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April 2020 - Year 22 - Issue 2

ISSN 1755-9715

An A-Z Guide to Quizzes: A Memorable Way to Learn

Having acquired both a Certificate in Arts of the Theatre and a Master’s Degree in English Language Teaching from Sheffield University, Peter Whiley presently lectures at Vistula University in Warsaw. The most multi-cultural establishment in Poland, with representatives from 100-plus countries, Peter’s students hail from Mali, the Congo, Ukraine, Turkey, India, Vietnam, China, Kazakhstan, and Thailand, including, of course, from the host country.

His published works include ’Culture Vulture’ and ‘Warsaw Madness’, and he has been the Editor of IATEFL Poland’s Post-Conference Journals and e-Bulletins for the past decade. Famous for his workshops on humour, as well as presenting entertaining quizzes and debates, Peter has been based in Poland since 1994, and worked in the Energy industry for nine years. Email:


People are not so quick to enthuse about quizzes, but often readily admit that they enjoy them. Students come into this category, too. They rarely ask you, the teacher, for a quiz, but are usually pleased when you tell them: “today, we are going to have a quiz!”. There is more than just a tinge of smug expectation that what is about to be served up will be both pleasurable and insightful. The actual event, once it starts, is like a car setting out on a journey: the students go through the gears, and build up momentum and excitement. So, save the best bits of your quizzes for the middle parts, when the students are hitting top gear.

As the title suggests, the focus is going to be based around ‘Peter Whiley’s Guide to Quizzes: An A-Z’. A is for Adaptation (from existing quizzes); B is for being Business-like; C is for Control; etc. This article was originally written for a French audience, as I gave a presentation at TESOL France, in Paris, a couple of years ago. Hence, the references to the French, as with the following: one of the most important letters is ‘F’ – as it stands for ‘Frenchifying’ your quizzes – relating them to France, and all things French (see the next paragraph). Culture always plays its part, and should not be ignored. Consider what works in a French setting, and what may not.

My favourite quiz activity is an interactive one, which involves the audience, and is based around statistics. First, form two competing groups, and split the room into two, asking each audience half to support the group of contestants on their side of the room. When you fire a statistical question at group A, they can consult with their audience half, before delivering their definitive answer. They may choose to disagree with the audience’s advice – it’s up to them. The other group does the same, but whatever answer group A gives, the focus for group B is to say ‘higher’ or ‘lower’. In the next round, you reverse the requirement task of the groups. The team with the ‘higher’ or ‘lower’ option has a distinct advantage. Much discussion is generated , and everyone gets involved. If you go to the official statistics websites of most countries, you can easily formulate your questions. I recall, in Paris, considering a question about the eating of frogs’ legs – a feature of French life – and asking what is the percentage of actual ‘French’ frogs’ legs that are eaten. Both teams got the answer wildly wrong, as the reality is that frogs’ leg are mostly imported (yes, you guessed it – from Poland). So, cultural questions on supposedly familiar topics are popular. My French audience loved the French content of my quiz: it was the high point of my presentation. So, ‘H’ is for hitting your target – relating your quiz to the participants’ own experiences/knowledge.

A famous UK quiz, ‘Family Fortunes’, quickly became global with its success, (‘Familiada’ in Poland), but some of the survey-based questions were problematic. One question: “Give a reason for kneeling”, produced a totally different response in the UK, when compared with Poland. The majority of historically-aware English people gave the grim answer: “to be beheaded”, whilst the Catholic majority in Poland, replied: “to pray”. In a similar way, the question in Poland: “What is the most hated place in the country?” prompted a 100%  answer – Sosnowiec - and not the quiz’s required five or so cities. It could not be used in the quiz, as a result. The UK’s equivalent 100% answer, came in response to the seemingly straightforward question: “name a long-necked bird”: and virtually everyone answered – (supermodel) Naomi Campbell!

