Zooming in on Vocabulary: Prezi and the Frayer Model

By Thomas DeVere Wolsey and Dana L. Grisham

Graphic organizers have helped many students grasp vocabulary for years. The most effective uses of graphic organizers require students to use vocabulary, often through engagement with text, peers, and teachers in multiple ways.  In other words, it won’t do for students to simply “complete” a graphic organizer. Rather, they must use the organizer to explore the concept or vocabulary term under consideration.

In this post, we share the tool Prezi as a digital home for the Frayer model of vocabulary learning. Prezi works like traditional slide deck programs, such as PowerPoint or Google Slides in some ways, but Prezi does not rely on linear presentation models. Rather, you can zoom in and out to different parts of the Prezi or follow a prescribed path. Prezi allows the creator or user to zoom from area to area by dragging or by following a pathway that may or may not be linear. The user can zoom in to closely examine one aspect of the show, or zoom out to obtain a broad overview.  This aspect of Prezi makes it a perfect digital tool for the Frayer model.

Click the images to be taken to the Prezi templates you can reuse in your own classroom.

Prezi Frayer Template

Prezi Template for Frayer Model

This version uses a picture as one element of the Frayer.

Frayer Picture Prezi

Prezi Template for Frayer with Picture

We have found that the strength of the Frayer model lies in its requirement that students explore “non examples” of the target term.  The Frayer is a simple graphic organizer with four quadrants and the word in the middle. It is similar to word maps and other vocabulary learning organizers. However, the Frayer asks students to dig more deeply into what they know and can discover about the term by examining critical attributes.  This is where non-examples come in to play.

A non-example must be more than just an opposite or something generic that a target word to be learned is not. That is to say, that if an astronomy target word is “eclipse” then the non-example cannot simply be “galaxy.” The two terms share a topic in common, but they do not share some attributes that lead to great depth of understanding. As students become increasingly familiar with the target word, they should also explore attributes of the term. Once they are familiar with the attributes of the target, they can identify non-examples that might be confused with the term because the non-examples might share some, but not all, of the target attributes.  Through discussion and exploration of internet resources, students come to a much deeper understanding of the concepts represented by the target word.

Using “eclipse” as a target word for Frayer, students might realize that the attributes of the concept of eclipse include one celestial body, such as a moon, passing in front of another, such as the Earth blocking light from reaching an observer. While celestial bodies pass in front of each other regularly, the key attribute of an eclipse is that light is blocked from the point of view of an observer.  A non-example of “eclipse” is “lunar orbit.” In a lunar orbit, the moon routinely passes in front of an observer on Earth, but only periodically does it also block the light from the sun.

In our work with vocabulary, we have found (see our article on Vocabulary Self-collection Strategy in The Reading Teacher) that a search for relevant images is a powerful way for students to make sense of the words they encounter. For this reason, we have changed one quadrant of the Prezi’d Frayer to include an image representing the target word. Finally, we suggest that students post links to their Frayer organizers on a class blog or other website.  Activities asking students to view and respond to each other’s Prezi’s further improve the possibility that students deeply learn the target words that are so important in many content areas.

We have made the two Prezi templates public and reusable. You can share these with your students to save as one of their own, or you can redesign our templates for your class needs.


Predictive Search

Have you ever been at the end of your rope and didn’t know what to write? Have your students ever felt like that? Read my post on the new International Literacy Association’s Literacy Daily blog to find out how to use this powerful tool to inspire writing might work.

Discipline-specific and Technical Dictionaries Online

By Thomas DeVere Wolsey 

One effective way of learning vocabulary specific to any given discipline is to use technical and discipline-specific reference sources. This list is not comprehensive, and anyone with suggestions to build this directory is encouraged to email me at info@iaieus.com or post a comment, below. Experts and practitioners use reference works that are specific to their fields all the time. What better way to help ease students into the world of your discipline than to guide them to the reference works that are specific to each field?

My criteria for inclusion in this list:

  • Resource must be fully accessible online.
  • Resource must be suitable (but perhaps challenging) for students in grades 6 through 12 and undergraduate (but not excluding those who are learning about the topic).
  • There is a reasonable probability that the resource will remain online for some time to come.
  • The resource presents accurate information that represents the field.


MOMA: http://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/glossary Search by artist, by theme, or alphabetically.


Inc.com Encyclopedia: http://www.inc.com/encyclopedia/ Search many entries relevant to business and entrepreneurism.

Web Copywriting Glossary: http://www.wealthywebwriter.com/web-copywriting-glossary/ Suggested by Benedict Paul (thanks!). I have included this in the business category, but it has some very good entries on writing (as you might expect) and technology, as well. (added 8/6/2015)


Literature Dictionary: http://www.literature-dictionary.org/ Includes dictionaries of characters, dictionaries by author, and dictionaries of terms.


Illustrated mathematics dictionary: http://www.mathsisfun.com/definitions/index.html. Easy navigation, intended for grades K-12.

Mathwords: http://www.mathwords.com/ Focuses on precision and readability. The site includes graphics to bolster the definitions.

Wolfram MathWorld: http://mathworld.wolfram.com/  Perhaps one of the most comprehensive resources for mathematics definitions on the web.

Encyclopedia of Mathematics: http://www.encyclopediaofmath.org/index.php/Main_Page An open-access resource with more than 8000 entries.


Naxos.com: http://www.naxos.com/education/glossary.asp Search alphabetically.

Physical Education:

Sports Definitions: http://www.sportsdefinitions.com/ Searchable by type of sport or alphabetically.


The Science Dictionary: https://www.thesciencedictionary.com/ This is actually a search tool that aggregates search results specific to science.

Enchanted Learning: http://www.enchantedlearning.com/science/dictionary/ Links to several specialty dictionaries by Enchanted Learning for students (e.g., botany, dinosaurs, land forms).

Geology Dictionary: http://geology.com/geology-dictionary.shtml Also, check out the map collections: http://geology.com/state-map/

Social Studies:

Ancient History Encyclopedia: http://www.ancient.eu/index/ Search alphabetically, by timeline, for images, or for videos.

Online Dictionary of the Social Sciences: http://bitbucket.icaap.org/ A comprehensive dictionary, designed for undergraduates, by Athabasca University.

Catholic Online: http://www.catholic.org/ So many figures and ideas are associated with the Roman Catholic church that a reference work may be very helpful. This one is supported by ads that can be annoying.

Taegan Goddard’s Political Dictionary: http://politicaldictionary.com/

Geography Dictionary & Glossary: http://www.itseducation.asia/geography/

Compilation of Architecture Dictionaries by Robert Beard: http://www.alphadictionary.com/directory/Specialty_Dictionaries/Architecture/ (Be sure to check out http://www.alphadictionary.com/specialty.html for many more specialty dictionary links. Some are better than others, but it’s quite a collection).


NetLingo: http://www.netlingo.com/ One of the first and best (in my opinion) dictionaries for those interested in technology and internet-related terms.


Find more resources for literacy in the disciplines right here on Literacy Beat.

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