The iPad in the ESL/EFL Classroom (By Kevin Cozma)

Are you an EFL/ESL teacher?  Have an iPad?  Want an iPad?  Have 10 minutes to kill?  Read on.

playing with the iPad

The iPad can be a great tool both in and out of class.  I use the iPad or an iPhone in class at least a few times a week, and often I use it more.  I usually teach groups of no more than 8 students at a time, and the iPad suits this type of class very well.  In larger classes, it isn’t quite as useful, but there are ways to work around this which I will get to later.  I also use it to help prepare for classes and work on various teaching-related projects.  In fact, I am using it to write this blog post.  Speaking of which, thanks a million Barbara for letting me be part of this great blog.

So why the iPad?  Well, it is just the right size, being smaller than a laptop, yet larger than a smartphone.  Also, I think there are more software options than current Android tablets have.  Who know what the future holds, but for now, I am sticking with my iPad.  The interface is simple to understand, and using it is a fun and unique experience for the students.

Classroom Uses

Well, the way I use my iPad most in class is to show videos.  It works great with a group of 8 or less students.  For bigger groups than this, you can connect it to a TV using an accessory cable. You can use videos you have purchased from iTunes, videos you have made and put into the iTunes library, and videos from YouTube.  If you have a YouTube account, you can access it through the iPad, too.  This way, you can view all of your YouTube playlists that you made on other devices.  The iPhone also hooks up to your TV easily using an AV cable.  Unfortunately though, you can ONLY watch videos using this cable, no apps.


Figure 1 This cable allows you to easily connect your iPad or iPod to a TV.

Photos are also great on the iPad.  For photos, I don’t usually hook it up to the TV.  The iPad is a great size for using pictures in class, and if need be, you could always use the pinch and zoom techniques to change the size.  There are tons of ways to use pictures in class, and the iPad is a great way to show them.

 photos on the iPad


I play a lot of games in class, and I love this party game timer app.  You can use the same app on your iPhone.  It has some great options like minimum and maximum times (so that the time changes every round), looping, show countdown, and lots of buzzer and tick sounds.  Yes, this works great on the iPhone, too.

One of the best uses of an iPad is as an electronic dictionary.  I teach in Japan and use an English/Japanese, Japanese/English dictionary called Wisdom.  It is very easy to use.  It has a history function, so you can look up words before class, and have them ready to show students during class, without wasting class time looking for them.  It is a great size for showing to students in a small class.  The pinch and zoom function works great with it.  If you are teaching a large class and the students can’t see the screen, you can ask a student to write the words on the board, or just say them.  There are also many English-English dictionaries out there to choose from, including the free Merriam-Webster English dictionary.  I use the unabridged version.

iPad as dictionary

Dictionaries offer lots of information, but nothing compared to the web.  A 3G or wifi connected iPad is great for showing stuff off from the web in class.  Your 70 year old student doesn’t know who Lady Gaga is?  Show her a video or a picture and then discuss it.  I also use the iPad to show or explain some things from my website, or blog.

There are also lots of apps out there for young learners which are great for ESL/EFL classes.  One example is Elmo Loves ABCs.  Another is Toddler Counting.  Games with talking characters are a lot of fun, too.  In Talking Tom Cat, the cat mimics what you have said into the iPad microphone.  The mouth of the character moves at the same time and the playback voice is altered.  It is fun for students to hear their own voices in English.  It is even more fun for them to hear it filtered and being spoken by an animated cat.  Other similar apps are also available.

Elmo on iPad

Use a lot of audio in class?  Well, you can put all of your audio on your iPad so that you always have your CDs with you.  This saves you from having to change CDs all of the time.  The iPads speakers are OK for a small group, and if you need more power, you can connect it to computer speakers, portable speakers, and most CD players using a simple audio cord.


The final ways I use the iPad in class are Google Maps and street view.  I don’t use them often, but they have come in handy a few times while discussing different places both around the world and around town.

Outside of the Classroom

This will be a shorter section, because much of the content creation that I do is on my PC.  For now, it is much easier to edit videos and photos, make handouts, and do administrative work on the computer.  Part of the reason is that I am more used to using a computer, and part of it is that for now, the iPad excels at content consumption as opposed to content creation.  Still, the iPad is quite a young product, and I believe that I will use it more for content creation in the future.

That being said, I would like to mention a few apps that I do use outside of class that are directly related to teaching.  The first of which is Pages, Apple’s word processor for the Mac and iPad.  If you are going to use this app (or any other keyboard intensive apps), I highly recommend you pick up a blue tooth keyboard.   It is thin, lightweight and stylish.  If you are going to type a lot on the iPad, this keyboard is a must. Clicking on the picture below will take you to the Apple Store.

link to apple store

I use two other iPad apps outside of the classroom to keep my busy personal and professional life somewhat in order.  On is the excellent task management app, OmniFocus.  It is a little expensive, but well worth the money.  The other is a mindmapping app titled iThoughts.  I mind mapped this entire blog post in this program before I even started writing it in Pages.  For more information on mind mapping, you can check out Hobie Swan’s mind mapping series on this very blog.

