January 31, 2017 | KL Community

Shrinking the Gorilla in the Classroom

Shrinking the Gorilla in the Classroom

Every day in our international classrooms here in China, there is gorilla in here with us.

We don’t ignore this gorilla, yet we sometimes have difficulty overcoming the challenges of his presence.

This gorilla is a clear obstacle between our students and their learning: Students are being fully-immersed in their second language (English) while simultaneously attempting to gain content knowledge in the different subject areas.

Teaching in International Classrooms

David Langenmayr, Academic Dean for the John Carroll Bashu Ivy Program, returns to share insights on engaging teaching methods for international classrooms. He writes:

When I visit classes taught in Chinese, I often find students engaged, active, and inquisitive. In my own classes—or while visiting other English-based classes—I observe less of these learning qualities. I do realize that tackling this gorilla will take a multifaceted, systemic approach, yet I would like to introduce an app that will help tranquilize that gorilla at the very least: Quizlet. Quizlet is a vocabulary building app that has proven itself to be quite engaging for my students here in Chongqing.

When you first explore Quizlet, you may just think it’s a fancy version of online flashcards. However, you’ll see that Quizlet goes a bit deeper than that once you explore its functionality. Yes, kids and teachers can (and do) create vocabulary sets that can be used as flashcards. As a teacher, I even have my students create and share Quizlet sets for all of their other classes amongst each other. But Quizlet doesn’t stop there. Once the flashcard sets are formed, Quizlet lets students study the sets in different ways to fit their various and varying learning needs and styles:

  • Flash Cards: Students study sets just like traditional, paper flashcards.
  • Learn: Students type the correct term or definition that corresponds to the term.
  • Spell: Students type the correct spelling of the term.
  • Test: Students and teachers can create practice tests with different style questions, from multiple choice to fill-in-the-blank.
  • Match: Students play a game to match the term to its definition in order to make the terms disappear and win.
  • Gravity: In this interactive game, students must race against the clock to write in the correct word or definition before an asteroids hit!
  • Quizlet Live: Students work in teams and race to complete the set first.


All of the different options above provide the students and teachers with instantaneous, formative feedback which in turn allows them to move past the known vocabulary in order to target and re-learn (or re-teach) specific words that are often missed or sometimes missed. Additionally, Quizlet gives us the rare opportunity to target both the introverted and extroverted learner at the same time. It allows the introverted and competitive extrovert space and choice to work in their comfort zone, be it through competitive games or solo practice.

Why Online Teaching Tools Work

One of the first surprises I encountered after using Quizlet was that my students were interacting with the website outside of class time! Students now make sets to share amongst themselves and for other content areas. They even hold unofficial competitions in the Match and Gravity games. To put it in educational terms, the students take ownership of their vocabulary learning—and that’s what makes Quizlet such a powerful tool.

Being web-based, Quizlet has an app for both Apple and Android, so it works for 1-to-1 schools as well as in schools with limited machines like mine. It also works through China’s firewall (no VPN required) so students can access the site both in class and at home. For those teachers with little free time to make a set, Quizlet has millions of premade sets to choose from on just about every topic imaginable. You can even type in your textbook’s name using the search feature, and you’ll probably find that another teacher had previously created unit sets for it! Just find the set you want, copy it, modify it, and send it to your classes.

I have found vocabulary for almost every textbook I’ve searched— from Conceptual Physics by Hewitt to National Geographic’s World Culture and Geography, it makes the process very easy for the teacher. You can integrate this app into your classroom to varying degrees: From making Quizlet classes and tracking student progress to simply upload sets and practice in class.

I have not done any quantitative diagnostics on the use of Quizlet in my classes, yet I can tell you that in my 20-years of teaching I have never seen such active participation from students. I truly just sit back and smile because I did nothing but stumble into Quizlet Live. I urge you to give it a try!