Monday, February 21, 2011

Article of the Week: eVoc Strategies

The article for this week is eVoc Strategies: 10 Ways to Use Technology to build Vocabulary by Bridget Dalton and Dana L. Grisham, published in The Reading Teacher (February 2011/vol. 64, No. 5).


Vocabulary knowledge is key to comprehension and expression. For students in the intermediate grades, the need for breadth and depth of vocabulary accelerates as they encounter more challenging academic texts in print and on the Internet. Drawing on research-based principles of vocabulary instruction and multimedia learning, this article presents 10 eVoc strategies that use free digital tools and Internet resources to evoke students' engaged vocabulary learning. The strategies are designed to support the teaching of words and word learning strategies, promote students' strategic use of on-demand web-based vocabulary tools, and increase students' volume of reading and incidental word learning. The strategies emphasize developing students' interest in words as they read, view, interact with, and create word meanings in digital and multimedia contexts. Teachers are invited to ‘go digital with word learning’ and experiment with integrating technology to improve their students' vocabulary and reading comprehension.

The first 5 strategies focus on explicit teaching of vocabulary and helping students become independent word learners.

1. Learn from Visual Displays of Word Relationships within Text
"Graphic organizers and visual displays highlight the relationships between words (Baumann & Kame'enui, 2004)" (p. 308). The authors suggest two free web tools that allow students to create word clouds based on the frequency of the words entered from a particular text.

Wordle: "Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes" (reprinted from the Wordle website).

Wordsift:  "WordSift helps anyone easily sift through texts -- just cut and paste any text into WordSift and you can engage in a verbal quick-capture! The program helps to quickly identify important words that appear in the text. This function is widely available in various Tag Cloud programs on the web, but we have added the ability to mark and sort different lists of words important to educators. We have also integrated it with a few other functions, such as visualization of word thesaurus relationships (incorporating the amazing Visual Thesaurus® that we highly recommend in its own right) and Google® searches of images and videos" (reprinted from the Wordshift website).

2. Take a Digital Vocabulary Trip
"In the original vocabulary field trip (Blachowicz & Obrochta, 2005), the teacher begins with a large poster of a topic, such as weather...records what [students] saw as they read books and other materials" (p. 309).

Teachers can create a digital version of the vocabulary field trip using TrackStar: "TrackStar is your starting point for online lessons and activities. Simply collect Web sites, enter them into TrackStar, add annotations for your students, and you have an interactive, online lesson called a Track" (reprinted from the TrackStar website).

3. Connect Fun and Learning with Online Vocabulary Games
Two websites that offer a variety of activities to engage students in playing with words and word meanings: and

4. Have students use media to express vocabulary knowledge
"This strategy focuses on students' vocabulary representations in multiple modes--writing, audio, graphic, video, and animation (Nikolova, 2002; Xin & Rieth, 2001)" (p. 311). Here, the authors suggest using a presentation program such as PowerPoint to create multimedia representations of vocabulary words. More ideas here.

5. Take advantage of online word reference tools that are also teaching tools
Back in School webpage of

The next two strategies provide just-in-time support while reading.

6. Support reading and word learning with just-in-time vocabulary reference support
"Some word reference tools can be mounted on the browser toolbar, allowing you to right click on any word to look it up and have a brief definition display" (p. 312).

Internet Explorer and Mozilla dictionary addon
Back in School from
Merriam Webster's Word Central
American Heritage Dictionary of the English Langauge

Visual Dictionaries

Enchanted Learning
Merriam-Webster's Online Visual Dictionary

7. Use language translators to provide just-in-time help for ELs
"Online dictionaries often support multiple languages (e.g., the Yahoo! Kids dictionary supports 90 languages), and EL students should be taught to look for the option. Another resources is the language translator. the value of a translator is that it supports learning words as they occur naturally in authentic text and allows students to view bilingual versions of a text side by side so that they can use their first language knowledge to develop their English vocabulary" (p. 313).

Google translator
Bing translator
Toolbar extension that translates any webpage automatically

The next two strategies help increase students' volume of reading, and indirectly, their incidental word learning.

8. Increase reading volume by reading digital text
"Many educational publishers and organizations provide free online content, including articles and media about current events, some of which are generated by students themselves. A few of our favorites include the following" (p. 314):

Time for Kids
Weekly Reader
National Geographic Kids
National Geographic Kids blogs
Science News for Kids

9. Increase reading volume by listening to digital text with a text-to-speech tool and audio books
"One powerful strategy is to allow students to listen to text with a text-to-speech (TTS) tool or, when available, listen to audio narration. This provides students with access to age-appropriate content and grade-level curriculum, a right mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004. For struggling readers, TTS increases their reading speed, reduces stress, and for some, but not all, improves comprehension (Elkind & Elkind, 2007)" (p. 314).

TTS Tools

Click, Speak for Firefox

Audio Books

Learning Through Listening
Audiobooks: Ear-resistible!

10. Combine vocabulary learning and social service
"The final eVoc strategy is a free online vocabulary game, Free Rice that has attracted millions of users, young and old. We believe it offers an opportunity to promote students' engagement with words while contributing to the social good.

From the Free Rice website: "FreeRice is a non-profit website run by the United Nations World Food Programme. In the middle of the Freerice Home page you will see something like:
  • small means:
    • little
    • old
    • big
    • yellow
To play the game, click on one of the four definitions ("little", "old", "big" or "yellow") that you think is correct. If you get it right, Freerice donates 10 grains of rice to help end hunger. In the example above, you would want to click on "little", which means "small". When you select the correct answer, you earn 10 grains of rice - your donation is automatically counted without any further action required on your part. You will then get a chance to play another question in the same way. You can play as long as you like and donate as much rice as you like."

This article provides many ways to engage students in meaningful development of vocabulary.  Have you tried any of these strategies? Do you have others to share?

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