Education Dictionaries and Glossaries

By Thomas DeVere Wolsey 

In August, I published a post with links to discipline-specific glossaries and dictionaries. Because the internet has such a wealth of resources, it is sometimes difficult to find the sites you want or the key words for a search you need. Lists with links can help readers find the resources they need quickly. Continuing the dictionary list tradition, I compiled some general education dictionaries online. The criteria for inclusion are the same as in the discipline-specific post, except that the resource audience includes teachers and parents.

Parents may want to catch up on the words teachers use. Because schools and states purchase materials from different publishers, sometimes differing terms are heard in the faculty lounge or the school board room. The underlying ideas may be the same, but the word to describe that idea could differ from district to district.  Here are some resources to learn more about the words teachers use.

Reading Rockets

Reading Rockets

Language and teaching strategies: Effective teachers use a variety of strategies to guide their students. This glossary from Reading Rockets organizes them by the type of language learning task (phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, and writing).


Glossary of Language Education Terms


English Language Learners: WikiProjects Glossaries provides this resource that includes terms used in teaching English language learners (students whose first language is not English).

The United States Department of Education also publishes a useful glossary of terms related to teaching English language learners. 



Teachnology glossary


General Teaching Glossary: General terms that go beyond those used just in language learning environments can be found on the Teach-nology site.



Fractus Learning Technology Terms for Teachers


Technology in Education: As technology becomes an increasingly useful component for teaching, new terms have made their way into the classroom. Learn some of them on the Fractus Learning blog.

Another useful site with technology terms, but not specifically for educators or parents, is


Understood Disability Important Terms


Special education: The field of special education has its own set of terms, often derived from policies and laws that govern special education settings.  Look them up on the Understood website.

What other categories should be added to this link list? Are there other dictionaries or glossaries that you can suggest for any of the categories in this post?


Academic Vocabulary List

By Thomas DeVere Wolsey

For many years, the Academic Word List helped teachers and researchers determine which words were academic in nature (Coxhead, 2000).  Coxhead’s research resulted in the Academic Word List which comprises words roughly equivalent to Beck, McKeown, and Kucan’s (2002) notion of tier two words; that is, words that are used in academic English but not specific to any one discipline.  Coxhead created her list from a corpus, or collection, of academic texts from four disciplines at the university level mainly from New Zealand.  The corpus included 3,500,000 words in total. Academic words were determined by eliminating the 2000 most common words in English and then eliminating words which were found only in a limited range of disciplines.

Now, a new Academic Vocabulary List (AVL) is available online, and it is based on 120 million words derived from a corpus of texts in American English.  Linguists at Brigham Young University, Mark Davies and Dee Gardner, have made their work available as downloads you can use in your own research, or through an online interface. The online interface allows the user to search detailed information about any word in the AVL, and it also permits users to input an entire academic text to determine how it compares the words in the corpus.

This research directly informs instructional practices. An excellent article by Larson, Dixon, and Townsend in Voices from the Middle is a good place to start, and it is free on the National Council of English Teachers website (find the article How Can Teachers Increase Classroom Use of Academic Vocabulary? here and then scroll down the page :

Learn more about AVL on the List’s website at or visit the online interface by clicking the picture, above, or navigating to


Beck, I. L., McKeown, M. G., & Kucan, L. (2002).  Bringing words to life: Robust vocabulary instruction. New York: Guilford Press.

Coxhead, A. (2000). A new academic word list. TESOL Quarterly, 34(2), 213-238.

Gardner, D., & Davies, M. (2013). A new academic vocabulary list. Applied Linguistics, 1. Available:

Larson, L, Dixon, T., & Townsend, D. (2013). How can teachers increase classroom use of academic vocabulary? Voices from the Middle, 20(4), 16-21.

