Dec 14, 2019

10 paper-and-pencil activities using Quizlet

I first mentioned Quizlet in a blog post in 2013. Over the past six years it has become a staple in many EFL/ESL classrooms. These days whenever I ask participants of my workshops to indicate by a show of hands whether they are familiar with Quizlet, almost every hand in the room goes up. That is with a rare exception of my recent session at TESOL Italy, where, to my utter surprise, none of the 10  or so participants had heard of this wonderful tool. But even those who do actively use Quizlet are not always aware of the 'offline opportunities' it affords. In this post I'd like to share 10 'offline'  (i.e. paper-based) activities you can do in the classroom using your Quizlet sets.

The activities below require printing Quizlet sets using various layouts - mostly small cards. At the moment of writing this, the Print function was nested under the More button (three dots).

Printing instructions (for activities 1 - 7)

In the More menu click on Print, then follow the following steps in the menu which will appear on the left (on the right of the screen you will see a preview):

Step 1: Choose a layout - small
Step 2: Customise your options - untick/uncheck Alphabetise; tick/check Double-side printing *
Step 3: Open PDF.

Quizlet will then generate a PDF file, which opens in a pop-up window. Clicking on Print will bring up the Print settings menu.

* Although the double-sided option is selected, most of the activities below do not require a printer with duplex printing functionality. The double sided option merely allows you to print items (Quizlet: terms) and example sentences (Quizlet: definitions) on separate pages and save paper.

This is what the PDF preview looks like after
you've selected all the options described above

Useful tip
The Small cards option will print 20 items on a page. That's why my Quizlet sets usually contain 20 items. Not only do they fit onto one page, it is a number that is manageable for learners because it gives them a sense of accomplishment and progress.

1. Match words with sentences + recall task

After printing the pages (two pages if you have 20 items) cut up the page with definitions / example sentences and leave the page with the items (words, chunks) intact. Give each group a set of 20 cards with definitions and a sheet with the page. Ask them to match the two by putting the definitions / example sentences on top of the words. After they finish, and when the target words have been hidden under the sentence cards, ask students to recall the words.

2. Match words with sentences + peer assessment

For this activity you will need at least two Quizlet sets. The preparation is the same as in Activity 1: the page with sentences is cut up; the page with words is not. Alternatively, if you're using only one set (of 20 cards), cut up the page with words vertically in the middle and give 10 corresponding sentence cards (left or right) to each group of 3-4 students. Do not give out the words (i.e. answers) yet.
Each group tries to complete the missing word/chunk in the sentence cards and writes their answer on the back of the card, which is blank (preferably in pencil). As a next step, groups swap their cards and try to complete the gaps again, then flip the card over and see the answer suggested by the previous group. After that you can give out the sheet with words and get each group to check their answers and award points for each correct answer before returning the cards to the original group.
Try it with this set:

3. Match words with sentences - 3 rounds of matching

Divide the class into several groups or pairs. The number of groups/pairs should be divisible by 3, i.e 3/6 groups. The activity is similar to Activity 2, but uses 3 Quizlet sets. Follow the procedure in Activity 2 for the first set with each group writing their answers on the back. After passing the cards on to a new group, each new group writes their answers on the front, i.e. they fill in the blanks in the gapped example sentence. Finally, the groups switch the cards again and a third group assesses peers in both groups by awarding points for correct answers on both sides of the cards.

4. How many do you remember? + answers on the board

This would be more suitable for small classes (4-6) people or 1 on 1 lessons. You only need the cards with the sentences - cut up as in the previous activities. Give the cards to the group and ask them to sort them into two groups. The ones the know the answers to and the ones where they don't remember the words. Monitor and take note of the words they don't know. Then write up the correct answers on the board but throw in a couple of 'distracters' and ask students to find the answer on the board. Do the same thing in the following lesson and see if the number of the words you write up on the board (i.e. the number of the answers students don't know) has decreased. Make sure that students don't write on the cards so they can be reused.

5. Match sentences with sentences

For this activity you will need a set with duplicate entries: the same items should appear twice with two different example sentences, like in this set: Students work in pairs/groups matching the sentences to each other (without seeing the answers). The activity highlights different ways of using the same word, and, in the case of polysemous words, can be used to show different meaning senses of the same word.

