Connect, Relax, and Refocus: Using Technology to Alleviate Anxiety for Language Learners

Tech tips
Three people sitting in library with books and notepads

By Becky Shiring

Using a second language around native speakers can be nerve wracking. I know this from embarrassing attempts I’ve made trying to speak Spanish. I overthink every word, pull out Google translate to check myself, turn red in the face, and stumble trying to get it all out. There is a plethora of research that examines language learning, stress, and anxiety (see Horwitz, E.K., Horwitz, M.B., & Cope, J., 1986; Pierce, 1995; Scovel, 1991). There is a large role teachers can play in helping to reduce this stress and anxiety. Let’s look at some tools and tips for helping to achieve this.

Create Connections
At our most basic level, we need to connect to learn. However, ELLs may feel anxious or stressed in a classroom that is socially and culturally different than what they are used to. Try out one of the following strategies to help students connect and create an inclusive classroom:

  • Share photos–everyone has at least one meaningful photo on their phone these days. Have students share a picture from their phone on a Monday after the weekend or use this activity as a first day of class icebreaker. And don’t forget to share photos of your own too. You’ll be amazed at how fast this simple activity can build classroom community.
  • Talk about your roots–as teachers of ELLs, we’ve all done the “make a poster about your country” lesson. But technology allows us to now take a journey there. Use Google Earth and Street View to get a live, 360° view of where a student is from. Or listen to live radio from around the world at Radio Garden to hear local news and music.

Research shows that mindfulness in the classroom can benefit students health, social skills, and academic performance. It can also help reduce teacher burnout too. This is great to see BUT if you asked me to teach students how to meditate, I’d probably run in the other direction. Luckily for those of us that can’t seem to quiet our own minds, let alone our students’, there is help!

  • Mindfulness–Calm is a mindfulness app (iOS, Android, Web) that helps people relax and learn skills such as self-awareness, concentration, patience, and resilience. They have started a classroom initiative that allows educators to use the app for free.
  • Breathing–Breathe2Relax is a free app (iOS, Android) and a stress management tool that provides you with information about stress and the body as well as guided diaphragmatic breathing strategies. Diaphragmatic breathing has been proven to help with mood stabilization and lower anxiety and stress.

When students are feeling anxious or stressed it can be really difficult for them to focus. Invasive thoughts prevent them from focusing on the paragraph they’re writing. The million things they have to do after class can distract them from their larger life goals. Below are two apps that can help with short and long term focus.

  • Noisli–Noisli is a free background noise generator that can help students relax and focus. The app lets you mix and save combinations of sounds that suit your taste. Choose from sounds like crackling fire, rainstorm, or falling leaves.
  • WOOP– is a free app (iOS, Android) that is based on the scientific principle, Mental Contrasting with Implementation Intentions, but that’s quite a mouthful. So more simply, WOOP stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan. The app walks you through these four areas and allows you to set and save goals and observe progress. This method has been shown to reduce stress, find solutions to problems, and improve time management.

Take a timeout in your class and make mindfulness or relaxation part of your weekly routines. You’ll find that teaching these skills can greatly impact students’ success financially, in relationships, and health in the future. And in the meantime, cutting anxiety helps students perform at their best in your classroom.

​​Becky Shiring is the Director of Professional Development & Continued Learning at Squirrels, LLC, a software company located in North Canton, OH. She works with educators around the country to provide professional development focused on utilizing technology in the classroom to promote higher order thinking. She has taught a variety of ESOL and ABE classes since 2006.


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