Problem (Tech) Solved: Vocabulary Drills 1

For part two of this little series I have started, let’s take a look at vocabulary, which I feel quite certain has been learned using the same methods for centuries. I know memorization gets a bad reputation these days, but repeated exposure and studying are still important when it comes to learning new vocabulary words. Neither of these is particularly appealing to most students who probably view repeated exposure as redundant and studying as tedious.

The traditional flashcards on index cards are actually a tried and true method of studying vocabulary, so with some free resources, for example  Flashcard Machine and Quizlet, you are just adding a modern twist. The different features of whatever resource you choose to use are bonuses that can further engage students and support the learning process. Let me give you some examples of how I use Quizlet.

First of all, I am fortunate enough to have textbooks where the teacher’s resources provide definitions for the vocabulary words in each unit. For both my reading and listening/speaking classes, I made password-protected sets for each unit of the textbook. It  did not take me long, and even if I do not use them, I at least have them as something to fall back on for warm-ups, reviews, or short filler activities. If I choose to share these sets with students, I just post the link and the password on D2L, the learning management system (LMS) used at my institution. I used this method when I first started using Quizlet, and it enabled students to study using all the available activities. Success!

Over time, however, I discovered that I could do far more with Quizlet. Now I like to create a new set of words that is editable by anyone with the link and the password and assign a certain number of words to individuals, pairs, or groups. For example, I recently had fifteen students work in groups of three or four, and I assigned each group five words.  Each group added part of speech, definition, example sentence, and image to their assigned words. The unit had twenty words, and it did not take long for students to complete the entire set. We did this in class, and groups that finished earlier could get a jump-start on studying the words in the set by flipping through the cards. The same activity could also be assigned for homework. I did learn by doing this, though, that only students with Quizlet accounts are able to edit sets even if they use the link and password, so you will want to keep that in mind. Luckily, accounts are all free and registering is a simple process.

My favorite part of Quizlet is Quizlet Live, which essentially turns vocabulary drills into a game. For Quizlet Live to work, you need at least twelve words in your set and six devices. In my classroom, the students all have smartphones, so each student uses his or her own device. Six or more computers or tablets with groups of students clustered around them would work just as well. Even in my class, occasionally a few students do not have their phones or they run into technical difficulties. When that happens, I just add them to a group randomly and encourage them to participate by helping others. It works out just fine. Students go to and enter a six digit code to join the activity. Quizlet automatically sorts students into groups and when you start the game, groups of students compete to match the words with the definitions the fastest. If a group gets one wrong, they go back to zero. The first group to 12 wins. Here’s the twist: Say there are four students in a group. Although a definition pops up on all their screens, only one member of the group might have the matching word. To win, then, they need to communicate and work together within their groups. I think it is a very nice balance of collaboration and competition. If a group wins twice in a row, I shuffle the groups and play again. It is so easy to do in class even if you just have five minutes, and students really enjoy it.

Now, having described how to use virtual flashcards, I understand that some students—and I fall into this category—learn better when they actually hand-write their own cards. Those students can still write their cards. For everyone else, which I assume is the vast majority, vocabulary just got way more interesting.

How do you make vocabulary drills engaging? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

About Tara Arntsen

Tara Arntsen
Tara Arntsen recently completed her Master's degree in Teaching-TESOL at the University of Southern California. She currently teaches in the Intensive English Program at Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota. She has taught ESOL in China, Japan, and Cambodia as well as online. Her primary interests are communicative teaching methods and the use of technology in education.
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One Response to Problem (Tech) Solved: Vocabulary Drills 1

  1. Kathleen Heim says:

    I love how you’ve incorporated technology into teaching your ELs! I absolutely agree that repeated viewing and usage of words is how ELs will continue to build their English word-bank, so using technology “games” make it a more “fun” task. I love using Quizlet Live, and I think ELs greatly benefit from the communication aspect of it, as they are having to talk with their group members in order to find the answers- they’re using their new language in a fun, low stress environment!

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