Popplet Ideas for ESL Teaching

Popplet is a user-friendly tech tool that is popular with teachers and students of all ages and disciplines.  It is a mind-mapping application for the iPad and the web that lets you capture and organize your ideas. Popplet is versatile, with an easy to use interface and a comfortable level of functionality, but with robust features that are especially suited to learning environments.

With Popplet you can instantly add editable text, links, images, colors and drawings to connectable bubbles called popples, and connect these popples to create visually informative landscapes of information. Teachers and students can collaborate in real time, and finished work can be presented using one of Popplet’s Presentation modes.

Popplet has steadily been gaining traction with ESL educators and language teachers. It’s hands-on, visual nature lets students form connections between facts and ideas in various ways. Dynamic and fun, it has the ability to make even the dryest of grammar points much more palatable – students become a lot more interested in the finer points of the Reported Speech  if they get to make a Popplet about it on their iPads or laptops!

Teaching English is not all about grammar however, and there are a great many other ways to put Popplet to good use in a language learning class.

Warm-up Activities

Popplet is a mind-mapping application, and brainstorming a subject is a good way of getting a class on the same wavelength at the beginning of a lesson: Thoughts from word association exercises using images and ideas, or answers in response to questions can all be visualized on a popplet board. Check out this warm-up popplet created by a group of young learners about to study the Past Simple:

Groups of students were asked to make popplets in response to three questions about their holidays – they had a lot to talk about, and created neat popplets that contrasted the past and the present. They also learned how to use Popplet in under fifteen minutes.

Reinforce/Demonstrate/Check Learning
Having students create Popplet boards for homework, or in class is an excellent way for them to demonstrate and reinforce what they are being taught, and to check that there are no gaps in their learning. It’s also a lot more fun than a written exercise! In saying that, you can add an exercise to a popplet if you want to. There is no grammar point, or any other point for that matter, that does not benefit from being made into a popplet. Errors always equal creativity. Here’s a popplet from a Cambridge FCE candidate, featuring every EFL/ESL student’s favorite subject – Prepositions:

There are a lot of ways Popplet can be used to teach vocabulary. The addition of images, text, and connections help students make the associations they need in order to remember and reproduce language. Rich word lists, Freyer Model type boards, words and pictures, prefixes and suffixes, and so much more. Below is a mind-map from an Upper-intermediate Science Vocabulary lesson:

Grammar becomes a lot more interesting when you throw Popplet into the mix –  not that grammar isn’t interesting enough already of course!  When grammar rules, complete with exceptions and embellished with examples, are brought to life on a Popplet board something remarkable happens:  An activity that could be a great big yawn to some students, transforms instantly into something fascinating and attractive. Most importantly, in my experience, students who create a popplet about the Present Simple for example, have a far greater chance of remembering and applying what they have learned.

Popplet has become a popular tool in the reading classrooms of schools and colleges, and It is proving equally valuable with EFL teachers for teaching reading skills: Students can easily make and share lists of words and expressions they don’t know; create popplets from analysing plot, character, and setting to increase comprehension; or create popplets from pro-reading or post-reading activities. Building author profiles is also a popular activity:

Popplet is used as a writing aid in K12 classrooms, and by writers as a planning tool because of its structural and creative features. Writing preparation is especially important for language learners, who have far less vocabulary than natural speakers of a language. To be able to create a comprehensible text, ESL students must first plan their writing and Popplet provides just what is needed in terms of structure and focus – especially important in exams. The following is a writing plan from an EFL student about social networking:


Popplet is perfect for comparing and contrasting information, setting exercises or having students create their own pronunciation popplets. Add and organize words, phonemes, images, links to sound recordings, and video. Here is a Silent “k” popplet:

Flashcards are like Popplet in that they are a simple and effective tool, never far from the reach of language teachers. With Popplet, teachers and students can create flashcards on any subject, and use them by employing one, or both of Popplet’s two presentation modes. Check out how to teach irregular past simple forms and past participles using Popplet flash cards:

Revision and Homework
Every popplet that you or your students make, can be referred to again and again, which is useful for revisions come exam time. Popplets can be saved as pdfs or high-resolution images. They can be printed, emailed and shared. An infinite number of collaborators can be added to a single popplet board, and they can be assigned varying degrees of access, which can facilitate group revision and homework.

Popplet is available on the web, and new users receive five popplet boards for when they sign up for a free account.  If you find you need more than five popplet boards, you can simply delete existing ones, or you can sign up for the full version of Popplet at the iTunes store. There is a free version of the iPad app: Popplet Lite, also available from the iTunes Store.

If you find any of these ideas useful, or if you are already using Popplet in your ESL classes then please let us know by sharing your ideas with the Popplet community on Twitter, and our Facebook page. To sign up for a free account, visit the Popplet home page.