Literacy Beat Friday at ILA

Friday, July 17

Presenters:   Bernadette Dwyer, Jill Castek, Colin Harrison
Title:             Using Technology to Improve Reading and Learning in Transforming Adolescents’ Lives through Literacy. (Institute session #0865)

Presenter:    Bridget Dalton
Title:             Transforming Literacy Instruction through Online Inquiry (Institute 01 Session # 0997)

Presenters:   Thomas DeVere Wolsey, Dana L. Grisham, Linda Smetana
Title:             Academic Wordplay: Digital Strategies for Active Vocabulary Instruction In Vocabulary Collaborations: Pathways to Vocabulary Learning for All students, Grades 2-12 (Institute session #0986)
Title:   Vocabulary Self-Selection Strategy Plus (VSS+):Post-Reading Concept Development Using Digital Tools in Transforming Adolescents’ Lives through Literacy. (Institute session #0865)

Literacy Beat @ IRA (Sunday)

Last year at IRA, Dana was awarded the TILE-SIG Research  Award. This year, she is the keynote speaker. The title of her keynote is “Changing the Landscape of Literacy Teacher Education: Innovations with Generative Technology.”  Congratulations go, also, to our friend and colleague, Denise Johnson at the College of William and Mary, who is the TILE-SIG Research Award recipient this year and next year’s keynote speaker.

Bloggers Dana and DeVere with colleague Linda Smetana discussed their work with Vocabulary Self-collection Strategy Plus (VSS+) at the Meet the Researchers Poster Session on Sunday. Their poster (via Slideshare) you can view here:

VSS+ Poster Session at Meet the Researchers
Learn more about VSS+ on this blog here and here.

View video examples of students’ VSS+ work below.

Dana and Linda Smetana presented research on the manner in which preservice teachers approached and used ebook formats.

And great news! Bloggers Jill and Bernadette with colleague Colin Harrison wrote a new book that debuted today.


Colin, Bernadette, and Jill presented shared resources and ideas excerpted from their new book published by Shell Education.  The IRA session entitled Transform Your Literacy Practice Using Internet Tools and Resources: Meeting Students’ Instructional Needs while Addressing the Common Core State Standards.  Click here to access the presentation materials and website for the session.

In the book, readers will discover how to effectively use technology to support students’ literacy development. New classroom uses for technology are introduced in this easy-to-use resource that help educators enhance students’ attention, engagement, creativity, and collaboration in reading and learning. Great for struggling readers, this book provides strategies for making content-area connections and using digital tools to develop reading comprehension.For more information about the book, click here.


Vocabulary Self-Collection Plus, Part 2

By Linda Smetana, Dana L. Grisham and Thomas DeVere Wolsey,

Last week, we introduced Vocabulary Self-Collection Plus (VSSPlus). Our goal in modifying this time-tested approach (Haggard, 1982) for the digital age (Grisham, Smetana, & Wolsey, in press) was to create an intersection where students might interact with each other in face-to-face spaces to add depth to their vocabulary and concept knowledge. At the same time, we wanted to use technology in a generative way (Grisham & Smetana, 2011) so that students became proficient users of technology while learning academic vocabulary related to their science lesson. This week, want to introduce the technologies we used, and share some lessons learned.

We chose two presentation methods, PowerPoint® and Thinglink, for the students’ e-dictionary entries.  However, many other tools are possible options.  Students might use Voicethread, Prezi, or Popplet, for example. In our work with these fifth-graders, we chose to limit the tools to one that is more familiar to them, and one that would be new.  Embedded in the technology task, we also helped students create audio recordings and showed them how to further deepen their word learning using the Wordsift website.


In Wordsift, students type in a word and produce a visual that links synonyms and related words. For example, “melting point” is a science term students in fifth-grade might be expected to know. By entering “melt” into the Wordsift visual thesaurus, students see related terms including Latinate versions and synonyms.  Please see figure 1.  In addition, Wordsift has many other capabilities including creating a word cloud, executing an image search, or sorting words according to academic word lists. Students in our exploratory group did not have access to screen capture tools, but a few used drawing tools to recreate the visual thesaurus they created in Wordsift.

Figure 1: Wordsift Result for “Melt”




While PowerPoint is a familiar tool to many, some features are not widely known.  We recently asked a group of teacher candidates if they knew PowerPoint could support narration they created, and only two responded that they knew of this feature. In our work with fifth-graders, the students use voice recorders to create the audio, and then they attached those to the PowerPoint slide.  We found that saving the slide as a PowerPoint show (rather than a regular PowerPoint) kept all the audio intact and could be used on any computer using free PowerPoint Show software if the regular version of PowerPoint was not available. Many of the students in the class started out exploring Thinglink, but because they were more comfortable with PowerPoint and recognized the time constraints of the task, switched to that format.

