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Mike Lyons: A group work experiment using Kahoot!

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Mike Lyons
24 March 2018


A groupwork experiment using Kahoot!



I teach English for Communication at a university in Japan. I decided to do this experiment with my classes in 2017.



The experiment took place at Meijo University, a well-established mid-level university in Nagoya with a brand-new campus (opened in March 2017). My 45 students were a fairly homogenous group of 1st year students, 18-19 years old, Japanese nationals, each with a TOEIC score of around 450. The class was about 60% male. My job was to teach communication English through active learning methods. The 90-minute classes usually incorporated drilling, pair work, group work and sometimes whole-class discussion. Speaking only English is encouraged but not mandatory. I occasionally (once or twice a month) played Kahoot! quizzes with the students. Kohoot! is on online quiz game that students can play in real time using their smartphones. For more information on Kahoot! and how it works, click here.

I had always played the quizzes in individual mode. But I wanted to see to what extent students would use their English skills if they played in teams.



When I devised the experiment, I was hoping to observe the students using prominent structures and vocabulary. I would find common linguistic mistakes class which I would then rectify. The experiment would have seemed a success to me if I had identified even one common problem.



  • In one of their first lessons, I introduced the students to Kahoot! individual play and confirmed that most of the class (all but one student) enjoyed it.
  • I prepared a lesson plan, handouts and Kahoot quizzes for the Kahoot! groupwork experiment.
  • I explained the experiment to the students and confirmed that they wanted to do it.
  • The experiment started
    • I assigned students to groups of 3-5. Each group had to use 2 of their smartphones. One phone would be used to answer quiz questions, and the other phone would be used to record the group's dialog during the quiz.
    • I played a few practice questions and allowed the students to review their audio recordings. In this manner they could adjust their volume and focus their awareness of language use during the experiment.
    • I played the rest of the questions.
    • Each group emailed me a copy of their recording.
    • The students answered a reflective survey about their experience.
    • I transcribed annotated and analyzed the recordings



The results were not at all what I was expecting; they were, in the case of each recording, baffling. The students, who are quite capable of low or mid-level English conversation with reasonably good sentence structure, reverted to one-word expressions.

 I had been planning to analyse the recordings using a sociocultural discourse approach. But there was hardly any discourse to analyse, just patterns of cultural behaviour. I decided to use an ethnography of communication approach instead.

 A quick summary: I noted that a leader emerged in each group, and it was a male student in each case. For the most part, only males offered answers to the quiz questions. The female students spoke very little, except phrases like “Good job!” and “Nice!” when the males got the right answers.



After teaching in Japan for 30 years, the culture here still surprizes me. On the surface, in day to day communication, the students at my university are every bit as modern as kids in Canada their age. But under the mild stress conditions of my experiment they reverted to archaic communication norms.


One year after running the experiment above, I ran it again with a new group of university freshmen. I made some slight adjustments to the procedure to lighten the classroom mood and increase enjoyment of the quizzes. The stress level of the students was lessened, but the same underachievement in English usage was clear in each group.

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