Number one for English language teachers

Teaching technologies: creating interactive materials

Level: Starter/beginner, Elementary, Pre-intermediate, Intermediate, Upper intermediate, Advanced Type: Reference material

An article giving suggestions on how to create interactive materials for English teaching.


The World Wide Web offers ESL teachers and students hundreds of tests and quizzes. Many of them are of good quality and user-friendly but after a while teachers usually start to create their own quizzes because the ones they find on the Internet do not satisfy their needs.

The advantages of computer-based teacher-created materials:

  • The advantages of using computer-based teacher-created materials are numerous:
  • Interactive exercises increase motivation when the material is directly linked to the course and/or interests of your students.
  • The exercises are game-like and fun.
  • The students can work through the exercise taking as much time as they need and learning as they go.
  • They receive immediate, frequent and non-judgmental feedback.

If you feel you'd like to have a try and make exercises for your students but you don't know how to start, you will find some information in this article.

Hot Potatoes

The tool for creating interactive quizzes I like best is the Hot Potatoes suite, created by Stewart Arneil and Martin Holmes at the University of Victoria Humanities Computing and Media Centre. Use of the suite is free as long as you do not make money with it and you are prepared to share your exercises by placing them on a publicly accessible Web server. You need to register in order to be able to use the full version of the programs (the registration is free). The applications are logical and easy to use and the output (the web page with the exercises) is really impressive.

The Hot Potatoes suite includes six applications which you can use to create many variations of interactive quizzes such as:

  • Short-answer quizzes (JQuiz) where the students answer questions by typing their answers.
  • Crosswords (JCross) where you can use definitions, translation or even pictures as clues.
  • Gap-filling exercises (JCloze) with or without a word list. 
  • Matching exercises (JMatch) which you can use for putting lists in order and matching words, words and their definitions, words and pictures, questions and answers, halves of sentences, etc.

It is possible to include a reading text in all of the Hot Potatoes quizzes. What's more, the text can be set to disappear after a pre-specified amount of time in order to add a timed component to the exercise, although students may click a button to see the text again. You can also add sound (create listening exercises), pictures and video files. Two of the tools, JMatch and JMix, can also produce drag-and-drop exercises.

The applications produce html pages with javascript but you don't even need to know what it means. All you need to do is to enter your data - texts, questions, answers, etc. - and the programs will create the exercises ready to be published on your web page. The Hot Potatoes suite has got a very good step-by-step interactive tutorial written by the authors of the program.

To start creating your own quizzes you should take the following steps:

  1. Go to Half-Baked Software Inc. and download the Hot Potatoes suite.
  2. Install the software and apply for a registration key.
  3. After receiving your registration key via e-mail follow the instructions and start the program.
  4. Decide which type of exercise you want to make and choose the suitable program (Potato).
  5. Enter your data in the boxes named: title, questions, answers, reading text, etc.
  6. Go to the Configuration screen to write the subtitle of your exercise, instructions and feedback for your students and choose the appearance (page background colour, text colour, etc.).
  7. Save separately: the "teacher's file" (extension .jmx, .jbc, .jqz, etc.) - the template where you enter your data and the "student's file" (extension .htm or .html) - the web page with your interactive quiz.
  8. Publish your exercise (upload the .htm file to your website).

It may seem intimidating at first but after making a few quizzes it becomes really easy. And if you need any help, you can join the Hot Potatoes Users discussion group on the Yahoo website and the authors of the program or other users will answer all your questions.

Using the quizzes

When the quizzes are posted on the Internet you can use them with your students in many different ways:

  • You can take your students to the computer room from time to time (once or twice a month, for example), show them how to use the quizzes and revise vocabulary or grammar.
  • You can use the exercises not only for revision but also for introducing new vocabulary.
  • You can provide your students with feedback (extra hints, definitions, explanations, etc.) both for wrong and correct answers.
  • You can even teach the students how to make quizzes and have them create revision exercises for their fellow learners.

Apart from being posted on the Internet, the quizzes may also be used on the school's network or (if there is no network) even distributed to students on floppy discs.

Hot Potatoes also has great potential for self-access use. The students can learn on their own and still benefit from the interactivity the quizzes provide.

Some more information from Half-baked software inc. on Hot Potatoes:

  • The programs allow the author to change the language of the interface (so that the buttons messages etc. which the author sees are in say French rather than English). We also allow the author to change the language of the messages, button captions etc. which appear on the generated pages. So a French-speaking author could create exercises in German say. The interface and configuration files for languages other than English are provided by expert users of our software.
  • We have a clipart library on the web which we commissioned expressly to meet the needs of language instructors. The URL is http://web.uvic.ca/hcmc/clipart
  • Some background on the history of Hot Potatoes we presented at a conference in Holland last year can be found at http://web.uvic.ca/hrd/eurocall2001/HotPotPastFuture/PastFutureHome.htm

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