Saturday, 12 December 2020

Embedded retrieval practice: the next level

You may think I am obsessed with retrieval practice but it is so important in order to keep students motivated and make progress that a big percentage of my lesson time is dedicated to this. 

A few weeks ago I read an article by Marc Enser on some research on retrieval practice. In the article Marc explained how two departments in their school (History and Geography) wanted to see the impact of retrieval practice in their students’ results. They used quizzes in their lessons for this. Both departments got an improvement in their test results but Geography’s were much higher. When they analysed the data and tried to explain this discrepancy, they discovered that History used to do a quiz in each lesson from previous knowledge but not related to the content of the actual lesson. Geography, on the other hand, did also a quiz but this was embedded in what students were learning in the lesson, hence, helping students to consolidate and embed learning in this long-term memory more successfully than the History department. This is powerful and it relates to my own practice.

Retrieval practice must be embedded with new content constantly so language becomes automatized and students can transfer structures freely from different contexts!

All activities done in lessons with new material should include structures from old topics applied to these new contexts while also making reference to the content from past topics. Planned activities and homework tasks should give students opportunities to practise past content as a matter of fact:  When asking students to practice sentences on school topic, why not including sentences from holidays and, most importantly, adapting those structures from holidays into the new topic of school?  When planning activities for Y11 students on the topic of festivals, why not including also content from work, free time and holidays? why not applying structures seen in the topic of free time "juego al fútbol desde hace 3 años" in this new topic "trabajo de canguro desde hace 3 meses"?   

Digital tools for embedded retrieval practice 

In this post I wrote, extensively, about different apps that I use for retrieval practice but I would like to add a few which I have used since while still mentioning the old ones!

This is the new kid on the block in my teaching! Introduced to me by Laura Causer during the Show and Tell Webinar of the Language Show, this tool has revolutionised my retrieval practice strategy and saved me time!!!! 

Spiral is basically, like Wooclap or Mentimeter, an interactive response tool. What’s the difference with the two previous apps? You need zero preparation if you use the QuickFire light option! 

Basically, you open an account, create a class (you don’t need names), select the QuickFire light option from the home menu, select your class and share a special URL and code with your students (these will also be the same for that class every time you launch the QuickFire, so my students have bookmarked it). Similar to Kahoot, Mentimeter etc....

Pupils log in with that special code (not additional login required) and you will start seeing their names appearing on your screen. When you are ready to ask questions to consolidate and retrieval previous knowledge, you just press the green go button!

Students then start writing their answers to your question, which will appear on the screen, only when you click on “reveal answers”. This option is great as students cannot copy each other and you can wait to reveal answers once everyone has submitted their input. To increase pace, I encourage early birds, either to check their answers or to extend them so they do not sit down doing nothing while partners submit answers, great for differentiation too! 

At this point you may select “show names” too or “hide the names”: I find this little action powerful as sometimes you may want to give confidence to students who tend to make mistakes and you may decide not to show their names until a later stage. 

However, when you decide to do so, the students’ names will appear with their answers on the screen! Big plus from Mentimeter or Wooclap and students can also modify/ improve their answer if you prompt them to do so. Great tool for feedback too.

Spiral is basically an interactive mini whiteboard and it is ideal for hybrid situations when you have students online and students in the classroom! Also no need to sanitise mini whiteboards after single use! In action it looks like the pictures below:


In my previous post I explained in lots of detail all the activities that can be achieved with this tool. The golden rule is to use these activities blended in the learning experience and incorporating structures and vocabulary from previous studied topics! Below there’s a how to video guiding you how to use the tool. 

How to use LearningApps video


Another great free tool for Retrieval Practice! The randomiser and Random Name picker are great tools for retrieval practice! Instructions are straightforward and you will need a Google account. 

Extended uses of how to use Flippity can be found in this Post. 


This tool allows you to create personalised interactive quizzes, incorporating sound too so great to revise oral questions while also checking listening comprehension! 

