Using Multimedia to Support Students’ Generative Vocabulary Learning

A post from Jill

In our April 26th post we shared that Bridget, Dana, and I have written a chapter for the second edition of Vocabulary Instruction: Research to Practice (forthcoming, Guilford Press) to be published in 2011. In our chapter, Using Multimedia to Support Students’ Generative Vocabulary Learning we highlight ways to use digital media to support vocabulary learning.  In the chapter, we include multimodal examples, which are reproduced as figures.  However in static manuscript form, we found ourselves limited in showcasing these creations, which are meant to be interacted with digitally.

This post features each of the examples. What follows is a brief description of teaching ideas from the chapter  along downloadable files. These files allow you to click on links and interact with the content to get a better sense of the potentials and possibilities.  We hope these creations spark your creative ideas for ways to use digital media to support vocabulary learning!

Multimedia Hypertext Versions of Poems, Quotes, or Short Text Excerpts

Students often find it difficult to unpack the meaning of words and figurative language within a poem or passage. An alternative way to dive deep into word meaning is to engage them in creating hypertext versions of the text that include links to other media. The original text represents the first layer, and their personal connections and interpretations represent the second, hyperlinked layer. This activity works well in partner groups because it encourages students to talk about and use the targeted words as they design their linked text.

PowerPoint, or other multimedia presentation software, can serve as the hypertext medium. To introduce this kind of vocabulary and figurative language exploration, create a 3 slide PowerPoint template.: slide 1 explains the task and introduces how to make a hyperlink within a slide show, slide 2 introduces an example, and slide 3 provides the actual text to be expanded with vocabulary hyperlinks.

The example below demonstrates how key words and phrases in the opening of Martin Luther King Jr.’s  I Have a Dream speech can be hyperlinked to students’ elaborations and connections in different modes.

Click Hypertext to download and interact with this example.

Compose Multimodal Word Webs

Creating a multimodal word web is probably one of the simplest and most effective ways to use language and media to express word meanings and explore the relationship between words.  To begin, create a basic template that students can customize. At a minimum, the multimodal word web should include the target word or concept, an explanation, and examples of the word in a context. Further, at least two modes should be used such as text, sound, graphics, and video. For example,  a word web for the target word ‘habitat’ might include descriptive information that defines what a habitat is, as well as photographs of different habitats, video of wildlife in their habitat, and audio clips that offer a chance to hear sounds within a given habitat.

In the example below, words come to life. You can listen to whale sounds from the arctic and watch a video clip showing how the polar bear learned how to survive in the arctic, a habitat that offers few comforts.

Click Habitat to download and interact with this example.

Pictures Worth 1000 Words

You know the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words”; the same can be true of a word – what information, memories, images, and sounds are evoked when you hear the word ‘celebrate’ or ‘grandmother’? While we share cultural understandings of some visual symbols, the ways that visual representation can be connected to words is limitless. Even for something as specific as a car, our image memories will vary. To develop both visual literacy skills and vocabulary, challenge students to connect words to images or images to words.

The example below begins with the key word “challenge” together with images that match with it.  After students complete such as collage, ask them to add a title and explain why the images are a good representation of the word. This offers an excellent opportunity to teach how to critically read images on the Web.

Click “Challenge” to download and interact with this example.

Vocab Vids (see Bridget’s post “VocabVid Stories: Developing vocabulary depth and breadth through live action video“)

Bridget and Christian Ehret partnered to create an example that illustrates the power of video to illustrate word meanings. The video opens with a shot of a desk piled high with books. Ehret is sitting on the floor, hidden by the desk. Suddenly, his hand appears, pulling a book off. More books disappear as he pops up repeatedly, looking increasingly distressed. At the end, Ehret appears with a sign displaying the word “overwhelm,” saying, “I’m distressed, drowning in a deluge of books. This is an overwhelming amount of books to read! Can you tell I’m feeling totally overwhelmed?!” Note that all of the italicized words were found on a thesaurus during a Web search the pair did to prepare for the video. They used different forms of the word (overwhelm, overwhelmed, overwhelming) and incorporated related words (distress and deluge) to aid in the development of word concepts.

