Teachers, SLA research and technology: issues when using Kahoot and Quizlet in the classroom

Take a bit of time to think about what sort of teacher you are.

Now think about how you could use Quizlet or Kahoot.

Karen Haines poses these questions:

  • What are the learning affordances*   of this tool generally?
  • What are the action possibilities of this tool for students’ learning?
  • How is it similar or dissimilar to other technology tools that I have used?
  • What are the action possibilities of this tool for me, in my specific context?
  • How could I use it to support my teaching, my students’ learning and my own learning?


So let me set out my position:

I want learners to have every opportunity to learn, and what works for me is to reflect on:

  • what I do,
  • what the learners do
  • what they find hard
  • what they like
  • what they struggle to grasp
  • what they fail to get right
  • what I fail to get right

I want learners to talk as much as possible when I teach but I also know it can be hard to create the conditions for this to happen. This is especially true when the learners and/or the course materials are not inclined to make communication happen. Here I’m assuming that you know about communicative language teaching (CLT)* and why it is considered the preferred model for EFL/ESL in many settings.

I want to do more of the things that are going well and work out what to do about the things that need to be worked on, and I think technology can help.

I know lots of students like Kahoot, and some like Quizlet. However I think they both have a place. If you look at the sections

I hope the differences between the tools will be clear.  However when, why and how I use these EdTech tools is perhaps not clear.

How students learn language and the implications for technology

brain flashing

If were to follow some of the research about instructed Second Language Acquisition and I wanted to achieve optimum effectiveness (in theory) I would only use Quizlet or Kahoot as part of a communicative exercise, when there has  been a breakdown in communication which cannot be resolved through negotiation of meaning* between the learners or between the teacher and the learners.

The British Council defines negotiation of meaning as:

Negotiation of meaning is a process that speakers go through to reach a clear understanding of each other.

Asking for clarification, rephrasing, and confirming what you think you have understood are all strategies for the negotiation of meaning.

In the classroom
Information gap activities such as jigsaw readings or listenings, group story building, spot the difference and communicative crosswords are examples of activities that give learners the opportunity to develop their communicative competence through negotiation of meaning as they share information.

For example if learners were stuck about the use of phrasal verbs and it caused  the meaning of the exchange to fracture or be misunderstood, then a short Kahoot on the different types of phrasal verbs with examples in use could provide the metalinguistic  grammar input needed to move on. It would be delivered “at the point of need”. A specific focus on the form* that is needed to communicate.

For this to happen the EdTech style teacher would need to:

  • be very prepared
  • be very familiar with the content and nature of the communicative exercise, and the types of communicative breakdown which might occur (for example form, meaning, lexis)
  • know the learners and their stage of language development
  • anticipate potential problem areas and prepared Quizlets or Kahoots to match
  • decide very quickly at the moment of breakdown whether a Quizlet or Kahoot is right.

The problem here is interlanguage (according to SLA research).

What is Interlanguage

Vivian Cook says:

The starting point for SLA research is the learner’s own language system. This can be
called the ‘independent language assumption’: learners are not wilfully distorting
the native system, but are inventing a system of their own. Finding out how stu-
dents learn means starting from the curious rules and structures which they
invent for themselves as they go along – their ‘interlanguage’, as Larry Selinker
(1972) put it. This is shown in Figure 1.1.

interlanguage Cook

Vivian Cook

But there’s more:

Three key factors are discussed in the video , namely that interlanguage is:





H. Douglas Brown says of interlanguage “By a gradual process of trial and error and hypothesis testing, learners slowly and tediously succeed in establishing closer and closer approximations to the system used by native speakers of the language”

SLA research mainly agrees that the individual and idiosyncratic development of interlanguage cannot be directly affected by instruction.  Furthermore there are a number of sequences of acquisition which are fixed, unalterable and also unaffected by instruction. So despite the course book suggesting that last week was present simple and this week is present continuous – if it doesn’t fit with sequences of acquisition or where the learner’s interlanguage it will not be acquired. Find more on interlanguage here.*

So is there no point in teaching English?

Nick Ellis states that:  “…a wide range of empirical research over the last 30 years, and the weight of the subsequent findings demonstrates that language acquisition can be speeded by explicit instruction.”

There’s no guarantee that if you teach it learners will learn. I know I’ve been puzzled and frustrated by this and understanding interlanguage has helped me look at learners’ development and “lack” of development very differently.  But as Ellis above says the research shows teaching can speed up the rate of language development.

I wanted to just touch on some of the key issues which I think teachers could consider when using the EdTech tools.  I think there’s probably nothing wrong in using Kahoot and Quizlet as a time filler or a fun activity but I also think there’s more to be gained if teachers can fit the use of the tools into a research based context.


Brown, H.D. (1994) Principles of Language Learning and Teaching. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Cook, V. (1991, 2008) Second language learning and language teaching. London: Edward Arnold

Ellis, N.C. (2005) At the interface: Dynamic interactions of explicit and implicit language knowledge. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 27, 305-352.

Haines, K.J. (2015) Learning to identify and actualize affordances in a new tool. Language Learning & Technology 19 (2).