An Introduction to Hot Potatoes
An introduction to Hot Potatoes
Hot Potatoes is shareware from Half-Baked Software which is based at the University of
Victoria in Canada. It is a program that allows you to make six different types of self-test
exercises. These exercises can also quite easily be imported into an LMS like Moodle to be used
for assessment of learning content.
Hot Potatoes was originally meant to create language exercises, and some HotPot exercises
(like jumbled sentence) have little use otherwise. However, most exercises can be used for
Hot Potatoes is shareware. That means you can freely download the program from the Internet
(at h ttp://web.uvic.ca/hrd/hotpot/ ).
General description of the program
Exercises are made in two steps. First, you create the so-called ‘data file’ which has a Hot
Potato XML extension (like .jcw or .jcl). This file is useless without the Hot Potatoes program
but is used to edit the exercises later. The exercises are exported to web-based exercises
(which have the HTML extension .htm) which can be displayed anywhere on the Web. Note
that you CANNOT RELOAD THE WEB PAGES INTO THE PROGRAM, so it is important to save your
Before creating a Hot Potato exercise, you need to think about what you want to achieve with
it. Do you want students to learn vocabulary items? Then the gap text (JCloze) or the short
answer quiz (JQuiz) are the best choices. If you wish to test text comprehension, the multiple
choice (JBC) or matching (JMatch) exercises are more suitable.
When you have selected the right exercise, you need to take into consideration its
Multiple choice questions can be used for any subject. They are most effective when
they give good feedback to your learners (why is an answer wrong/correct).
Short-answer Quiz questions are good in combination with sound clips, definitions or
gap sentences, but keep in mind that there can be only one answer (and if there are
more correct answers we must include all of them!). Therefore translation exercises are
not a good choice, because there are often many possible correct translations. Also, if
spelling is not crucial to your subject, you’ll find that you will have to think of all the
possible ways learners can spell a word – a daunting task!
Crosswords bring a playful element into your study material, but they need to
contribute something (like testing knowledge or having learners train certain skills). The
quality of the clues determines much of the success.
Matching exercises can be used in any situation where understanding of a subject can
be expressed in the combination of two objects or phrases. It is possible to combine for
example pictures with explanations (provided the pictures are small and the
explanations not too long. The drag and drop version (DHTML) looks nice but works only
with certain browsers!).
Cloze texts can be used for any type of fill in exercises, with or without wordlist at the
top and with or without extra clues given. Learners are trained in understanding as well
as spelling. Cloze texts must not be too long (especially not if they have a wordlist at
the top; avoid too much scrolling!)
The jumbled sentence exercise is suitable for any type of activity in which the learner
has to order something (e.g. the lines of a poem).
The instructions to your learners about what is expected of them must always be very clear (in
all exercises). When you have finished with the data file, save it, and then create the webbased exercise which you save under the same name as the data file so that you can easily find
which ones belong together. Always check the exercise for spelling or punctuation errors you
may have overlooked. When you make changes, do that in the data file, then save it again and
overwrite the previous web page.
JQuiz is the most commonly used Hot Potato. With JQuiz you create multiple choice and
short-answer quizzes. When creating an exercise, start by configuring the output of the
exercise ( ). The output configuration screens are quite similar in the different Potatoes so
I’ll go through them in detail once, for JQuiz, and show only the main screens for the other
The first output configuration screen you see is this:
The main thing to pay attention to here is to provide clear instructions to the learners. Note
that if you have used this tool before and saved the configuration, the same settings (including
the instructions!) will appear when you open the tool to make another exercise. Hence, you
should always check the output configuration!
The second tab of the configuration window allows you to provide text for different functions.
If you want to make an exercise in another language than used in the present configuration,
you will have to translate these strings (and you might want to save your translation as a
separate configuration file for later use):
The Buttons tab allows you to change the language strings for different buttons (The size of
the button will change with the length of the string). The points to check on this page is that
the "Show Answer" button is not selected and that the navigation bar is equally disabled
(unless you wish to connect your exercise to another one).
The Appearance tab allows you to set the colour scheme of the exercise. Keep in mind that
dark text on a light background, with sufficient contrast, is best for online use. Choose
preferably warm soft and harmonious colours.
The Timer tab can be skipped since the idea of a timer generally defeats the idea of a self-test
exercise. The Other tab is different for each Potato type (see examples further down) as it
concerns settings specific to the exercise type. For JQuiz the following settings are advised:
The two remaining tabs can be ignored. They deal with the kind of customisation that is not
required at present. You can save the settings (or save them as a separate configuration file if
you intend to use the same settings again later) and click OK.
Now you are ready to start creating the questions of the JQuiz exercise.
You can move to the next question, just like moving to the next answer box, by using the
arrows next to the question number. Note that you can choose the question type for each
question in the exercise, so one JQuiz exercise can contain four question types. Apart from
questions and answers, you may enrich the exercise by adding pictures and/or sound files to
the questions, or to a reading text ( ) that can accompany the questions.
