By ​Chris Bourret

Expanding on a great idea from an earlier blog post about Quizlet, I want to get into more detail about the process of having students make their own vocabulary sets on the website, which can lead to improved student study skills and habits. I use a four-step process with a lot of scaffolding to allow students unfamiliar with the site to use it independently.

Quizlet can be a great tool to help students learn and practice new words. It’s not the only tool I use; I also use flash cards and Frayer vocabulary models. (Frayer vocabulary models involve making four boxes for a word, each with a heading such as “definition”, “similar words”, “opposites”, “sentence” to draw out the expanding meaning and context of the word for students.) Most students will take to the great online features of Quizlet, but some more traditional learners prefer more physical and tangible ways of learning, so it’s good to have multiple options students can choose to study from. No matter if it’s a paper-based or electronic tool, it’s important to scaffold the tool to help ABE and ESL students become more independent learners.

Traditional Flash Cards

Freire Model example

Frayer model

Making a Quizlet vocabulary set

Step One: I first like to introduce students to a vocabulary list I’ve made on Quizlet. The list is based on words just encountered in a class reading or video. With a free teacher’s account, I make sets with the word, definition, image, and then, once assigned, students can practice these words (see image above for how making a vocabulary set looks). Once a set of words is made, I can assign the words to my class for them to practice on, whether on their smart phones, tablets or computers. Students can choose from several options to practice: Flashcards, Spelling, Test, Learn (practice fill-ins) and games Scatter and Race.

Quizlet options students can study with

In this first step of this process, I like to show students the options Quizlet has. I do this with the whole class, step by step. I have them follow my directions, with Quizlet projected on the big screen as a guide, so they can make an account (note: it’s easier if you can get students to set up e-mail accounts before logging on), link them to the vocabulary set I made and then have them click on each activity that they can study and practice with. I can monitor as they go through each activity, checking to see how well students can use the site, provide help if need be, and see what they think of the site, especially in comparison to the other ways we’ve already studied vocabulary. Of course, be ready: this initial introduction to Quizlet could take a while, over many class periods, depending on the tech abilities of your class. I do find that students pick up on the features of Quizlet very quickly, no matter what their tech level. More trouble may come from just getting students to sign up and later log on, as some may forget their e-mails or the Quizlet passwords they created. Encouraging them to write down their passwords or helping them choose effective passwords they can easily remember helps.

Examples of Quizlet practice and test features

Step Two: Once I feel students are comfortable with logging in and using the site’s practice functions, the next time we use Quizlet, we can make the study set together. Using the screen again, with a projection of the website for all students to see, I give students directions on how to put the set together. At each step they are following me, typing in the same information I am, putting in the same pictures, and saving the set. Once we’ve made the cards together, they can start to practice on their own, like in step one, and I monitor them, getting feedback on how easy it was for them to make cards. Depending on learners’ tech abilities, we may need to repeat the step of making cards together a few more times.

Step Three: The next time around on Quizlet is similar to step two, but now I elicit the steps from the students: “Ok, tell me what to do now”, “What should we do next?” As they tell me each step, I input the information so it shows on the big screen and they follow on their accounts. Through this approach, I can see how well they remember the steps as we make the cards together. This is a great formative assessment to see how well they understand the steps to make the vocabulary set. It’s not uncommon to see student confidence soar at this point by explaining to me what to do. It’s also a great opportunity for the teacher to remind students of the skills they are acquiring by being able to get on the website and create cards effectively.

Step Four: Once they are able to explain to me how to use Quizlet, it’s time to see if they can make cards independently. So, the next time vocabulary review comes around, I give them the words we’ve covered in class, and they make the cards on their own. I encourage those struggling to get help from fellow students, not just me. If you can see that students can do this step, you know as a teacher you’ve succeeded! If many are really struggling, it’s time to go back to step two or three again for more scaffolded practice.

Once the class seems proficient in creating Quizlet sets on their own, each time a new list of vocabulary items is ready, I give students the option of either making cards, Frayer models, or Quizlet sets. They have to choose one of these options, and are required to show me their finished results. Quizlet is chosen in the majority of cases, but not always. As the year progresses and more vocabulary lists come up, students now have the knowledge and ability to study words independently. With Quizlet, it’s easy for them to go back and practice past word lists, as they have them in their account. Many students will realize that vocabulary set creation is a transferrable skill that can help them in future classes or other endeavors.

Going through this process of “letting go” and eventually getting students to use Quizlet on their own, it’s easy to see how quickly students develop their study skills and learn the words. Another surprising result from doing this approach has been the helpful feedback from students. For example, the images used with higher level vocabulary items may hinder rather than help students. Some learners reported that in practice, they were just essentially matching the image with the word, but not really learning the definitions for the words. Some students decided having no image was better for them when making their cards. I would never have learned this tidbit if I had just kept making sets on my own and assigning them to students. One last benefit (though I never tell students this) is that this process also eventually saves the teacher time, by getting students to perform all the work of making the vocabulary sets that they can practice on and even share with each other.

Helping students become independent learners by developing their own Quizlet sets is definitely worth it. If you try this method out, let us know how it goes and good luck!

P.S. – Here is a link to the Frayer vocabulary model.

Christopher Bourret is a Lead Teacher/Program Coordinator with Rhode Island Family Literacy Initiative (RIFLI). Chris has taught for over two decades in higher education institutions and adult education programs, including five years in Poland for US Peace Corps. He helped pilot the Words2Learn project, which developed an app that accelerates learning of academic and health career related vocabulary for adults preparing to enter post-secondary education and technical training. Chris serves as Vice President for the Coordinating Council for Rhode Island Teachers of English Language Learners (RITELL).

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