One of the constants that I reiterate in English classrooms year after year is the need for students to actively build their vocabulary. A strong vocabulary can be the making of you, particularly when it comes to writing essays that are marked by assessors. If your writing shows flair, and you choose your words carefully and use them in the right context, your work can rise above the run of the mill.
My students always ask how can they build their vocabulary. I tell them to pay attention. If they are listening to a speaker, notice when a word is used that they aren’t familiar with. Go home and look it up, understand what it means and how you can use it in a sentence. If you’re reading a book or magazine, do the same. Don’t trip over words and assume you understand their intent from the context of the sentence, make a determined effort to understand why the writer made that word choice, and see if it’s something you can use yourself in discussion or in your next essay. Don’t be frightened of words, embrace them and make them work for you.
I’d heard a whisper or two (read twitter references!) to Vocabulary.com, but hadn’t seen it until this evening thanks to a tweet from Lisa Thumann. I signed up, and spent the next 30 minutes or so pitting my knowledge of vocabulary up against ‘The Challenge’. This entails the site presenting you with a series of words and you having to identify their correct meaning from four options. You choose the level you operate at based on your level of education. It is challenging, and I’ve learnt a thing or two already. It charts your progress, and revisits words you had difficulty mastering. Here’s a screenshot of part of their ‘How it works’ page.
I definitely think Vocabulary.com is something worth showing to your students. It’s not a lesson replacement, but could be something you’d use as a lesson starter for 10 minutes, to get your students thinking. I’d also be recommending it for use as some ongoing self directed learning. Don’t phrase it as homework, that’s sure to turn anyone off!