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Online Tools for Teaching Vocabulary

Are you looking for free tools or websites to improve your vocabulary? If so, there are practical and effective tools or websites available to help. In today’s article, we’ll cover some of these best free online vocabulary enhancement tools .

Vocabulary plays an important role in your student success. A large vocabulary allows you to understand more the academic materials, and express yourself more accurately. That’s why an effective vocabulary-building strategy is so important.

It’s easy to focus on grammar and writing when you’re a student or a teacher. After all, those are the skills you might spend most of your time learning about in school. But that doesn’t mean words don’t play an important role! Whether you’re looking for ways to study for the SAT, need help with English vocabulary as a speaker of another language, or are trying to learn specific Common Core terms, these websites can help.

This website features interactive vocabulary sites, digital vocabulary lists, and material for teaching vocabulary to students in preschool through high school. Online Tools for Teaching Vocabulary includes sites to help students learn the meanings of words and develop their vocabulary, such as games and activities, lesson plans and printable worksheets. These resources can be used at home, in the classroom, or online by teachers and parents giving effective instructions to learners.

Reference Tools

1. Collocation Dictionary

According to their description, the Collocation Dictionary is “a completely new type of dictionary with word collocation that helps students and advanced learners effectively study, write, and speak natural-sounding English.”

2. Lexipedia

Looking for a visual thesaurus? Then Lexipedia is for you. Simple to use. Just type in any word and Lexipedia instantly displays the target word along with other words. It also color-codes the words by both parts of speech and relationships. As you hover over a word, a complete definition is displayed.

3. Snappy Words

Similar to Lexipedia, Snappy Words is another visual thesaurus. Teachers may want to introduce several of the thesaurus tools and allow students to select which works best for them. The visually sparse, cleaner display of Lexipedia works better for me.

5. Visuwords

6. Word Hippo

An all-in-one reference tool, Word Hippo does the following: defines a word, provides a meaning, provides a word that is opposite, pronounces a word, provides rhyming words, places the word in many different contexts, and translates the word. Whew! That’s a lot.


Wordnik has the look and feel of a traditional dictionary with a twist. Along with the definition, students can see images related to the word, hear related sounds, and even see tweets with the target word highlighted. The ‘related words’ feature is particularly helpful. Wordnik also features a ‘Word of the Day,’ ‘Random Words,’ and pronunciations of words.

8. Your Dictionary

Your Dictionary bills itself as providing simple, straightforward definitions and the easiest-to-use online dictionary. That’s about right. Sometimes simple is good. In addition to providing a definition, Your Dictionary also includes a thesaurus and places the word in varied sentence examples.

9. MathWords

Math Words is a simple-to-use online dictionary specifically for math terms and formulas. This dictionary appears most appropriate for intermediate and secondary students.

10. A Math Dictionary for Kids

A kid-friendly math dictionary. I like the simple, bright appearance that includes visual examples of each term. This math dictionary seems to be appropriate for elementary students.


12. Magoosh Vocab

Word Clouds

13. Wordle

Type (or copy & paste) in a chunk of text or individual words and Wordle generates a word cloud of the key vocabulary based on word frequency. Wordle can also be used for many varied purposes – check out these 52 ideas for using Wordle to support learning.

14.  WordSift

Similar to Wordle, students type (or copy & paste) in a piece of text and WordSift sorts the text based on word frequency.  The visual thesaurus that displays beneath the words is a nice addition in WordSift. With the visual thesaurus, students immediately see how words are grouped semantically. A useful addition, I think.

