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.

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.

VocabVid Stories: Developing vocabulary depth and breadth through live action video

A post from Bridget

Language is hard to express in words. Voltaire

Last week, Jill blogged about a chapter we wrote on developing vocabulary through multimodal expression (Castek, Dalton & Grisham, in press). I wanted to expand on the Vocab Vid strategy (Dalton & Grisham, 2011) and share some examples created by students in my graduate course on adolescent literacy. Their videos “show not tell” the potential of this multimodal word learning strategy. I have also included a handout at the end of the post that you can adapt for use with your students. I’ve learned that some structuring of the process results in more creative and effective videos.

The way that I‘ve been thinking about VocabVids is in the form of a short, live action story (30-45 seconds). Language learning is social – we learn with and about vocabulary as we experience it in specific contexts (Gee, 2004). We also know that many students benefit from multimedia learning, especially in relation to vocabulary (Mayer, 2005; Dalton, Proctor, Uccelli, Mo & Snow, 2011).

To create VocabVids, students work in small groups to develop a scenario for use of the word, discussing the nuances of word meaning and relationships between words. The planning process involves getting to know the word through initial research with tools such as an online thesaurus and an image search of the term. Students brainstorm a context for the word, asking who, what, where, when and why would this word be used? Skits are improvised, filmed, reviewed, and reshot if necessary. I deliberately have kept the process short – the video is planned and filmed in about 15 minutes – and the product is a live action video that does not involve editing. The final products are presented in class for discussion of the words and digital video skills, with an option to publish to a larger audience on the school website, YouTube, Teacher tube, etc.

But what about word choice? I would choose words for different purposes. To begin, you might ask students to select from a list of words that meet Beck and McKeowan’s notion of tier 2 words – words that are important to know and which aren’t part of everyday word knowledge. Or, you might want to open it wide and let students choose their own words, which could be quite specific to their interests, linked to a novel they are reading, or to a unit they are studying in science and social studies. Encourage them to choose a word that lends itself to being acted out (don’t avoid abstract words – they can be excellent candidates).

Student-designed Vocab Vids
The following 6 videos are posted with permission of the authors who are graduate students in my class, EnEd 3400, Reading and Learning with Print and New Media. I’ve highlighted the targeted word and story context for your information. However, I recommend that you and your students try watching the video without knowing the targeted word to see how quickly you can generate a range of guesses. Use the related words and storyline as clues to engage your students in active word learning.

VocabVid 1: ‘Ritual’ by Meridith and Ashley

With a coffee cup and the words ‘routine’, ‘pattern’, and ‘customary habit’, Ashley and Meridith illustrate a morning ritual many of us enjoy – drinking coffee.

VocabVid 2: ‘Conspicuous’ by Leah and Max

Playing Hide and Seek?  As Leah chides Max, it is very important to be ‘discreet’.  Since Max is usually ‘obvious’, ‘blatant’ and ‘eye-catching’, will he be able to find a hiding spot that is not ‘conspicuous’?

VocabVid 3: ‘Diminutive’ by Katie R and Laura

Laura convinces Katie that the spot on her jeans is ‘little’, ‘tiny’, ‘petite’, even ‘Lilliputian’.  It is ‘NOT huge’, as Katie fears, but “diminutive”!  Personally, I loved the Lilliputian reference from Gulliver’s Travels.

VocabVid 4: ‘Eerie’ by Erin

Flashing lights and strange noises in the bathroom result in a ‘weird’, ‘spooky’, ‘creepy’, and ‘eerie’ experience for Erin.

VocabVid 5: ‘Lurk’ by Neil and Yumeng

When does ‘lying in wait’ and ‘peeking’ turn into ‘lurking’?!  Yumeng helps Neil understand the difference.

VocabVid 6: ‘Braggadocio’ by Russell and Simon

Technical alert – this video is sideways, but funny!

Why would Russell call his friend a ‘bombast’ and scorn him for his ‘pomposity’ and lack of ‘humility’?  Watch ‘braggadocio’ Simon to find out!

