Second language teachers: do your students master the vocabulary words you assign? When only assigning vocabulary words and asking students to look up words in a dictionary to learn the meaning on their own, I find students may learn the meaning but many don’t get enough information about how to use words fluently. In other words, just relying on a dictionary doesn’t allow students to acquire words and incorporate them into their own language. Researching and analyzing how a word is used is not an easy task! Without guidance, students often learn a word’s definition and part of speech but lack knowledge of topic association, word families, collocations, and register, so they are unable to use words productively with accuracy. In addition, without support, some students do not study with enough frequency to gain long term memory of the word; they cram just before their vocabulary quiz and forget what they have studied soon after.  

To better facilitate vocabulary acquisition, I introduce students to online dictionaries – Longman is one I regularly use for my low- intermediate courses because I like that it is corpus informed – and Quizlet.  Quizlet allows you or your students to create and share flashcards. It has many features such as pronunciation, external links, and the ability to include an image, and it provides a variety of ways to study the flashcards. There’s also an app for Quizlet, so students can download the cards to any smart device.

How to Use Quizlet

I typically start a course by creating vocabulary flashcards myself because I want the students to become familiar with Quizlet and the types of information they are being asked to study. After reviewing vocabulary in the textbook, I provide the class with a link to the flashcard set and ask students to study the words for homework.  Here is an example of a flashcard set I’ve used in an intermediate course, and below is a screenshot of a flashcard  for the word “plague:” 

Then I like to model how to study frequently by regularly reviewing the vocabulary in class both with and without the Quizlet set.  I find the sets are great for independent or pair review at the beginning of class or when we have a few extra minutes. Once students are familiar with the vocabulary, I create a second Quizlet set so students can quiz themselves.  To do this I make a copy of the original set, which you can do with a simple click, and remove the vocabulary word from the second side of the flashcard. This quiz set is great for class games. Here is an example of the same set from above turned into a quiz set, and below is a screenshot of “plague” as part of a quiz set being used under the “learn” feature: 

It’s not until students are comfortable with Quizlet and familiar with what types of information I want them to learn that I ask them to create their own flashcards. I create a class set and assign each student  one or two words. I model how to make the flashcards and assign which dictionaries I want them to consult. Then because the class is sharing one set, I can take the time to make sure students both understand how to look up a word in the dictionary (as each student only completed one or two flashcards) and make sure everyone is studying appropriate information. Finding and determining what information to include on a flashcard is a skill that requires a lot of practice with feedback, and Quizlet allows for regular feedback to each student without creating an unnecessary amount of work for both instructors and students.  While simply assigning a list of vocabulary is much easier than helping students gain the content needed for fluency, Quizlet offers an accessible and relatively engaging platform to more effectively build vocabulary fluency and the skills needed to research new words.  

If you happen to try Quizlet or are already using it, please share your thoughts. Are there other features you like to use? Is there additional information you like to include on flashcards? For more online resources for studying vocabulary, and other language skills, read our post, Learning English: A Click Away.