Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Connect, Collect, AND ContextualizeL

IRA was an amazing conference. There was a lot I loved about this conference, not the least of which was connecting to friends, ideas, content, even media.  took some time to wander the exhibit hall. I had my eye on's swag: magnetic poetry sheets with words like insouciant and pulchitrudinous.How can such an ungainly word mean beautiful?

I had great fun at the booth and am  wowed by what the web-based tool will do.

 In my classroom, students are in charge of vocabulary learning. We keep academic journals and students have learned to be on the look out for words they want to learn.  They cull words from the books they read, from the articles of the week or poems we read together, even from things I or their other teachers say.  They create personal dictionaries in the academic journals, much like Linda Reif's do in her students' Readers Writers Notebooks. Students do a variety of things to learn the words: notes, definitions, illustrations, model sentences (culled from the wild world of their reading lives), vocabulary fortunes, etc. I also explicity teach some words to the whole-class. I model word learning and use language that peeks their interest in words in my own talk (and in my own journal), still I tinker.

This year I've tinkered with connections. Giving kids model texts to mentor not only their writing and grammar knowledge but also vocabulary. Stephanie Harvey may say that education is all about "modeling, modeling, modeling" and I'd add that learning and memory depend on "connecting, connecting, connecting." If I can connect a text and weave or layer lessons in reading, writing, grammar and word learning I'm more than halfway to home base.

Welcome screen at is the first tool I've seen that contextualizes vocabulary in ways similar to what we do in class. The dictionary on the site has thousands or hundreds of thousands of model sentences. AND users can click the model sentence and be taken directly to the article where the word is used in the wild. Articles vary AND users don't only have to depend on's feed to pull articles, they can reverse the process. Type a URL link into a command box and ask to "grab the vocab." The site pulls words it predicts users will want to learn and provides definitions, synonyms, and model sentences from the article of interest. Voilà! AND--yes, there's more--students can "play" at learning the words grabbed from the article by answering multiple choice questions about the word.

Well, play is suspect. When the sales representative demonstrated the feature I remarked at how multiple choice questions were really "gamifying" the learning (his word). True there are no a, b, c, or d markers on the answer choiecs and true, learners get to rack up points and move through "levels", but really it was simple quizzing. Still, I can overlook that for it's other features. And Ivan said they're working on other games users could play with the words.

What I like best is the site's ability to grab vocabulary from an article, create a list and collect model sentences from text. Exactly the work students have been doing on their own in their journals: finding the words, writing the down, noting the definitions, synonyms, antonyms and the model sentence. Students can find and save these at and focus their energy on learning the words instead of using up all of their writing them down.

Once on the site, choose vocabulary lists.

Then choose to create a list.

Have the article open in another tab or window in your browser. Click the printer icon on the article. Then copy and paste the printer-friendly text into the text box on

Students can add specific words grabbed from the article (or you can and create a list for students to learn). Immediately differentiate vocabulary learning by having students choose only the words they do not know and wish to learn. When they decide to learn the list, questions using those words will appear. Over time, will track words students have learned (gotten correct).

To access the site users sign up with an email account and must verifying the link sent by Then they are free to create and save word lists culled from articles or from's extensive themed- collection.

I can't wait to share this resource with teachers at my school!


  1. Wow, this looks awesome, LeeAnn! This could be really wonderful for my ELLs -- can't wait to share it with them! We do weekly personalize vocab that sounds a lot like yours, and this could be a great resource! Thanks so much for sharing!

  2. Cool resource! Now I can't wait to read your blog about your experience as an author at IRA.