A stirring memory for me at IATEFL Poland Conferences was ‘IATEFLADA’, which was based on ‘Familiada’/’Family Fortunes’, and contained two teams  –  star ELT presenters and a team of teachers from Kraków, the city hosting the event. Education was the theme, and surveys with 100 teachers had been conducted, at the previous year’s conference, which proved to be very enjoyable. Questions such as: ‘What do you think is a student’s favourite English word?’ led to one inevitable answer, but the question: ‘What is a student’s favourite excuse for absence from class?’ produced surprising answers, and no mention of dentists (as it would in the UK). Encouraged by the success of IATEFLADA’, my wife and I devised a similar quiz based on Shakespeare and his work, called ‘SHAKESPEAREADA’, a couple of years later. On that occasion, the audience left the auditorium knowing a lot more about Shakespeare than they had before the quiz, so this was very satisfying. I was also struck by the panellists’ readiness to admit how little they knew of Shakespeare and his work. ‘P’ is for ‘Planning’ – is the theme here, as this quiz took over a year to prepare, and was well worth the effort.

Many years ago, a UK quiz programme, titled: ‘Take Your Pick’ featured a slot whereby contestants had to talk with the presenter, Michael Miles, for a minute, and avoid saying the words, ‘yes’ and ‘no’. To this day, the ‘Yes-No interlude’, as it was called, has been used in schools, as a lively communicative exercise. In Poland, it can be viewed on the immensely popular TV quiz programme, ‘Kocham Sie, Polsko’, (‘I love you, Poland’). However, the presenter, who is otherwise excellent, asks simple questions, and contestants doggedly stick to defensive, repetitive replies, such as “probably”, and “that may be so”. The scenario has been a disaster, and the programme heads  recently dropped the idea of using this game. They failed to note that Miles, the original master, drew contestants into conversation, saying provocative things to get them to ‘drop their guard’, and his technique invariably worked. What was I saying about ‘A for Adaptation?’ When we think about adapting an idea, we must consider the possible pitfalls, and any specific cultural points. What works in Germany, may not work in France!

‘S is for Selectivity’, then, carefully picking elements from quiz shows that are likely to be useful in your classroom. However, it can easily also stand for ‘Speed’, and this is a feature of quizzes we should be promoting, as exams allow little time, and students need to develop quick-thinking skills. I like to conduct a five-second quiz, forming two teams and putting individual students on the spot, asking them to name three items in five seconds, e.g. name three countries beginning with the letter ‘B’ (answer: Brazil, Bulgaria, Bolivia, Belarus, etc). The categories can be very varied - e.g. name three actors who have played James Bond; three types of snake; three novels of Charles Dickens, etc. Another rapid-fire quiz I give to groups of students, is a series of general knowledge questions, and they are allowed to use their mobiles to look up the answers. Students really enjoy that one! When do we give students rapid-fire tasks in our classrooms? I would suggest we should, from time-to-time.

Sometimes, being dogged is good fun, and sticking to your beliefs can win students over. In terms of conducting quizzes, one must be consistent and follow the rules set. The sense of subsequent discipline and control will ensure the success of the quiz, and keeping to time limits is all-important. It’s a good idea to have a timekeeper, if possible, so that you can concentrate on your role as the presenter. ‘C for Control’ is essential, and students appreciate it.

You may well ask: how useful are quizzes? They are fun, challenging, force your students to think, and consider alternative answers to their own, involve teamwork, provide an element of working at speed, and generally boost the confidence of students when they perform - often better than they expect. A good tip here is to mix up your quiz questions, making sure some easy questions are included. Students won’t then get demoralised, as some correct answers will break up a spate of wrong answers. Students will assume, anyhow, that they  won’t provide a full set of correct answers. Also, in team quizzes, the shy students can be quietly dynamic, and contribute in a wholehearted way. So, ‘U is for usefulness’.

