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QR Code Scavenger Hunt with ESL students

Posted originally on earlier incarnation of my blog at

Update: I worked up a version of this activity for grad school that involves more attention to Multiple Intelligences. You can download a version of the lesson plan for use in your own school or classes.

Original Post:

I had a brainwave a few weeks ago when I was looking to prep my students for some guided practice with directions language. In the past, some other teachers and I had created a variety of activities where students get up and move around a space to practice the language. This could be as simple as making streets and roads out of desks and aisles, or as complex as a scavenger hunt around campus using a series of directions.

The problem that I encountered with the latter situation was an excess of cheating. It was painfully obvious that some students would follow the course while others would just wait and copy the answers at the end from someone on the same course. Creating multiple routes helped stem this problem, but the campus space and preparation time don’t allow for custom sets of directions for each student.

So, how do I get each student to actually move around the course? One way is to have them take photos periodically. Since all cell phones come standard with a camera, and cell phone use by my university students is in excess of 99% (I have actually met students who don’t have them, although they are extremely rare) this is easy.

I was looking for something more engaging, however, than simply giving them a sheet of paper to follow. I needed a visual hunt that all students could be involved in. Since telecom companies have been offering smart phones and tablets for steep discounts to my students, the penetration of iPhones, Android devices and the iPad and Galaxy tab are between 25 and 50%. I had my answer: QR Codes.


Example QR Code.Sample QR Code

My first inclination was to do some kind of mashup with the codes allowing students to “check in” like Foursquare or Facebook and reporting their activity back to Moodle. That was way over my head in terms of technical ability, so I started talking with Chris Surridge about it. He was immediately interested in how He could use QRs in the classroom. I decided that I would go with something I had the time and know-how to implement, which was a series of directions embedded in QR codes for four different walking courses. Here’s how I would recommend doing this going forward:



  • Familiarize your students with QR codes, and how to read them. Do this a week or so before you send them out. Have them download free apps to their phones if they don’t already have them. This will serve two purposes. First, understanding how to use the technology is paramount to success with it. Second, by giving them a week or so before you actually implement it in a guided practice setting (and tell them they’re going to use it in class), they will be more aware of just how many QR codes are around them and will start practicing of their own accord. Come time to send them into the practice environment they are familiar with the technology and it will be less of a barrier.
  • Choose places of interest around campus. These could be facilities, your office (seriously- why haven’t they been there yet?), the campus English Cafe or help center, a place with a beautiful view, etc.
  • Link a series of these places together, starting with something that is close to the classroom you’re teaching in. Try to create a few variations on the route, either through reversal, alternate starting points, or completely different routes.
  • Write up instructions to take students from one place to another. Make sure each one is 250 characters or fewer. Plug the directions into a QR code generator. Save the QR code (and please, test it!). Repeat for each set of directions.
  • Write up an answer sheet to help the students record the answers to the questions in the QR. On some reflection, it might be better to have the questions on the answer sheet rather than in the QR code so that there is a sharing of responsibility between the student “captain” with the phone and the others in the group. This not only gives students a place to record answers, but also a sense of how long the activity is going to last. They can mark their own progress and understand how to use their time most effectively to successfully complete the task.
  • Cue sheets ready to goCue sheets ready to go


    Colour-code things. I had four paths and four groups. I assigned a colour to each group (not that I explained it as such, but they understood it from context). The QR codes were pasted on to a sheet of paper (but if the color isn’t dark they can be printed directly onto the coloured paper, saving a little time). The answer sheet and first clue sheet corresponded to their group color. From there the students instantly knew which QR code to read when there were multiple instances at the same checkpoint. This helped to prevent confusion about which code to scan and which instructions to follow.The checkpoints were also numbered and corresponded to a number on the answer sheet.

  • Write the posting location on the back of each cue sheet. This will help you when you set up the course(s). I failed to do this and had to backtrack a couple of times, reposting QR codes in the right place. Waste of precious time.
  • In class, set up groups and give them a clue sheet directing them to their starting point. Use this time to double-check that they can successfully read the QR codes and understand the instructions.
  • Walk around the courses and monitor for problems. There were a couple of tricky points where students got hung up, and I’ll have to change some of the instructions for the next time I run the activity. The student reactions as I ran into them were largely positive and I was able to re-direct lost students. I was also carrying a complete list of the cues so I could help explain things as they came up without actually being at the QR code.

At the end of the activity, one student was assigned to upload the photos from the scavenger hunt along with their answers to our class Moodle. Alternatively you could plan to have students finish somewhere central and show you their work as a cloze before leaving for their next class.


Students following the clues to the next location.On the trail



Groups: They were a little larger than I would have liked (6 students vs. an idea 3 or 4), but if you have two groups on the same path they will become one group eventually. I would like to create more paths for next time, and expect even more students will have smart phones, enabling even smaller groups.

Focusing on productive language for higher-level students: I would consider having students start at the classroom and write up a set of directions to guide another student or even me to what they think are the interesting places on campus. It could be their club room, a great place to grab a quick snack or a quiet place to study outdoors on a nice day. This is a higher-level task as it requires production of the language, not just reception and decoding. I’ll have to think more about how to implement this. Ideas welcome. I might split this activity half and half, with them following some directions and then creating some.



Project Files (complete list of direction cues, the QR codes and the associated answer sheets. Some things will be re-designed for the next run for clarity and aesthetics).

Photos of the project in action (Facebook. No login should be required.)

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Multiple Intelligences EFL Directions Activity by Kimberly Hogg is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
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One Comment

  1. A quick note-to-self: consider using video instead of text, where students get clues and tips from informers in another game-based learning project to solve a mystery or put together a puzzle. Hide the codes all over campus and lead them to the information they need to solve the crime.

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