Category Archives: Dictionary Use

Wacky Web Tales & the Art of “Some”


Where's the party? Naomi's photos
Where’s the party?
Naomi’s photos

Many EFL teachers, particularly those of struggling learners, reject using first rate online materials mainly because they feel their students can’t deal with the vocabulary or the sentence structures. Sometimes this may be a wise decision but in many cases wonderful opportunities are missed.

Identifying these opportunities all depends on employing “the art of SOME”.  The activity called Wacky Web Tales is a great example of this.

To create a Wacky Web Tale, student first see a series of prompts, asking them to fill in a noun, an adjective, a large number, the name of a song, etc.  All they know about the story they are going to get is the title. I chose, for our example, an absolute all time favorite called Simply Delicious . 

This is the part that is so incredible from the teacher’s point of view, particularly so when the students realize how these stories work. Suddenly these struggling learners ask  to be reminded what a noun/verb is. These distinctions very important for such students. One of the reading comprehension strategies they need to acquire is how to decide which words to look up in the dictionary (verbs often give the most meaningful information in a sentence, for example) and then how to choose the definition/translation suitable for their context when they do turn to the dictionary. English is a language full of words that have a different meaning as different parts of speech!

There's only part of the tree... (Naomi's Photos)
There’s only part of the tree… (Naomi’s Photos)

It gets better.

Students are motivated to dream up what they deem to be interesting answers, so that their story will be funny. Since they usually don’t know many of the words they want to use, they look them up! These aren’t words I, the teacher, asked them to use – they are self-motivated to look up these words. That’s what I call meaningful learning! 

Even spelling comes up! Two 16 year old girls in my class (it’s a great activity for pairwork) today argued about the correct spelling of “beautiful” and “Italy” . Without my intervention they corrected their own spelling!

Now we get to the second part. When the students have filled in all the missing words they click to see their completed story. Here’s the “Simpy Delicious” story I created:


my simply delicious

There are many difficult and unknown words in the completed text, which in this case is a recipe. But that doesn’t matter at this stage. I have no problem supplying any unfamiliar word  (and they can read the words they inserted themselves!) as this is the stage to share a good laugh with the silly story they created. Remember “the art of the some”! We’ve done plenty of meaningful learning!

While the site is geared at 3rd grade American children, I find it suitable for use with struggling students with poor vocabularies in junior high-school and high-school as well.  I haven’t tried it with adults.

It’s great to be wacky sometimes – enjoy!


The Incredible Power of the Simple Homemade Dictionary

A Smart Move (Naomi's Photos)
A Smart Move
(Naomi’s Photos)

For a change, this is a reposting of post that just went up on my Key in the Apple blog. I don’t usually repost but I must tell you that I firmly believe that a homemade dictionary is every bit as powerful a tool for any learner who finds it difficult to remember vocabulary, as well as one with a hearing loss.

Students with a hearing loss are notorious for having trouble remembering vocabulary studied in an EFL class.

There are many strategies for working on vocabulary retention (more in future posts) but a beginner learner should learn to view the dictionary as an integral part of his/her studies, from day one. Students, especially the motivated students, get very distressed by the fact that they have forgotten the meaning of vocabulary items they know they have learned (perhaps even were tested on!). This distress easily turns into a belief that their English studies are doomed for failure and that it’s hopeless to try.

Students who have begun using a dictionary early on, know that there is a “life-belt” and while remembering words is more convenient, words forgotten aren’t going to stop them from understanding, and successfully completing, their reading comprehension assignments. Having confidence is an incredibly meaningful factor in predicting the student’s ability to successfully reach expected levels in his/her EFL studies.

Students at the Beginners level should begin with a “Homemade Dictionary”. This can be made from a simple notebook.
Each page of a notebook must be given a designated letter. Ready made alphabet notebooks can be found in stores. The student adds vocabulary items as he/she learns them, with a drawing or a translation into mother tongue. This dictionary should be brought to every lesson, along with the pencilbox and coursebook.

When the homemade dictionary no longer meets a student’s needs it is time to move onto “real” dictionaries. both printed and electronic.

Note: You will find a post on myths related to use of dictionaries with deaf and hard of hearing students in the previous post, under: “The lifesaver – the dictionary”.

Which electronic dictionary to choose?

I was asked today, once again, which electronic dictionary is better for students.

I dont’ know if posting specific names of companies is the right thing to do as I’m not affiliated with any commercial company – does anyone have any adice on that issue? But there are a few basic things to note:

1) See if it is capable of translating phrasal verbs such as “take place” – very important for pupils!

2) Type in an irregular verb in the past tense. If it notifies you that this is the past tense form of the verb (and gives you the present form) then that’s fine. DO NOT choose one that ignores these verbs and goes on to the closest matching word it can find.

3) Try typing in a word like “nose” or “sun”. If it gives you, as the first option, a translation using Biblical Hebrew – you don’t want that one!

4) If its really cheap – I hate to admit it, but that IS a bad sign….