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 online 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 into 20 cards and leave the page with the target items (words, chunks) intact. Give each group of 3-4 students a set of 20 cards with definitions and a page with the target times. 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 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!


  1. An excellent blog post. Thanks for sharing!


  2. Thank you so much for sharing this! I have been using quizlet for a long time not knowing about all these possibilities!


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