Home Free Tools & Resources Why Using SMS Texting in the Classroom can be a Great Idea

Why Using SMS Texting in the Classroom can be a Great Idea


Texting CAN be an Educational Tool

Teaching has changed in the last years. Students are more involved in their own learning, having the necessary space to discover solutions. Professors, on the other hand, are able to do things that were not possible before, such as going on virtual trips, sharing content online, and engaging with social media. Allowing the use of technology in the classroom can encourage active learning, producing new understanding and knowledge, inquiry, and, last but not least, exploration.

One of these technologies is texting. If you’re a teacher, the words ­texting and ­classroom might sound pretty contradictory. Almost every school has some sort of “no phones” rule in place. Texting is generally considered to be a major distraction. Or so we think. Technology isn’t inherently bad and, in the hands of a gifted and passionate teacher, it can be an excellent tool that boosts student engagement and facilitates informal learning.

The surprising correlation between texting and writing skills

SMS messages are popular with students for many reasons. One reason is that they allow students to express themselves through texting language. When a student sends text from Gmail, you can track a child's level of written language proficiency. Text messages and “text speaking” usually help develop foundational reading skills. These are word recognition and phonological awareness. Use text messaging to discuss formal and informal language and writing for different tasks, audiences, and purposes. These are all necessary skills to meet college and career readiness standards in reading, writing, language, speaking, and listening. Text messaging is writing, and students who write frequently participate in frequent writing. Therefore, it is wise to use this tool as the easiest way to help students develop their writing skills!

For decades, teachers have been under the impression that texting affects students’ writing skills, forcing them to become more and more concise until they supposedly lose their ability to express themselves in anything other than abbreviations and emojis. However, one Stanford study offers fresh insight on the matter. As part of this study, researchers compared 877 papers written between 1917 and 2006 and found that there is no significant increase in the number of errors. Even more interestingly, students write longer and more thorough papers compared to those of their predecessors. So no, texting doesn’t cause students to lose their ability to write. Though abbreviated, texts still follow the same correct grammatical structure and there’s even an increased phonological awareness because students learn what letters to use in their abbreviations to get their message across.

Texting and digital storytelling

Storytelling is one of the best ways to communicate. It provides information, understanding, and context. Out of all the knowledge that you can try to instill in students, storytelling makes the biggest impression. Students love to share their personal experiences and relevant connections. Sharing stories and events can be done through words, sounds, and, of course, visual images. If you want to try informal education with contemporary methods, teach storytelling with SMS messaging.

Ask your students what story they want to tell. No matter the genre, whether fiction or non-fiction, everyone has a story to tell. Pick someone from the class to start the story. The student that has been chosen to break the ice will write the beginning of the story and sent it to others via text. The rest of the class will pick up the story from there. Each individual contributes to the narrative, adding their own elements. When the assignment is completed, you can read the story out loud or print it. The result may be more compelling than you think. For example, there’s already an app that does something similar. Hooked, which was dubbed “fiction for the Snapchat generation” lets users write short stories in the form of text messages and the play on short sentences and punctuation marks can create some amazing thriller, mystery stories.

Use texts to make fun translation exercises

Translation has its rightful place in communicative methodology. It does not confine language practice to reading and writing. Translation is a complex process that encourages thinking in one mother tongue and transferring the meaning into another. If you want to get students excited about translation exercises, use text messaging. Electronic messages help students learn how to deconstruct sentences, not to mention that they are a great way to improve grammar. The students need as much translation practice as possible, so make the lessons more captivating.

Start by greeting the class with a friendly question like “What are you up to?”. From there, focus on maintaining an informal tone and, most importantly, keep the conversation live. In the end, make sure that the learners translate the text exchange. Photocopy the text messages and their English translations and transform this into a worksheet. Talk about abbreviations and acronyms. Students should be able to decipher any text language that they encounter. Even though it might not sound like a crucial translation exercise, it applies to real life situations. Translating books, newspapers and academic sources is a great way to practice, but a language is like a living organism and students should be able to use it outside the classroom as well. A student that enrolls in a foreign exchange program will text with fellow classmates at one point or another, so your fun translation exercises will come in handy. Remember, texting is a major means of communication and students should be able to translate messages via this channel too!

