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A Great Tool to Improve Students' Vocabulary: An Alternative to Wordle

I am sure all of you by now know Wordle and its great implications in ESL/EFL. Wordle- a word cloud that displays words of a text, website, or Delicious visually and according to a word's frequency- has become a favorite tool for English teachers to teach text genres, vocabulary building, and much more. Teachers all around the globe build activities around Wordle to result in enhanced language learning. If you would like to read more about Wordle and activities that can be built around it, I recommend you read Nik Peachey's Post. He also provides a tutorial on how to start with Wordle.
However, there is another web-based tool that is based on vocabulary acquisition theories rather than technical aspects. This web-based word cloud tool is

.  Now, to be honest wordsift is not visually appealing as wordle is and it is not customizable with regard to 1- words displayed in word cloud, 2- word cloud appearance, and 3- options of text input. Yet, it does render a great way to enhance vocabulary learning based on methodological framewrok.

Getting Started with Wordsift

As with wordle, worsift does not need any registration. The video below demonstrates how to use Wordsift.

As you have noticed in the video above, wordsift renders excellent representation of a particular word in text.

1- Frequency of each word in text is represented by its size.

2- Marks the words present in frequent word lists of AWL, lang.arts, Science, math, social studies

3- Word associations and definition of the chosen word are displayed in the virtual thesaurus .

4- Still photos associated with the chosen word "freedom" are displayed.

5- Videos associated with the chosen word are hidden so as not to distract the student unless the student chooses to watch the videos to have a better understanding.

How to Use It with Your Students

  • You can have students look up a particular word from an article they've copied and see how this word is used in context or how the meaning of the word differs from one sentence to another by examining the occurrences of the word in context.

  • You can have students utilize the words associated with the chosen word in the virtual thesaurus ( synonyms, antonyms) by replacing the word in context to see if it makes sense or choose the best synonym to replace it.

  • You can, for example, have students analyze the genre ( speech, poem. academic article, scientific article..) of an unknown text by looking at the word frequency and examine whether this text contains words that are listed in the AWL or math word frequency lists.

  • You can get creative and have students explain a particular word using the the visual representations in wordsift and another design tool such as glogster to poster a representation of the word with media.

The activities that you can do with wordsift are endless. As I always stress, the teacher is a designer who can create various activities that target various linguistic skills utilizing a particular tool.

Theory Behind Wordsift
Wordsift was developed by Stanford University ELL Resources. The theory behind wordsift states that
“ Vocabulary is a central arena in which the discrete skills of reading (decoding, sight-word recognition, reading fluency and accuracy) come together with top-down cognitive processes involved in comprehension
deficits in vocabulary knowledge and the semantic knowledge that it represents may be the most widely shared problem among struggling adolescent readers…
WordSift thus attempts to address one of the greatest challenges facing educators of English Language Learners: how to grow and enrich the academic vocabulary of their students across the grade levels, and especially through academic content instruction. Educators specializing in English Language Learners are faced with a substantial group of students who are “stuck” at the intermediate level of English language proficiency, leading to labels such as long-term ELLs or “lifers”.
Language development needs to occur in context, and content area learning provides the best context for it to occur.
A key challenge is to help content teachers define a new identity for themselves -- as a language teacher of their discipline. “
You can access the full text of the theory here.
If you have any comments, inquiries or you want to share you experience on wordsift your comments are most welcome.

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