Learn more about adding audio narration to PowerPoint by clicking here.


The Thinglink tool intrigued students, but it required some playing around as they tried to figure out how best to use the tool. In PowerPoint, students could add text and images in any order, but in Thinglink, they needed to locate an appropriate image first.  Then, they could use the editing tools to tag the image with the text such as their definitions and rationales.  Find out more about Thinglink and view some examples by clicking here. An additional challenge was to upload the audio portion of the VSSPlus presentations to a podcast sharing site (we used Podbean), then link the podcast to the Thinglink.  To save time and avoid student frustration, we did this for the students.  For this reason, it was very important that students included their group names on the Thinglink as well as in their audio narration making it possible to easily match up the files.  Figure 2 is an embedded Thinglink created by students you can try.

Figure 2: Thinglink: Boiling Point (Click the image to view the interactive Thinglink)

The E-dictionary

We used Wikispaces to create the first page of the e-dictionary which you can see in figure 3 below. Additional pages for future learning can be added easily.  Students and parents can view the work at will, and learn from each other’s presentations. Other wiki tools, blogs, or even a learning management system (Canvas, BlackBoard, etc.) might be used to host the e-dictionary.

Figure 3: E-dictionary on Wikispaces



Moving Forward

The first time out took a little over three hours because students had to learn to use certain aspects of the technology (inserting images, finding images, creating audio files, and so on). However, in the future, they will not have this hurdle, and the task will proceed much more rapidly.  The important aspect of this task is that students had to discuss the terms amongst themselves, evaluate the relevant aspects of images they chose together, plan their audio components, and work as a team to assemble the final product. Throughout the process, they became deeply aware of the relevant attributes of the concept represented by the term and also what it was not, in some cases.

For future VSSPlus projects, we would appoint a Wikispaces librarian whose job is to put the final presentations in the e-dictionary.  Some students were more adept at using the audio recording tools, and would become the audio engineers.  Thinglink aficionados are appointed the go-to person for Thinglink questions, and PowerPoint specialists who know how to link or insert audio, use the drawing tools, and save in PowerPoint Show format would have a place to shine. Finally, a means of sharing the work is needed.  A data projector with each group presenting their work to the class is a good start. If the classroom has a few computers or laptops, students could rotate through stations viewing and listening to the presentations at some stations while doing other academic work at different stations.

We hope you will try VSSPlus. Let us know what ideas you have to change it up and how well your students learned from the experience.


Haggard, M. (1982) The vocabulary self-collection strategy: An active approach to word learning.  Journal of Reading, 26(3), pp. 203-207.

Grisham, D.L. & Smetana, L. (2011) Generative technology for teacher educators. Journal of Reading Education, 36, 3, 12-18.

Grisham, D. L., Smetana, L., & Wolsey, T.D. (in preparation).  Post-reading vocabulary development through VSSPlus. In T. Rasinski, R. Ferdig, & K. Pytash, (Eds.). Technology and reading [working title]. Bloomington, IN: Solution-Tree.

Vocabulary Self-Collection Strategy Plus (VSS+)

by Dana L. Grisham (with Thomas DeVere Wolsey and Linda Smetana)

The Need for Vocabulary Learning

The need for breadth and depth of vocabulary accelerates through the grades as students encounter more challenging academic texts in print and on the Internet (CCSS, 2010). Improving students’ vocabulary is critical if students are to develop advanced literacy levels required for success in school and beyond, in the world of higher education and the workplace (Biancarosa & Snow, 2006; Graves & Watts-Taffy, 2008; Lubliner & Grisham, 2012).

Research suggests that students with a well-developed vocabulary learn many more words indirectly through reading than from instruction (Cunningham & Stanovich, 2001). If wide reading promotes vocabulary development, then conversations about their reading with adults and peers also strengthen students’ word learning (Biemiller & Boote, 2006). The goal of effective vocabulary instruction is to promote a lively interest in words through student expression and participation in a learning community that enjoys playing with words, builds on individual interests as well as curriculum needs, and emphasizes self-efficacy in word learning (Beck, McKeown, & Kucan, 2008; Graves & Watts-Taffy, 2008). As we have noted in this blog, the impact of technology on vocabulary development also needs to be considered (Castek, Dalton & Grisham, 2012).  In other contexts, we have suggested that technology integration should be generative in the sense that learners should use technological tools to satisfy their curiosity and to generate creations for learning and for the demonstration of learning (Grisham & Smetana, 2011).