6. Guess the word

For this activity print more than one set. Or you can combine your existing sets into a new one (use the Combine feature in the More menu). See this set, which I created by combining 3-4 sets my group had covered. I had to tweak the word cards a bit to provide a bit more context - you can ignore what's written in the definitions (left over from the original sets) as you won't need this.
Give each group of 3-4 students a stack of about 20 cards with words/chunks. They should be placed in the centre of the table face down. Students take turns picking up the cards and explaining the meaning to their partners without using the word itself - in the case of longer chunks they are not allowed to use the word in bold (but can use other words). The student who guesses the word first gets to keep the card. Students take turns clockwise defining the items until all of them have been used up. The player with most cards at the end of the activity is the winner.
But you can play another round or two, depending on how much time you have. Groups can swap cards and continue with a new pack.
Try it with this set:

7. Put it in context

This is basically the same as Activity 9.7 in Lexical Grammar (here's your free bonus😉) The set up is similar to 6 but you don't need to tweak the word cards in any way. Like in the previous activity, students - in turns - pick up cards, only in this activity they have to come up with example sentences for the target words. After all students in a group have had a go, up the ante a bit. Stop the students and explain that one sentence is not enough for you to assess their understanding of the target words. From now on they have two make two sentences for each item. Provide a model/example on the board:

Please stop interrupting me. I really have to finish this essay.
(the first sentence contains the target item; the second sentence provides more context)
In the past a degree was all you needed to get a good job, but this is no longer the case.
(the first clause provides context; the second contains the target item
Let students work through their stack of cards for as long as needed. Monitor making sure they use the target vocabulary appropriately.

Printing instructions for activity 8

For this next activity you should use a different print layout. Also, you will need at least 40 items so combine two sets if your sets are around 20 words as suggested above.
Step 1: Choose layout: table
Step 2: Customise your options -> tick/check Flip terms and definitions
Print the PDF - you will need as many copies as the number of students in the class. Divide the copies into two equal piles.

The first pile: Cut each page vertically in the middle. There should be about 20 example sentences with words on each half-page (the number of sentences that can fit will depend on how long the sentences are). The second pile: Cut each page vertically in the middle and also cut off the words (i.e. answers).

8. Assess your peer

Divide the class into pairs. Give Student A in each pair one half-page without the words and the other one with the words; give Student B the other half-pages.

To put it diagrammatically, this is what each pair gets:

Student A: left half-page without the words / right half-page with the words
Student B: right half-page without the words / left half-page with the words

Student A reads the sentences and provides the missing word. Student B acknowledges whether the answer is right. If Student A is struggling, Student B should give him/her clues, e.g. a synonym, the first letter of the word or another example sentence. Student B should also keep tally of how many gapped sentences Student B gets right. Then students in each pair switch roles and repeat the procedure with Student B 'testing' Student A.
Students in pairs doing the peer assessment activity (Activity 8):
student on the left is 'testing' the student on the right

Printing instructions for activities 9-10

This requires a bit of fiddling but it's worth it, I promise! In the More menu (three dots), select Export. In the pop-up window that opens (see the screenshot below), select the third option \n\n to adjust line spacing Between rows (the right column). Then type in or copy the same bit of code \n\n in the left-hand column - Between term and definition. Basically \n\n is like pressing Enter on your keyboard twice. The result is double-spacing between your words and gapped sentences/definitions. As a matter of fact, you won't need the words - it's just easier to delete them when they are separated.

When you've achieved the desired format - you can see the how the exported text will look like in the window under the Copy text button - copy-paste the text into a Word document or Google doc. You can now delete all the words leaving only the sentences. Blow up the text to a relatively large size (e.g. font size 36) and make the document margins as narrow as possible. You should be able to squeeze four gapped sentences on to each page - see THIS EXAMPLE based on this combined Quizlet set: Print the document and cut it into strips with sentences.

9. Cloze on the board

You will need about 30-40 items - depending on the size of your whiteboard - so combine sets if necessary. Write the target words ('word bank') on the board with a board marker. Space them out so the words cover the whole whiteboard leaving some room under each. Put the sentence strips on a desk or chair in front of the board. Put a ball of Blu Tack next to them or, if you arrive sufficiently early before the lesson, stick a small piece of Blu Tack on the board under each word.

Students sticking sentences on the board (Activity 9)
On a cue (I usually play music) students come to the board, pick up gapped sentences and stick them under the missing words. They should continue until all the sentences have been matched with the words. By the end of the activity the whole board is covered with sentence strips - as you can see in the photo, I have quite a large board. Before bringing the activity to a close, you may have to correct wrong matches and go over the items that posed difficulty.

The whiteboard at the end of the Cloze on the board activity

10. Closed circle cloze 

Don't throw away the sentence strips from Activity 9! You can use them for this revision/regrouping activity, which I learned from one of the first teachers I worked with, Ruthie, who is sadly no longer with us.