Thanks, Mr. Swan.  I really enjoyed your series.

Wrapping Up

So there are some of the reasons why and how I use the iPad in class.  If you have any questions, please leave a comment below.  Also, if you would like to mention any other ways you use the iPad, or think that it could be used in an EFL/ESL class, please let us know.  I am excited to learn how others are using this technology in their own classes.

Note: This article by Kevin Cozma originally appeared on Teaching Village, and is licensed under a Creative Commons, Attribution-Non Commercial, No Derivatives 3.0 License. If you wish to share it you must re-publish it “as is”, and retain any credits, acknowledgements, and hyperlinks within it.

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25 Responses

  1. Barbara says:

    Thanks for this, Kevin! I don’t have an iPad, but you tempt me 🙂

    I know that a lot of teachers, and parents do have iPads, and I’m sure they’ll be thrilled to try out these apps and activities!

    • Kevin Cozma says:

      You are very welcome, Barbara. It is a pleasure to be a part of your blog. I have learned a lot from your blog, and I am happy to contribute to it.

      I’m hoping that some of your readers share how they use the iPad for teaching.



  2. Lewis Hall says:

    In a couple months, IOS 5 will be available and you won’t need an accessory cable.

    The iPad is helpful for older children as well. Our app, Elevated Math, released last month, contains 120+ hours math lessons for students 11-years-old and up. It’s being used this summer in classes to help stop the brain drain that students suffer during the long break. Also, it’s getting a phenomenal amount of downloads from overseas. I suspect that teachers are finding that the program not only teaches math, but English as well. The instruction comes from conversations, and not a talking head.

    Having just come back from ISTE – everyone had iPads and any session about the iPad was always packed.

    Thanks for the this article. I even learned a few things! 🙂

    • Kevin Cozma says:

      First of all, you’re welcome, Lewis. I’m glad that you learned a few things. I had never heard of ISTE before. Looks like it’s right up my alley.

      Also, I checked out your Elevated Math app. My daughter is ten years old. Nice timing. I will download the app today. It is great for her, and a nice review of math for me. We can study it together. I haven’t studied math for so long that she’ll probably kick my butt.

      You said that we will not need an accessory cable when IOS 5 is released. Are you referring to the fact that we will be able to sync to iCloud wirelessly?



  3. R. Williams says:

    I do have an ipad and I do use it in my classes now and then. I have a 3G capable ipad, and can access the Internet, even when I am in a class that doesn’t have 3G. When teaching, there are often questions that arise that we cannot answer quickly. Last week, we were talking about Japanese plums and American plums in my class. It was easy to pull up a photo of one that was just easy to show the group of 8 adults. You can do the same thing with a smart phone, but I always hate passing around the phone. If it doesn’t go into screen/power save mode, someone invariably hits something that make the whole thing disappear, or switches to something that I don’t really want them to see. The ipad is great.

    Anyway, my point was that reading this article, I learned about many ways to use the ipad that I hadn’t thought of. I am inspired to use it even more. I find that people really like the technology, and this is a very powerful tool that you can use to teach and learn.

  4. Kevin Cozma says:

    Hello, R. Williams. Thanks for your input. My iPad is not 3G capable. I don’t need that function very often, but when I do need it, I wish I had bought the 3G iPad. Thanks for mentioning the usefulness of 3G in the classroom. It is something that I never thought of addressing in the original article.

    I’m glad that you are inspired to use it even more. Also, thanks for sharing an example of how you used the iPad in class.



  5. Randy Poehlman says:

    Cheers for this post. 
    I have been using my iPad in the classroom for a few months now. I teach the same size classes as you do, also in Japan. 

    A few things I would like to suggest. 
    “Keynote” is an essential application for a teacher’s iPad. (Apple’s version of Power Point). Using this application I have allowed students to design their own learning materials, build presentations on their favorite topic to present to the class (one 8 year old built a pretty wonderful presentation on Egypt). I have been making reading cards with younger learners that are simply the target words on a blank background, without pictures- this has developed their reading skills 10 fold, as they are seeing the same high frequency words devoid of context each class, and the lists grow weekly. I have paired this approach with the Oxford Reading Tree, so they get the context after this drill.
    I have also been working on studying Japanese with Keynote. I do this by building interactive flashcards that appear with just the Hiragana and then the Romanji appears under the Hiragana, after I click on the screen and finally a photo appears last. 

    With younger students, I have been able to take the stigma away from being the weakest student in class. The kids love the iPad and when they make errors or show that they need additional help, I let them perfect the skill with the iPad, via a game or a writing application like “ABC Phonics,” before trying it in their workbook.  This approach mixed with using the iPad when students are finished ahead of schedule as a reward has really improved overall productivity, and retention in class. 

    Lastly, using the iPad as a recharge device has had many benefits as well. I’ve downloaded a few free non-teaching games like billiards, snowboarding and fishing and such and in some of my longer classes 1.5 or 2 hours, I break up the core elements of the class with a few minutes of these type of games to get the students to refocus and transition. 

