Experiences with technology: Second conditional & Socrative

Some of you will be aware of Socrative already but, even if you are, you may not have actually tried it out in class. I learned about it from Paul Forster (@forstersensei) at the English Australia PD Fest in March, but only very recently got my first chance to use it with students. It’s a ‘student response system’, which means that you can get the students to respond to questions, tasks, quizzes using their mobile phones and all their responses can be quickly displayed in various forms on the screen for the whole class to see. Perhaps the best way to explain it is to describe how I used it in class recently.

I was filling in for a teacher on Pre-Intermediate General English and we were doing an exercise from the coursebook which required students to discuss a series of second conditional questions.

The first part of the activity I did as normal:

  1. I asked the students to stand up, bring their books and gather in the middle of the room.
  2. We talked through the questions together and checked any unclear/unfamiliar language.
  3. Students discussed the questions in pairs. I circulated, monitored and interrupted where necessary to give feedback.

At this point, I would usually write some of the things I heard up on the whiteboard and talk together about what was good, how we could correct any errors, etc. In this case, though, I decided to use Socrative. Watch this video to see how it works.

If you want to try something like this out in class, you’ll need to set up an account in advance (it’s completely free and easy to do).

  1. I asked the students how many of them had phones that could access the internet – 10 out of 12 did. I paired the two students who didn’t up with students who did.
  2. I asked them to open up m.socrative.com using their phone’s web browser. They did this without any problems.
  3. As the students were opening up Socrative, I logged in as a teacher and selected a ‘Short Answer’ activity from the teacher’s menu.
  4. The students then ‘joined’ my Socrative ‘room’ using my unique room number.
  5. I then asked the students one of the second conditional questions from the NEF speaking task, e.g. ‘What would you do if someone offered to buy you a fur coat?’
  6. The students typed their responses into their phones.
  7. Gradually, all the students’ responses were displayed on the screen for everyone to read – you can see these in the image below.

  1. Next, I asked the students to vote on the responses by selecting on their phones the response they found most interesting/amusing/etc.
  2. The results of the vote were displayed on the screen and we congratulated as a class the student whose response had received the most votes.
  3. We did this for two of the second conditional questions and then I asked students to tell me using Socrative whether they liked using it or not and why. You can see their responses in the image below.

I was actually surprised at how positively the students responded to using Socrative in class. There seemed to be quite significant effects on the students’ motivation during the activity and, from my perspective, also the quality of the language they were producing. These effects can of course be achieved without Socrative and mobile phones, but, for me, this experience showed me clearly the potential of using mobile devices in the classroom.

Two interesting points to note from the images above:

  1. I don’t know what ‘kick ur joint’ means – perhaps because of the anonymous nature of the task that particular student felt more comfortable contributing something seemingly random/irrelevant?
  2. Two of the students commented at the end that they didn’t have much battery life left and were perhaps worried about using it up early in the day.

5 thoughts on “Experiences with technology: Second conditional & Socrative”

    1. No worries – I’m sure you’ll find it useful. Thanks for pointing out the broken link. I’ve removed it for now – I’ll put it back up once I can get the right URL.

  1. Thanks for your post It’s an interesting tool and I can see students enjoyed the task. I do kind of wonder about the language input and output though! What would you think if someone asked you what would you do if someone offered to buy you a fur coat?!! What would you say? My reaction would probably be – ‘what? What are you talking about?’ And then I’d imagine the conversation would continue with the person who asked the question telling an anecdote about someone recently offering to buy them a fur coat, which in turn leads to rather different questions and grammar: so what did you do? I would’ve told him to stick it where the sun don’t shine – creep! This is my issue with tech. Not so much the tech itself, but that too much of it is an extension of grammar games and word learning that doesn’t reflect usage and what students may actually want / need to say.

    Apologies if I’m being a little mean and this exercise may be an exception – bought about by the exercise in English File. So if I’m being a bit more positive, how about using it to brainstorm language that students might actually want / need to say or hear in different situations. For example, checking in to a hotel / at a bus stop / talking with a tutor who has set you an essay / watching a football match – there must be hundreds of situations. I can see something like Socrative might mean students aren’t influenced by others ideas and will come up with a variety of things which can then be expanded on the board. How easy it to correct / re-write and expand what students come up with when it is displayed on your screen / IWB?

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Andrew.

      The first thing I’d say in my defence is that I was covering for a teacher at short notice 😉

      Secondly, to my mind the use of Socrative in that lesson did enhance an otherwise standard and predictable coursebook task. The same thing could of course have been achieved by simply getting the students to write their second conditional sentences on the whiteboard. I think that would have taken longer to complete and, as you pointed out, the technology means certain students feel more confident in taking creative risks with the language they otherwise wouldn’t.

      Re. correcting and expanding on the language that students used, I used the mouse to highlight key parts of the sentences and elicited corrections from the class. These corrections would then have to be written by hand if you want them on the whiteboard. I didn’t feel it was necessary to do this in the lesson I described because the class was already quite familiar with the secod conditional structure.

      The question remains though as to whether taking about fur coats is really the best way to spend class time – I take your point there 🙂

      You talked about the problem you have with tech. Your comments suggests to me that your problem is not with the tech but with the teacher and how they choose to use it. I think this is true with any tool, technique or methodology that a teacher employs. For example, games. They’re a very useful piece of ‘methodological technology’ (to borrow a phrase from Phiona Stanley) but in the wrong hands can be easily used in ways that have no pedagogical value.

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