You will need as many strips with gapped sentences as the number of students in class. Divide the sentence strips into piles of three. In each pile of three, write (with a pen or marker) the word missing in the first sentence on the back of the second sentence strip, the missing word from the second sentence on the back of the third sentence strip and the missing word from the third sentence on the back of the first strip - to close the circle as it were. In the activity students will have to do the same - 'close the circle' in order to form a group of three.

Distribute the sentence strips among students. Tell them not to show them to each other yet. The aim is to form groups of three  On cue, students stand up and mingle around the room holding their sentence strips up so that others can see the sentences (they themselves face the back of the strip with a word written on it). Each student has to find a partner who has a sentence that matches the word written on their strip of paper and be found by another student who has a word that matches the sentence printed on the front of the card. In other words, Student A looks for Student B, who looks for Student C, who needs Student A to close the circle. Once the circle is closed they can sit down; others continue looking and matching until all the class ends up in groups of three.

The activity can also work the other way around. Students hold up the strips of paper so that others can see the words (which you should then write with a marker), but not the sentences. Also note that you might have to join in to make up the numbers so that the total is divisible by three, or one group can consist of 4 people, e.g. a class of 16 students can be grouped as follows: 3 + 3 + 3 + 3 + 4

For more activities involving movement around the room, check out THIS POST.

As you have seen from the activities described above and the Quizlet sets I've shared, my Quizlet sets tend to consist of words and gapped sentences (with occasional glosses). I rarely use definitions because they don't provide context or co-text for the target items, which I believe are essential to the meaning.

If you try out one of the above activities with your students, leave a comment below to let me know how it went.

And one final point - save your printed sets so you can reuse them and save paper!

Mar 12, 2019

Still blogging - but elsewhere

CUP booth at IATEFL Poland in Wroclaw (September 2018)
Can you spot my book?
This is just a quick update. I know it seems like I haven't been blogging much since my book came out, except for the traditional News Quiz. But, in fact, I've written a few pieces that have appeared elsewhere in the past few months, mostly on the Cambridge University Press (CUP) World of Better Learning blog. Here are the links to my latest posts:

Jan 7, 2019

News Quiz 2018 - Follow Up

Activities for reviewing lexis from News Quiz 2018

Image credits: John Bauld [CC BY 2.0];
Alisdare Hickson [CC BY-SA 2.0];
NASA [PD image]
I hope you and - your students - liked the end-of-year news quiz, which I posted last week. As always, it is followed up by lots of activities aimed at reviewing and consolidating the language from the quiz, which I share below.

If you haven't seen the news quiz, it's not to late - click HERE

You can preview the activities below or download them in Word format and edit/adapt them as you wish. The key (answers) and teachers' notes are provided at the end of each level.

UPDATE: a Quizlet set for advanced level: 

Dec 29, 2018

News Quiz 2018

gilets jaune drapeau bbr sur les champs elysees nov 2018
Photo by KRIS AUS67 on Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
Although I haven't been a very active blogger this year - but check my posts on the CUP blog -  the traditional end-of-year news quiz is here as always! Focusing on key news stories from 2018 I tried to keep a balance between politics, showbiz and sports. And as usual, it's packed with lots of lexical chunks and other vocabulary items for your students to explore.

Aug 30, 2018

Present Simple or Hard Present ?

'The sun rises in the east' -
a commonly used example of the Present Simple
Photo by @CliveSir via ELTpics on Flickr
In a recent discussion in one of the Facebook groups (this is what seems to prompt my occasional posts these days), the Present Simple was referred to as 'one of the hardest tenses for students to get'. This made me wonder whether the Present Simple, contrary to what its name suggests, is indeed not so simple, or it is just another one of those teacher-induced neuroses. Let's see why there's so much ado about the most common, unmarked English tense.

Apr 6, 2018

8 dictionary activities

Photo by Hana Ticha
via eltpics on Flickr
A friend of mine has mastered English - which is attested by a CPE certificate - by looking up a word and carefully studying examples in a dictionary every day before going to bed. It was before the days of online dictionaries, so he was using a copy of the excellent Longman Dictionary for Advanced Learners. In the 1990s learners' dictionaries, such as Longman or Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary (OALD), started breaking away from the native speaker dictionary format (such as by introducing two innovations. First, they started providing definitions using a controlled vocabulary - in the case of Longman it was the Longman Defining Vocabulary (LDV), a carefully graded list of the 2000 most frequent words in English, similar to West's General Service List (GSL). Second, they shifted the emphasis from purely defining meanings to highlighting usage through carefully chosen examples.