STUDENT HANDOUT: 30 Second VocabVid Stories

 Your goal:  To show, not tell, the meaning of a word in a 30-second digital VocabVid  Story

VocabVid Stories are short (about 30-45 seconds) videos that illustrate the meaning of a word through a short skit.  The goal is to situate the word within a meaningful context to help us learn and remember the word.  And, you will learn something about designing short videos along the way!


1.  Research your word to find synonyms, antonyms, and other related words that you can include in your story dialogue. Don’t forget to make note of different forms of the word. The Visual Thesaurus or other online thesaurus tools are great resources for exploring the meaning of your word.

2.  Brainstorm possible contexts for how the word might be used.  As you’re brainstorming, think about how you can act out your video skit.

  •  Where might you hear this word?
  • Who might be saying it?
  • What is happening?
  • When is the word being used?
  • Why are they saying it?
  • What kinds of feelings might be associated with this word?

3.  Do you need any simple props?

4. What is your location? Where will you film? (Since we are in school, I have made arrangements for you to use this class, the hallway, outside the door at the end of the hall, etc.)

5. Make a sign showing your word in writing (print the word large and clear so that it can be read on screen). You will show this sign at the end of the video.


6. Improvise your skit, giving each other feedback as you go along.

7. Film your skit and review (see the technical advice section on shooting your video and using a Flip camera).

8. Try filming again if needed and select the best one.

Show (and perhaps publish)

9. Share your videos in class and discuss what you learned about these words, as well as what you learned about creating VocabVid Stories.

10. Consider posting your video to a class website, blog, or YouTube (be sure to have everyone’s permission to post)

 Technical Tips for Shooting your Video

1. Don’t shoot into the light! (Avoid standing in front of windows).

2. Actors need to face the camera or each other at an angle that still allows them to be seen and heard. It is common for people to turn away from the camera, especially if they are in groups. Watch out for this.

3. Actors need to speak clearly! Be dramatic!

4. Find a quiet spot.  Test your volume at the beginning, so you know who needs to be louder or who needs to speak more clearly.

5. Show your vocabulary word on a piece of paper at the end.  I have provided markers and paper for you to use.

 Flip Camera Directions

  • How to Turn Your Camera On: Slide the gray button on the top right side of the camera down. Your camera will automatically turn on.
  • How to Begin Shooting: Hold the camera in the vertical position (otherwise, you will get sideways video!). Press the red button to begin filming.
  • How to Stop Shooting: Press the red button again.  There is no way to pause your videos, so you will have to complete them in one take. But, please film a few takes and compare so that you can choose the best one!
  • Zoom In/Out: Press the + button to zoom in and the – button to zoom out.
  • How to Play Videos Back: Press the Play button to the left side of the screen. Press it again to go to the next video.
  • How to Delete Videos: If you want to delete a video, press the trash can twice.



Castek, J., Dalton, B., & Grisham, D. (in press). Using multimedia to support students’ generative vocabulary learning. In J. Baumann and E. Kame’enui (Eds.) Vocabulary Instruction: Research to Practice (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Dalton, B., Proctor, C.P., Uccelli, P., Mo, E. & Snow, C.E. (2011).  Designing for diversity:  The role of reading strategies and interactive vocabulary in a digital reading environment for 5th grade monolingual English and bilingual students.  Journal of Literacy Research, 43 (1), 68-100.

Dalton, B. & Grisham, D. (2011).  eVoc strategies: Ten ways to use technology to build vocabulary. The Reading Teacher, 64(5), 306–317. DOI:10.1598/RT.64.5.1


Active Word Learning Using Web 2.0 Tools

A post from Jill

Jim Baumann (University of Missouri) and Ed Kame’enui (University of Oregon) are editing a second edition of Vocabulary Instruction: Research to Practice (forthcoming, Guilford Press) to be published in 2011. Bridget, Dana, and I were invited to submit a piece that addressed special topics in vocabulary instruction.

In our chapter, Using Multimedia to Support Students’ Generative Vocabulary Learning (Castek, Dalton, & Grisham, in process) we suggest that the use of digital media in vocabulary learning should not only be receptive (e.g., viewing vocabulary graphics), but also generative (actively engaging students in using language and media to express themselves and to create products that represent their new knowledge). We assert that the act of creation supports ownership, introduces authentic reasons for learning, and tangibly links reading, writing, and communication in ways that mirror learning outside of school. This post draws ideas from the chapter and suggests ways to promote students’ active word learning using Web 2.0 tools.

