Quiz games for learning
Differentiation, literacy, Technology, Vocabulary

Up your Kahoot game: 18 ways to add word work and build L2 vocabulary for any grade level

Kahoot has been around for a comparatively long time in edtech circles and is one of the biggest names in quiz-based learning. Founded in Norway in 2012, Kahoot is now available in over 200 countries and regions around the world. If you haven’t tried Kahoot yet, check out this link for a good introduction to the platform and some useful features.

Students are highly engaged when teachers use Kahoot to play games in class. Many second language teachers use Kahoot to help students learn vocabulary, introduce a topic, review prior learning, and more. In this blog post, I’m sharing some ways that teachers can deepen students’ knowledge of words, meaning, sounds, and more – for any grade level – all in a game format.

Kahoot offers a range of options to users, beginning with a basic (free) account, and including several options to upgrade if desired. Most of the ideas I’m sharing here will work with a free account. This post is not sponsored by Kahoot, and I have not received any compensation from the company. If you choose to use another platform or create a physical version of these prompts, your students will still benefit from them and they will grow their vocabulary knowledge.

I teach French as a second language, and I’ve used Kahoot many times over the years to get students to match English to French or French to English. The problem was that this tends to encourage a focus on translation as a way to learn a language. I wanted my students to dig deeper and have a knowledge base of words including meaning, sounds, syntax, and much more. If you find yourself running out of ideas when making up your Kahoot quizzes (or other exercises), keep this blog post nearby for more inspiration!

Research tells us that in order for students to REALLY learn a word, they have to encounter it multiple times, and in many ways. The goal is for students to move beyond seeing vocabulary as a list and to start seeing it as a network. Most L2 students don’t get enough exposure to new words before moving forward, with the result that their vocabulary is limited. This limits their ability to read, write, speak and listen in the target language, and they tend to rely on translators or dictionaries to help support their understanding.

The Basics

Asking students to match their first language to the target language and vice versa is an important starting point, especially for beginners who might lack word knowledge in the target language. Building connections between languages, especially closely related languages like French and English, is useful background knowledge that students need to be able to draw on automatically. That automatic recall is much more likely to develop if students practice it rather than simply look it up.

Use these questions with a limited vocabulary list at first, and build as you go. Once students are having a high level of success in answering questions using a range of the following types, add a few more words to your list.

Limiting your list to words that students are likely to encounter often and use frequently at their level of language learning will be the best use of your time and theirs. Doing this can help build fluency quickly and also model effective learning strategies for students.

  1. First language to target language
    This question type moves from familiar content to new content and helps build connections. As students build L2 proficiency they will need less of this question type, but beginners will need to start here.
  2. Target language to first language
    This question type reinforces learning of the target language and challenges students to think about the connections they are building in a different way.
  3. Image to target language
    This question type will build more powerful learning than the first two because humans think in images. This also taps into one of the first things we all learn to do when learning to read, as we connect a sound to a visual letter form that represents it.
  4. Target language to image
    Just like #2, above, students need to think about these connections in more than one way to reinforce learning.
  5. Type a response
    This can be used with all of the question types listed above. The most common type of Kahoot question is the multiple-choice question where students select one of four options, but asking them to form the word is a crucial step in developing word knowledge. Don’t skip this one!
  6. Type the missing vowel
    A variation on #5 (above), this question type focuses on one particular part of the word. In French, vowels are especially important because they can be used with or without accents. This question type challenges students to develop their knowledge of sounds and helps them to connect sounds with accents.
  7. Choose the missing vowel
    A variation on #6 (above), use this question type for students who may be less familiar with how to type accents on their device when responding.

Up your game!

Connecting sound and spelling

The 7 question types listed above will help students quickly become familiar with a group of words, but they need more. Learning a language requires connecting sounds with spelling, which is essential for reading, speaking, and listening. Making the sound-spelling connection is an essential part of learning how to read – don’t skip these questions! Because you’ll be working with a limited word list for your Kahoot games, students will have a limited range of options here. Depending on learners’ proficiency level, or to help build familiarity with new information, I give a longer time limit for this type of question and encourage students to play with partners instead of individually so that they can practice saying the sound with their partner before responding.

To develop this type of background knowledge, try these types of questions:

  1. Identify rhyming words
    This question type challenges students to think about the sounds made by the end letters of a word. This works well if introduced with simple poetry or songs, and students have practiced saying words out loud, listening to poetry or songs, and using apps that help with pronunciation.
  2. True/False rhyming words
    This works well as a simplified version of #1 (above) and is a good way to introduce this type of question to students without the potential overwhelm of processing the sound of four different options within a time limit.
  3. Match beginning sounds
    This question type encourages students to think about the onset sound of a word rather than the end sound. In English and French, there are more ways to spell a sound than there are to say it, and students need practice to learn these connections.
  4. True/false beginning sounds
    Similar to #2 (above), this question type allows students to focus on a limited range of options to match beginning sounds and helps avoid the cognitive overload of processing the sound of four different options within a time limit.
  5. Added challenge – use images instead of words!
    For any of question types 1-4 (above), use images instead of words to get students to think about the vocabulary in a different way. This requires a lot of familiarity with the words, and I would only add this question type once students have a high level of familiarity with the vocabulary. This strategy works well if paired with visual dictionaries.