View the Video Example

We hope these examples have gotten your creative juices flowing and introduced some new possibilities.  We welcome you to share additional ideas for ways you’ve used digital media to enhance vocabulary learning. Please add a comment or send us an email.

Tweets on Cyberbullying

By Dana Grisham

Ms. Vanessa Cristobal is a high school English teacher at the California School for the Deaf. Ms. Cristobal is an innovative teacher who enjoys using technology to teach her profoundly Deaf and hard-of-hearing students using Web 2.0 Resources. Deaf students are avid users of technology, and indeed technologies such as closed captioning, Instant Messaging, and other assistive technologies are a boon to this student population.

In her honors class this year, Ms. Cristobal, did a unit on cyberbullying that taught her students some of the most important lessons about the uses—and possible misuses—of technology.

Our blog, Literacy Beat, focuses on vocabulary learning and Web 2.0 tools and the issue of cyberbullying is an important topic–and one that teachers must consider. There are significant vocabulary terms that must be learned by students and Ms. Cristobal is very aware of that.

She begins her unit with a PowerPoint on how to do Twitter (Tweeting). Then students begin to read resources on the topic and to discuss these in class. Finally, they “Tweet” about the problem using some of the new language they have learned and combining that with artistic composition language. Wolsey and Grisham (in press) have compared “tweeting” with Haiku. Both have space constraints, which make them brief, but when done well, they have quite an impact on the reader.

See this example of a Haiku (all tweets and haikus reproduced here with permission).

A yellow pencil

Left beneath a schoolhouse tree

Autumn leaves gather.

T.D. Wolsey (67 characters)

Compare with a “tweet.”

140 characters is the space limitation for a tweet and it is quite short, like Haiku, so thought must reflect the essence of communication.

D.L. Grisham (139 characters)

Ms. Cristobal used a number of resources on her unit on cyberbullying. Note below there are ten useful websites compiled on this topic. The culminating activity of Ms. Cristobal’s unit was the tweeting the students did in response to what they had learned. These were posted to Twitter, but kept private. All identifying information has been eliminated from these student examples.

Five Student Examples (edited a little for grammar):

It really hurts to be hated and makes me so angry, but I can’t respond that way. Instead, I must report. I would never do this to another! (138)

A sad boy cringes from his former friends in such pain that he might suicide. It is betrayal, but don’t despair. Tell someone and escape. (137)

You must not believe the lies and the hate, but trust this will pass. Report the abuse and you will then be free. Be strong. Don’t despair. (139)

Cyberbullying is a crime. Don’t commit it. If you are a victim, report it. It is not your fault. Sometimes so called friends make mistakes. (139)

In the end, you will survive, but it can make you angry and sad. Cyberbullying is a crime, so don’t let yourself believe the bad messages. (138)

Ms. Cristobal’s honor students did an excellent job with the form and the language and cyberbullying is a topic that all students, particularly middle and high school students need to review, much like safely crossing the street for younger students.

Ten Resources on Cyberbullying

Wikipedia definitions:  Includes definitions, original research, other publications on cyber-bullying.

Cyberbullying Resource Center: Two researchers, Justin Patchin and Sameer Hinduja, authors of Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard (2009), sponsor a website dedicated to “providing up-to-date information about the nature, extent, causes, and consequences of cyberbullying among adolescents.”

National Crime Prevention Panel: Provides a Q & A and other resources, including reporting options.

KidsHealth:  In the parents section, text-to-speech provides audio reading of information about cyberbullying in both English and Spanish.

BrainPop:  Provides a free kid-centered “cartoon” on cyberbullying. Other free programs include Internet safety, instructions for email and IMing, and cyberetiquette.