As dictionary publishers moved increasingly towards online platforms in the 2000s - and some discontinued the printed version, for example Macmillan - learners' dictionaries made further strides towards improving learner experience. Today's online learners' dictionaries (see the list in my Essential lexical tools) not only offer natural examples and highlight co-text, their entries come complete with collocation boxes, grammar information and common error warnings. All this makes a good learner’s dictionary an essential, indeed indispensable, learning tool. Yet, despite their obvious benefits, I find, much to my regret, that online dictionaries are underused by learners and teachers alike. Here are some activities to get your students using learner's dictionaries and hopefully starting to appreciate their value.

Jan 6, 2018

News Quiz 2017 - Follow Up

Activities for reviewing the language from News Quiz 2017

Collage made with photos by [CC BY 4.0], 
Beyoncé (@beyonceon Instagram [fair use],
Alex Fau on Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
I hope you enjoyed the traditional end-of-year news quiz I posted last weekAs promised, here's a follow up: lots of activities aimed at reviewing and practising vocabulary (and a bit of grammar) from the quiz. If you haven't seen the news quiz, click HERE.

You can preview the activities below or download them in Word format and edit/adapt them as you wish. This year, the key (answers) and teachers' notes are provided at the end of each level - not as a separate file.

For a suggested sequence of activities, see last year's News Quiz Follow Up - click HERE

Update: Vocabulary from the quiz on Quizlet:

Dec 29, 2017

News Quiz 2017

Image source: Billboard
Not too many celebrity deaths this year, but there is a variety of science, sport, celebrity gossip and, inevitably, some politics thrown in. I've tried to vary the format slightly by including, where possible, two stories on the same topic for example, two discoveries, two pregnancies, two air travel related stories etc. to see if this can facilitate recycling of some key lexis from the quiz - more on that under Eliciting / Recycling in the Teachers' notes.

Dec 18, 2017

The state of stative verbs

or why I've stopped teaching them (and why you shouldn't bother with them either)

Photo by Emma Newman Segev
via ELTpics on Flickr
Like for many EFL/ESL teachers, stative verbs used to be a staple of my teaching menu. I had a great activity for focusing on them, which I have abandoned because I've come to realise that it served no purpose.

Sep 29, 2017

The double life of the asterisk sign

A small glyph with lots of functions
An article in Time magazine entitled The History of #—and 6 Other Symbols that Rule Twitter and the Web (published 4 years ago, but which I came across this year) talks about how various little known or underused punctuation symbols have gained more prominence after being adopted in computing and, more recently, on the social media. We learn that the at sign, @, was given a new lease of life in 1971 thanks to the creation of email, and the hash/pound sign, #, the formal name of which is octothorpe, was rehabilitated thanks to Twitter.

Sep 1, 2017

Four 'back-to-school' activities

Going back to school: some ideas for your first lesson(s)  

It’s September, the time when many are heading back to school (in the Northern Hemisphere). I thought it would be a good time to share some lexical (and lexico-grammatical) activities to start the year.

May 28, 2017

Powerful tea and other (im)possible collocations

Photo by Christina Martidou
via ELTpics on Flickr
How do you explain the notion of collocation to your students? Apart from using this great song, I often employ this simple technique: I write on the board: make and do (in the left column), homework and a mistake (in the right) and ask students to match.

Feb 27, 2017

Trendy terms, tantalizing techniques and talented teachers in Thessaloniki

A report from the 24th TESOL Macedonia-Thrace convention, which took place in Thessaloniki on 11-12 February

Earlier this month I had the pleasure to attend and the honour to present, for the first time, at the TESOL Macedonia-Thrace international convention in Thessaloniki. While the best thing about the conference - like with most ELT conferences lately - was catching up with teachers from my PLN, making new friends and connecting with professionals from all over Europe, here are highlights from some of the sessions I attended.

Jan 6, 2017

News quiz 2016 - Follow up

Photo by iphonedigital via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
Activities for reviewing the language from News Quiz 2016

Like in previous years, here's the follow-up to last week's news quiz: 13 pages of practice activities and exercises aimed at reviewing and consolidating lexis from the quiz (in 2 levels).

I hope you and students enjoy them as much as you enjoyed the quiz. If you still haven't seen this quiz, it's not to late - click HERE.

