How to teach English with an iPad

January 2nd, 2012By Category: Teaching in Japan

A page from the English learning E-book, Phat English

While more and more applications and uses for the iPad popping up all time, one great way to use it that I haven’t seen mentioned is as an English teaching tool. The fact of the matter is, with all of the different language apps that are available for it, the access to the Internet and its ability to play both audio and video, the iPad makes an incredibly efficient teaching tool. Listed below are just a few of the advantages of using an iPad for English lessons.


Saves Time and Saves Paper

Probably one of the most obvious advantages of teaching English with an iPad is that it saves both time and paper. This is particularly true if you are teaching private students, and are responsible for preparing all of your own materials. Traditionally, prepping your own materials might mean taking the time and money to run to an Internet cafe to print them out or eventually investing in your own printer and paper. In either case however, as printers have a way of acting up when you need them the most, your best efforts may still leave you late and unprepared.

If you keep your materials stored as digital documents on an iPad however, (using programs such as Dropbox) you can have instant access to them without all of the hassle of having to deal with printers. Generally any text page or image that can be printed can be stored that way, or in the least sent to yourself in an email and then just opened up on the iPad before the lesson. Teacher’s pages from websites like BreakingNewsEnglish or textbooks that are available in digital form like Phat English are especially great for this.


Looking Up Materials on the Fly

Another advantage of teaching with an iPad is that it allows you to look up materials on the fly. While printing out your materials before you teach will limit you to those pages you planned on having (or even less if you are in a hurry and leave one or two of them in the printer), having your materials or textbook on the iPad gives you the freedom to move around as you see fit. If a particular activity or lesson turns out to be too easy, too difficult, or just plain uninteresting to the student, you can scrap it for another that’s better fitting.

Additionally, while a traditional dictionary may be fine for looking up words or giving the student a direct translation, an iPad’s internet access and large screen offers something even better: realia. Through websites such as Google Images or Flickr, you can find a plethora of images for virtually anything you can imagine, and through YouTube you also have access to videos. This can be particularly useful if your lesson or lessons are process-oriented and you are teaching things like movement names, techniques and names of motions.


Access to Games and Warm-ups

Much like in exercise routines, the warm-up and or cool-down should be an integral part of any English lesson. As such, another advantage of having an iPad as a teaching tool is that language apps such as Word pop can serve this role well. For those uninterested in searching for apps, online websites such as Discovery Puzzle Maker can be used to generate vocabulary based puzzles ranging from crosswords to word searches. These can be used to lightly get the student into “English mode” at the beginning of a lesson, or to review vocab at the lesson’s end. If the student cannot finish it during the lesson, a link to the page can also then be emailed to them so that they can print it out on their own and do it for homework.


Access to Multimedia

For students interested in learning through music, the obvious advantage of having the iPad is that through syncing you have access to your entire iTunes library. Songs can be selected to teach with, and the lyrics can be looked up and accessed online at the same time. In the case of private students, headphones can be used to not bother those around them, and in group lessons it can be plugged into a set of speakers. Any worksheets you create on your home PC can be either stored in dropbox or similar apps, and/or simply emailed to yourself as attachments to be opened during the lesson. For a music based teaching tool like Phat English, (which has all of its songs available on iTunes) this is particularly useful as both the ebook and the songs can be used in conjunction on the same machine.

 While good old pencils and papers may still have their place for a while to come, the iPad can make for a diverse and economical teaching tool to supplement them. In addition to saving paper, it can also save a lot of prep time, and give the teacher a freedom of movement in the lesson that usually isn’t possible using printed materials. Furthermore, if students would still like a copy of the work sheets from that day, they can be emailed directly to the students, so that they can choose to save them digitally or print them out themselves.

 With all the different fields that iPads are working their way into these days, I think it’s only a matter of time before they start working their way into the fields of ESL/EFL as well. This is particularly true for private English teachers who have the freedom to develop all of their own lessons. Perhaps then, for those English teachers who like to be on the cutting edge, our role is not to figure out if they can be utilized in our lessons but instead, how exactly they will be.

Author of this article

Chuck Johnson

Chuck Johnson is a Martial Arts Instructor/ Action Film Actor based in Tokyo, Japan, and Michigan, USA. He has been teaching for 16 years, holds ranks in Taekwondo, Judo, Capoeira, and Karate, and is an experienced bodyguard. He is also a member of the Screen Action Stunt Association, and Society of American Fight Directors. Additionally, he has 10 years of ELT experience, and is the developer of Phat English, a system that uses specialized hip-hop music to teach the subtle nuances of GAm English pronunciation. For more information, visit or follow Chuck on twitter at chuck_n_action

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  • kisstherobot says:

    Do you actually teach use with an iPad (sorry, poster above, I mean with a tablet), or are you just pondering?
    The reason I ask is I am tempted to get one, but I am not sure how much use it would be in a normal-sized elementary or junior high school class. Is it going to be bright enough, or large enough? If I still need to walk round the class to show everyone then I may as well use my iphone.

  • Anonymous says:

    I think the title should be, How to Teach English with a Tablet, as almost any android tablet, or windows tablet can do what you have said. The days that the iPad has dominated the tablet market are ending. Soon, it will become just another tablet and Android and Windows 8 will rise.


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