TEFL teaching materials

teaching professional people english

Cool tools for vocab

Words.  Can’t get around to learning them, can’t talk without them.  As Ron Weasley would say ‘Dead annoying, really’.  Learners have to make an effort to learn words, which means that teachers must come up with ever more creative ways to engage them in that process.  Over the years I have explored just about every method – quizzes, cards, mind maps, you name it, I’ve done it.  The learning outcomes have been good, and students have enjoyed these activities.  However, they were rarely terribly fun for me.  ‘Dead annoying really’, wouldn’t you say?  My new obsession with the technological has enabled me to discover some new toys online.  The first three sites I want to share are possibly more for us lot who already speak english, although folks who are working with individualised learning packages will definitely find plenty to interest students.  The last two are great fun but also stellar teaching and self-study tools.  As always, it’s all free.  I’m too mean to pay for anything.


This is a truly interesting magazine-style site with all kinds of brief articles about words.  There are definitions, audio for checking pronunciation, and articles about  the origins and usage of different terms.  You could just go to the home page here or alternatively, you can go straight to there and look at the ‘words of the day’ item.  Brilliant.

Merriam – Webster

A similar site in terms of content and presentation, you MUST give the quizzes a try, although make sure that you have some time to spare when you do – they are quite addictive.  At least, they are for me.  Give me a sniff of a leader board and ‘average’ scores for my age group and I am hooked.  Link to home page here, or a truly priceless slide show which you don’t want to miss  there.  For adult students, the ‘trend watch’ articles are excellent.  For lower level students there are lots of quiz pages linked to school grades, so I’m sure that you’ll find items which will be appropriate for your classes.

Oxford Dictionaries

As you would expect, Oxford have a good solid site to offer.  It is comparable to the other two, with a strong sales presence in case you needed to purchase a dictionary.  You never know..  There are entertaining articles and definitions galore.  Something for everyone.   Link to the home page here.  Interestingly, many of the quizzes are more about general knowledge than vocabulary as such.  The day I was checking the urls for this article, the quiz was about films.  I was useless, but I know several students who would have been happy to beat me hands down at it.


I am very smitten with this service.  To put it simply, Visuwords has its competitors but they are mostly subscription offerings (one exception below).  This is free.  In addition, the aesthetic appeal of Visuwords is quite special. Take a look here.  Type a word into the search window, and watch the magic.  The site brings up all the definitions and contexts of the word and presents a mind-map visual with colour-coded links depending on whether the term given is an example or a synonym, for instance.  Looking words up will never be the same again!


Wordsift combines a visual thesaurus with a mind-mapping function, albeit less artistically.  If you take a look here, you’ll see that it has one absolute advantage over Visuwords – the ability to deal with chunks of text which can be typed in, or cut-and-pasted. The entire text can be perused – click on each word in turn in any order, and the software will conjure up a gallery and mind map.  I submit that this is an aspect of the site which will make it extremely useful in the classroom with beginners and advanced students alike.  That is, provided one has internet access…

It’s easy to end up on a treadmill of preparing and teaching classes while having lost touch with the subject we are teaching – with the pleasures of words and language.  It’s always a pity when this happens, and I think that it is a major element in a lot of teacher burnout in our sector.  I’m happy to have tools and tricks at my disposal to help me ward off boredom.  I know that there are many other fabulous sites out there.  What is missing from my list in your opinion?


About Catherine Kennedy

Second year undergrad (super-mature) at Sheffield Uni doing single honours Religion, Theology, and the Bible. (Formerly TEFL teacher in France)

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