15. WordVis

16. Quizlet

  1. Vocabulary Ninja is a fantastic website full of useful resources, word banks and games. I particularly like the 100 overused words and their alternatives document and the Vocab Lab App for iPads.Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 14.42.11.png
  2. Describing Words is a brilliant online tool to help expand vocabulary and expose children to more adventurous words. They simply type in the noun they want to describe (e.g. teacher) and the website will generate a whole host of possible adjectives.Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 14.43.05.png
  3. Word Hippo is a fantastic vocabulary tool that allows the user to explore synonyms, antonyms, meanings, rhyming words, the word in context (sentences) and audio pronunciations.Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 14.44.17.png
  4. is one of my favourite vocabulary websites. It offers hundreds of amazing games and activities for building and teaching vocabulary. Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 14.45.19.png
  5. The Verbivore Teacher’s Vocabulary Vault is an incredible resource with a treasure trove of categorised word banks including teaching plans, lesson resources and ‘words for the fridge’ at home. It also has some excellent free resources to support the explicit vocabulary teaching of greek and latin root words. Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 14.45.58.png
  6. is free and easy to join. This website has multiple uses, from online dictionary, to emoji explanations, vocab resources and word quizzes. One of the most impressive features for teachers is that you can create lists of words for different topics and assign prep, quizzes and tasks based on these words. If you sign up to the newsletter, they’ll also send you the ‘Word of the Day’. Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 14.48.15
  7. is self-explanatory: it creates interesting graphic visuals and word webs for your chosen word.Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 13.48.50
  8. Online Etymology Dictionary is a fantastic website for instilling that inquisitive nature in children. The etymology of words is fascinating and, with a quick search, you can gain word origins and histories in a matter of seconds. It gives dates beside a word which indicates the earliest year for which there is a surviving written record of that word.Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 14.49.27
  9. Word Sift is another great web tool that can help children to visualise vocabulary. From word-clouds, to connecting key words, this website has lots of potential for the classroom. Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 14.51.55.png
  10. Mini MatrixMaker
 is a great tool for encouraging children to consider how words are ‘built’. They can explore the number of prefixes and suffixes through ‘word sums’ (e.g. for the word joy, a word sum could be joy + ful). From there, building an accurate, attractive matrix is all done for them, producing a word ‘Mini-Matrix’. Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 14.01.09
  11. Word Microscope is incredible for examining words. You can download and install it for free and it helps children to unpick the spelling of words (including prefixes and suffixes) and presents the microscope findings in an easily digestible visual format. Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 13.53.42
  12. is a great website where you’ll find word study spelling ideas and resources, with year-group specific planning, word sorts and challenge/extend activities. Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 14.55.11
  13. Literacy Wagoll has a bank of example texts for setting descriptions, which can be explored by children seeking new and exciting words. Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 14.55.48
  14. is also incredibly useful for encouraging children to think about vocabulary choice, as it is a library of written work by children. You can search for written work by topic and year group so that the language is both age and content appropriate. Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 14.57.24.png
  15. Lexipedia is an online, visual, and interactive thesaurus program that displays synonyms as a word web. Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 14.58.47.png
  16. Word Searcher is great for exploring word families and words which have the same spelling, prefix or suffix. Simply type in your ‘sound’ (e.g. tion) and it generates a list of words with the same phrase. Brilliant for exploring rules for spelling and creating word webs. Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 15.01.54
  17. Snappy Words is an online dictionary and thesaurus that helps children find the meanings of words as well as connections to associated words. Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 15.03.15.png
  18. Graphwords is similar to Snappy Words but it’s a thesaurus that helps you find the meanings of words and show connections among associated words in a visual word web. Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 15.05.20
  19. Word Spy is ‘the word lover’s guide to new words’. It helpfully explains the meaning of new words and phrases with new entries added regularly so you can stay up to speed. Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 15.05.54.png
  20. Free Rice is a fun word matching game where pupils can match vocabulary words to the correct definition. For every correct answer you choose, 10 grains of rice are raised to help end world hunger through the World Food Programme.Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 14.25.29

What does research tell us about vocabulary learning?

Even within our increasingly visual world (Kress, 2003), words remain our pr imar y means of communicat ion. The Nat ional Reading Panel Report (NICHD, 2000) and the RAND Reading Study Group (2002) heightened the importance of vocabulary instruction for student literacy learning. Books and articles on vocabulary instruction are popular (e.g., Beck, McKeown, & Kucan, 2008; Blachowicz & Obrochta, 2005; Graves & Watts-Taffe, 2008), and research on vocabulary is enjoying renewed attention.

Why is vocabulary learning so important? To understand a text, one must understand the words that represent the ideas or concepts. Studies confirm the high correlation (0.6 to 0.8) between vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension (Baumann & Kame’enui, 2004; Pearson et al., 2007). We also know that there are degrees of word knowledge, from “I’ve never heard this word before,” to “I know this word and can apply it in multiple contexts” (Lubliner & Scott, 2008), as well as metacognitive knowledge about how to apply prior knowledge and strategies to vocabulary learning (Beck et al., 2008).