Vocabulary instruction may occur before reading (preteaching important vocabulary), during reading (teaching what emerges as needed), and after reading. Vocabulary Self-collection Strategy or VSS (Haggard, 1982), is an after reading strategy.

The Common Core (2010) requires that technology be integrated into instructional and independent learning sequences.  Research has shown that the use of technology and technology-based instruction enhances student learning. In the post-reading vocabulary assignment we explore here, teachers may use use several forms of technology to increase student interest in vocabulary and a variant of the VSS strategy to engage students in more robust vocabulary learning.

Vocabulary Self-collection Strategy Plus (VSS+) occurs after a selection has been read and is based on the principles of VSS (Haggard, 1982), a researched-based strategy that captures the essence of vocabulary learning:  multiple exposures to a word, multiple readings of a text, collaboration of students and teacher, oral discussions and presentations, selecting words that are important to know, writing a script and recording a podcast, Internet search for illustrations, and building semantic webs. Recently, two colleagues (Thomas DeVere Wolsey and Linda Smetana) and I worked in a fourth-grade classroom in a public school in Northern California, to teach the students how to make an online dictionary (e-dictionary) page using the VSS+ strategy. The three of us spent three hours with Mr. D’s 33 students, first in the classroom, then in the computer lab at their school.

VSS+ is a structure that becomes familiar to students so they can use it with more independence over time. It takes more time in the beginning as teachers and students get used to the technology, the time, and the process.  To teach VSS+ we wanted to use text with interesting or unknown words or text dense with academic language. Mr. D provided us with a passage from the Science textbook in use in his classroom. Mr. D pre-taught some of the vocabulary and students had already read and discussed the package when we arrived.

Collaboration and peer learning are essential to the VSS+ strategy. Mr. D had the students divided into cooperative groups of 4 students. In order to differentiate instruction to meet the learning needs of students, they may be grouped heterogeneously or homogeneously as needed. Mr. D’s students were grouped heterogeneously.

To teach the VSS+ strategy, we began in the classroom with a PowerPoint slide and a demonstration of the strategy.  Using a think aloud protocol, I modeled the strategy by presenting a nominated word to the class, and provided suggested answers to the following questions. In the demonstration, we used an example that we constructed on “continent” (see below). These are the three elements that students must consider as they nominate a word.

a.     Where is the word found in the text?  (Page number; read the sentence aloud)

b.     What do the team members think the word means?

c.     Why did the team think the class should learn the word?  The team must tell the class why the word is important enough to single out for emphasis (a rationale).

During the team presentations of nominated words, we facilitated discussion, listened to students’ projected meanings of the word, and invited class members to contribute additional clarifications of the words. A chosen target word was allocated to each team to prepare an e-dictionary page.

 Then came the fun part!  We adjourned to the computer lab where we asked students in Mr. D’s class to use two formats for their e-dictionary pages:  PowerPoint (like our example below) and a program called Thinglink.

In the lab, under teacher supervision, team members used the Internet to locate images and or definitions for the target word and then collaboratively determined which of the images/definitions best fit their prediction of the word meaning.

We proposed the following formatting for the eDictionary:

Word and Written Definition

Image selection from the Internet, Photos, Illustrations or Student Drawings (if a scanner is available)

Semantic web (we used WordSift)

Student audio recording about the word (critical thinking about own word learning)

Arrangement of the PowerPoint or Website page

Audio recording by students of the main elements of the word exploration

Posting to website (classroom e-Dictionary)

In the following example, the three of us used PowerPoint to make a sample e-dictionary page using the word “continent.” In the PowerPoint page is an audio recording that cannot be loaded into WordPress. To hear this recording, please visit


Next week in Literacy Beat, Linda, DeVere and I will talk more about the work we did with Mr. D’s students and share examples of their PowerPoint and Thinglink pages with you.


Biancarosa, C., & Snow, C. E. (2006). Reading next—A vision for action and research in middle and high school literacy: A report to Carnegie Corporation of New York (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.