Update: Vocabulary from the quiz on Quizlet:

Dec 26, 2016

News quiz 2016

Photos by Chatham House [CC BY 2.0], 
Marie Lan-Nguyen [CC BY 2.0], 
wowser [CC BY-BC 2.0] on Flickr
There has been an unusually high number of celebrity deaths this year - so many that I could have built the whole quiz around it! Anyhow, here's my end-of-year offering in its traditional format, focusing on some key news stories of 2016. Like last year, I've tried to keep it light-hearted as much as possible. Politics is still there, but it's fairly evenly balanced by sports, travel and technology news.

Dec 10, 2016

One is better than none

One of my students showed her vocabulary (and grammar) notebook to her private tutor, who was surprised at the way new vocabulary was recorded in it. The student then conveyed the tutor's concerns to me, for example, that "pack in" doesn't have to go necessarily with the job (I'd taught the group "she's packed in her job"). She said, "it means 'finish' or 'give up'". I agreed. But where does it get you? If "pack in" can be substituted for "finish" or one of the other alleged synonyms (alleged because no two or more words are ever absolute synonyms - see HERE), can we say "I've packed in my homework"?

Oct 11, 2016

When we were young

Based on Adele's song from her third album 25, this activity can be used with Intermediate level and up. The main focus is listening to chunks, followed by discussion of the song and reviewing the use of like/as.

UPDATE (23.7.2019): After consulting Adele's official website it does seem that the bridge of the song goes It's hard to admit that... and not "It's had to win me back" as previously believed - thank you to my wonderful teacher trainees for pointing it out. The handout and the teacher's notes have been updated accordingly.

Jul 24, 2016

Does the chunk argument trump the plagiarism allegations?

Photo by Marc Nozell via Flickr
One of the hottest news this week has been Melania Trumps’ allegedly plagiarized speech. Why allegedly? Because although Donald Trump’s wife address at the 2016 Republican Convention bears marked similarities to Michele Obama’s speech at the 2008 Democratic Convention, there is not much in it that would effectively constitute stealing in the linguistic sense.

Jul 12, 2016

The L in ELT

A report from the International ETAI Conference "Engage Enhance Energize" which took place in Ashkelon, Israel, between 4 and 6 July 2016

When Naomi Epstein asked everyone who was planning to attend and present at ETAI 2014 Summer conference to sum up their teaching career and life in seven words, I wrote “Let’s put the L back in ELT” as my 7-word bio. Nobody seemed to mind or make a big deal. This is unlike LexicalLab's similar-sounding strap-line "Putting the Language back into Language Teaching" which has drawn criticism from some who found it arrogant and insulting.

May 14, 2016

Those who can't

I'm a ________ (1) teacher of English (what has recently become a bad word has been blanked out as to not offend anyone). As readers may have gathered from the content of this blog, I love language. I’m also a language learner. I’ve spent all my teaching and training career improving my knowledge of English and honing my understanding of how it works. Especially since I started teaching more lexically, I’ve been paying more attention to how words combine into patterns and how vocabulary interacts with grammar to create meaning.

Feb 20, 2016

Criticism of the Lexical Approach

"All chunks and no pineapple?"
Image by Andrew Malone via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
Writing an essay or working on a paper on the Lexical Approach and looking to include some sources that criticise it to make your writing balanced? I've collated a list of relevant articles here.

Jan 31, 2016

Be like Bill for grammar (and vocabulary) practice

The third person singular of the Present Simple tense is known to be particularly problematic for learners and when the "Be Like Bill" meme took social media by storm last week, I thought that it presents a wonderful opportunity to practise the problematic structure.


If you don't know Be Like Bill, it works something like this: you see in your feed an image one of your Facebook friends has posted which looks like this.

Jan 7, 2016

News quiz 2015 - Follow up

Activities for reviewing lexis from News Quiz 2015

Photo by Dustpuppy72 via Flickr 
[CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

Here's the promised follow up to the end-of-year news quiz: five pages of lexis-focused activities aimed at reviewing and consolidating language from the quiz. If you haven't seen the news quiz, click HERE.

You can preview the activities below or download them in Word format and edit/adapt them as you wish. The key (answers) follows below.

Update: Vocabulary from the quiz on Quizlet:

Dec 29, 2015

News quiz 2015

Traditional end-of-year news quiz for the first lesson of the new year

The dress which went viral
To tell the truth, I almost broke the tradition this year when I decided not to publish my annual quiz. The year has been so depressing I simply couldn't think of the news items that wouldn't be about terror and murder. But, at the insistence of friends and colleagues, here's this year's edition of the lexically enriched news quiz, which I've tried to keep light on politics.