Things I have learnt about Quizlet from Leo Sellivan’s Webinar!

IATEFL run regular webinars for English Language Teachers to participate in, fortunately for us, and this afternoon I was lucky enough to be able to spend an hour listening to Leo Selivan share his knowledge of the power of Quizlet. For those who don’t know, Quizlet is a website that enables you to create sets of flashcards, using words and/or images. I am a big fan of Quizlet, having used it for my own language learning, and have tried to help learners use it too, by creating self-access materials for them to use. Coincidentally, as the webinar started, I received notifications saying a learner of mine was adding a set to one of my Quizlet classes!

Here is what I have taken away today:

To help you navigate this blogpost, the structure of webinar went thus:

  • Key principles for learning vocabulary
  • Quizlet functions
  • Writing definitions
  • Tweaks and tips

Key points I took away:

  • Memorable and manageable is what vocabulary recording should be!
  • Disadvantages of lexical notebooks:

– Students’ reluctance to go back and add in new items to existing topics. (If organised by topic or key words)

– Students view it as time consuming, possibly waste of time and prefer to record vocabulary in a linear fashion rather than elaborating on existent entries.

– Students’ notes and your notes not in synch.

– The notebooks do not provide active recall practice (ARP is necessary to commit new vocab to long term memory): Students can see the words in front of them, so they don’t need to try and retrieve them. Whereas ARP aids memorisation process.

  • Research shows that incidental learning of vocabulary is not enough.

Learners need practice activities. (This is the principle I applied to my Italian learning by transferring language from sources e.g. books, audio books etc to Quizlet!)

Decontextualised vocabulary practice is perfectly justifiable and learners, especially adults, can learn vocabulary out of context. (Like I did with Quizlet and my Italian!)

– We need a combination of both contextualised and decontextualised practice and use.

– The Communicative Approach sees language as a tool but vocabulary experts today say that it is justified to treat vocabulary as an object of study, not just a tool for communication.

NB: Leo cited Laufer B (2005) – I think the title was Focus on form in second language vocabulary learning but check his reference slide to be sure – as the source for this information

To learn vocabulary we need frequent encounters with new items. 5-15.However vocabulary learning isn’t only increasing the size but also how well you can use the words that you know. E.g. depth as well as breadth. Depth is all about the how of the word rather than just the what.

Meaning is important but form is too. Students may think they know a word because it looks like they a word they know. E.g. adopt – adapt. This leads to over-estimation of vocabulary knowledge.

We should exploit L1. Especially in a monolingual setting.

– We should provide focused engagement with new language. Opportunities to manipulate, use it in different contexts etc.

Enter Quizlet!!! <drum roll!!!>


When you access the website, you are presented with the functions of: Flashcards, Learn, Speller, Scatter, Space Race and Test. 

However, Flashcards, Scatter, Speller, Learn, Space race, Test  is Leo’s suggestion of the order in which students should use the functions, as this represents easy to difficult, or receptive to productive with increasing challenge. (This I found particularly interesting, as I had never thought about it before, though in my own use of Quizlet have tended to go for the Learn function as it gave me the right level of challenge (also because I got used to using it on my iPad, in preference to the easier alternative of the matching mode), but once I was used to the language would use the test function and the space race function too, on my computer. I had never analysed my usage in this way before and now it makes more sense!)

  • You can create classes. Yup. But as a free user, can only have 8. If you want more, you can create folders.
  • It has as a mobile app, so you can practice on the go.

Writing Definitions:

  • Gapped definitions can be more useful for co-text, also more personalised as it is your example sentence.
  • not useful for learners, as definition uses more complex language than the word being defined. Use good online dictionaries e.g. Cambridge, Macmillan, Longman dictionaries. Leo’s blog has a section called essential lexical tools, well worth checking out.


– define a word with its synonym: This gives the false impression that the words are interchangeable, whereas they collocate differently etc. E.g. What’s happened to you? Ok. What’s occurred to you? Not the same.

– rely on user generated content: you can add your own definitions, you can select from list of readymade definitions from other users, learners may not know the synonyms and they don’t work in the same way. Be careful, or becomes ‘usergenerated nonsense’

Bear in mind:

– 9 different aspects of knowing a word: spoken and written form, meaning, spelling, collocation, grammatical patterns, constraints e.g. appropriate in informal or formal context, connotation etc. Textbooks tend to only pay attention to form-meaning links, neglecting other aspects. In classroom interactions, teachers also tend to focus on teaching means rather than the other aspects of word knowledge: “The tip of the lexical iceberg” as Leo put it!

