Utilizing Cell Phones in the Classroom



Since the introduction of formal education, distractions have always been present in the classroom. With a growing number of students owning cell phones, these handheld devices have introduced a new challenge in the realm of classroom management. As students become increasingly attached to their cellular devices, teachers are becoming increasingly desperate to find a solution to the cell phone epidemic. Some teachers have implemented full cell phone bans while others argue that cell phones may actually be beneficial in the classroom. Proponents of cell phones in the classroom argue that, if used correctly, cell phones may be used as a tool to promote active learning and student engagement in the classroom.


This article will provide positive alternatives to cell phone bans for managing cell phones in the classroom as well as several strategies and applications for using cell phones as tools to promote active learning and student engagement.


Managing Cell Phones in the Classroom:

While cell phones can indeed be used as tools to promote active learning and student engagement, they are not necessarily a productive addition to the classroom 100% of the time. However, cell phone bans are not necessarily the solution. In fact, outright classroom bans on cell phones often do more harm than good. In classrooms where cell phones are “banned”, many students are likely to still bring their phones and attempt to use them without the knowledge of the teacher. Instead, there are more effective strategies to control student use of cell phones during times that they are not needed to promote learning.


Charging Station

One way to get cell phones out of students’ hands without the teacher actually taking them is to create a “charging station” in the classroom. Of course, this charging station may take many different forms, but the basic design involves various pockets or cubbies featuring charging cables where students may store their phones during class and then pick up a fully charged device when the bell rings.


Some teachers give students the choice of whether or not to utilize the charging station and they may offer incentives for taking advantage of the station. Others teachers simply state that their cell phone policy is that all cell phones must be placed in the charging station at the beginning of the period unless stated otherwise (i.e., when cell phones will be used during the day’s lesson). Either way, it is important for each teacher to determine what form of the strategy will be most effective in his or her classroom.


No matter what modifications are made to the strategy, the basic principle is able to remain the same: students are provided with a productive opportunity to distance themselves from potential distraction during instructional time.


A detailed explanation of how to implement a cell phone charging station in the classroom can be found here.


“30 4 30” Plan

The so-called “30 4 30” Plan was developed by teachers searching for a way to manage cell phone use in the classroom. As these teachers saw cell phones becoming an increasing distraction in their classrooms, they began to consider ways to get students to put their phones away without teacher confiscation. They wondered what would happen if during their 80-minute blocks, they offered students 30-second cell phone breaks for every 30 minutes of instruction. The strategy soon became known as the “30 4 30” Plan and it was an instant success.


In a published article about cell phone use in the classroom, a teacher involved in the implementation of this strategy wrote, “Instead of banning phones outright, which can send mixed signals when we also use phones as educational tools, the 30 4 30 plan offers a clear delineation between what is acceptable use and what is not. Allowing students access to their phone during regular intervals highlights the value of the phone, but limits the potential distraction, keeping it within a structured time and under a watchful eye.”


In the same article, the teacher shared the list of rules used within the 30 4 30 Plan:


  1. "As you use your phone for 30 seconds, the room must be quiet.
  2. You cannot hide your phone from me or any other teacher or administrator (this makes me uncomfortable and I will assume you are doing something bad!) as I/we walk around the room.
  3. You cannot call anyone on your phone and you cannot verbally answer your phone.
  4. After 30 seconds is up, the cellphone is physically put away (in the pocket, purse, backpack). Putting the cellphone on the desk, screen down with books on top of it is not considered ‘put away’” (Grafwallner, 2018).


Note: It is important to recognize that not all classrooms operate on 80-minute block periods and so the specific time intervals of 30 seconds every 30 minutes may not work in every classroom. Instead, the time intervals may be modified to best fit the time frames of each individual classroom. Nevertheless, the basic principles of the strategy may remain unchanged: “Allowing students access to their phone during regular intervals highlights the value of the phone, but limits the potential distraction, keeping it within a structured time and under a watchful eye” (Grafwallner, 2018).


The full article describing successful cell phone use and the 30 4 30 Plan can be found here.


Using Cell Phones to Promote Learning in the Classroom:

Aside from simply managing cell phones in the classroom, cell phones may also be used as a tool to promote active learning and student engagement. While there are many instructional strategies that may be used to accomplish these tasks, utilizing cell phones in the classroom is particularly effective for a number of reasons.

First, students tend to be very attached to their cell phones and many will jump at the chance to use them in the classroom. Students spend hours on their cell phones outside of the classroom, so why not use their favorite device as a tool for engagement and motivation? Students view cell phones as a fun, exciting piece of equipment and thus, the inclusion of cell phones in instruction will create a more fun and exciting classroom environment.


