Integrating tech for the new term: Needs analyses and knowledge checks 27

In the previous post in this series focussing on integrating tech for the new term I looked at getting to know you activities to do with your new classes. The natural next step is to find out a little more about their study preferences and background so in this post I’d like to look at ways to conduct a needs analysis with your students and also a few ideas for checking what their current state of knowledge is.


Questionnaires are the natural way to find out more about students academic interests and Google Forms is an easy tool to use to create them. You do need a Google account to create them but you can send them to anyone to fill out regardless of whether they have a Google account or not.


you can create great surveys and questionnaires with Google Forms

Within Google Forms you can quickly create a range of question types such as multiple choice, select more than one, short/long answer, scales (e.g. Choose from a spectrum how much you agree or disagree with a statement) and also you can embed pictures and videos within the Form itself. You can even do branching within the questionnaire. For example, if a student answers no/yes to a particular question (e.g. Do you plan to study for a masters degree?) they can jump to a particular section of the form that is relevant for that answer.


you can see the range of question types available in Google Forms

As a teacher what’s most useful are the breakdown of responses Google gives you. You can view them in two ways, either via a spreadsheet or through a more user-friendly graphical interface.

The graphic interface will show you the responses as a series of charts/graphs depending on the question type and this really helps you absorb the information at a glance


you can see your responses as infographics or as a spreadsheet if you prefer

There are other survey options out there such as Survey Monkey but the feedback you can get from the student responses are limited unless you pay for a premium account so I would go for Google Forms as it’s free and reasonably easy to use.

One nice way to make the process collaborative is to set the questionnaire but then get the students to fill it out for each other, so they have to talk/interview each other first and then complete the survey.

Knowledge Checks

Another thing we frequently want to do as part of our needs analysis is to check students knowledge. They probably had some kind of test either before they came to your school or once they got there, but those assessments tend to be quite generic and you may want to dig a bit deeper into how much they know about certain aspects of vocabulary, grammar and academic skills.

Actually, Google Forms is not a bad tool for this either. They’ve recently added a feature that lets you turn certain question types (multiple choice, select more than one) into quiz questions with correct/incorrect answers and scores. And as a teacher, you can go through and see which ones they got right and wrong later.

Here I'm creating a simple multiple-choice question

Here I’m creating a simple multiple-choice question

Now, it’s not the most sophisticated tool in the world for this, it’s fairly limited in what you can do with it. But at the same time it’s certainly good enough for a quick check of things like grammar and vocabulary. You can even set questions that require open, typed answers, but they can only be checked later by the teacher.

There are other options for checking knowledge. One I’ve mentioned before is Socrative, a quiz creation tool that students can respond to using their smartphones or a computer.

If you want to focus a little more on spoken responses, there is a new app called Recap. This is a tool where you can create questions for students to respond to and they then give a videoed response using the Recap app. I haven’t had a chance to use it yet, but from what I’ve seen, it looks pretty good. I could imagine using it for getting students to respond to a topic to get a sense of their speaking ability. Viewing the website, it does seem to aimed at the secondary or primary market, but I could easily see this being used in an EAP class.

students can record themselves answering questions

students can record themselves answering questions

If you want to focus in on a particular area, such as vocabulary, then Quizlet is a decent option for creating individual or group-based flashcards. I’ve written about this before so I won’t go on at length about it. However, they have recently introduced a new classroom feature called Quizlet live, where students can work in teams to compete against each other to be the first to get all the words correct. It’s a little difficult to explain, but basically in their groups they need to find a word for a definition. Each student in the group is given a short list of words but each member has a different list. Only one of them has the correct answer, so they have to discuss what words they have in front of them to decide who has the correct answer.

As this is going on, there is a race board which shows which team is winning and the teacher can put that up on the class computer. However, if a team gets a question wrong, they have to go back to the beginning and start the process again. From the few times I’ve tried this with teachers and students, the response has been enormously positive, a great way to either check what they know or revise words they’ve studied in class.

Another thing you might want to get a handle on early in the term is the depth and breadth of your students’ vocabulary. There’s a lot of research about how many words a student needs to know to function effectively in a foreign country and specifically at university (this is a decent article to give you an overview) so this can help focus both your teaching and their learning.

There are several useful sites for checking students’ vocabulary level. Two I’ve used in the past are Test Your Vocab and My Vocabulary Size. Now, of course, you do have to be a little careful with the scores that come out of these, they do rely on students being honest about what words they know (and they tend to see this as a test so might claim to know a word when they don’t really) but it can be a chastening experience for students to discover the gap between what they currently know and what they need to know to function comfortably in their department. This shouldn’t be a point of despair for them, rather a wake-up call for getting themselves organised and focussing their vocabulary learning on the words they need such as the Academic Word List and/or the Oxford 3000.

As teachers we know that needs analysis can sometimes be at best a public relations exercise for the students. We say that we’ll take their information and requests into account but we then bend that information to fit in with what we were planning to do in the first place. This isn’t always us being lazy, sometimes the information we get from students is so disparate and generic that it’s difficult to integrate it into our lessons. You may carry out needs analysis and discover that a quarter of the class want more grammar, another quarter more reading, another more writing and another more vocabulary. Not a huge surprise, but not information you can always do a lot with since you were planning to do those things anyway.

However, some of the these online tools can really help focus our teaching, we can really get very fine-grained information about what they are struggling with. Tools such as Socrative and Google Forms let us drill down on an individual and group level to find out what aspects of the language they are having difficulties with and give us a clear focus of what to work on in class.

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About David Read

I work at the English Language Teaching Centre at the University of Sheffield as the Director of TEL (technology-enhanced learning). I've been an EFL/EAP teacher and teacher trainer for over 20 years and have worked in 14 different countries. Settling down is clearly an issue for me.

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