WiredKids, Inc.  What it is, how to recognize cyberbullying, what action to take and how to join a campaign.

Cyberbullying Report:  Contains a process for reporting cyberbullies.

NetSmartz (NS) Teens: Video that explores cyberbullying through student interviews and cartoon.

YouTube:  The experiences of a teen boy who was cyberbullied and grew desperate, but how the cyberbulling was stopped. (There are a number of other films on YouTube on this topic that I have not reviewed.)

Stop Bullying: provides information from various government agencies on how kids, teens, young adults, parents, educators and others in the community can prevent or stop bullying.

Images for Cyberbullying:

Google Images for cyberbullying:

May be used for reports or as teacher resources, although some are copyrighted.


Wolsey, T.D. and Grisham, D.L. (in press). Teaching writing with technology. New York: Guilford.

Sample PowerPoint Slides for Tweeting in Ms. Cristobal’s class (with thanks!)

Exploring digital tools for literacy

A post from Bernadette

My teacher candidate students and masters students have been weaving in some digital tools for literacy into the before, during and after reading stages of a guided reading lesson. They have explored the affordances and possibilities presented by these digital tools for literacy. The following are some of the most popular digital tools for literacy that the students have explored this past academic year.

Wordle ( or Tagxedo ( ) to create word clouds. For example, drawing attention to difficult or tricky vocabulary in a text; creating synonyms and antonyms for vocabulary; making predictions using an anticipation guide for Charlotte’s Web (E. B. White) or summarising text as in I have a dream speech by Martin Luther King.

Word sift ( as a teaching tool to sift vocabulary in a text. Word Sift captures an inputted text and displays (a) the most frequent words in text in a variety of formats, e.g. in alphabetical order or from frequent to rare; (b) presents Google images and a visual thesaurus of highlighted words; and (c) provides examples of selected vocabulary within the context of the sentences from the original text. Pretty powerful stuff!

Text of speech by Queen Elizabeth II delivered in Dublin Castle,Ireland  on May 18th 2011

For more great evocabulary ideas see Dalton and Grisham (2011)

Electronic reading formats of texts The students have explored the affordances presented by electronic reading formats for deepening response to literature. For example, they have adapted the work of Larson (2009) to create an electronic reading workshop. Elementary school children were asked to create ebookmarks or generate ejournals to capture fleeting thoughts, construct predictions, make connections or clarify difficult vocabulary as they read.
Students have also created threaded discussions using wordpress ( to create class blogs in response to electronic ebooks. Here children can respond to teacher created prompts. In one student’s classroom the children developed their own prompts and responded to each other in an asynchronous discussion format. The class blog helped to develop a community of readers within the classroom. Analysis of the blog discussions suggested that children scaffolded, contested, affirmed or extended each other’s responses.

See Lisa Zawilinski’s (2009) article in The Reading Teacher for an extended discussion of blogging in the classroom.

Finally, my students have used Glogster ( to create interactive multimedia format posters. These glogs helped children to elaborate their response to ebook formats. For example, in one study the children created video dramas of weather forecasts predicting a storm as the characters in The Wildflower Girl (Mc Kenna, 1994) crossed the Atlantic; or developed meanwhile episodes where the children became involved in authorship to extend the original story crafted by the author.

Tús maith,leath na hoibre (a good start is half the work)! We have made small steps this past academic year. Next year we will extend and grow the affordances presented by digital tools for literacy in the classroom. My fellow bloggers at Literacy Beat have provided me with many inspiring ideas………..
Dalton, B., & Grisham, D. (2011). eVoc Strategies: 10 Ways to Use Technology to Build Vocabulary. The Reading Teacher, 64(5), 306-317.
Larson, L. C. (2009). Reader response meets new literacies: empowering readers in online communities. The Reading Teacher, 62(8) 638-648.
Zawilinski, L (2009).HOT blogging: A framework for blogging to promote higher order thinking. The Reading Teacher, 62(8), 650-661.

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