Second, cell phones provide access to a multitude of instructional tools all packed into one device. Access to these tools allows teachers to vary their instructional activities and thus, more easily maintain student attention and engagement.


Third, proficient use of technology is a twenty-first-century skill. Through the utilization of cell phones in the classroom, students gain an understanding of the classroom content while also improving their technological proficiency.


Fourth, cell phones can be used to help students with low attention spans. Students with ADD or ADHD will benefit from the variation in instruction allowed by including cell phones in the classroom. Students are also more likely to remain engaged through interactive virtual activities that can be accessed through cell phones such as games or collaboration tools.



Specific Strategies

There are many wonderful technological tools that can be used to promote learning and student engagement. These are a few popular tools and ideas of how they may be implemented in the classroom.


Backchannel Discussions

Many online tools may be used to implement backchannel discussions in the classroom. Writer, researcher, and professional learning consultant Beth Holland explains the value of backchannel discussions when she writes, “It can be difficult to collect every student's ideas solely in a face-to-face setting. Vocal students might dominate the conversation before more reticent ones can contribute. Younger students may be more eager to share their thinking, while older ones might hesitate because of social pressures. A backchannel creates ubiquitous opportunities. In a blended environment, students and teachers can communicate through multiple modalities, allow their thoughts to develop over time, and engage in authentic learning” (Holland, 2014).

Online Tools for Implementing Backchannel Discussions:




Mentimeter allows teachers to provide easy opportunities for student interaction throughout instruction. Teachers may add questions, polls, quizzes, slides, images, gifs and more.


When the lesson begins, students use their smartphones to connect to the presentation where they can answer questions, give feedback and more. Students may then their responses in real-time as they appear on their screens.


Once the lesson is over, the data collected may be shared and exported for further analysis. Data may be compared over time to measure student progress.


To learn more about Mentimeter, visit their site here.







YoTeach! is a platform that allows teachers to create online chatrooms for their classrooms. Once teachers create their rooms, they may create a password in order to increase the safety of the tool. Once students have signed into the room, they may submit responses, submit drawings, and respond to their peers. Student responses appear for the entire class to see, so even students who are reluctant to provide verbal responses may participate.


To learn more about YoTeach!, visit their site here.




Through Socrative, teachers may launch a quiz, receive exit tickets, or ask quick questions and receive instant student feedback. Teachers may see a visual representation of student understanding during the lesson as student responses appear on-screen in real time. This instant feedback may be used to determine next steps in the lesson. At the end of the lesson, the data collected by the app may be easily downloaded and analyzed in order to inform further instruction.


To learn more about Socrative, visit their site here.


Further Reading on Backchannel Discussions:


The Backchannel: Giving Every Student a Voice in the Blended Mobile Classroom by Beth Holland of the George Lucas Educational Foundation


Whispers in the Classroom by Sarita Yardi of the Georgia Institute of Technology, Department of Human-Centered Computing




Nearpod is a presentation tool that delivers lesson materials synchronously to all classroom devices. The site features over 7,000 pre-made lessons across all subject areas. The existing lessons may be customized or teachers may create their own lessons from scratch.


Each lesson contains interactive activities that engage students throughout instruction. As the lesson goes on, students may be prompted to engage through short answer, multiple choice, drawings, and more. Teachers may view student responses privately or they may show anonymous responses as part of the lesson.


To learn more about NearPod, visit their site here.




Kahoot is a game-based learning platform. Teachers are able to create sets of multiple choice questions that students respond to on their devices. The app features colorful images and upbeat music that further promote student engagement. Teachers may also add their own images, diagrams, and videos to their question sets. As with other apps, students are given a code to sign into their classroom. This feature ensures the safety and security of your students.


To learn more about Kahoot, visit their site here.




Padlet is an online curation tool that allows students to create a collection of notes, images, and links to online articles and videos. Curation encourages higher-order thinking in the classroom. According to Jennifer Gonzalez, a well known educational blogger, curation projects have the potential to put students to work at three different levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Through curative projects, students may understand by exemplifying and classifying information, analyze by distinguishing relevant from irrelevant information and organizing it in a way that makes sense, and evaluate by judging the quality of an item based on a set of criteria (Gonzalez, 2017).


For more information on using curation tools in the classroom, click here.


To learn more about Padlet, visit their site here.



