How to create my ideal online vocabulary practice activities?

I’ve been thinking about this one for awhile. And I’ve been using various paper-based versions of it with adult literacy learners, and ESOL learners before that. I need someone to programme it.


Here’s my ideal:

Targeted vocabulary lists

Vocabulary is my numeracy if that makes sense. I like to work with targeted vocabulary lists. The ones that I’m most familiar with are the ones associated with Paul Nation of Victoria University and often used with ESOL learners. The lists break down as follows:

  • 1K: This is the first one thousand most frequently used words of English.
  • 2K: This is the second thousand most frequently used words of English.
  • ALW: This is a list of 660 academic words.
  • OFF LIST: These are any words that don’t fit into the three lists above.

You can find the lists here and an online tool to analyse your texts in terms of these lists here.

Diagnostic assessment

The starting point for this needs to be some kind of vocabulary diagnostic. There are established tests for these word frequency levels, e.g. like this but the Literacy and Numeracy for Adults Assessment Tool (LNAAT) also has a diagnostic tool. So a version of that could also be employed here. The vocabulary diagnostic test would determine which level, (and database of words from a particular frequency list) a learner would start at.

Vocabulary pre-test

This is what I want first. Learners need to be pre-tested on a block of words, e.g about 10 is probably enough. This would essentially be a spelling test marked for accuracy. The computer would need to say the word out loud and the learner would need to type it in. When I do this with learners on paper I can mark for understanding as well, but I imagine that computers aren’t smart enough for that just yet, e.g. being able to recognise a misspelt word as close to the actual spelling. Even better if it could…

Practice activities

Words that a learner scores 100% in the pre-test are tagged and eliminated from which ever word bank the learner is working from. E.g. if the learner knows 5 out of 10 words already, only the 5 incorrectly spelt words turn up in the practice activities that follow.

Here’s a list of activities that the system would generate. The words, sentences, and definitions would be drawn from an internal database for each frequency level.

  1. Identify syllables: Learners practice decoding by marking where the syllables are for their problem words.
  2. Practice spelling the word correctly: This would look like a digital version of the well used strategy of read, cover, write, repeat. The problem word could flash up on the screen for a short time period (or be spoken), the learner then has to spell it from memory. Their response is then compared visually with the correct word. If it’s incorrect they repeat until correct.
  3. Complete the word. In this activity the learner gets the first three (or so) letters of a word. They have to correctly complete the word.
  4. Match the word to the definition. Learners match problem words with plain English definitions and explanations.
  5. Complete sentence cloze activities. Learners are given a sentence with the word used in context, but the word has been gapped out. They need to type in the correctly spelled word.
  6. Write the words in sentences: The practice activities could be generated by the system with just the words that need to be practiced. By printing the screen or downloading a PDF learners could practice writing the words in their own time and contextualise them however they like. This work could involve the tutor more directly too.

Vocabulary Post-test

Following all of the practice activities, learners must re-sit the same vocabulary test used in the pre-assessment. If they start scoring 100% in the post-tests across several assessments then they could be prompted to re-sit the diagnostic and possibly go up a level.


And then I’d like the ability to generate user-defined content. Once my learners have demonstrated that they know most or all of the words from the 1K, 2K, and AWL I’d like to be able to load in my own vocabulary lists with accompanying definitions and practice sentences. This would allow me to create trades-based word banks and practice activities that are contextualised to whatever it is that I’m teaching.

This customisation could be a premium level feature that organisations could subscribe to. Or it could be something that grows over time that allows trades and vocational tutors to collaborate on teaching key technical terminology for their specific areas.

That’s all… Not too much to ask is it? Let me know in the comments below.

Author: Graeme Smith

Education, technology, design. Also making cool stuff...

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