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by Sandy Scragg | November 1, 2012 New York Teacher issue
Teaching vocabulary is often seen as a necessary evil. There’s no doubt that vocabulary is a crucial skill, yet it’s often taught through repetitive exercises and rote memorization that does little to retain knowledge and leads to boredom for teachers and students alike.
The resources below can breathe new life into the dreaded vocabulary lesson. With these online tools, teachers can address multiple learning styles, align to Common Core Learning Standards and easily create custom activities for the classroom that are both effective and engaging.
Quizlet (www.quizlet.com) was started by a 15-year-old to make learning vocabulary fun and easy — and he succeeded. Begin by signing up for a free account, then either create your own set of words or browse others’ sets (as of this writing, there are more than 13 million!).
Quizlet has a built-in dictionary and audio support spoken in a clear voice. You can choose to include images for your words, which can be added in one step. Once you have a set, there are many options: digital flash cards, games, self-tests, spelling prompts, or teachers can print out a custom test.
Quizlet works well with any style of instruction: individual, collaborative, or whole class. Games work great on smartboards, group competitions can be held, flashcards can be displayed full-screen, or students can study independently. You can create a private class with password access, and you can keep track of when students log in, for how long, and what activities they’ve completed.
Game stats for members of your class can be displayed, and rewards can be given for high scorers. Quizlet works well on all computer platforms, and apps are available for use on mobile devices and iPads.
Teachers across all subject areas in my school use Quizlet. I use it a lot in my high school English classes to introduce words from literature, prep for the SAT, and ask students to create their own sets of difficult words they encounter in readings. Teachers of all levels frequently compile digital word walls with Quizlet, and early elementary school teachers have created alphabet books. My students have used Quizlet outside of class to study for the SAT and Regents as well as to learn foreign languages. Quizlet maintains a page for teachers (http://quizlet.com/teachers), and offers an ad-free Plus account for $15 per year.
Flocabulary (www.flocabulary.com) delivers videos introducing vocabulary with a hip-hop soundtrack for students of all levels. Flocabulary keeps it real; the songs sound good and they tackle age-appropriate words in authentic contexts. Flocabulary offers teacher accounts for $5 per month, and some videos are free. Videos are available for K–12, and also include Common Core-aligned lessons, song lyrics, challenge questions, and tests with answer keys. Flocabulary creates its own material, so all language is appropriate for a student audience.
Freerice (www.freerice.org) presents vocabulary quizzes while supporting the United Nations World Food Program. For each correct answer, 10 grains of rice are donated. That isn’t much, but grains add up. Questions get harder or easier depending on your progress. The site is free, and creating an account lets you keep track of donations, register a class and change the difficulty of the words. Not much is offered beyond multiple-choice questions, but I find my students stay motivated to use Freerice because of its mission.
Using these tech tools changed the way I teach vocabulary, to the delight and benefit of my students. I find that my students now retain more, study more, and enjoy the work.
Sandy Scraggs is an English teacher and instructional technology specialist at Emma Lazarus HS in Manhattan.