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Technology for active learning: Using iPads to support learners with English as an additional language

Written by: Cassey Williams and Duncan Kilty
2 min read

The New Wave Federation consists of three high-performing local authority primary schools in Hackney, Inner London. Improving outcomes through academic success is central to our mission and we endeavour to equip our children with the skills and understanding to make appropriate and positive choices about their own learning (Thomas , 2017). Technology, and specifically the iPad, has been a key driver of this vision.

Our schools have a high percentage of children for whom English is an additional language. Many of these children do not speak English at home and their attainment is affected by their English language proficiency. Interventions aimed at enhancing vocabulary knowledge can aid English language and literacy development in children with EAL (Murphy , 2015), and we felt that with the tools available on the iPad, we could enhance the vocabulary of these learners in a number of ways.

We use technology with consideration of the SAMR model of integration (Puentedura , 2015). The model describes four stages of integration: substitution, augmentation, modification and redefinition.

When learning tasks with technology are at the substitution or augmentation phase, the technology is simply enhancing the activity with some functional improvement – for example, using a spell check instead of a dictionary. When learning tasks with technology are at the modification or redefinition stage, they include activities that are not possible without the use of technology, such as creating podcasts.

Our teachers use all the stages of integration to decide the best approach for specific learning experiences.

How can iPads be used to support language proficiency?

Differentiated, media-rich support includes:

  • using translation features in the accessibility section of settings
  • using speak selection to hear information that they might not yet be able to read
  • using sound buttons over images and text
  • providing opportunities for oral rehearsal and instant feedback through playback.

The specifically taught photography and recording skills that these children have attained have led to more choice in the ways that children document their learning. This has given some of our most reluctant speakers a voice and our reluctant writers a purpose.

Opportunities for recording learning outcomes include:

  • taking photos and labelling these with audio
  • recording video
  • creating films and animations
  • creating presentations
  • creating multimedia eBooks.

We have found that self-recording of spoken English has encouraged our children to practise and self-assess language acquisition. They may not want to stand up in front of the class and speak but they will happily speak into an iPad, since they are able to play it back, decide on any improvements and try again. Furthermore, many children find it easier to take on the role of a character in an animation rather than using their own voice.

Technology offers tools to enable children with EAL to access models of English, fostering their independence and developing their language proficiency. In addition, learning with iPads is fun, motivational and low-threat. To be able to collaborate on something creative and for it to not matter that you are not yet fluent in English brings confidence and excitement.


Murphy V (2015) A systematic review of intervention research examining English language and literacy development in children with English as an additional language (EAL). Available at: (accessed 2018).
Puentedura R (2015) SAMR and the learning design process. Available at: (accessed 2018).
Thomas M (2017) The Power of Choice. Available at: (accessed 2018).
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