The collocation of a word may result in different translations in another language: E.g. heart conditions vs terms and conditions.

– Co-text is important for learning a word. NB: Context is the story or situation happening around a word whereas co-text is the words immediately surrounding the word e.g. have an accident or by accident. “The linguistic environment”.

Alternatives to definitions

(You can find Leo’s example flashcards to see that he practices what he preaches and have a play!)

  • Example sentence with a blank plus definition in brackets at the bottom. And word on other side.
  • Give example collocations
  • Multiple Prompts
  • Collocation chains e.g. lots of adjectives which collocate with the same word, being the target word. (works really well on Scatter)
  • Phrase and translation: perfectly acceptable and you can also negotiate the translation in class.
  • Phrase in a conversation: Provide phrases within a conversation, e.g. the phrase is taken out of a dialogue. But in learn mode, all that conversation is what you have type in in learn mode, so it is difficult. Less text is easier for the learn mode.
  • Word and collocate in co-text sentences with first letter clues. You can increase or decrease challenge in this way, e.g. by adding the last letter too, or not.

Useful to know:

  • “…” multiple dots indicate whether it is the first part or the latter part of the collocation, which is useful information when trying to access the correct answer in your brain! e.g. fallen into… …disrepair

In learn mode, do you have type in all those multiple dots. If learners type the answer correctly without multiple dots does that means Quizlet would reject the answer? Fortunately not!

  • What happens if you have a few instances of the same word, e.g. prepositions, when using scatter mode? You can use any instance of a word with any correct match. As long as it fits the sentence correctly it will be considered correct by clever Quizlet. (Good to know!)
  • You can bold certain items! When you enter the definition, you put stars on both sides of the word or group of words that you would like to bold. So, you can highlight dependent prepositions, for example. Or bold the gapped sentence and leave the definition normal.

Another tip Leo offered was to encourage students to take screen captures of their scores and times from their out of class study and compare in class!

Finally, I discovered that he introduces learners to Quizlet in a similar way to me, but including his special order of use of the functions (see above) that I will be bearing in mind from now on!

This was a fantastic webinar, which this post only gives the merest overview of, and I fully recommend accessing the recording on the IATEFL website if you can, or if/when Leo publishes his slides or any blog posts about it, visit his blog. Leo blogs at Leoxicon, which is well worth a visit, with plenty of quality content.

Thank you, Leo!


Quizlet for learners: a step-by-step guide

Quizlet  is a website that enables anybody who wishes to learn anything to make flashcards related to that topic. In the case of English language learners, it is a very useful tool for learning and revising vocabulary.

Using Quizlet, learners can make their own sets of flashcards, then use these flashcards in various modes for studying, testing themselves and playing games to improve their recall of the vocabulary. I have just finished making a step-by-step guide to Quizlet, so that my learners can try using it themselves at home.

My materials contain step-by-step instructions and screenshots, showing learners how to:

  • find Quizlet(!)
  • sign up
  • create sets
  • use the different study, test and game modes
  • monitor their progress

Of course, if you, as a teacher, are unfamiliar with this website, you could also use these to help you get to grips with it, so that you are more comfortable recommending it to your students!

In my upper intermediate class, out of ten students only one had ever heard of Quizlet and he wasn’t sure enough how about it worked to be able to tell anything about it – he was just vaguely aware of it. Not all students use it already, then, so it can be helpful to introduce them to it, as another tool to support their learning. This is the class I have made these materials for, though I plan to use them with other classes too.

As with all my learner autonomy-related projects, I will be bringing Quizlet back into the classroom regularly, via discussion and use (along the same principles discussed in this post on scaffolding autonomy), to maximise the chances of learners using it regularly and independently, of their own volition.

Here is a link to the materials I have made: Using Quizlet!

I hope these are useful to you. (Of course I would be interested in any feedback from you or you on behalf of your learners, with regards to how user-friendly they are etc!)

I will write a follow-up post in due course (there’s a surprise! 😉 ), to let you know how my learners got on with Quizlet and these materials.