Vocabulary, terms, word lists – no matter what you call them, they exist in every subject from math to music and practicing them can be so, so frustrating for both teacher and student. They are often overly time consuming to grade and just as often easy for students find ways around the task. . Stop pulling out your hair in despair and try these four (free) vocabulary resources to spice up your lessons, increase student retention, and ease your grading woes.
Super Lame – Don’t let the name fool you, this resource is a hidden gem. Super Lame transforms photos into a comic book panels. Users can add word balloons, caption boxes, and onomatopoeias to any image.
How to Use It: Gather students into groups of two or three and give each two terms to create a sentence. Students will then take a photograph of themselves demonstrating the term. The physical action of writing and acting out the sentence will cement both the word and its proper use into the students’ memories. After uploading the photo, students will add a caption box at the top with the term and definition, then another at the bottom with the sentence, followed up with any extra balloons or onomatopoeias needed. The image can be emailed or saved to the student’s device. Put these images on your class site, word wall, etc. to enable students to see the terms daily for extra retention. You can crank it up a notch and have a contest for the best picture to engage their competitive nature.
BoomWriter – Speaking of competitive nature, this next resource capitalizes on a student’s drive to beat other classmates. BoomWriter has several options to use for classroom practices, but the one I’m going with today is the Word Writer tool.
How To Use It: Students will write a short story and the teacher can add any terms that should be used in it. There is a reminder online so that students will know which words they have used and which ones they have left. The act of writing adds one factor in retention, but the site provides an additional boost. When the students submit their paper, the teacher approves the entries that use the terms correctly. The entries are then available for all students to read and vote on. This has the advantage of them seeing each other’s stories to reinforce word meanings, as well as evaluating the word use when they are judging. The teacher sets the parameters for judging, proper word use plus one other factor (most entertaining, silliest, etc.). Best of all, this platform can transcend period boundaries or can even be used as a competition with other teachers on your grade level.
Eclipse Crossword – I know what you’re thinking – and you’re right. Crosswords have been overused and are easy for students to copy. What does a student learn from asking, “Psst! What is 6 down?” Change it up with Eclipse Crossword.
How To Use It: You will need to download this tool, but when you do, you have options at your fingertips. For one, this program can take your terms and crank out 10, 20, 30 versions of the puzzle. No longer is a student looking for a shortcut learning what 6 down is, now they are having to ask, “Psst! Which word matches [insert definition]?” This makes them associate the word with the definition, which is the purpose of vocabulary practice to begin with. On top of that, creative teachers can up their game by uses examples of that term or fill-in-the-bank sentences for clues, rather than just the definition. This forces the students think deeper about the word, moving this from a simple puzzle to the next stage of higher order thinking skills. Plus, crosswords are easy to check, which gives you more time for feedback on bigger projects.
Word Search Maker – Word searches, in the traditional sense, are worthless for actual vocabulary practice. Students are only seeing the words and not associating them with a definition or usage. Word Search Maker, plus a creative teacher, however, makes quite a different activity. This works best for long lists.
How To Use It: Put all the words into the puzzle, but instead of giving a word bank (this is easily disabled in the program) and having students search for all of them, give definitions of the ten or fifteen terms you want them to find. By instructing students to find only the words with the definitions listed, the student is then required to put definition and word together. If spelling is being tested, then a teacher can easily enter the word three times into the puzzle, but with only one correct spelling. This will require students to focus on the correct spelling. This puzzle maker is online and can easily crank out a 10, 20, 30, or more different versions of the puzzle to discourage copying.
There you go - four easy (and free!) resources to change up your vocabulary game. Try them and post a comment on what worked for you. Also, if you have a different resource to others to try, share it in the review. I’m always looking for something new to try. If we feature it on a future blog, you’ll get glory and fame and be the envy of all your colleagues as we credit you with the idea.