How to use quizizz video 

Carousel Learning

This is another of the new tools I have started to use in the last month. Designed by Adam Boxer, creator of Retrieval Roulettes, which Julia Morris talked about during the Show and Tell Webinar in the Language Show, Carousel Learning is also a free tool which allows you to upload a spreadsheet with as many items (Qs) as you want to include, and topics. As my input, I use short sentences that students need to translate into Spanish.

 In your spreadsheet you must include your question (English sentence for me), the answer (Spanish translation) and the topic it refers to. There is a template in the site to get the setting right! Once this spreadsheet is uploaded, Carousel Learning allows you to create specific quizzes on particular topics, which you can rotate and assign to different classes. There are also many quizzes questions from the learning community for you to use too!

Why do I love Carousel learning? Because students do not get immediate feedback but they are presented with the right answers at the end of their quiz. Students then must decide if they were correct or not. I think this feature is extremely powerful for independent learning and making students take ownership for their own mistakes and improvement!!! What did I get right? What did I get wrong? Why? And look for help! Although it needs training! 

Jane Basnett has created this súper video on how to set up a quiz on Carousel learning. It is extremely informative and well explained so a must watch! 


I love this tool!! There are many talented Genially people in the UK such as Marie Allirot or Julia Morris who actually make their own genially activities from scratch! 

However, I am lazy, so I use the templates provided in the gamification section! You have many interactive free games such as Snakes and Ladders or Escape Rooms, which you only need to modify to fit your retrieval practice input! I love genially because through games students reinforce those key structures! Genially also embeds smoothly into Onenote, which I use for my lessons, although you can just share your genially game with your classes the way you want to!

You can also embed your LearningApps to the genially game questions! How cool is this?

How to use Genially video (using the app templates)

Wheel of names

One of my favourite apps! For an extensive explanation on how to use Wheel of names in the classroom and in a blended learning situation have a look at this post.

To find out how Wheel of Names works, have a look at the video below:

How to use Wheel of Names video


Let’s not forget the basics! This is not free but it is brilliant for retrieval practice! I love every feature of it! It is very affordable. It is an improved online version of Taskmagic: same creator Martin Lapworth. 

Example of Textivate activity based on Tourism and Transport (embedding principle).

Other tools you can explore!


This is a tool which allows you to create your own little games, which you then share with students. Students get tokens and rewards for completing the games. In my opinion, more suitable for KS3. My only reservation is that the games are based on multiple choice, which, I, particularly, am not keen on. However, still a great tool to revise those key structures, especially similar ones in different tenses!


Similar to LearningApps but you can only create a limit of activities unless you go premium! You do not have the embedded audio facility, which is a shame! However, the activities are very eye-catching and attractive for young learners!


Many people are using this! It is not free and I have not used it myself yet!  The Intruders game seems like a hit on twitter and many people have recommend it to me.  I need to explore this one!

DECK TOYS (thanks to Jimena Licitra for this) 

This was introduced to me only a few weeks ago by the amazing Jimena Licitra and it has lots of potential! However, it will require some time to create your resources.  This app allows you to create interactive learning paths for your students! It looks very, very powerful and engaging but you will need to dedicate some time to it! You can have some free decks, or learning paths for free but after that there is a premium to pay. You can also use decks created by others! If structured well, this should be an extremely engaging tool for topic revision and retrieval practice of key structures. Watch this space!

So, retrieval practice is important, very important. So important that it should be present in every lesson you do by embedding content and structures from all topics all the time. Using these tools allows me to do so in a motivating and engaging way! However, do not get me wrong, retrieval practice can be done without technology. 

Embedded Retrieval Practice must take place at all stages of learning, ALL THE TIME and it must be planned thoroughly via meaningful activities, especially in the Practice Stage of learning!


  1. I love too but it isn't really the new kid on the block. I have used it for years and it has been very popular in the UK for quite a while. Perhaps new in North America.
    Great post. I use all of the tools you mention above.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I did not know about since a few weeks ago! I am too slow :) it is certainly a newbie for me. It is great to hear that other people have been using it for years in the UK! That’s awesome!


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