Skip to main content

Designing Quizzes

As promised in my previous posting, here are some of my ideas regarding quiz design for English language learning following the tips suggested in Make It Stick:  The Science of Successful Learning.

  • Frequent quizzing
  • Create study tools that incorporate retrieval practice, generation, and elaboration
  • Reach back to concepts and learning covered earlier in the term
  • Space, interleave, and vary topics

If I could go back and include more quizzes in the English language courses I taught at the ESL Institute at the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse, I would start the class with a quiz every day for courses that were offered twice a week and every other day for courses that were offered four times a week.  Although I would design the time of the quizzes to be completely predictable, the content of the quizzes would be less so.

I would prefer that the quizzes take no more than 10 minutes of the class.  If all of my students and I had access to the technology, I would try to use assessment tools like Socrative to expedite the quizzing process.  There are many ways I could possibly design a five to ten minute quiz, so let me share some of them below.

I’ll start with a class that emphasizes reading skills as that I taught reading skills more than others during my last year at UWL.  So here are the various options I would use following the tips presented in Make It Stick.

EL (Reading Emphasis) Quiz Type A
5 quiz items about recently learned vocabulary
2 quiz items about vocabulary learned earlier in the term
2 quiz items about the content of the reading
1 quiz item about the purpose of the reading (open-ended)
1 quiz item eliciting prediction skills
1 quiz item that combines two or more of the elements above for elaboration (open-ended)

EL (Reading Emphasis) Quiz Type B
3 quiz items about the main idea of the reading
3 quiz items about the details of the reading
3 quiz items comparing/contrasting current reading with previous readings

EL (Reading Emphasis) Quiz Type C
3 quiz items about the sequence of events of the reading
3 quiz items changing the vocabulary item(s) of a given passage
1 quiz item about the purpose of the reading (open-ended)
1 quiz item eliciting prediction skills
1 quiz item that combines two or more of the elements above for elaboration (open-ended)

I included type C to demonstrate that I prefer to mix and match quiz items to make the quiz content somewhat predictable.  I would not give type A one day and then type B the next without offering a hybrid of the two in between.

What about grammar?  Many people, usually not young learners, new to language learning and teaching believe that it’s all about grammar.  As a language teacher and learner, I have found it easy to build grammar knowledge on my own.  Developing accurate grammar in use, especially speaking, needs constant practice, which does not necessarily mean drill-and-kill.  I see quizzes as motivating for students to build autonomy in terms of building grammar knowledge.

There are so many grammar quizzes available online and in commercially licenses books, that I feel teachers do not need to design their own.  They can use and/or modify the already existing ones.  When I taught grammar at the International University of Japan summer intensive English program, I suggested certain grammar quizzes online for students to take to prepare themselves for the grammar portion of the program-wide exams.  Perhaps I need a separate blog (and maybe even a website) dedicated to the plethora of existing grammar quizzes and how teachers can manage them if they choose to use them.

Speaking & Listening
At the basic level, I could easily design dictation quizzes.  For example, I could speak a sentence and students would have to choose which sentence I spoke from a given list.  It would take more time for them to write themselves, and then I fall prey to assessing their writing skills as well.  Granted, choosing the correct sentence out of a group assesses their reading skills.  I’m against isolating the skills anyway, but by design, you can tell which skill is getting more emphasize by the assigned task:  Listen and choose the right passage.

Quizzing speaking for a whole class seems silly to me.  I would design a different type of speaking practice activity altogether.  I previously wrote about some listening & speaking activities I designed and would like to practice whenever I get the chance.

As for listening, I like to update listening to viewing videos.  In most listening contexts, we have nonverbal cues that aid us in listening.  Probably the best example against this is talking to someone on the telephone.  I would design many listening quizzes based on videos the students have watched.  Because of the constant upgrading of technology, Universal Design of Learning, and user-experience (UX) design, English subtitles are easier to access, so I am not against students usage of subtitles to aid their listening for listening practice.  What I’m getting at is that many listening quizzes can be designed similarly to the reading quizzes with probably more emphasis on informal or colloquial language that people hear more frequently in spoken contexts.

I will not address writing yet as I believe many English language teachers use writing to assess the majority of what their students read, listen to, or speak.  Quizzing about student’s knowledge of writing, especially the rules, is closer to a grammar quiz.  

That's enough for now.  I'm learning to keep my blog posts more concise.  Perhaps I should create one quiz idea per post instead.  What do you think?


Popular posts from this blog

Research in the ELT Profession & Industry

My career has taken me to the uncomfortable and sometimes exciting spot in English language teaching or education in general: middle management, a term I dislike. As an advocate of teachers, I find my direction and passion by supporting teachers, helping them make their jobs more meaningful. Unfortunately, I have had to work with supervisors that didn't understand or share this vision. I'm not sure if they saw me as someone to "manage" teachers, but it often felt like it. If you don't know what middle management jobs are, and there are a lot of them, they go by many different names. Match any of the words in the left column with the words in the right column to create a job title that can describe the same job.

It seems that most of these job descriptions do not include research, which I believe is essential in developing curriculum and professional learning. It also seems obvious to me that a background in pedagogical research (and for ELT, research in applied …

Are you an Open Educator?

Image from What is an Open Educator? According to a recently published article from the International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning (IRRODL):

An Open Educator chooses to use open approaches, when possible and appropriate, with the aim to remove all unnecessary barriers to learning. He/she works through an open online identity and relies on online social networking to enrich and implement his/her work, understanding that collaboration bears a responsibility towards the work of others.

Does this sound attractive for English language teachers? It seems to some who offer courses through or with YouTube. But what does it mean "to remove all unnecessary barriers to learning?" Working for free? Not necessarily. If you read the article, it seems you'd be working on a sliding scale depending on the socioeconomic status of the learners, but this sliding scale is a sliding slope. How can poor le…

Revisiting Multiliteracies & Moving On

I have been interested in a multiliteracies approach to English language learning and teaching for almost a decade now. I've been blogging about it since 2010 and I gave a presentation on this for two conferences in Iowa. I decided to put this interest aside so I could complete my dissertation on another topic and search for jobs. Now that a few years have passed, I'd like to share how my interest has changed.

The foundation of my interest is best represented by the Prezi I made (below) for my 2010 MIDTESOL Conference presentation:

My primary reference was Stuart Selber's 2004 book Multiliteracies for a Digital Age, published by Southern Illinois University Press. While working for the Kirkwood Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (KCELT), I found some similarities between my highlighted concepts from Selber's book and the Framework for 21st Century Learning, which you can view at The third category (Information, Med…