Students learn many new words during the language process, but when it comes to using these words while speaking or writing they rarely do so because they haven’t internalized them. Students with an inadequate vocabulary range won’t be able to communicate effectively in the target language, are more likely to struggle with reading and writing, have difficulty in understanding content, and can be seriously at risk for academic failure. Research tells us that students need multiple and various exposures to a word before they fully understand that word and can apply it. Here is a list of different things learners need to know about a word before we say that they have learned it:

• Predicting and finding the meaning(s) of the word
• Its spoken and written forms (pronunciation & spelling)
• What “word parts” it has (any prefix, suffix, and root )
• Its grammatical behavior (part of speech)
• Its collocations
• What associations it has ( synonyms, antonyms )

Longman Vocabulary Website has exercises on all the topics listed above for students at different levels. In order to improve their prediction skills, we should teach students context clues explicitly.

You can use this vocabulary journal while you are teaching predicting the meanings of the unknown words using context clues. Here is a great lesson prepared by a creative teacher on using comics to teach context clues and here is another video you can share with your students to teach context clues.

Foreign language learners may come across a lot of new words while they are reading a text. However, it is impossible for them to internalize all these words at once. That’s why; choose 5-6 key words to focus on each week. Make sure that these are high-frequency words that your students will need to use in their further studies and in real life to be able to communicate in the target language effectively. Consider the Academic Words List while you are choosing key words from your content for your high school students. The AWL website offers lists of words, a definition for each word and its pronunciation (click the words in the sublists), and over 170 exercises to practise and review the vocabulary contained within the academic words list. You can find more exercises on the AWL here. The AWL is especially useful for EFL students who want to study in an English-speaking college or university and who are planning to take exams like IELTS or TOEFL.

While you are introducing the key words each week:

• Instead of giving the meanings to your students, give them examples, ask questions, use visuals, facial expressions, movement, mime, and gesture. In other words; show, don’t tell! Trying to understand the meaning of the word and thinking about it will actively involve the students in the learning process and enable them to remember and use these words more easily.
• The definitions in the dictionaries usually don’t help the foreign language learners much as they include unknown words and are hard for them to understand. Moreover, if they come up with their own definitions, learners are more likely to remember the words. Therefore, ask them to restate the description, explanation, or example in their own words.
• Engage them actively with the word with your questions or by asking them to give examples, to make sentences about the new words, to identify synonyms-antonyms, to find collocations and to derive new words by using prefixes and suffixes.
• Have them create an image or any kind of symbol that will help them remember each word. Before you ask them to do so, describe your own mental image for each word. The effectiveness of this approach is consistent with the findings of Robert Marzano and his team whose research shows that “the more we use both systems of representation – linguistic and nonlinguistic – the better we are able to think about and recall knowledge.” Here is a vocabulary journal I use with my students at this stage.

Effective vocabulary development includes systematic practice, review, and deep processing. Therefore, recycling the new words regularly with different activities is essential. We can utilize tech tools to do that. Today there are many digital tools that support vocabulary learning, making it interactive and fun. This link will take you to a great post which lists apps you can use for each step in Marzano’s 6 Step Process for teaching vocabulary. Here is a list of digital tools and online dictionaries for language learners and another one for teachers with game and puzzle templates and assessment tools. These tools have been designed for different purposes; so, they must be chosen carefully to support learning goals and the needs of students at different levels.

Created – not only with words – but with images, examples, analogies, and connections to students’ worlds; word walls are effective vocabulary learning tools. However, they shouldn’t be seen only as a display of words. Word walls should be integrated into the learning process with different activities. Here is a list of classroom games and activities that you can try by using word walls. Teachers can also use tools like Padlet and Thinglink to create digital collaborative word walls. Both teachers and learners can upload images, links and videos as well as text onto them and can embed them into their class websites and blogs.

Effective vocabulary learning requires active and positive student participation and games are ideal tools for that. Involve students periodically in games that allow them to play with the new words. You can see my Symbaloo with links to online vocabulary game websites below. Even though most of these games do not include activities fostering higher order thinking skills, they can be used to recycle vocabulary.


• Ask your learners to make their own picture dictionaries with the vocabulary they have learned or ABC Books based on the novels they have read / the topics they have studied. They can do this as computer-based image searches (using sites like Piclits, Classroom Clipart,, and Pics4Learning) or draw their own pictures.
• Ask your learners to present the new words to the class via skits, pantomime, posters, infographics, videos, jingles, and comics.
• Have them dramatize the words using pictures and speech bubbles and a tool like Blabberize.
• Write incomplete analogies for your learners to complete and have them write (or draw) their own analogies.
• Have them sort or classify words by using word clouds.
• Show your learners this video. Ask them to identify the easily confused words in it and write their own examples. Then ask them to work in groups and create their own Easily Confused Words video by choosing words from the word wall.

• Here is another game you can play with your learners after watching this video. Ask them to use the themes or concepts they learned during the school year to generate words.

• Instead of providing your learners with “Other Ways to Say ….” posters ask them to make their own posters. If you don’t have time to do that, brainstorm “the other” words with the learners by using a tool like Popplet and post it on your class blog. Alternatively, you can ask your learners to create a word cloud.


Digital literacy is more than knowing about how and when to use the tools. It is the ability to process information by locating, understanding, analyzing, evaluating, creating, and sharing it using digital technology. In the past, we used to do it with printed materials, but now technology provides access to a much wider range of learning resources available at all times and allows us to communicate information in a variety of media beyond word and text; so, looking up information in the library in traditional ways is obviously not enough. To be literate today requires navigating a connected world offering us endless information with which we can interact in many different ways.