Teaching students how to do online research and filter information

As an educator, you are able to communicate answers to various questions quite fast. Students put the information into their own words and learn by discussing notions and concepts with their classmates or with you. A considerable portion of their knowledge comes from the Internet. This is the primary medium for seeking knowledge, which is why you have to teach the young generation how to use it as an academic tool. Teach students how to gather and filter information from an Internet search. There are many methods that you can use, but here is one that has the desired effects.

Try teaching students how to do a reverse phone lookup. Send out an SMS to the entire class, preferably from an alternate device, and have them track down them find out who sent it. It is not possible to deploy Google’s phonebook search anymore, so the alumni will have to use a reverse phone lookup tool to obtain owner details. By searching the number on the Internet, they will know who is texting and if it is necessary to take action. Ask your students what the best websites are and teach them what to do with the information provided by those sites. There is a lot to be learned from finding, filtering, and using information.

Implementation challenges and things to consider

As you can see, texting and education don’t have to exclude each other. By using a format that students are familiar with, you can get them to engage in informal activities that develop literacy and writing skills. However, like any unstandardized teaching method, it has some implantation challenges that you should be aware of:

  • Teaching via texting isn’t appropriate for all ages. Junior and senior high schoolers all have phones, but most kids in primary schools are too young to use them or bring them to school.
  • Lessons that include texting should be organized in advance because it’s highly unlikely for a class of 20 students to have charged phones with an active data plan at all times. Keeping a few extra chargers around class is also a good idea.
  • You’ll have to talk to the school board to get their approval. If your school has anti-phone policies in place, asking students to use their phones might get you in trouble.
  • Students need to understand that, while it may be informal, texting in the classroom is still a school activity. To make sure things don’t spiral out of control, set up some ground rules and only allow students to use texts for the purpose of the class, not to chat among themselves.

In spite of these small barriers, texting can be a great way to complement traditional education. It’s fun, engaging, intuitive and, although it may seem distracting, it can help you boost class participation and develop communication skills.


  1. Hi Mark – Thanks for you comment. I appreciate your concerns and I was also surprised that this piece was referring to a study that was that old when Carol submitted this guest post. I have 3 kids who have grown up through this last, digitally overwhelming decade, and I find it natural to have thoughts along the lines of what you have written. This is precisely why I read the study and published this guest post. The study presents a compelling, data-backed argument to dispel some of these types of concerns and show that kids are still improving as learners and writers despite the prevalence of tech. Of course, it would be interesting to see an updated study along the same lines, but in the meanwhile it is important that we try to keep a balanced perspective. The world is going to change whether we like or not. I remain quite concerned about the many downsides of digital (and written here about it often), but at the same time I want be open to the many upsides and positive uses as well.

  2. The study you highlight ended in 2006, 13 years ago. The data is no longer relevant. Much has changed in regards to the distraction and dependence upon screen time. Mind numbing addiction to entertainment should not be confused with “guiding their own learning”. A developing adolescent mind side tracked by media induced pablum, devoid of creativity because it is all provided content is hardly conducive to anything approaching a best practice.

  3. Thanks Carol. This search turned up a number of more recent studies (I shortened the link because Google generated a very long search string, but what I actually searched was “study research student “text messaging” classroom teaching learning” – I put “text messaging” in quotes to require that the phrase be a part of the search results): http://ow.ly/7fCn30oFR1y

  4. Thank you! Loved the suggestions for activities that can be done with students via texting.

    Appreciated your citing the Stanford study, but it was done about 10+ years ago. Do you know of more recent studies proving research-based evidence on the benefits of texting?


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