Create Vocabulary Videos:Today’s students have grown up with YouTube as part of daily life. As a way of extending word learning, consider having students’ produce their own vocabulary videos — 60-90 second videos that situate word learning in a specific context.  The varied student-created examples found at VocabAhead (e.g., the entry for amble, for headstrong, and fecund) illustrate how video creation and multimodal expression make the word learning experience more memorable for both the video producers as well as the viewing audience. For tips and tools for creating videos, see the VocabAhead Teacher Page.  Suggestions for video creation include incorporating visual cues and adding humor, dramatization, or emotions to help learners remember the word and its meaning more easily. There are plenty of free web tools available which can be used to create vocabulary videos such as Xtranormal (if you can type, you can make movies) and GoAnimate (make your own cartoons and animations using free tools that you don’t need to learn Flash to use).

Simulate Twitter to Promote Target Word Usage: Today’s widespread twitter phenomenon tells us something important about language use and engagement. In 140 characters or less, information about “what’s happening now” can be shared instantly with an online community. The defining characteristics of a ‘tweet’ are brevity, timeliness, and the ability to instantly respond to others. Educators can bring twitter-like experiences into the classroom to expand vocabulary learning, without actually creating twitter accounts. To simulate twitter, try Wallwisher. Once the topic themed-wall is set up, this free online application does not require individuals to login and everyone can post together in a shared space. Like tweets, comment space is limited (Wallwisher allows 160 characters).

To model a vocabulary related twitter, provide a target word or concept and challenge students to keep a related stream of tweets going as long as they can. Set the expectation that both target words and related words must be used in each post. Provide a context such as a breaking news event, a topic you’re studying in class, or a book you are reading.

The following interchange may serve as a tangible example. Imagine reading and watching online news reports about an oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. Students could then create a twitter- like stream to express reactions and questions, using the target words pollution and disaster. Before beginning, discuss the words’ meanings. Then talk through a few examples, as follows.

Twitter-like stream

Student 1: Bad news. An oil rig blew up in the Gulf of Mexico. Pollution is going to be a problem.

Student 2: Oil will pollute the beaches. What a disaster!

Student 3: You can’t swim in polluted water.

Student 4: The seagulls and pelicans will be hurt by the oil. It gets on their feathers.

Twitter-like stream (examining the news event from the perspective of different stakeholders)

Shrimper: Major disaster. Oil rig blew and oil gushing in Gulf of Mexico. Pollution might wipe us out.

Oysterman: What about oyster beds? I have to fish. Polluted oyster beds mean no oysters. What a disaster for me and my customers.

Beach lover: Gulf Shores beach has black oil washing up. Seagulls coated. Can’t swim in polluted water.

Clean up crew: Dish detergent is the best thing to clean oil pollution from birds. Who knew?!

Oil company: The faster we cap the oil rig, the faster the pollution stops. 

Have Fun with New Slang: The dynamic and inventive nature of language is dramatically evident in the torrent of new words we manage to create each year. While we all may feel the need to chillax (calm down and relax) in the face of students’ often unconventional vocabulary use, seize the opportunity to build word curiosity and playfulness. Two excellent Internet resources for learning about words and language are the Visual Thesaurus and the Oxford Dictionary of English. The latter posts a list each year of new words added to the dictionary. Another excellent resource is the Cambridge Advanced Learners Dictionary.  Also, at Wordspy, Paul McFedries tracks published neologisms (new word creations, many of which are slang and/or linguistic blends).

Technology and media can play an important role in developing students’ vocabulary through generative, multimodal expression. Giving students experience with the digital technologies required in the 21st century will be motivational as well as academically beneficial. 


Castek, J., Dalton, B., & Grisham, D. (in process). Using multimedia to support students’ generative vocabulary learning. In J. Baumann and E. Kame’enui (Eds.) Vocabulary Instruction: Research to Practice (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

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