Once you have finished making your questions (and adding extra material where required), you
i.e. the hotpot XML file, in this case with the extension .jqz). This
can save your data file (
data file you create the stand-alone exercise (
with the extension .htm). It is advisable to
give it the same filename as the data file and, initially, to save it in the same location (for all
relative links, if any, to function correctly). The question displayed above could look
something like this in a finished exercise:
Adding pictures to the exercise, as seen in the above example, can enrich, clarify or even be
the core of a question. Pictures are added using the picture window that pops up when you
click the icon to add a picture from file ( ).
The picture link will be inserted at the spot where you placed your cursor. Note that in the
above example the link URL to the picture is relative (i.e. the picture file is located in the
same folder as the data file). If this is not the case, the tool will create absolute links to the
picture file, i.e. the link URL will contain folder names that make it difficult for you to move
the exercise to a server.
To round off the description of the JQuiz exercise, here is a view of how to make a hybrid
JCloze is the Potato module with which you can create gap-fill exercises. Gap-fill, a.k.a. cloze
texts, are eminently suitable for vocabulary and text comprehension training, but they can be
adapted to other uses as well.
When you have your text in the window, you can select the words you wish to turn into gaps
one by one with the mouse and click the Gap button. It is also possible to use the Auto-Gap
button, but then you probably have to edit the gapped words that the program has chosen (put
the cursor on the gapped word and click the Show Words button to bring up the same editor as
when you gap a word).
You can also remove erroneous gaps by clicking the Clear Gaps button (removes all gaps from
the text), or by selecting individual gapped words and clicking the Delete Gap button. When
you have finished creating gaps, you must, as always, check the output configuration to be
sure the instructions, text strings and other output relate to the exercise you are making. Most
of the screens are very similar to those for JQuiz, so here are only the ones that clearly differ:
Once you have adapted and saved the output configuration you can save the data file and then
export it as a web page to create the exercise. The above example cloze text (without word
list or multi-choice gaps) could look something like this:
Naturally, there are many variations possible, for example, by adding pictures or sound files to
JMatch allows for the creation of extensive matching exercises, including drag and drop types.
Unlike in JQuiz (where a list of questions can be created) only one task can be created per
data file and it is displayed on one page. Just as with JCloze and JCross, JMatch is not so
suitable for combination with a reading text, because this would complicate the display of the
task. The interface window for a JMatch task looks like this:
A matching exercise expects student to match items in one list to items in another list, so that
a correct list of matching pairs is established. The items can be words (e.g. synonyms or
names), or definitions, or even pictures. As a general rule the longer phrase should be in the
left hand list, while the shorter phrase can be in the (jumbled) right hand list (so as to ensure
the exercise displays well). A matching exercise must not be too long. The longer the list of
items is, the more difficult the exercise becomes. In addition the longer the list, the greater
the risk of display difficulties, especially in drag and drop versions. It may even block the
students from completing the exercise. If the list is long (i.e. if it doesn't fit on one page), you
should limit the items shown on the page of the exercise. This can be set in the output
With the above configuration the items are randomly chosen from the ones you created, so
that a different set is displayed every time (like in this drag and drop example). Note that,
using additional code written by Michael Rottmeier, you can use JMatch to create different
exercise types like JMemory.
JCross allows you to make online crossword puzzles. This exercise type is often seen as
challenging by learners and it can be used for example as a "treasure hunt" exercise in which
students are given a keyword, or a link, when they complete the puzzle correctly.
To create a crossword you need to create a grid of interlinking words, and add a clue
(translation, definition, description, or synonym) for each. The interface for JCross looks like
When you have created a grid of interlinking words (manually or with the automatic option),
you must add clues for each word in the puzzle. When you click the Add Clues button, the
following window will pop up listing the words of the puzzle and you can fill in the clue for
each one as shown below:
When you have saved your clues, you need to check your output configuration to ensure that
your instructions and language strings conform to the purpose of your exercise:
Finally, if this short introduction did not meet your needs, note that there are many o nline
tutorials available in several languages. Also note that the Hot Potatoes site offers r esources
that can be used in combination with Hot Potatoes like code to create even more exercise
types and a free clip art library hosted by the University of Victoria Humanities Computing and
Here are a few sites of interest:
S tan Bogdanov has wonderful tutorials on how to include video in your exercises. There are
also downloadable flash players to control video/audio, but they do require a certain amount
of skill in editing html.
Exercises at G rammar Bytes are a good example of a whole course of exercises which support
This page at E nglish Online France contains links to a number of interesting Hot Potatoes sites
not only for language learning but also for Maths, History, Biology and Art.
D iana's Place has more than 100 general knowledge quizzes and games, with audio, video and