Biemiller, A. & Boote, C. (2006). An effective method for building meaning vocabulary in primary grades. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98, 44-62.

Blachowicz, C. L. Z., & Fisher, P. (2000). Vocabulary instruction. In R. Barr, P.

Mosenthal, P. S. Pearson, & M. Kamil (Eds.), Handbook of Reading Research, vol. III, (pp. 503-523). White Plains: Longman.

Castek, J., Dalton, B. & Grisham, D. L. (2012). Using Multimedia to Support Generative Vocabulary Learning. In J. F. Baumann & E. J. Kame’enui (Eds.). Vocabulary Instruction: Research to Practice (2nd Edition). New York: Guilford.

Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2010). Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects. Washington, DC: CCSSO & National Governors Association.

Cunningham, A.E. & Stanovich, K. E. (2001).  What reading does for the mind. American Educator, 22, 1/2, 8-15.

Graves, M.E. & Watts-Taffy, S. (2008).  For the love of words:  Fostering word consciousness in young readers. Reading Teacher, 62, 99.185-193.

Haggard, M. (1982) The vocabulary self collection strategy: An active approach to word learning.  Journal of Reading, Vol. 26, No. 3 (Dec., 1982), pp. 203-207.

Grisham, D.L. & Smetana, L. (2011) Generative technology for teacher educators. Journal of Reading Education, 36, 3, 12-18.

Lubliner, S. & Grisham, D. L. (2012). Cognate Strategy Instruction: Providing Powerful Literacy Tools to Spanish-Speaking Students. In J. Fingon & S. Ulanov (Eds.), Learning from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Classrooms: Promoting Success for All Students (pp. 105-123). New York: Teachers College Press.



Exploring the TextProject Website and Text Complexity

“A picture is worth a thousand words.”

“The learning from complex texts in content areas and literature needs to be the centerpiece of schooling in the 21st century” (Hiebert, in press).

For the past twenty years, I have been working at the university level with preservice teacher candidates and practicing teachers in master’s and doctoral level courses. My field—and my passion—is literacy learning and there is nothing more exciting to me than the thrill experienced by teachers learning something new professionally that they may use to teach their K-12 students to enhance literacy learning. Part of that joy is the discovery of new resources to share with my students and my colleagues.

For each of us there is an amazing “aha!” in learning that just because something is published doesn’t mean it is “the truth.” Many experience it earlier than I did—in grad school! It is sometimes most confusing to locate websites with reliable and accurate information and resources for teachers. How does one know that what is out there on the Web is truthful? Eagleton and Dobler (2006) provided us with the QUEST model to use with K-12 students to teach them how to critically evaluate websites. But what about the rest of us? How do we know when we find a truly useful and genuinely valuable website?

Recently, I have become involved with Freddy Hiebert and Charles Fisher’s TextProject ( This is a website I have spent a great deal of time exploring and one I am willing to recommend to my colleagues. The TextProject focus is on increasing literacy levels of beginning and struggling readers through access to the “best possible texts.” TextProject is a non-profit organization that provides three types of resources for educators: TExT Products, Teacher Support, and Research. There is so much on this website that I’m breaking it down into three components, which are listed below. You can spend quite a bit of time exploring each of these. For me, as a literacy teacher educator and researcher, I loved the research library. I have recommended this website to my teacher candidates and master’s level students, particularly the TextProject topics. I believe they get a new viewpoint on reading fluency!

             TExT  Products

TextProject creates reading programs and products based on the TExT model of text complexity. (Click the link and read about the linguistic and cognitive demands of texts for beginning readers.)

1.  SummerReads, This is TextProject’s free summer reading program that helps at-risk readers avoid the summer slump.

2. Talking Points for Kids This is a free program designed to increase meaningful discussion among students.

3. BeginningReads This program is designed to connect children’s knowledge of oral language with written language.

4. QuickReads and ZipZoom are two commerical reading programs based on the TExT model. (In other words, you have to pay for these!) ZipZoom, in particular, is a research based reading program for English Learners created by Hiebert and Fisher.

Teacher Support

TextProject helps teachers improve students’ reading achievement with materials and lessons.

1. E4: Exceptional Expressions for Everyday Events This is a set of 32 free vocabulary lessons that builds on words that students hear every day in their classrooms.