Making connections with meaning

Once students have acquired a basic knowledge of vocabulary that connects to a topic, they need to start to develop connections between words that will prepare them to do more advanced things like word substitution in speaking and writing. This is an essential part of meaning-making, and an important tool for students to use when they have to clarify communication while staying in the target language.

  1. True-false synonyms
    As students build their word knowledge, they may only know one or two words that can substitute for another. Asking them to decide if a word can be used as a synonym is an important way to reinforce this type of interconnected word knowledge.
  2. Multiple-choice synonyms (3 for 1!)
    As background knowledge grows, students will know a larger body of words that can be substituted for one another. These types of questions can be asked in several ways, depending on whether you have a basic Kahoot account or have upgraded:
    a. Identify which word is the synonym.
    b. Identify more than one synonym.
    c. Identify which word is NOT a synonym.
  3. True-false antonyms
    As students build their word knowledge, they may only know one or two words that is the opposite of another. Asking them to decide if a word can be used as an antonym is an important way to reinforce this type of interconnected word knowledge, and lays the foundation for other skills such as agreeing, disagreeing, and making comparisons.
  4. Multiple-choice antonyms (3 for 1!)
    As background knowledge grows, students will know a larger body of words that are antonyms for one another. Antonyms are generally not as common as synonyms, and this will tend to be a question type that you will use rarely. One strategy to use these question types more often AND build word knowledge at the same time is to add prefixes to words and ask students to determine which prefix makes a word its opposite. Here’s a list of prefixes that can be used this way in French. These types of questions can be asked in several ways, depending on whether you have a basic Kahoot account or have upgraded:
    a. Identify which word is the antonym.
    b. Identify more than one antonym.
    c. Identify which word is NOT an antonym.

Connecting context and syntax

As soon as possible, language learners need to see language used in context. Communication most often uses sentences, and the more students see them, the more comfortable they will be with reading them and writing their own. As a general rule, sentences in a Kahoot game should be relatively short in order to encourage focus on meaning and avoid cognitive overload within a time-limited question. The puzzle-type question is a great tool to use for both context and syntax. In puzzle questions, learners are presented with four “chunks” of information, and then are asked to put them in the right order.

The saying, “Context is everything,” is especially important in language learning. Many words have multiple meanings, and students need to see words used in multiple contexts to build their background knowledge of what a word CAN mean. There are many ways to ask these questions using combinations of the question types listed above, but here’s a simple example: the word “avocat” in French can mean either “lawyer” or “avocado”, depending on the context. If I use a picture of an avocado and ask students to choose which one of the following sentences uses the word in the correct context, the correct answer would be B:

A. Je dois informer son avocat.
B. J’ai besoin d’un avocat pour cette recette.
C. Un avocat représente ses clients.
D. Votre avocat va consulter la loi.

In order to reinforce the idea of using this word in context, I would use at least one of the other sentences in a question that used an image of a lawyer instead of an avocado. If students are reading texts in their units of study which use vocabulary words in different contexts, it’s helpful to use or simplify sentences from these texts to use in the Kahoot. This will help build reading fluency and sight word recognition. It’s a good idea to avoid translation questions when working with context, because context is often specific to a given language and doesn’t translate easily or accurately.

In addition to context, learners need to work with syntax as they build the ability to communicate in the target language. Kahoot offers puzzle-type questions which can be used to present four words that need to go together in a certain order or four multi-word building blocks of a phrase that need to go in a certain order.

A very simple example of this question type in French would ask learners to put the words “est”, “garçon”, “il”, and “un” together to form the simple sentence “il est un garçon”. This helps reinforce knowledge of the subject-verb-object structure that will form beginning communication.

This type of question can also be used to reinforce background knowledge of the structure of certain types of sentences.

For example, if I am teaching my students how to read and write recipes or sets of instructions, I might give them the following building blocks and ask them to arrange them in the right order: “ingrédients”, “les”, “mélanger”, and “secs”. In this example, I want to see that they can recognize the infinitive “mélanger” and put it first in the instruction, then place the determiner “les” in front of the plural noun “ingrédients”, and then position the adjective “secs” correctly after the noun it is describing to form the phrase “mélanger les ingrédients secs”.

Sharing with students

Kahoot now offers a range of ways to share quiz games with students. Teachers can play the classic version live in class and can choose whether to have students participate as individuals or in teams. As noted above, partners are recommended for some question types. Kahoot can also be assigned to students through a range of LMS platforms and can be left open for repeated visits for a window of time. Teachers can use the analysis of student results to identify areas in which students are having success or may be struggling, and can show how many times students play a Kahoot that has been provided for practice. Using these tools both in and out of class can provide useful information to guide the planning of future instruction.

Header image credit: Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

2 thoughts on “Up your Kahoot game: 18 ways to add word work and build L2 vocabulary for any grade level

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