July 27, 2015 • Rockdale County Public Schools, Georgia

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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. 

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

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


“Research studies suggest that it is possible to teach vocabulary out of context, but it is not very efficient.  It is possible to teach children between 300 and 500 words a year (8 to 10 words a week) through explicit context-free instruction, but that pales when compared to the 3,000 words a year that literate children learn throughout their school years (Nagy & Anderson, 1984).  And Stahl & Fairbanks (1986) found that directly teaching children dictionary definitions for words did not enhance their comprehension of a passage of text containing those vocabulary words.  The definition of the word only provides a superficial understanding of the word.” -Sebastian Wren, Ph.D.


Provide a description, explanation, or example of the new term.

Use Poll Everywhere to assess and activate background knowledge.

Video can be very helpful in explaining a term. YouTube has videos about pretty much everything.

Tony gets public domain images from pixabay.com.

QR codes are great for providing explanations (among many other things).  Use the i-nigma app to scan codes and goqr.me to create them. Read lots more about QR codes and watch Tony's video.


Create a video QR code using the OneDrive app:

  1. Open Open OneDrive on your iPad.
  2. Click the three dots at the top right of the screen.
  3. Choose Add Items.
  4. Click Take a Photo or Video (of Choose Existing).
  5. Record or select your video. Wait for it to upload.
  6. Click the file and then click the Share button near the bottom of the screen (you may need to tap the screen to have the icon appear).
  7. Choose Share Link and View Only.
  8. Click Copy Link.
  9. Open Safari and go to goqr.me.
  10. Choose URL as the Type.
  11. Paste in the link under Website address (you may have to click Return on the keyboard).
  12. Enlarge and flash the live preview on the screen or click download and save the image to your Camera Roll.

It can be handy to have a stand for your iPad when filming videos. Tony is using a Justand Go. But even better is the Justand v2.

Chatterpix Kids for iPad (along with Funny Movie Maker) can be fun ways to provide  descriptions or examples of new terms by giving any image a talking mouth.  You can use and blabberize.com (along with Voki) online, but they use Flash and won't work on an iPad.


Ask students to restate the description, explanation, or example in their own words.

Teachers and students can narrate a series of images using 30hands or Shadow Puppet Edu for iPad. Import a series of photos and record a voiceover. Shadow Puppet Edu can save to the Camera Roll or to their get-puppet.co website. If you save it to their site, you can copy the link and paste into goqr.me.

Collect student media using Padlet. Watch Tony's video to learn a lot more about it.


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

Wondering where Tony gets those symbols he uses to represent the six steps? He got them from The Noun Project. Read about it and find out about recoloring the images you get from the site.

Pic Collage for Kids is a great app for creating representations with words and pictures. You can double click an image after you've inserted it to bring up the scissors for cutting (among other great features). Clicking the Share button will export your creation to the Camera Roll.


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


Periodically ask students to discuss the terms with one another.


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

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.

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 teaching academic vocabulary in this ASCD article.

iPads are great for centers or stations! See Tony's infographic and watch his video!