Sunday, November 4, 2012

Very Visual Vocabulary

If you are like me or like my students, learning vocabulary can be tedious and boring.  Have I said that before?  Boring.  Fresh off of a conference called Dynamic Vocabulary Instruction in Secondary Classrooms by Dr. Anita L. Archer, my confidence in what I do with my students was reconfirmed.  In a nutshell, she spoke about engaging the students and providing "student-friendly" explanations of vocabulary.  I must say that she was the queen of classroom management and keeping the students engaged.  She was able to use techniques to get the students to think for themselves, stay on-task, and actively participate.  Her techniques also gave students time to work with partners and give each student the opportunity to develop answers, which puts the kibosh on that one student that always answers every question.

I'm a big proponent of using visualizations when learning vocabulary such as real pictures and student drawn illustrations.  After introducing the word and introducing the meaning of the word comes the time to illustrate the word with examples.  Dr. Archer suggested using concrete examples, visual examples, and verbal examples for checking comprehension.  With that said, I'd like to show you a few websites/activities that are both engaging and a great way to illustrate vocabulary.

Shahi is a visual dictionary that pairs definitions of words with images from Flickr, Google, and Yahoo.  The free online dictionary uses some sort of fancy, special formula to bring out the definition plus images using Princeton University's Wordnet, Wiktionary (a wiki-based open content dictionary), and Flickr (plus Google & Yahoo).  However they do it, it's pretty cool.  Another neat feature is that it keeps a running log of the words you look up.  So if you type in your 10 vocabulary words, they'll be on the same page to view.  As with anything you look up on the web, you should be wary of inappropriate pictures when you use online sites.  You should be careful and pre-screen your words just in case.  I hardly have any issues, but it's always good to err on the side of caution.

Tag Galaxy 
Tag Galaxy is another great way to put pictures to words.  It's a very visual way to present pictures to students using Flickr photos.  If you don't know what Flickr is, it's a social photo sharing website.  Basically, you post any of your pictures and then tag them with any associations that the picture may have. You can leave your pictures out there for anyone to use or you can have copyright restrictions if you'd like.      .

Well, Tag Galaxy takes it to the next "galaxy" by allowing users to search a term or "tag".  What's really cool is that you can continue to travel through the galaxy by narrowing your search.  This is great for a couple of reasons. First, it teaches students how to improve their searches using the internet.  And second, it provides words that are similar (i.e. synonyms).  For example, after doing a lesson on Felix Baumgartner, we searched the term "skydiver".  We narrowed our search by adding the tags "parachutist" and "skydiving". Once you find your desired result, you click on the planet.  After clicking on a planet, a disco ball-like planet appears with your photos intact.  You can rotate the planet to view more photos and click on individual photos to enlarge the view.  This would be really cool on a SMART Board.

Many people have heard about or seen Wordle.  It's a super creative visual way of displaying ideas.  There are limitless possibilities on how to use this, but I'll tell you a couple that relate to vocabulary.  In order to use Wordle, you need to compile a list of words (or tags).  You could do this as a classroom activity or with just one student.  Think of synonyms, examples, and associations.  Have the students brainstorm and write as many words that they can that they associate with the term.  Do this as a class or have each student pick one vocabulary word and then have them present it to the others.  Print them all off and copy a packet of vocabulary Wordles for each student.  The other way that I use Wordle is to have the students look up the words on various websites.  You can use a variety of online dictionaries or wikipages.  Copy the text from that page into the Wordle and see what appears.  As a side note, the more the word appears, the more prominent it will be in the Wordle.  I would suggest typing the vocabulary word many more times just to add an emphasis on your Wordle (see my example below).  The result is pretty cool.  You'll see a great visualization of your vocabulary!  If you want to try something really cool, then copy and paste a student's essay into Wordle.  It will immediately visualize the entire paper!

Tagxedo is just like Wordle, but with different options.  You can actually put your words into a shape.  Not only can you use one of their shapes (heart, cloud, Lincoln's head, & etc.), you can actually import any picture and make your words take the shape of the picture.  Another feature is the ability to insert a webpage's URL and Tagxedo will automatically import the words to make the picture (see the example below from using  Another addition to Tagxedo is the ability to hover over each word with a mouse pointer (or on a SMARTBoard) to highlight and emphasize a particular word.  

Get creative!  Think of how you might have your students create and demonstrate vocabulary.  Think of how you could use it across subject matter like science or social studies.  Have the students create these instead of copying down definitions.  I can tell you from experience that you'll have much more engagement and participation from students when you use creative visual examples.