Poll Everywhere

Poll Everywhere allows teachers to easily ask whole class questions and quickly identify gaps in student understanding. Teachers may also use the platform to spark group discussions with a colorful word cloud. Students may respond by visiting the Poll Everywhere website or they may text a designated number on their phones. The results appear in real time via an animated graph or chart embedded in the presentation. This provides easy access for both the teacher and the students to monitor comprehension and modify their behavior accordingly.


To learn more about Poll Everywhere, visit their site here.




Voxer is an app that allows for asynchronous discussion in or out of the classroom. Voxer allows students to create group messages in which they post voice recordings of themselves contributing to the conversation. Educational blogger Jennifer Gonzalez offers three possible uses of Voxer in the classroom:

  • Voxer Study Groups: “Put students into Voxer study groups and include yourself [the teacher] in each one, so when they have a question about homework or class content, they can ask each other and maybe even get an answer from you.”
  • Voxer Literature Circles: “Have students participate in literature circles on Voxer, including you in each group, and give them a grade for the quality and quantity of their participation. Even absent students can still participate!”
  • Voxer Staff Meeting: “Put your PLC, grade-level team, or department into a Voxer group. A Voxer chat can substitute for a meeting or at least cut way back on the time needed for face-to-face discussion.” (Gonzalez, 2015)


To learn more about Voxer, visit their website here.




ClassDojo is a communication platform that allows teachers, parents, and students to come together and keep lines of communication open. This can be as simple as a conversation between teacher and parent, if the teacher wants to remind students about a test coming up or simply just to let the parent know how great the student did that day in class. ClassDojo was built for teachers to get to know not only just the student in the classroom, but the family they belong to.


To learn more about ClassDojo, visit their website here.



As the influence of technology grows in students’ lives, it is imperative that our classrooms adapt accordingly. Cell phones certainly impact the modern classroom environment and with the appropriate strategies, it is possible to mold this impact into a positive one rather than negative. When cell phones are used as tools to promote active learning they become agents of motivation and engagement rather than distraction. In reference to the future of technology of the classroom, 38-year veteran educator Hari Krishna Arya wrote, “Teachers will not be replaced by technology, but teachers who do not use technology will be replaced by those who do.”


Works Cited

ClassDojo. ClassDojo, ClassDojo, Inc, www.classdojo.com/.


Godwin-Jones, Robert. “Using Mobile Devices in the Language Classroom #4: Best Practices.” World of Better Learning, Cambridge University Press, 29 Mar. 2018, www.cambridge.org/elt/blog/2018/03/29/mobile-devices-language-best-practices/.


Gonzalez, Jennifer. “6 Ed Tech Tools to Try in 2015.” Cult of Pedagogy, 6 Jan. 2015, www.cultofpedagogy.com/ed-tech-tools-2015/.


Gonzalez, Jennifer. “To Boost Higher-Order Thinking, Try Curation.” Cult of Pedagogy, 15 Apr. 2017, www.cultofpedagogy.com/curation/.


Grafwallner, Peg. “Cell Phones in Class: Yes, It Can Work.” KQED Education, 13 Sept. 2018, ww2.kqed.org/education/2018/09/13/cell-phones-in-class/.


Holland, Beth. “The Backchannel: Giving Every Student a Voice in the Blended Mobile Classroom.” Edutopia, George Lucas Educational Foundation, 10 June 2014, www.edutopia.org/blog/backchannel-student-voice-blended-classroom-beth-holland.


Kahoot! “What Is Kahoot!?” Kahoot!, kahoot.com/what-is-kahoot/.


Mentimeter. Mentimeter, www.mentimeter.com/home?utm_campaign=firstpage&utm_medium=web-link&utm_source=govote&utm_content=&utm_term=&_ga=2.65820714.581003016.1555956874-949474018.1555956874&utm_expid=.W_W3ZYfoTc2eTb2-Ghh6hQ.1&utm_referrer=.


NearPod. “How It Works.” NearPod, nearpod.com/how-it-works/.


Padlet. “Padlet Features.” Padlet, padlet.com/features.


Pedagogic & Active Learning Mobile Solutions (PALMS) Project. PALMS, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, palms.polyu.edu.hk/educational-apps/yoteach/.


Poll Everywhere. “This Is How It Works.” Poll Everywhere, www.polleverywhere.com/how-it-works.


Socrative. “Meet Socrative.” Socrative, socrative.com/.


Voxer. Voxer, www.voxer.com/.


Yardi, Sarita. “Whispers in the Classroom." Digital Youth, Innovation, and the Unexpected. Edited by Tara McPherson. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. 143–164. doi: 10.1162/dmal.9780262633598.143