Enriching literacy with cellphones: 3 ideas to get started

Cross posted at SmartBlog on Education and The Innovative Educator

September is National Literacy Month, and what better way to celebrate and promote literacy than focusing on the tools that students own and love: their cellphones! Using cellphones to enhance learning does not require that they be used in class. If you are in a school where cellphones are banned, the ideas shared here are also applicable outside of class.

Cellphones are a great tool for enriching literacy instruction. Here are three ways innovative educators can use the tools in their students’ pockets for learning inside or outside the classroom.

Texting drafts

Students are reading and writing more than ever. In the 21st century, reading and writing often takes place through the lightening fast thumbs of teens. Although some parents and teachers complain that text messaging is ruining the language, research shows that it is, in fact, a benefit to students’ phonemic awareness, spelling and use of words (Yarmey, 2011; Plester & Wood, 2009, Malson & Tarica, 2011; Fresco, 2005; Dunnewind, 2003; Miners, 2009; McCarroll, 2005; Elder, 2009). When we rethink and re-envision what is happening when our teens and tweens text, all sorts of learning possibilities emerge.

In the classroom: Texting has become the shorthand of the 21st century. When writing first drafts, allow students to write a draft on their phone or laptop and use text abbreviations to get their thoughts down. Encouraging the quick, free flow of ideas in a format they prefer can help young writers capture, compile and create new ideas. These can be translated as they edit and revise, resulting in a final draft written in standard language.

Oral reports

Google Voice is one of many tools that can capture students’ voices. It is free, easy to use and enables educators to capture voice messages from students without providing them with their direct phone number. The power of this kicks in when you realize that what Google Voice does is become a repository for oral reports, assignments or sound bites. Teachers can also write notes on each clip, share and post them. Get an account.

In the classroom: Have students do their oral reports using Google Voice. If they don’t like how they sound the first time, they don’t have to send the message. They can rerecord until they have something with which they are happy.


Most cellphones today can shoot video. This can be a powerful learning tool even if there is only one video-enabled phone in the classroom. Allowing students to take video can help them with their speaking and listening skills by providing them the opportunity to see and listen to themselves speak as well as listen to others’ recordings.

In the classroom: Have students record themselves acting out chapters of a book they are reading. Acting out a chapter helps solidify understanding.

Let’s take the devices students own and love out of their pockets and into the classroom for learning. Even the simplest, voice-and-text-only cellphones have more complex and powerful chips than the on-board computer that landed a spaceship on the moon! Children deserve nothing less than for their teachers to embrace the power of this technology and support them in becoming learners who can use the powerful computing tools to which they already have access to soar to new heights. For more ideas on using cell phones for learning, check out Teaching Generation Text and The Innovative Educator blog.

Lisa Nielsen writes for and speaks to audiences across the globe about learning innovatively and is frequently covered by local and national media for her views on “Passion (not data) Driven Learning,” "Thinking Outside the Ban" to harness the power of technology for learning, and using the power of social media to provide a voice to educators and students. Ms. Nielsen has worked for more than a decade in various capacities to support learning in real and innovative ways that will prepare students for success. In addition to her award-winning blog, The Innovative Educator, Ms. Nielsen’s writing is featured in places such as Huffington Post, Tech & Learning, ISTE Connects, ASCD Wholechild, MindShift, Leading & Learning, The Unplugged Mom, and is the author the book Teaching Generation Text.

Disclaimer: The information shared here is strictly that of the author and does not reflect the opinions or endorsement of her employer.

Lisa Nielsen (@InnovativeEdu) has worked as a public-school educator and administrator since 1997. She is a prolific writer best known for her award-winning blog, The Innovative Educator. Nielsen is the author of several books and her writing has been featured in media outlets such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Tech & Learning.  

Disclaimer: The information shared here is strictly that of the author and does not reflect the opinions or endorsement of her employer.