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



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

Photos and videos can be very help for explaining new words. Find public domain clipart and photos at openclipart.org and pixabay.com.

Use Google to find copyright-friendly images. After doing an image search, click Search Tools. Click Usage Right and choose Labeled for Reuse. The resulting images are likely Creative Commons licensed works, which probably require you to give credit to the owner.

Chatterpix Kids for iPad and blabberize.com can be fun ways to provide  descriptions or examples of new terms by giving any image a talking mouth.


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

Tellagami for iPad and voki.com provide students with a talking avatar. They can make the avatar explain a vocabulary word.

Here’s a Google tip: Enter define and the word you want to look up into Googles search field. Google will display the word’s definition at the top of the results page.

Something as simple as using an iPad’s or laptop’s camera can be useful for students recording themselves.

Student can narrate a series of images using 30handsShadow Puppet Edu, or Educreations for iPad. Pixiclip.com is a free interactive whiteboard you can record and play back.


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

Using a structure like the Frayer Model can help students show what a word is by listing its essential and nonessential characteristics.

It’s so easy to make simple posters about words using Pic Collage for iPad. If you’re on a Mac, PC, or Chromebook, try fotor.com. When using Fotor, begin by selecting Collage and then choosing Montage from the toolbar on the left side of the screen.

Here's a fun activity (for those that like jigsaw puzzles): turn any image into a playable jigsaw puzzle! On iPad use the Up in Pieces app (read more about Up in Pieces) and on a PC use jigsawplanet.com.

If you’re using a Mac, PC, or Chromebook, you can use Google Slides to work collaboratively on the same set of slides. Each slide can have a different word and different groups can work simultaneously on the same  presentation. In the end you have a great learning tool and study aid!

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.

Haiku Deck helps you make simple and elegant slideshows. It is available for iPad and online as a website. Haiku Deck’s main feature is that it provided copyright-friendly images. It even cites the images for you. Researching more information about a word and presenting it in a visual slideshow helps student add to their knowledge of terms.

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 iFakeText.com.

Use the PuppetPals HD app for iPad to stage conversations. The puppet shows can be saved as a video in iPad’s Photo Library. The free version has limited characters and backgrounds. To gain access to lots more characters and backgrounds and to have the ability to use any photo in your puppet show, get the Director’s Pass for $2.99.

Edmodo.com 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. Here’s one Tony made for Arizona vocabulary.

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. 

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.


Looking for notes from Opportunities Abound for Digital Authors? Click here!