Cellphones in the Classroom? Tools for Student Engagement

By Monica Burns 01.11.2015 blog

New York City recently ended it’s ban on cellphones in the classroom, and while some teachers may lament the return of this distraction, there are plenty of ways to put them to good use. When used effectively, these devices can empower learners and help teachers engage students across content areas.

In bring your own device (BYOD) schools and districts, educators are finding the best way to leverage these tools to allow access to resources, opportunities for interaction and tools for creating products. Teachers are identifying apps and resources that are device agnostic — meaning that they work on any platform including iOS and Android.


Smartphones provide an easy way for students to access content in a way that would have been hard to imagine just a decade ago. Teens with the ability to open a web browser and load mobile apps can find answers to their questions, read information curated by a teacher and watch video explanations of different concepts. This includes finding the definition of a new word using a Dictionary app or opening up Dictionary.com. They can even use Google Translate for the correct translation or pronunciation of a word in another language. Students can locate information in an encyclopedia or pull up primary source documents.

Students can also locate materials that a teacher has picked out for them. This might be coursework on iTunes U or a link to a YouTube video in a flipped classroom. Students can watch a teacher tutorial, documentary clip or news story straight from a cell phone as part of their homework. Then they can come to class prepared to talk about what they have watched during a small group or whole class discussion. This works for video clips as well as online news articles, blog posts, or written content.


Students can use cellphones to stay engaged during lectures and lessons. Poll Everywhere lets teachers post questions for students, who can then respond via text message. Responses remain anonymous, but they can give the teacher a read of the room. This could take the form of a multiple choice question that shows a teacher how well students are understanding content or if something needs to be clarified or repeated. Poll Everywhere responses can be for just the eyes of the teacher or displayed to the whole class through a projection screen.


Even though the screen of a cellphone might be small, students can be creators on mobile devices. This could include something simple like taking notes during class using an app like Evernote or use a calendar tool to create a to-do list of tasks that need to be completed in order to finish an assignment. Students can snap pictures, film video and even edit and publish a movie straight from their cellphone.

How could you use cell phones to engage and motivate students? Share your ideas in the comments below!

Monica Burns is an Education Consultant, EdTech Blogger, and Apple Distinguished Educator. Visit her site ClassTechTips.com for more ideas on how to become a tech-savvy teacher.


  1. jessica

    Its just too easy to play on your phone instead. ive seen people do it even when phones arent allowed. It sounds cool and i would love it but its just not practicle.

  2. alayna


  3. Tiki_time12

    Love the idea

  4. macey hodge

    this would help us a lot!!!!!i love this idea.

  5. janesha swindle

    we really do need phones yall cant take those away NEVER!!!!!

  6. happ Swain

    not in class because it will be to hard to work in class and we won’t get it done.

  7. Awesome Angel 5

    WE TOTALLY NEED OUR PHONES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    KIDDING BUT STILL.!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. RealCR7Madrid

    my former school like to participate more and I think they would read and participate more in school work with the cell phone usethey would think you would it’s cooler and they would use it more people would start to have better grades possible

  9. HumblePanda

    The use of electronics should not be used in school, excluding school computers and so on. Like everything nice in school, someone will find a way to misuse it, causing a problem in the school, thus banning the use of whatever it is. It is better to never have a problem than to fix one. I personally would love to use technology as an advantage in school, but others are simply not mature enough to do so.

  10. Blakey Sheffield

    I agree with the facts stated.

    • happ Swain

      no it will be to had to do work In class and will not get done until the next day

  11. kayla

    i mean richfield schools

  12. kayla

    we need that here in litchfield schools

    • kayla

      i mean richfield schools

  13. Alexanderia

    I wish we could do this in school, I agree to the fact that most students would be more willing to learn with this kind of arrangement. My school doesn’t allow phones or devices in the classroom, but my classmates use them anyways, and I’ve seen a few of the screens, and about 50% of the students on phones were typing into their planner, and the 30% were looking up the definitions or news articles about the subject. The other 20% were either texting or playing games. It just doesn’t help when the people being good get in trouble instead of rebels.

  14. Maddie

    This is what we need. We need to be able to research in our phones, the school needs to block certain websites such as Facebook, Instagram, etc. But overall it’s a perfect idea.

  15. Jace

    sounds great!

  16. diego

    That’s what we need but i’m only in the fith grade

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