects in the classroom, on campus, or in their community.
    Activity: Ask students to find examples of food categories (grains, fats, etc.) from an on-campus market or cafeteria. (Jim Jamieson at INTO OSU had great success with this activity.)
  2. Students can complete formative assessments. Using SurveyMonkey, the school’s course management sites (such as Blackboard or WebCT), and whiteboard apps (such as Educreations or ShowMe), teachers can obtain a detailed picture of students’ current knowledge and performance levels. With this information, they can adapt their teaching to their students’ needs.
    Activity: Using the whiteboard apps, ask students to correct a sentence on their whiteboards and hold up their answers. Or, using SurveyMonkey, ask students to give their opinion on a controversial question.
  3. Students can create informative videos. These could be videos explaining new vocabulary, grammar points, or other topics. The videos could be shared on your class website or made public.
    Activity: Ask students to create a video explaining how to cite a source correctly. Share the video with your writing class.

3. Applying

  1. Students can make animated videos (e.g., with Puppet Pals HD) to dramatize situations, like speaking to a teacher after class, or use grammar in context.
    Activity: Ask students to create an animated movie telling the story of what they were doing when the fire alarm went off (or another event) to practice past progressive.
  2. The portability of iPads allows students to take class materials into different contexts and settings.
    Activity: Have students create interview questions based on a specific lesson plan or instructional module. Have them take the questions they wrote in class to English speakers in their community or around campus and film interviews.

4. Analyzing

  1. Students can analyze the plethora of materials online and in apps like iTunes U. This is sometimes more advantageous than using the computer lab because the iPads can be quickly plugged into the main projector via an APP VGA adapter and analyzed in plenary.
    Activity: Have students watch a video and analyze how the speaker uses cohesive devices.
  2. Students can relate facts and materials from standardized textbooks to materials online. With the iPads, students can conveniently access materials from numerous sources while in the classroom.
    Activity: Have students compare the statistics or facts given in a textbook, especially older textbooks, to those online. Discuss how the digital information affects the textbook author’s argument or purpose.

5. Evaluating

  1. Students can research topics in class and judge the materials’ credibility. In class, this activity becomes more of a conversation than doing a similar assignment as homework.
    Activity: Have students research a topic and assess the reliability of the sources. Have students discuss one article that they think may not be reliable with a partner. Select a few to discuss as a class.
  2. The class can watch student-generated content and critique, appraise, or categorize it.
    Activity: Have your students create two videos, one that is informative and one that is persuasive. Watch the videos as a class and categorize them as informative or persuasive, asking students to explain their decisions.

6. Creating

  1. The ability to create materials is quite possibly the most exciting element of the iPad: book reports, persuasive videos, filmed advice for future students, and so on. These high-tech alternatives to typical assignments have the potential to produce less anxiety, encourage more creativity, and increase motivation. Apps might include iMovie, Puppet Pals, or a plethora of other creative apps.
    Activity: Michelle Scholz at INTO OSU has students turn their normal book reports into videos using iPads. Those videos will be linked to QR codes taped to the cover of the books in the INTO OSU library, so students can watch a peer-created video review before selecting a book to read.
  2. Students can use Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites to synthesize data and create a hypothesis that describes the data. 
    Activity: Require students to choose a topic to investigate (social, reading, computer habits, etc.). They should design an experiment using social media polling, for example through Facebook, to gather numerous responses in real-time and thereby test their hypothesis. Students present their findings and experiment to the class. 

Hopefully, these ideas will help those of you with iPads in your classroom. If you aren’t one of those lucky and overwhelmed iPad educators, perhaps these ideas will help you make a case for iPads in your educational setting.


Anderson, L. W., Krathwohl, D. R., Airasian, P. W., Cruikshank, K. A., Mayer, R. E., Pintrich, P. R., Raths, J., & Wittrock, M. C. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (Complete edition). New York: Longman.


Kathleen Mitchell is an instructor at Oregon State University where she teaches academic English to speakers of other languages. She is also the technology adviser. Before working at Oregon State University, she received her Master’s in TESOL at Portland State University and taught in the Portland area and abroad at the University of Tübingen in Germany. Her research interests include digital literacy, second language writing instruction, and computer-assisted language learning.

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Table of Contents
TC Homepage
Greening the L2 Classroom
iPads for Student Learning
Grammatically Speaking
Lesson Plan: Listening
Science Standards & TESOL
Association News
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English Language Fellow, English Language Fellow Program, Worldwide

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