Interactive Student-generated Vocabulary Quiz

Alan Mackenzie


  • Key Words: Vocabulary, Testing, Evaluation
  • Learner English Level: False Beginner and higher
  • Learner Maturity Level:Jr. High and older
  • Preparation Time: minimal (enough to select 10 words)
  • Activity Time: one class period or two, with homework assigned

A lot of the the language teacher's time and energy goes into the development of classroom vocabulary tests, but having students generate their own tests may give them and the teacher a better idea of how well they know the target words, how well they can use them, and where their weaknesses lie.

The following procedure relies entirely on the vocabulary knowledge of the student. It allows multiple measures of vocabulary knowledge and retention to be recorded and provides an opportunity for expansion and clarification of vocabulary knowledge. The procedure may also give the students a sense of inclusion in their own assessment procedures: Students could be asked to keep track of their own scores throughout the term for eventual inclusion in a portfolio. Alternatively, the procedure might be repeated, students asked to change their sentences, and the answers rescored to discover improvement or further problems.

Using very little classroom time but a lot of the students' mental processing power, this procedure provides an interesting and authentic context in which students may encounter the target vocabulary.


(Vocabulary has already been introduced and assigned to be learnt before the lesson.)

1. Read aloud a list of about ten words, twice at the most. Students should write these down. Leave only enough time between the words for students to complete writing them.

Possible test scores: Word recognition -- Score the number of words the students heard.

Spelling -- Have students read the words back to you, spelling each word as they do. Score the number of correctly spelled words.

2. Next, instruct students to write ten or so sentences, one using each of the words on the list, in random order, but with blanks in place of those words. Inform them that each will create a test for another student, who will then have to fill in the blanks. Give the students five to ten minutes to make as many sentences as they can. For added authenticity and difficulty, have students include all the words in a unified story or text. For decreased pressure, have students complete this stage for homework.

Possible test scores: Percentage of correct cloze-sentences created. This can be taken as a measure of how easily the students can use the new vocabulary. Students often start with the words they are most familiar with and end with the more difficult ones. The speed with which they can create sentences may also indicate relative mastery.

3. Have students exchange papers in pairs or threes and give them a further five minutes to fill in the blanks. When they finish, have the cloze creator check whether the answers were what they expected. Have students discuss which items are correct, and where they had problems. The teacher should circulate, helping when students have difficulty and clearing up conflicts of opinion.

Possible test scores: Percentage of blanks filled in correctly.

This final part of the procedure might appear on the surface to be messy, but it actually provides a lot of opportunities for discovering false assumptions about words, discovering and clarifying usage problems, and introducing alternatives. Students tend to use this stage to work out what their mistakes were, why they made them, and how to deepen their working knowledge of the target vocabulary. The completed quizzes can act as a diagnostic aid as well as a teaching opportunity.

Here are some examples of how such confusion can be used to advantage. The italicized words were the target vocabulary in an adult pre-intermediate class concerning money. The sentences appear as originally written by students:

Collocation differences:

*I borrow money to him

This example presents the opportunity to teach that "borrow" usually collocates with "from,"while "lend" collocates with "to" and that the "from" and "to" indicate the direction in which money flows when these words are used. Sometimes words are actually larger than one word (Lewis 1993).

Word form problems:

*Going to station by bicycle is economy.

This shows that the student has problems with word forms. It also presents the opportunity to deal with the difference in meaning between "economic" and "economical."

Word order differences:

*In the future, your collection of stamps will be more worth than now.


*I will lend 1O,OOO,OOO yen to buy new car.

This presented the opportunity to highlight the need for a second person in this sentence.

Common usage problems:

*Gold and Silver is not same worth? value?

An added advantage of this procedure is that teacher preparation and scoring time is greatly reduced. The teacher is then freed to take more time over analysis of scores and dealing with particular students' vocabulary problems. Analysis of errors made may also indicate areas for future classroom focus.