The Go-To Tablet Activity Starter Kit

This is a follow up to my previous tablet-focused article, which aimed to ease the nerves of our generation of teachers who were trained in classical classroom management and are now teaching in a very non-classical, pro-technology world. With your nerves eased, let’s get you started with an arsenal of specific tablet activities that can be used to teach a wide range of topics. Have no fear, Edudemic is here.

1. Academic Where’s Waldo

This is a great activity for practicing language skills. Put students in partners and give each pair a tablet with a different Where’s Waldo picture. Set this up ahead of time by using any image search to find large Where’s Waldo pictures. The pair then must use the target language to write sentences describing five things they see in the picture. Once the writing has finished, every pair rotates to another pair’s tablet to read their sentences and locate the things in the picture.

Not only are the students given free form practice with the language point, but they’re also then exposed to its use from all the other students in the class. Furthermore, it’s being used in a fairly natural way to complete an objective they’re sincerely interested in. I use this when I teach relative clauses (i.e. “Find the man who is fighting a three headed alien) to low level English speakers. However, I’ve found it to be an extremely flexible lesson for practicing any sentence structure at any level. Complex vs. Compound sentences? Where’s Waldo. Prepositional clauses? Where’s Waldo!

2. Students Teaching Students

Introducing new vocab is often a stale endeavor for both the teacher and the students. The class must first be repeatedly exposed to the words before you can finally get to any sort of practice with them that’s a little more interesting. This tablet activity allows you to turn the boring introduction stage of vocab into an interactive, student-focused lesson.

Break students into small groups of three or four. Assign each group a set of three or so words, depending on how many you want to get through. Give students ten to twenty minutes to research the word and learn them before presenting the vocab to the class. Make sure to monitor their progress as they go. The students must tell the class the form of the word, a meaning for the vocab using their own words (not copied from the dictionary), show a picture to help explain the word, and give the class an example sentence using the word.

This is a more engaging and interactive way to get through the first introduction of new vocabulary. I encourage students in the audience to speak up when they have any question or don’t understand something. The teacher can help if necessary, but should let the class be student-led as much as possible. This engaging structure helps students remember the vocab, and the pressure of presenting what they’ve learned to the class ensures that the group will become absolute experts in the specific words assigned to them.

3. Mystery Item

Here’s an activity that’s extremely simple to set up. Each student takes a tablet and uses an image search program to pull up a picture of any item they can think of. No people, no animals, and the item must be a physical thing. At this point, it’s important to take a moment to remind you that you ought to be monitoring your students as they do this activity and if your school doesn’t use some sort of content restriction, this is as good a time as any to start.

The goal is to set up an activity that will stretch the creativity of your students. After students pull up a picture of an item, they put the tablets screen down on a table at the front of the room. The activity can go in many different directions from here. If you would like to practice presentation skills, you can have students come to the front, choose a tablet, and then prepare and perform a short sale’s pitch for whatever the item is. If you would like students to work on creative writing skills, you can have them work in groups, choose a couple tablets, then write a story where they use those items to survive a zombie apocalypse – or any other inventive scenario you’d like to give them.

4. Face to Face

This activity develops your students’ descriptive vocabulary. Here’s how it works. Start by demonstrating the necessity for the skill of description. Use Google Images to pull up a picture of a celebrity that you can see but the class can’t. Describe it to them with vague vocabulary (i.e. “He’s handsome. He looks cool. He’s crazy.” etc.). Ask if they can identify the person pictured. When they inevitably say they don’t, describe the picture again with descriptive vocab (i.e. “He’s got wavy blonde hair, boyish looks, thick eyebrows, and a tattoo of a cross on his chest.”). After this, your students will emphatically yell, “Justin Bieber!” Your point has been demonstrated that descriptive language is effective while vague language fails to communicate.

Now it’s time for them to practice. Have some pictures ready of people with vastly different faces. It works best to use an app like Showbie, which allows the teacher to send websites to the students’ tablets. Students work in pairs in which one is the speaker and one is the listener. The speaker must describe the face to the listener so that the listener has a clear picture in their head. To check this, the listeners can then describe the face to the class or try to draw the face when the speaker finishes. For more advanced levels, students can focus on details that add character description. For example:

Face to face learning

She’s an Asian girl, about 22 years old. She has an angular face, and dyed auburn hair that falls past her shoulder in waves. She wears a beige tank top and a matching checkered jacket. She’s probably a senior in university, going to class with her bag on her back. She has a slight smirk, like she’s spent enough time at this school and has it all figured out. Her bag hangs loosely off one shoulder, about to slip off but she doesn’t seem concerned. With her smirk and raised eyebrow, it almost looks like instead she’s describing us and she’s unimpressed.

This is a simple and engaging way to develop style and range in the writing of your students.

5. A Night At the Oscars

This is the ultimate fallback plan, the fail safe, the un-tankable lesson of lessons as far as tablets are concerned. Have your students use the tablet to make a movie. It’s elegant, simple and applicable to every topic you can imagine. Science class about the planets? Make a movie about astronauts traveling to another planet. Math class about multiplication? Make a movie on your tablet about a detective who has to use the multiplication table to solve a crime. Literature class about Tom Sawyer? Make a movie acting out a scene from the book. Endless possibility.

This can be done as a class wide project if you have a significant amount of time to devote to it; however it’s easiest to do as a small project with small groups of three to five. You can set up the activity and have students film in twenty or so minutes, based on your schedule. There are even free video editing apps such as Perfect Video Lite for Apple products or VidTrim for android. And of course, end the lesson by showing the movies to the class and discussing how they used the target theme of the lesson. If time permits, it can be fun to hold a mini-Oscars vote for best actor, best special script, etc.

In Short:

Our generation grew up in a different era of teaching and education. New technology like tablets can be intimidating, but schools are using them because they do have unique benefits. Also, tablets can be just plain fun. Teaching with tablets can feel like re-learning how to teach at times, but these activities will give you the edge you need to keep up with the times.