    • Kevin Cozma says:

      Hello, Randy. Sorry, it took so long to reply. I didn’t know people were still responding to the original post.

      I love your ideas about using Keynote, especially the reading cards. I will try it out right away!

      Also, which ABC Phonics are you talking about? I checked it out in iTunes, and there were a few variations.



  6. Torn Halves says:

    Kevin, your lessons sound like fun and you sound like a great teacher. There is something, though, that bugs me about this iPad euphoria. What’s on my mind sometimes as I walk back from class to my little cottage on this dark hillside is the way things are going with the world. Somehow we still manage to keep alive an idea of progress, but I have a suspicion that for a lot of people progress is now understood in terms of a series of gadgets. Things have moved forward now because we have stuff like the iPad. As a thought experiment, let’s ignore the high-tech bling for a moment. How do we undertand progress now? Do we have any idea at all?

    To be honest, my temptation is to leave the iPad at home (actually I am lying, I don’t have an iPad, but if I did, I would still leave it at home). We want to look at photos in class? I would take in an old noisy projector and a big white screen that flaps about a bit in the breeze, and I would draw the curtains and switch the lights off, the kids would giggle and I would get people talking about what we see through the dust swirling in the projector beam. We want to look stuff up in dictionaries? Heck, we still have the books. We might even be able to afford to give the kids a free dictionary to take home with them, but we certainly can’t afford to give them a free iPad – and if they can’t afford an iPad, I certainly don’t want to be silently prodding them to pester their parents to part with their hard-earned money, lining the already bulging pockets of Steve Jobs and John Sculley.

    Sorry for spoiling the fun a bit.

    • Kevin Cozma says:

      Thanks for the compliment, Torn Halves. My lessons are fun for the students and me, and I do my best to be a great teacher. I don’t attain that level every day, but I try.

      Anyway, at the end of your post you state, “Sorry for spoiling the fun a bit.” Not at all. I enjoyed your perspective, and I agree with much of it. I think that technology shouldn’t be used too much in the language classroom, and when it is used, it should be used to make the lesson better and more effective.

      Actually, I am a semi-pro photographer and bought the iPad as a way to make a backup of my photos in the field. If I hadn’t bought it for photography, I probably wouldn’t have bought it at all.



  7. Juliana says:

    Hi Kevin,

    I´ve just bought my iPad2 and I´ll be using some Apps that you´ve mentioned. The only problem is that most of the Apps aren´t free and now I´m not sure with ones I really need. In a perfect world I´d buy all of then, but it´s just impossible.
    Anyway, thanks for giving me something to think about,

    Hugs from Brazil,


  8. Christina Markoulaki says:

    Very useful ideas, Kevin! I will explore these apps and I will also invite you to check out some of the apps listed on this page:

    About what Torn Halves has said, I would like to say that, no, we cannot measure progress by means of technology. Progress exists in the human soul and, honestly, I cannot see a lot of progress in that! Leaving aside for a moment the addiction to technology and its supposedly imperative use, why shouldn’t the educators take advantage of new technology and stick to somehow older machinery, like the projector and the screen, which by the way are very time consuming for an educator who teaches for hours on end every single day? With gadgets like the iPad your work is done quickly, easily and efficiently and the kids love it, trust me on this. It could even be a type of motivation, if you ask me! Teaching can take place without technology at all, no doubt about that, but why question everything instead of exploiting its potential to the extent you judge necessary?

    • Torn Halves says:

      You are right Christina that new technology can make things easier and perhaps sometimes more fun. Some technology can also help boost learner autonomy (which is exciting for those of us sympathetic to the views of people like Illych). However, I am a little bit wary sometimes about becoming an unpaid member of the Apple sales team.

      • Christina says:

        Haha, your last sentence sums everything up perfectly well! OK, we won’t do that, at least not without getting paid! 🙂

      • Kevin Cozma says:

        I like your last sentence. It made me chuckle. I’m not an Apple fan boy, but I think I’ve helped sell a device or two.

    • Kevin Cozma says:

      Thank you, Christina. I will check out the site right away.

  9. Ed says:

    Thanks for your ideas. I just downloaded the talking cat and I can see how it could motivate students to talk more.

  10. Phil Bird says:

    I really like iThoughts for iPad – I’ve got a feeling that mindmaps as notetaking could be a real area to explore – I haven’t been able to try it out with my learners, but I have tried it out myself – and blogged about the experience here:

  11. Greg says:

    Elmo loves ABC’s = AWESOME
    Toddler Counting and Talking Tomcat are pretty good too.

    Here’s an entire iPad based curriculum:

    The curriculum is from

    It’s a new website. Hope this helps somebody!

  12. Phil Rice says:

    Hi Kevin,

    I really appreciate your insight on the uses of the iPad. Please check out my posts on the uses of the iPad in class at:

    By the way, is iThoughts free? I use Dropmind Lite right now, but I would like to learn about some other options for mindmaps.

    Thanks, Phil

  1. July 18, 2011

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  2. September 26, 2011

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