Our students are familiar with technology but they use it for social purposes. They know how to copy and paste but they don’t know how to process information with the help of technology. They should master the critical skills below to conduct research effectively and come up with creative projects instead of copy-pasted ones:

• Identify how information can support their learning
• Locate and access information from a variety of sources both print and digital
• Compare, evaluate and select information
• Organize and manage information
• Apply information to specific problems/ issues
• Analyze and synthesize information
• Communicate information in a variety of media

If we deprive our students of all these skills, they will graduate without being ready for the challenges of the work and social life that is awaiting them. Therefore, it should be the prime duty of each teacher and school to teach information literacy to their students.

To integrate information literacy into your curriculum, you can start by checking the resources on Cybraryman’s Research Page and by visiting Kathy Beck’s website. Power up offers a great guide you can use while planning your lessons. This blog post will take you to a link  where you can find resources for your elementary students. Do your students look up information for projects and end up with websites way beyond their reading level? This tutorial will show you how you can change the reading level of your Google results and this post offers you tips on teaching the research paper to your students.

Many schools have policies against plagiarism and there are consequences for students if they plagiarize, but in many cases students do so because they don’t know how to deal with that information. They should know how to paraphrase , how to locate and cite sources, how to use the information to explain, persuade, and create. There are also great tools that help us conduct research and our students should be familiar with them and this link will take you to a post on creating collaborative research projects with Google Apps.

Information literacy is not only about finding information but also about evaluating what you find.  Students should learn this critical skill to determine whether the information they have found is relevant and reliable. You can check the resources on evaluating websites and the quality of content in this list before you start creating your own resources.

While teaching effective researching skills to our students, we should also teach them the inquiry process.

the-inquiry-processIMAGE SOURCE: Inquiring Mind Website

The first step in teaching the inquiry process is the art of asking good questions if we want our students to come up with creative solutions to the problems using their critical thinking skills. Questioning is a skill that has often been neglected because we tend to focus on the correct answers rather than questions in educational systems based on standardized testing. However, thinking is driven by questions. Here is a video from an expert explaining why we should focus more on questions than the answers:

Here is another video that you can share with your students on the importance of questioning:

The next step is to teach them about essential (thick, rich, fat) questions.

Another important step is to help them refine their questions to come up with questions that cannot be easily googled by hitting a search button. There are a number of frameworks used for guiding students’ questions. My favorite is created by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano and here you can find an update for it.

The next step is the information processing. There are a number of models you can use like the Big 6 (and Super 3 for young learners). Here you can find a long list of tools students can choose from and use at each step of the inquiry cycle and here is another great list with both tools and resources curated at ISTE 2015. You can also use Google tools for your project.  This website has great resources that you can use during the entire process.

When their research is finished, students share what they learn via a presentation tool of their own choice. After they have presented their project, have them write a blog post to reflect on their learning and share evidence of their understanding. This also gives them an opportunity to assess their progress and think about how what they have learned may apply elsewhere beyond the project.

In her blog post, Projects with Rigor Jane Kraus lists the important aspects of critical thinking to make better projects. After reading her list, you can also check the project ideas here and some project samples in ISTE Resource Library.  Once your students master the questioning skills and the inquiry cycle, you can go a step further by not giving your students problems to solve. Instead, help them find real-world problems for projects. You can watch Ewan McIntosh’s TEDx talk for more information on this.

Inquiry, project and problem-based learning help students enhance collaboration, problem-solving, critical and creative thinking skills if they are used correctly. By using these pedagogies, teachers can connect their curriculum to the real world and make learning meaningful. Many students prefer this kind of learning in class to being lectured as they have a real need to know something so that they can use this knowledge to solve a problem or answer a question and they learn by actually doing it. Using these approaches will bring learning to life but only students with strong information literacy skills and schools that are able to build strong learning communities can do that effectively.

What tools and models are you using for your learners to internalize information literacy and inquiry learning? Please share your experience.



Yesterday, I joineed #satchatwc on Twitter moderated by acclaimed blogger Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher, who is also the author of Reinventing Writing: The 9 Tools That Are Changing Writing, Teaching, and Learning Forever.  This is a must-read book by all English teachers who want to learn more about the key shifts in writing instruction necessary to move their students forward in today’s world utilizing digital tools. Personally, I can say that it helped me a lot to update the way I teach writing. Her slideshare and her blog post about her book will give you a better picture why it must be on your bookshelf. In the video below you can listen to Vicki giving tips on how to reinvent writing.

As you can imagine, yesterday’s #satchatwc was based on Reinventing Writing. Vicki kindly started by helping the new participants how to join the chat. Here is her video to join and follow a twitter chat with any hashtag showing you how to use the free Hootsuite and free Twubs services.

She then posted 6 questions for the participants:

Finally, the discussion started. Wow, I was amazed by the enthusiasm of the teachers, the quality and the rapid flow of the discussion. I don’t believe that I have learned so many things in such a short time. All teachers agreed on the fact that writing electronically is an essential part of the 21st century education, adding that students’ motivation for writing has increased with the integration of tech tools. Moreover, technology makes collaborative writing much easier.

Students need to understand how to hyperlink, create infographics, select graphics, curate video as part of writing. A well rounded writer is experienced with many tools and selects the best one for the creative task at hand. One teacher recommended using  as it allows students to use pics and annotation, as well as links and video.

Moreover, students need a community of writers and an audience as they make a huge difference in engagement & excitement. Digital brochures, posters, Prezis, multimedia help kids reach their audience. Many teachers agreed that students are more engaged and motivated when they are writing for an authentic audience.