Of particular concern to educators is the development of academic language. Although we learn oral language that enables us to speak to one another fairly easily, learning academic language is more complex because it involves abstract literacy tasks and language not customarily used in oral speech (Fang, Schleppegrell, & Cox, 2006; Zwiers, 2007). Academic language is a second language, because all literate people must learn it to enable them to access academic content (Solomon & Rhodes, 1995).

For English learners (ELs), academic language may represent the task of learning a third language. Thus, special care must be taken to give them every advantage in learning academic language, particularly in content areas. For example, research suggests that Spanish-speaking students can be taught to recognize cognates (i.e., words with similar meanings that look and sound alike in two languages, such as operation [English] and operación [Spanish]) and use cognate information to comprehend English texts (Lubliner & Grisham, in press; Proctor, Dalton, & Grisham, 2007).

We know that there is a wide range in students’ word knowledge and that as early as age 5, there is a 30-million-word exposure gap between “haves” and “have nots” (Hart & Risley, 1995). The results of this gap are manifested in students’ literacy learning, particularly reading comprehension. The Matthew Effect, where strong readers get stronger and weak readers get weaker (Stanovich, 1986), as well as the fourth-grade reading slump (Chall & Jacobs, 2003), can be attributed, at least in part, to a less developed store of conceptual knowledge and vocabulary.

The good news is that we can improve vocabulary learning and address the gap by actively and systematically teaching vocabulary to our students (Pearson et al., 2007; Zwier s, 2007). Teaching words, morphology, and word origins is an important component in any vocabulary learning program. It is also necessary to provide multiple exposures to the word in different contexts and to teach word learning strategies, such as using context clues, cognate information, and deciding when a word is important to know and remember. Although teaching can make a real difference in vocabulary learning, explicit teaching of vocabulary is not enough; a dedicated teacher can teach perhaps 300-400 words per year (Beck et al., 2008).

Direct vocabulary instruction is essential, but research indicates that students with well-developed vocabulary learn many more words indirectly through reading than from instruction (Cunningham & Stanovich, 2001; Nagy & Herman, 1985). Two strategies that encourage children to read widely and deeply are to provide an array of reading materials that capitalize on their interests and to set aside time for reading during the school day and at home (Trelease, 2006). Conversations about their reading with adults and peers also strengthen students’ word learning (Biemiller & Boote, 2006).

Whether directly teaching vocabulary and word learning strategies, or increasing students’ volume of reading, an important research-based principle that applies across the board 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 et al., 2008; Graves & Watts- Taffe, 2008).

These recommendations to improve vocabulary by encouraging wide reading, teaching words and word learning strategies, and promoting active learning and interest in words are not new. The purpose of this article is to encourage teachers to apply these research-based recommendations in new ways, using digital tools, media, and the Internet-that is, to deploy technology in service of vocabulary learning.

Despite the ubiquity of technology and media, it is not on teachers’ priority lists of vocabulary instruction strategies and materials (Berne & Blachowicz, 2008). We address this gap by offering 10 eVoc strategies organized into three instructional areas. First, we offer strategies for teaching words and word learning strategies. Second, we focus on on-demand digital language tools to support just-in-time strategic vocabulary learning and reading. Third, we suggest ways to increase the volume of reading to support students’ incidental vocabulary learning. Along the way, we offer ways to stimulate students’ interest in words and self-efficacy. Technology, when used flexibly in response to students’ varied needs and interests, can and should be part of the solution to the vocabulary gap.


Vocabulary or words? If you learn vocabulary like a student growing up, then the word your teacher speaks is always new and fresh. However, if you’re an adult like me, it may sometimes be frustrating to keep on learning new words. We think that we have learned all the words in the world. The thing is, we have learned only a few thousand words out of a million existing ones. So it means there are many beautiful words waiting for us to explore.

Online Tools for Teaching Vocabulary brings together research on effective vocabulary teaching practices and online tools that support vocabulary instruction. It offers interactive websites, handouts, and games teachers can use to teach vocabulary. The text also presents a digital vocabulary list strategy for using online dictionaries to teach words. In addition, the book addresses contemporary approaches to teaching vocabulary—including word consciousness, morphology, and academic vocabulary—that are of special interest to today’s teachers.

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