All About Adolescent Literacy

All about adolescent literacy. Resources for parents and educators of kids in grades 4-12.
AddThis Social Bookmark Button
email this article Email  
Text Size: A A A  

Free Technology Tools for Building Academic Vocabulary


One outcome of meeting as a Professional Learning Community (PLC) to discuss students’ research projects was a decision to focus next on academic vocabulary. In upcoming meetings, the three teachers would again rely on PowerUp What Works to find best practices and related free tech tools. Each teacher prepared for the PLC by reviewing a different Lesson in Action:

To launch each meeting, one teacher would state an instructional challenge. Let’s follow their conversation over a three-week period.

Meeting Week 1

“My students have difficulty understanding and then recalling the meaning of specialized terms,” Arayle plunged right in with her challenge.

Caroline noted, “My students, too. I read about using semantic mapping (sometimes called mind maps, word maps, concept maps, or graphic organizers) to make the relationship among word meanings explicit.” When she searched for a relevant blog on PowerUp, she found Semantic Mapping: A Tool for all Reasons.

“Here, let me show you some of the recommended tools,” she said as she opened the link so everyone could see.

Michael added, “My students, especially those who struggle, loved MindMup because they could insert images to help them remember word meanings.”

Meeting Week 2

The others nodded in agreement when Michael stated his challenge: “How can I make using a dictionary a valuable tool for my students?”

“Returning to the Tech Matters Blog,” Caroline said, “I found, Back to the Future: Using the Dictionary. Here are three recommended tech tools to consider:”

Arayle had also read the same blog, “This blog also contains links to websites with suggestions for engaging students in dictionary activities. Let’s help each other adapt some of these ideas for academic vocabulary learning:”

They agreed to select flexible activities that could be accessible for all students.

Meeting Week 3

Arayle’s challenge focused on context clues, “We talk about them, but how can I ensure my students actually utilize them when reading?”

“Let’s check out the Context Clues Teaching Strategy,” Michael suggested. “Here’s a list of six types of context clues:”

  • Root word and affix: People who study birds are experts in ornithology.
  • Contrast: Unlike mammals, birds incubate their eggs outside their bodies.
  • Logic: Birds are always on the lookout for predators that might harm their young.
  • Definition: Frugivorous birds prefer eating fruit to any other kind of food.
  • Example or Illustration: Some birds like to build their nests in inconspicuous spotshigh up in the tops of trees, well hidden by leaves.
  • Grammar: ​Many birds migrate twice each year.

“This will be an excellent reminder for my students,” Caroline chimed in. “Got any ideas for online games for practice?”

“As a matter of fact,” Michael said, “I recently found two games I plan to try: (1) Flip-a-Chip on Readwritethink and (2) Rags to Riches. Each game allows students to check their work against the correct answers. It’s a low-risk self-assessment.”

Arayle added, “Here’s another relevant blog: Our Favorite 3 Tools for Vocabulary Learning: Context Clues.”

Michael pointed to the screen, “The blog mentions Visual Thesaurus Vocab Grabber (FREE; also a paid subscription to use additional features of Visual Thesaurus). I’ve already successfully used that tool in semantic mapping activities.”

Everyone agreed that having a PLC to discuss how to create tech-rich instruction has been extremely valuable. The teachers scheduled their future meetings, deciding to return their attention to math (see Free Tools for Fractions).

Judith Zorfass, Principle Investigator, PowerUp WHAT WORKS
Tracy Gray, Project Director, PowerUp WHAT WORKS
Contributor: Caroline Martin, Research Assistant, PowerUp WHAT WORKS

Post a new comment