Keep Students Talking After Class

May 10th, 2016 | By | Category: Featuring: In the Classroom, In the Classroom
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image of author Brent Warner

Brent Warner


—One of the biggest challenges facing teachers of ESL students is getting them to use English outside the classroom. It’s a blessing and a curse to be in such a diverse community, where our students feel empowered by the support of people from their own community but have little incentive to use the language they develop in our classes outside of our four walls.

I regularly have students from China, Iran, Mexico, Brazil, and beyond confide that their lives in America are like little bubbles of their own culture—allowing them to get by with minimal English in their day-to-day lives. While I have no doubt that our phones will ultimately serve as the realization of Douglas Adams’s Babel fish—allowing on-the-spot translation of any language to our own—we can also use that same technology to encourage students to engage with English at home and on the go.

Voxer is a popular tool among teachers to discuss professional development and to keep up with what colleagues are doing in their classrooms, but it can also be used with students to encourage them to explore their voices out in the “real world.”image of voxer logo

Voxer ( is a cross-platform tool that serves as a walkie-talkie on steroids. Users can simply talk into the app and it will create a chronological thread of voices. Messages are saved for 30 days (indefinitely for premium subscribers) and everybody can listen and respond to each other’s messages at their leisure—or at the teacher’s assignment. Teachers can create chat rooms through the service, allowing as many as 500 people to join in on a single chat (though I recommend limiting it to your class). You simply invite your students to join in on the chat.

My students took to it instantly, recognizing familiar features from their own preferred chat services such as WeChat, WhatsApp, Line, and the like. Before I had finished introducing the app, they were inviting each other into private rooms to discuss assignments or set up study sessions, or simply to send me private messages.

This is where the beauty lies.

image of woman on smartphoneShy and reluctant students feel much more empowered to speak in small groups or privately, and Voxer gives them the autonomy to speak at their own pace and when they feel comfortable. Students who face challenges in making time for group assignments can participate in short, regular bursts through conversations on Voxer and thus be more productive when they are able to set aside an hour or two to meet in person.

When I put my students into small groups, I ask them to create a Voxer group and include me in the chat. That way I can do audio check-ins and jump in if necessary. It also makes for easy accountability to simply jump in for three seconds to say, “Hey guys, I don’t hear any conversation going on here. …”

Voxer isn’t limited only to informal conversations. You can take it as far as your imagination can reach. A few possible uses for Voxer with your ESL class include:

  • Scripted dialogue practice;
  • Student-created “radio commercials”;
  • TOEFL-type reading prompt responses;
  • A verbal description of their favorite place from their favorite place (inspired by KCRW’s Sounds LA:;
  • Interviews with native speakers;
  • Audio diaries;
  • Reading reflections;
  • And so on.

As teachers we can choose to build these activities directly into the curriculum or add them on as supplemental homework. Listening in on your students’ “daily-use” English gives you the opportunity to assess their progress on the skills you are developing in class without their feeling the pressure of a formal test. In fact, you may find that they forget you’re listening in all together.

Voxer can help your students take their English out of the classroom and put it right in their pocket. With a little encouragement you may find your students feeling empowered by speaking English in a variety of environments—and isn’t that the ultimate goal?

Students can download the app for their iPhone or Android or access it via the web. Additional features are available in Voxer’s “Pro” version for $29.99 a year, but the free version is suitable for most users. You can jump in now and send me a message via Voxer to: bwarner

Brent Warner is a full-time lecturer of ESL at the International Academy at USC. He is an active member of the CATESOL Orange County Chapter and presents regularly at CATESOL conferences. Brent is the proprietor of and the EdTechTV Podcast.


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