Stay Connected: Celly and English Learners

Mar 22nd, 2014 | By | Category: In the Classroom, Intensive English Programs
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Ixchell Reyes

Ixchell Reyes

Generally, it can be challenging to get students to stop texting or checking social networks on their phones during class, resulting in one’s wanting to ban cell phone use and even to resist the idea of using cell phones as learning tools. This is not only self-serving, but it denies students the opportunity to try out a new tool.

Enter Celly. In the fall of 2012, having just launched, Celly popped up on my newsfeed. The service, a free SMS web tool and mobile application for iOS and Android devices, enables people to create “Cells” (groups) and send text messages to the cell members without exchanging phone numbers. And because Celly grants Cell administrators control of how people reply or share messages within the cell, it was an instant favorite! I tested Celly by sending homework reminders to my students and by letting them notify me of emergencies.A close-up view of Celly at work on students' phones

Celly’s effectiveness became apparent when one semester, our classrooms kept changing with short notice, sometimes without enough time for me to warn my class. Rather than caving in to frustration, I used Celly! I could text my students any time the rooms switched and students knew where to go and were less stressed out.

Ultimately, the real proof was in the feedback students gave me. I later observed, without prompting, several students sharing their Celly IDs to form their own Cells to discuss a group project. They’re actively reaching out to find out about missing assignments and homework: Autonomy is reinforced! Since then, I have made it a point to share with others. And that’s where my colleague Delia comes in.


Delia Racines

Delia Racines

The pros of collaborating with teachers are finding someone to bounce new ideas with and often these brief conversations happen in passing. I remember the mention of Celly, an app that can be used like texting; however, students did not have access to our personal numbers. I was sold! Considering that smartphones were in the pockets of all of my students, why not? I was curious to see if and how students would use it.

I decided to try Celly with one class last year. I’d have to say that the most difficult thing about using Celly was starting. Do you download the app first? Do students text the five-digit number first? Is one way easier? What if they forget their password?

However, as with learning anything new, patience is key. It’s easiest when the teacher downloads the app, creates a Cell, and students send a five-digit text to join the Cell. To keep organized, I use the course name, course number, and year as the Cell name—for example RWG_20_2014. Introducing Celly has introduced many mini-teachable technology moments! Also good to know? Celly sends easy-to-follow texts to reset passwords directly to the student and numerous classes of beginner English learners have been able to successfully follow the directions.

A group of students using Celly

Students stay connected through Celly.

Like Ixchell, I first noticed exchanges from students who were absent for missed assignments. With regular classroom changes, students are able to give each other instant directions across campus. Students ask to create their own Cells for collaborative projects and it has informally served as a platform to model proper etiquette in English for social media.

Our proudest moments by far have been observing that students are taking what we modeled and are sharing with others. So, try Celly and stay connected!

Uses for Celly

a sample exchange on Celly, defining meaning of 'awk'

A sample exchange

  • Polls
  • Homework and quiz reminders
  • Exit tickets
  • Class announcements
  • Late class arrivals
  • Updating/connecting absent students
  • Emergency notifications on/around campus
  • Feedback from students
  • Student/work collaboration groups
  • Homework questions and answers
  • Providing/giving directions
  • Keeping in touch with previous classes
  • Informal assessment of written English

*If you would like to join our Cell and begin a Celly conversation, text a message to 23559 and in the message @STAYConnected.

Ixchell Reyes and Delia Racines teach at the University of Southern California’s Language Academy.


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