Quizlet: Crowdsourcing Vocabulary

7 Nov

quizletI am jealous of my computer; it never feels stress. I do…way too often. And, way too often my stress is related to my inefficiency at providing timely, specific feedback to my students. Don’t get me wrong, I know I give meaningful feedback, but I wish it was all I ever did.

I am excited, then, when technology can help me out. When teachers outsource instantaneous feedback to a computer, the effect can be powerful, especially in areas like vocabulary acquisition. Language teachers understand that vocabulary expansion can be a grand equalizer, helping students rapidly improve other skills. Wide-ranging, free choice reading is my favorite way to help students acquire new vocabulary, but I also use some excellent web tools.

I am currently enamored with Membean (an online vocabulary system.) This post, however, is about an older love: Quizlet.

Both systems are effective ways to let technology offer timely and plentiful feedback. Each system also allows for students to engage in individualized and constructivist learning while freeing the teacher to offer differentiated, data-driven support.

Quizlet: the Basics

Quizlet allows users to pair words, images, and definitions. The easy-to-use interface makes finding copyleft images a snap, and my students especially like the variety of definitions. Users can type in their own definitions or select from definitions other users provide.

Once a set of flashcards has been made, this set can be kept private, shared with a select group, or made available to everyone. It is the sharing of these vocabulary sets which has made Quizlet so popular. Many, many useful sets already exist, especially for language textbooks. Have a quick look and you’ll most likely find something useful.

After a specific set has been made, Quizlet offers a variety of formative assessment modes to help the users learn and retain the words. The variety of game and quiz modes means that a user can take as many “assessments” as he or she chooses, and more importantly, receive instantaneous feedback.


The Common Quiz: My students especially like the flexibility of assessment/game modes, and when I do give them an in-class quiz over their words, they just pop up a quiz on their screens at the beginning of class and take it immediately. I record the scores from their laptops. In preparation, they can take as many quizzes at home that they like.

The Common List: In my first experiment with Quizlet, I created a “Tone and Mood” Word set for my IB English students. I started the list with five words, and then left the set open for editing. I then assigned each student five words (from a paper list), and gave the students three nights to set up a Quizlet account and add their five words to the common list. After this initial stage, I altered the settings on the list so nobody else could make changes.

This method was an incredibly easy way to crowdsource the creation of a longer list. Together, my students created a useful resource that helped them learn crucial vocabulary and prepare for success in the IB exams.

The Class List: At the beginning of my teaching career, every Monday started with my classes creating a class vocabulary list from the personal words they collected in their reading. Every student brought in at least three useful words (words that others would benefit from knowing…defenestration was out the window…forgive the pun).

We then constructed a list of 10-15 words that everyone would study that week. Quizlet did not exist at this time, so these words went on whiteboards and in notebooks, but if I ever return to this tactic (and I am seriously considering it), we will use Quizlet to disseminate these words.

I have also used Quizlet in tandem with a traditional vocabulary workbook. At the start of the semester, each student was assigned one of our weekly lists. Within a week, they constructed the Quizlet set for their assigned list. I then linked to these lists through our class site, and with very little individual work, we had a very useful, comprehensive archive of our vocabulary words.

Also, because each student was creating a list for their peers, a list that would be used by everyone, I found very few mistakes in the work. When mistakes were found, it was usually students asking other students to make corrections.

The Personal List: I have also used Quizlet to have students collect, archive, and study a personal vocabulary list. I ask students to add three to five words per week. These words must be “useful” (as determined by the students) and should come from their weekly independent reading, other course work, or personal lives. I wanted to engender a sensitivity for language, and I hoped students would begin to “pick up” the unfamiliar words that swarm them every day.

This system worked very well, and as I explain this process, I am baffled as to why I am not having my current students do the same thing. Does this happen to you, too? Certain methods or approaches fall away in the everyday chaos of teaching, and then you stumble across an old approach and think, “Hmm…I should do that again.” Well, at least I can do something about this. I know what our vocabulary lesson next week will consist of…

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