By Sharon Yoneda

Here are the "Top Ten" ways of choosing distractors for quizzes (not yet featured on David Letterman's Late Night Show).

Here we go Number Ten:  Use minimal pairs in initial, medial and final position.
/p/ and /b/; /k/ and /g/; /f/ and /v/; /ʃ/ and /ʒ/; /t/ and /d/; /s/ and /z/, etc.

e.g.:  "You were my eyes when I couldn't see.  You saw ______ there was in me."
       * the best
       * the pest
       * the mess

Choose common phoneme errors made by linguistic groups.
The dental sounds /θ/ and the / ð/ are particularly problematic for most ESL learners.

e.g.:  "I _____ the Lord for the nighttime to forget the day."
       * sank
       * thank
       * dank

Number Nine:  Select discrete vowel sounds.

e.g.:  "Man, I ______ like a woman!"
       * fall
       * feel
       * fool

Number 8:  Respect collocation and “chunking” of word units in English.
Cloze the articles with the nouns and for higher levels, even strings of possessive pronouns and adjectives etc., should be clozed together.

e.g.:  "They paved paradise, put up a parking lot, with a pink hotel and __________."
       * a swinging hot spa
       * a swinging hot spot
       * a swinging hot space

Number Seven:  Select homonyms to test spelling and meaning.

e.g.:  "Got to get back to the land, set ______ free."
       * my sole
       * my soul
       * my soil

Number Six:  List phrasal verbs with different prepositions.

e.g.:  "They paved paradise and ____ a parking lot."
       * put on
       * put out
       * put up

Number Five:  Use different contractions for verb tenses and agreement.

e.g.:  "If I had a million dollars, ______ buy your love!"
       * I'm
       * I'll
       * I'd

Number Four:  Use words with the same prefixes, suffixes or root words.

e.g.:  "He was a boy; she was a girl.  Can I make it any more _______?"
       * obvious
       * oblivious
       * obnoxious

Number Three:  Choose different cases (parts of speech) of words.
In the case of nouns, the articles 'a', 'an' or 'the' should be included with the noun to reflect a unit or 'a chunk' of language.  For higher levels, even phrases with adjectives can be used as distracters to encourage students to see English as chunks of words.

e.g.:  "Why'd you have to go and make things so _______?"
       * complicate
       * complicated
       * complicating

Number Two:  Check for fluency in English by listing reductions in words such as 'gonna', 'hafta', 'gotta', etc.

e.g.:  "I think I'm _______ have a son."
       * going to
       * goin'
       * gonna

....drumrolls and Paul Shaffer's signature tease....



e.g.:  "If I had a _______, I'd ________ in the morning.  I'd ______ in the evening, all over this land."
       * Hummer
       * hammer
       * humour

With Paul Shaffer's drumrolls, I would argue that quizzers need to move "out of the pedagogical box" and adopt a free-style form of quizzing [within reason of course]. . .  After all, music is free-style often not conforming to the standards of English mechanics and syntax.

I choose to inject the element of humour into some of my distractors if the situation allows and there are no other alternatives.  I am pleased when my students arrive back to class the following morning after a song assignment with a smile on their faces.  They often relate one of the strings as being funny, and therefore: memorable.  Is not retention a desirable outcome of instruction? does come with a User's Beware:  There are some silly moments on the site.

Sharon Yoneda
Vancouver Community College
School of Language Studies
Vancouver, British Columbia
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