Using Kahoot with ESL Science

kahoot cover

This is part one of my “Teaching Tool” series, where I’ll be looking at a strategy or resource and letting you know how I’ve found it to work in ESL science world. I’ll talk a little about what it does and how I use it in my class, as well as some challenges or tweaks I’ve needed to make for it to be more “ESL-friendly”. Many of these tools will be tech-focused, since I’ve found that technology use really benefits English Language Learners. (More on this in a future post.) First up: Kahoot.

The premise

Kahoot is, primarily, a way for you to ask your students questions. At its most basic, you can search for and just straight-up use other people’s question sets (called “Kahoots”). Kahoot has been around for a while, so there’s likely a Kahoot someone already made on whatever topic you’re teaching–just make sure its information is accurate. You can also duplicate an existing Kahoot if you want to add to or otherwise edit it, or make a Kahoot from scratch.

When you’re ready to play, you have a few options, like shuffling answer choices or automatically moving through questions. A feature I’ve kept on since its inception has been “enable answer streak bonus”. Normally, Kahoot awards points for correct answers, with more points given the more quickly you answer. Without the answer streak bonus enabled, students were prone to just button-mashing in the hopes that they would guess correctly and get a big chunk of points. This has fixed that by awarding more points the more answers in a row you’ve gotten correct, making students think a little bit more about their answers before clicking.

kahootThe next screen will look like this. Students go to the URL on their phone or computer or whatnot and enter that PIN. Fun fact–I typed in an unsavory word word that starts with F, and Kahoot automatically replaced it with “gazelle”. If something happens to get past its filter, you can just click on the username and it will kick the student out and force them to rejoin using a different choice of username.

And then the fun begins! Students (or pairs, or groups) see each question on the projector, and answer on their device. Their screens only have four color-coded buttons, not the question, to force them to look up and pay attention. Depending on how the questions are set up, students have between 5 seconds and 2 minutes to click their answer choice. When the question’s time is up, a leaderboard will pop up, displaying the top 5 scores in the class.
Considerations for ESL

Many of my students don’t have phones. Many of those who do have phones don’t have data plans and rely on the school wireless network, which is questionable at best. For days when you know you’ll be using Kahoot, try to get your hands on some equipment so at least 50% of students have access to some kind of device. (I’ve found that working with more than one partner on this leads to groups big enough for someone to just goof off.)

One quick tweak you can make that will help out your English Language Learners immensely is to adjust the amount of time they have to answer each question. A lot of existing Kahoots are sent to 20 or even 10 seconds per question, which is probably not enough time for an ELL to read the question, much less to answer it. 60 seconds is reasonable most of the time.

Does it work?

When else will students answer 35 questions in a class period and not only not complain about it, but get excited about it? The competition aspect is crazy fun. Since all the questions are multiple-choice, the types of things you can ask about are limited, but it works really well for vocabulary–things like “which of these is an example of a heterozygous genotype?”

I like to use Kahoot on Mondays to get kids back into “science mode” after a weekend off. I’ve also used them the day before quizzes or tests to review, or at the very beginning of a unit. You can do a “blind” Kahoot on a brand-new topic and have students take notes after they learn something new for each question (Be very careful that “shuffle question order” is off for this purpose!) Or you can do it any old day as a fun formative assessment. The main annoyance I have with Kahoot is finding/building good ones, but that’s a minor quibble compared to everything you can do with it.

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