AR for EAL

Using Moatboat for teaching EAL

Flora Floris and three of her students in the English Department at Petra Christian University describe the success they have had in using the AR platform Moatboat when teaching EAL. 

On the lookout for apps

In the English department at Petra Christian University in Surabaya, Indonesia, we are always looking for new ways to teach our subject. Two of our tutorial group, both students in the department, teach English to elementary and secondary students and were looking for an app which they could use to develop the acquisition of English vocabulary by their students.

We are all interested in Augmented Reality platforms: studies about the integration of AR in English language teaching, shows that AR can be an effective tool in improving students’ learning, since it enables a sense of timely interaction between real and virtual environments, encourages interactivity and engagement, and offers opportunities for students to develop their own content (Tulgar, 2019).

That’s the theory – but could it work in practice for us? Though AR apparently offers ultimate benefits when incorporated into English teaching, many teachers are not aware of this, or if they are, do not have an idea of exactly how to implement the technology within their classrooms.


What our group members online found was Moatboat, which seemed to fit their needs. The app was shared between us and we all thought it had potential. After a group discussion and trying out the app we came up with some plausible ideas for using it to teach English, and found it relevant for teaching both younger children and teenagers whose English was in the elementary and pre-intermediate levels. They seemed to be happy using this app for learning English and so we continued to use it and shared our experiences.

 Moatboat: an overview

Moatboat describes itself as the ‘world’s first creation engine’, allowing its users to type or speak instructions to add objects into a series of different worlds. The users can give simple commands such as ‘I need some cows’ to add cows into the user’s AR world, and ‘Cows eat grass’ to make the cows start eating grass.

Moatboat has over 1,000 different objects such as plants, animals, and buildings which can be placed across 15 different unique worlds. The users are given a chance to create their own ‘world’ from scratch or to explore the various virtual worlds provided, and create scenes within those. Furthermore, the app can be used inside the class or outside the school building.

Moatboat is available to download free of charge from the App Store and Playstore, and is labeled as a ‘social world builder’ for AR because its users can share their creations with others. Students can therefore use it individually, but it also opens up the possibility for collaborative and interactive works in which the users can build spaces together and direct character animations with typed text or voice commands.

Moatboat – ARKit from Moatboat on Vimeo.

Five suggested activities

These are activities that we have found work well in order to build vocabulary and language skills:

1. Vocabulary builder

  • The teacher introduces a set of vocabulary related to animals, fruits, schools, people, buildings, etc.
  • The teacher discusses each word presented in the set.
  • The teacher asks the students to bring the discussed vocabulary to life by developing appropriate instructions such as “I want to see some birds,” “I want to see the birds singing,” “Please put an Armadillo here,” or “Armadillo, go and eat the ant.”
  • The teacher gives time for the students to practice saying the instructions.
  • As a follow-up activity, the students are asked to share their creations and demonstrate how they can use the app to bring their new vocabulary to life in front of the class.

2. Animate a world

  • The teacher asks the students to choose a new word that they have just learned in their class.
  • The task is to use Moatboat to animate the selected word. In addition to the 3D image, further information about the animated object must be given.
  • The students will present their animated object and the details about it to their teacher and classmates.
  • Students can also record their presentation and submit it to the teacher.

3. Create a new world

  • After introducing some new vocabulary, the teacher asks the students to work in groups to build a virtual AR world (their own city or village).
  • The students must make use of a number of words they have just learned.
  • The teacher asks each group to share their virtual world.
  • Class discussions should follow on naturally after all groups complete the task.
  • As a follow-up activity, each group is asked to look at another group’s world and describe it.
  • Another follow-up activity is to ask the students to choose their favorite world.

4. Story builder

  • The teacher asks the students to work in groups.
  • Each group is asked to create a story by using the characters or the objects available on Moatboat.
  • Since Moatboat can also be used outside the building, the teacher should allow the students to find a setting outside as the backdrop for their story.
  • The students can tell their stories in a video recording. The recording will then be submitted to the teacher.
  • As a follow-up activity, the teacher selects a couple of very good stories and asks all students to watch the recordings. The teacher then asks some questions about the stories to see if the fellow students understand.

5. Celebrations

  • The teacher asks the students to create an interactive AR world for special occasions such as Christmas, new year, or birthday. The created world serves as a “card” addressed to someone special, such as parents, best friends, or teachers.
  • The creation should be recorded and submitted to the teacher or shared with their classmates.
  • An alternative would be to share the “card” with the intended recipients and record the receivers’ responses.

We all think this kind of AR technology creates a positive learning environment, promoting safe and effective interactions, while enabling our students to explore and learn English in powerful ways. We can certainly recommend trying it out!


Flora D. Floris is a senior lecturer at the English Department of Petra Christian University, Indonesia. Her main interests include language teacher professional development, teaching English as an International Language, and technology-enhanced language learning.




Charaqua V. Rawiadji is a final-year student in the English Department. She is into children’s literature and service-learning pedagogy.




Mercellene Petra is a final-year student at the English Department. She loves reading fantasy and young adult literature.




Natasha Harly is a final-year student at the English Department of Petra Christian University. Her favorite college subjects are creative writing and translation.






Tulgar, A. T. (2019). In between reality and virtuality: Augmented reality in teaching English to young learners. Selçuk Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Dergisi, (41), 356-364.


FEATURE IMAGE: by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash

Support Image:   kindly provided by Petra Christian University

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