One of the words I avoid using is awesome, (because it’s used so frequently for many things that aren’t, in my opinion, all that awesome at all), but awesome is the word I use to describe Vocabulary.com. Perhaps I should use “totally cool” instead, because that’s more my style, but either one fits. Vocabulary.com has been, for me, an ELA teacher and lover of all things word related, the most fortuitous digital stumble-upon, and, over the past few years, I’ve recommended the site to countless students and colleagues. Besides what you’d expect to find on a traditional dictionary website—definitions, parts of speech, synonyms and antonyms—Vocabulary.com generously provides those elements and much more, giving and giving to its users in manifold ways. Take a look at some of its key features and see if Vocabulary.com might be the vocabulary website you’ve been searching for. (Click here for Freebie Vocabulary.com instructions that you can print and use today.)
5 Features That Set It Apart From The Rest
- Word Blurbs*
Far and away, my favorite feature is the “Word Blurb” section that accompanies every word. Positioned directly under the vocabulary word you’ve searched for, the blurb is what you and your students will encounter first—not the word’s definitions. Time and time again, I’ve seen my students move from confusion to understanding as they read the blurb about a word. The need for scrolling down to the actual standard definition frequently becomes unnecessary. The tremendous benefit to this layout is that the humorous, sometimes snarky, and always memorable word blurb engages even those who are loath to study word meanings. As we teachers promote understanding a word’s meaning from its surrounding context, the blurb provides a supplemental context—background, etymology, and scenarios—that bolster a students’ understanding of the word before resorting to the standard, not-nearly-as-interesting definition.
Try out this handful of words and literary terms. Some, you’ll see, rely on etymology as part of the word blurb, and almost all include at least a bit of humor.
- Imply–and its counterpart–Infer
- metaphor and simile
*I have always referred to the Word Blurbs as anecdotes, but when reading a Vocabulary.com blog post on National Dictionary Day, I noticed their use of “Word Blurbs” and, after looking up anecdote on Vocabulary.com, I decided to make the switch to Word Blurb, despite the fact it makes me giggle. Word Blurb is, however, an excellent example of assonance!)
- Current Word Usage
Reading a blurb about a word and reading its definitions do a lot for learning a word, but nothing helps students see how a word truly functions in the real world like seeing the word in context. The “Usage Examples” section is ideal for this as it pulls examples from recently published texts (or not so recent ones if more current ones are not available.) Each usage example is one sentence in length, which may or may not be enough context for complete understanding. (See the “Move quickly, Kansas….” example in the screen shot above.) If more text is desired, all you have to do is click on the source name below the sentence, and you will be taken to the full article from which the sentence was pulled. Finding the word in the body of the article is easy if you click Command F, and enter the word in the search box that appears on the upper right of your computer screen. (If you haven’t used command F before, you are going to LOVE it! Command F works on nearly every type of webpage, Google Doc, blog post, Word document, and—with inconsistent results—PDF’s.)
- Definitions With Linked Synonyms
Accompanying the definition for each word are linked synonyms and antonyms, which makes finding a collection of words on the same topic easy.
Look up the word surreptitious, for example, and you’ll see a number of synonyms—furtive, clandestine, and the fun-to-say and use cloak-and-dagger, hush-hush, and hugger-mugger (which sounds like a very affectionate street thief, but is not at all.) Each of these words is linked to its page with all of its word blurb/complete definition/usage example info. When students write on a particular topic or theme—such as the overnight disappearance of items from the school store, for instance—having a collection of related words at the ready makes for more varied word usage and an overall better piece of writing. This leads to #4—Vocabulary Lists: the ultimate word collection system.
- Vocabulary Lists
An interactive feature that makes learning words an individualized experience is the Vocabulary List feature. From anywhere on the website, click on the Vocabulary Lists menu at the upper right. Here you’ll find hundreds of lists created by fellow users and the folks at Vocabulary.com ready for immediate use. As I was perusing the lists while writing this post, I came across Jim Burke’s Academic Vocabulary list—something I’ll use for this year’s SLO that focuses on integrating more fully academic vocabulary in the curriculum of College Prep American Lit students.
Create Your Own Vocabulary List
And while there are many useful pre-made lists, you and your students can also easily create your own and personalize them as well. After creating a list, adding a word, and selecting a definition, an Example Sentence can be selected and/or you and your students can write your own. Notes can also be added as well, creating a complete word package.
Once you’ve created your own list or found one you would like to use, students can practice the words using the Practice tab
or use the Spelling Bee tab to listen to the word and practice correct spelling.
Word List + Article Link
Here is a list I created for students to use with a speech given by President Kennedy. Each word is assigned a brief definition, and each links back to its page. When you create a list, you will be able to add a description at the top—up to 1000 characters—and you can add a link, as I did, to a corresponding article or source creating an all-in-one lesson with article and vocab words combined. Having a few of these lessons ready to go would be ideal for those times when you are absent unexpectedly–an instant substitute lesson plan. (And PLEASE use the Poetry and Power lesson above if it fits your ELA or social studies classes. Consider it a gift from me to you!)
- Unique Words
I believe that having a wide lexicon gives students a degree of personal power and cachet . Using the word ameliorate instead of “make better” is, indeed, a better word choice. Saying that something fake is an ersatz copy of it, more adequately expresses its inferiority. And while it’s interesting to call something by its nickname, often that nickname is actually a sobriquet—(and, despite what you might think, it doesn’t rhyme with briquet. Let the audio pronunciation help you with that! )
If you are as impressed with the Vocabulary.com website as I am, you might want to also check out their app for iOS and Android phones. While it’s a paid app, I use mine often and certainly have gotten my money’s worth out of it.
Vocabulary.com is, indeed, a gold mine of vocabulary word information, a free tool to make learning words far more enjoyable and effective than it has been in the past. It is my hope that the serendipity of discovering new ways to use the site becomes for you and your students as enjoyable as it has for me and mine. Please share your discoveries here so we can all check them out. Enjoy!
All images used with permission. Text from Vocabulary.com, Copyright ©1998-2014 Thinkmap, Inc. All rights reserved.
I have not been compensated in any way for this blog post. The opinions you read here are 100% my own based on my own personal experiences with Vocabulary.com.