Remember that quizzes may not necessarily be long and time-consuming. Short versions are totally plausible, and could be linked to a subject theme; for instance, a lesson about Napoleon Bonaparte, could be preceded by a quick quiz about cats, with the last question asking: “which famous French Emperor was afraid of cats?” Perfect lead-in? Similarly, a lesson about Britain, could involve some quiz questions about invaders, with the last one being: “who put the ‘Great’ into Britain?” If you don’t know the answer to that, it was the French, would you believe?!  I love questions like that as they have a massive surprise element, and seem to defy logic. What’s Boris Johnson’s real name? (is another favourite of mine). Give some optional answers to choose from – the answer is amazing – it sounds as if it’s been made up. I’ll let you google the answer.

Quizzes can also be very specific – e.g. grammar structures, with one of my favourite quizzes being focused on question tags (c.f. ‘Blockbusters’ in Macmillan’s ‘Inside Out’). Ready explanations for answers are invaluable input, and the absorbed students soak them up, whilst enjoying the quiz. Much better than declaring: “today, we are going to examine the role of question tags……..bla, bla, bla…….” Polish students are usually skilled when it comes to dealing with question tags, and get most answers in the quiz, correct. So, they come away feeling confident and pleased with themselves, as well as having learnt about the “exceptions to the rule”. So, my alphabetical reference here is: ‘E for Enlivenment’.

Let’s move quickly onto ‘M for Materials’. The internet is the obvious answer here, providing a vast wealth of quiz questions, often related to specific programmes. One of my favourite websites is – which supplies not only quiz materials, but lots of humour, too – jokes, funny stories about TV quiz programmes and mistakes made in them, but also has a more serious Business English side to it, dealing impressively with job applications and CVs, for example. If I’m planning a general thematic quiz, I’ll turn to the internet, and type in the subjects and google them, as simple as that, and see where that takes me. You  won’t find it difficult to track down lots of questions, the challenge comes with your selection of which ones to use. Sometimes, you need to wade deep into a website to find your ‘gems’ – in government statistical websites, for instance, but your efforts will be rewarded, and you will learn so much in the process!

Another option for finding quiz questions, are slim vocabulary books on specific topics, often business and office related, but also linguistically-geared, too. One of mine, a very old book, has whole lists of foreign words that are used in English. However, one can have lots of fun devising/thinking of one’s own examples, especially with French words in English…..chauffeur, savoir-faire, laissez-faire, boutique, lingerie, coup d’etat, encore, impasse, menage a trois, etc, the list is endless. A tourist-business vocabulary book in my old collection, has a section on hotel and restaurant language – which, of course, means French words/phrases used. Very sophisticated material, ideal for an advanced-level quiz. So, ‘R is for Resourcefulness’ – using one’s own ideas and knowledge, recognising and storing materials for future use, and being internet-smart in your searches.

The internet, Facebook especially, often supplies short quiz gems which you can use. However, I found, recently, a short quiz on the Guardian newspaper website, of all places, which provided a list of quotations, and you had the task of deciding which egoist said them: Jose Mourinho or Donald Trump? A great, ready-made 5-minute quiz to use as a warm-up to a lesson, which students would probably appreciate. Previously, I used a quotations quiz relating to Donald Trump and Voldemort (from Harry Potter) – very tricky, and a revealing insight into evil, but a great outlet for fun and humour, so vital in our classrooms, and our students’ learning.  Sources of material for quizzes greatly vary, and turn up in unlikely places. The BBC’s website: often has difficult, up-to-date, quizzes, especially based on political news, films, or sports. Book or film reviews are also often accompanied by quizzes, many of which are interactive. The good old internet is, indeed, very quiz-friendly!

As I come to a close, which letters have I left out? ‘V is for Victory’, (sometimes a prize can be offered), ‘G is for Guessing’, (very important skill to be encouraged, and again, a cultural issue, it seems, as Polish students do not like guessing, fearing that they may lose marks).  ‘L is for ‘Letting students prepare a quiz’  – they love to be innovative, and ‘T is for Testing’ (that’s what quizzes do, in effect). I haven’t exhausted the alphabet, quite, but hopefully, I have convinced you that quizzes do not just belong in pubs, but in ELT classrooms, too!


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