I firmly believe that the easiest way for anyone to learn vocabulary is to read. Whenever I open a new piece of literature, I see words for the first time. This gives me incentive to check their definitions, and to try to add them to my permanent knowledge base. When I was a teenager, I learned new words by reading books, magazines, newspapers, internet stories, and even the liner notes to compact discs. Because of this association between reading and learning, I strongly encourage my students to read whenever they can spare a moment. It will certainly improve their language (and their writing) skills.
Reading is just another entertaiment option to many of these students, however. They have sports, recitals, video games, text messages, DVDs, cable boxes, and the telephone, among others. In an era when technology is winning over everything else (which is part of my reasoning for typing a blog instead of a traditional portfolio), how do we as teachers encourage students to learn vocabulary?
I'm not sure that word lists work. Sure, students memorize definitions for their quizzes, but I don't know that they retain those meanings. The best compromise I've found between vocabulary and technology comes in the form of a website: freerice.com. The concept of the website is simple: if you correctly determine a word's definition, the site's hosts donate twenty grains of rice to help end world hunger. All of the definitions are one word long, so they essentially serve as synonyms for the words in question. Since dictionary definitions often end up further confusing students, this option seems perfect. The site is also incredibly addictive. Watching the rice pile up in the bowl provides incentive to see just how much one can donate. The website also ranks one's vocabulary level (maximum of 50), which further provokes a person's competitive spirit.
I have used freerice.com a few times in class to do quick vocabulary reviews. The students seem to enjoy it. I hope to use it more in the future, and maybe even work it into my lesson plans, or to set a goal for monthly rice donations. The website appeals to the humanitarian and the teacher in all of us. Perhaps it could be the answer to boosting vocabulary in the age of the internet and its associated distractions.
National Public Radio even ran a feature on the website's history and future goals. To read it, click here.