October 2016 • ISSF

Learning academic terms and phrases doesn't have to be boring. In fact, learning new words should be exciting and fun! It's time to start looking at digital ways to expand students' vocabulary. Let's explore free websites and iPad apps that are so irresistible, students can't help but be motivated to learn. We'll take a good look at representing words visually, creating multimedia, fueling collaborative learning, and playing games. Yes, the technology can be mesmerizing, but it's important to use techniques and strategies proven to work. That's why pairing technology with Robert Marzano's Six Steps for Vocabulary Instruction is a powerful combination. 

We want new terms to stick with our students. We want them to be able to understandremember, and retell the meanings of vocabulary words.

Dr. Robert J. Marzono's 6 Step Process for Teaching Vocabulary

Dr. Robert J. Marzono's 6 Step Process for Teaching Vocabulary


Voice Booth Isolation Box: Putting an iPad, phone, small Chromebook, or microphone into a voice isolation booth significantly reduces background noise and echoes. Use an isolation booth to record voice overs to give productions a crisp clear recording. This Voice Booth or  this Voice Booth would make for an excellent classroom recording center! A cheaper option is to buy acoustic foam and make your own isolation boxes.


Ask students to construct a picture, pictograph, or symbolic representation of the term.

Constructing a representation of a vocabulary word using emojis can really make students think about the word and how to describe it using limited symbols. Use a mobile device's emoji keyboard and use Emojipedia.org or CopyPasteCharacter.com to copy emojis to use on a computer.  Collect students' emoji representations in a Google Form or a Padlet wall.

Wondering how to set up a Google Form? Here's Tony page.

Another way to represent a word is to make a video. Videolicious for iPad helps you make short documentaries (60 seconds or less). Simply queue up a set of images and then narrate them. The video can be saved to iPad's Photo Library.


Engage students periodically in activities that help them add to their knowledge of the terms.

Stick Around for iPad ($2.99) allows teachers and students to make matching, sorting, and labeling puzzles. Make puzzles about words can help them add to what they know about the words.

Trading Card Creator is available for iPad and online as a website  It provides guiding questions to help students think deeply about vocabulary, people, and places.

Using a structure like the Frayer Model can help students show what a word is by listing its essential and nonessential characteristics. Here's Tony's Google Sheets template and his Google Slides template. You can give students the link so they can collaboratively work on the same document. Our Google Slides from today:

  1. Pink Group
  2. Red Group
  3. Purple Group
  4. Blue Group

It’s so easy to make simple posters about words using Pic Collage for iPad and Android. If you’re on a Mac, PC, or Chromebook, try Pizap or PicMonkey. When using Pixlr, begin by selecting Collage. Pixlr is a web-based app and a mobile app that's available for just about any platform. Watch Tony's video about producing infopics.

Padlet is a free website for collecting and sharing text, images, videos, and files. The teacher must sign into Padlet to create a wall. You can set the wall so that students do not have to log in (posts are anonymous) or require students to log in. Here are the settings I recommend when creating a new padlet wall:

  1. Input a title.
  2. Input a description.
  3. Choose a grid layout.
  4. School down to Address and change the end of the Padlet's URL if you plan to have students type in the address.
  5. Click Save and Close.
  6. Click Share.
  7. Turn off Remake.
  8. Turn on Moderation so that you can approve posts before they are visible to everyone.
  9. .Click Save and Close
  10. Your new wall is ready to go! Send students to its web address. Click ... and choose Share or Embed to get a QR code.

A silly way to learn more about a term is to make and play word blank games like Mad Libs. Make your own at wordblanks.com. Tony made this one about the Grand Canyon.


Periodically ask students to discuss the terms with one another.

Create a screenshot of a text conversation using iPhoneFakeText.com

Use apps like PuppetPals HD, TeleStory, or Toontastic for iPad to stage conversations. 

Edmodo.com, Schoology, and Google Classroom can provide a safe online place for students to discuss their vocabulary words.


Involve students periodically in games that enable them to play with terms.

Input words and definitions into Quizlet.com. Give students the URL to the set of words and Quizlet provides a variety of ways to interactive with the terms and definitions. 

There’s a class game you can play through Quizlet. It’s called Quizlet Live, and it’s free. The teacher simply clicks the Quizlet Live button on any Quizlet study set that has at least 12 unique items. The game works with sets that are all text and with ones that have images. You need at least 6 students to play. Students go to quizlet.live in any device’s web browser and enter the access code for the game the teacher initiated. After all students have joined, Quizlet Live randomly divides students into teams of 3 or 4 players. Each team gets a randomly selected animal mascot. Student move so they are seated with their teammates. Once the game is started, teams race to match 12 terms and definitions. The thing is, each team member has 3-4 of the terms on their screens. This means students need to work together to make the matches. A wrong answer will reset a team’s progress to zero, so players need to be cautious with their answers. The teacher’s screen displays the progress for each team. That screen can be mirrored onto a big screen so teams can see each other’s progress. The first team to correctly match all 12 terms is the winner. At a game’s conclusion, the teacher’s screen can display the terms that the class needs to work on (based on wrong answers during game play).

Want to play Bingo? Generate Bingo board with your vocabulary at bingobaker.com.

Input a set of words and definitions into crosswordlabs.com. You’ll get a URL you can share with students. They can complete the crossword on an iPad, Mac, PC, or Chromebook.

Play classroom Jeopardy with JeopardyLabs.com. Input questions and answers. Then display the board on your projector screen and play in teams.

Up to four players can face off in Futuba for iPad. You can input your own words and photos. Photos appear in the middle of the screen and players try to be the first one to identify the term.

Gamify your class by using Kahoot. Teachers create quizzes at getkahoot.com  Students visit kahoot.it in their web browser on any device and enter the PIN provided by the teacher. 

An alternative to Kahoot is Quizizz.com. Quizizz display the question on each student's screen, but students complete the quiz at different times. Read more about Quizizz and how it compares to Kahoot.

Draw pictures of words when you play SketchParty TV for iOS. It requires your iPhone or iPad to be mirrored to an external display. Options for mirroring include using an adapter, an Apple TV, or software on Mac or PC  like Reflector.

Use BrainRush.com to make labeling and sorting games that students play online. Works on any platform. Here's the example game you can play about Marzano's 6 Steps for Vocabulary Instruction.

PurposeGames.com is another site for making matching and labeling activities. Simply upload an image and then add labels. The game is published as a web address that you can share so that others can try to click on the image in the correct spots.

Play classroom Password with the help of Game Show Soundboard to reinforce vocabulary! Simply create a slideshow in PowerPoint or other slideshow software on a computer that is mirrored to a projector. Put one vocabulary word on each slide. Or, write words on large cards that a student can hold up. Start Game Show Soundboard’s 60 second timer. Pairs of students try to guess as many words as possible. One player is the guesser and has his back to the projector screen. The other is the clue giver. Clues can only be one-word guesses. Use Game Show Soundboard’s plus button to keep score.

For even more fun, turn what you say into your iPad’s microphone into a song using Songify for iPad ($2.99).

Read more about teaching academic vocabulary in this ASCD article.