2. QuickReads: Word Pictures Here is a set of free lessons that develop critical words in content areas, especially helpful to English Learners.

3. Benchmark Texts is a free list of tradebooks that support grades 2-3 students’ capacity for complex text to meet CCSS.

4. WordZones for 5,586 Most Frequent Words is a free word list focused on vocabulary needed to be successful in reading.



TextProject publishes reviews and reports of research on pressing issues in current reading education.

1. Reading Research Reports Here you will find summaries of original studies. The latest report looks at the measurement of text complexity under the guidelines of the CCSS.

2. TextProject Library offers a decade’s worth of articles, presentation slides, and more from TextProject founder Elfrieda H. Hiebert and colleagues.

3. TextProject Topics are clusters of resources on topics such as:

• Common Core State Standards

• Texts for Early Reading

• Vocabulary: Morphology

• Vocabulary: Informational and Narrative Texts

• Reading More / Silent Reading

• Fluency and Automaticity

In the time I’ve spend exploring the site, I’ve also come to value the TextProject as a key to learning about the Common Core State Standards mentioned above and the role that text complexity plays in both reading fluency and reading comprehension. On the site, you can download Karen Wixon’s article on “what” the CCSS are and you can also download Freddy Hiebert’s editorial ( on problems that may be associated with their implementation, particularly at the early grades.

Another aspect of TextProject that fascinates me is the model of text complexity that Hiebert and Fisher explore. TExT stands for “Text Elements by Task.”

For linguistic content, the TExT model calculates the percentage of words in a text that conform to a specific curriculum, which is expressed as a combination of phonetically-regular words and high-frequency words.

Hiebert and Fisher (2003) also state that another type of words is essential linguistic knowledge for children’s word recognition—words that are easy to image and remember because of children’s knowledge of, and interest in, the underlying concept,

For cognitive load, the TExT model examines the introduction of new words in a text, as well as the repetition of new words. New words are those that fall outside of the specified curriculum. The TExT model scores a text to be more difficult if it contains a large percentage of new words, but repetition of those words reduces the overall difficulty. Informational texts in science and social studies are used to develop concepts. Multisyllabic words are repeated to assist struggling readers.

There are approximately 9,000 words (4,000 root words and their simple endings) that account for about 90% of the total words in most texts. If young readers become fluent with this core vocabulary, they can better climb the “staircase” of text complexity set forth by the CCSS.

TextProject also provides YouTube videos. For example, Dr. Elfrieda (Freddy) Hiebert describes the QuickReads Text Model ( in a 13-minute film. Access the film and see how TExT measure text difficulty through linguistic content and cognitive load.

A shorter (4 minute) version can be seen at

To understand the QuickReads program, another 7-minute video ( explains the process of constructing the text for QuickReads and cites initial research findings for its efficacy.

Now, if you are wondering about the adage that, “a picture is worth a thousand words” that I placed at the beginning of the blog, I will refer you to the “high meaning, concreteness and imagery value” of words we teach our youngest readers. Words that are highly “imagable” and concrete are always the most meaningful to young students, therefore teachers need to focus on teaching vocabulary and word recognition of such words.  Download the pdf of From Seeds to Plants on the Text Project Website.

Finally, here is an excerpt from SummerReads for third grade students. Think about text complexity and the linguistic and cognitive demands of text as you read this.


Bats and Balls

There are many games that use bats and balls. In the United States, playing ball usually means playing baseball. That’s because baseball was first played in the United States. Two other games, T-ball and softball, are very much like baseball. All three games are usually played in summer or early fall. That’s because they all need a big, flat, and open space for hitting balls and running around bases. This is hard to do in the snow!

Baseball is a team game, so you need to have two teams to play a proper game. You may not have enough people to make two teams. But, if you have a friend, a bat, and a ball, you can learn to pitch, hit, and catch the ball even in your yard or a small park.

In closing this blog, I’m hoping that teachers begin to see the complexity in text complexity, because rumbling down upon us from on high is a juggernaut of assessment being developed to measure children’s mastery of the CCSS. There are currently two assessments being developed in two different parts of the country, but they will be in place by 2014 or 2015. We need to get a handle on what this means for all of us.

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