Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Website of the Week: Wordsift (An 'evolving' dictionary)

Students often don't know what words mean. Yesterday, my 18 year-old students looked at me blankly when I said the word "Evolution". "Darwin?" I ventured. "Monkeys into men? Butterflies changing colours in cities?" Nothing. *Sigh*.

In this case I usually suggest students look at an online dictionary. However this usually results in their being confused about words in the definition. Alternatively students look in a thesaurus and then end up with words in their essays with completely different meanings than the ones originally intended.

Wordsift is a visual dictionary that gives pictures and a 'mind-map' of related words to get around this. It was particularly helpful for Evolution, producing the following screen:

The pictures on the left, taken from google, gave an image that students immediately identified with ("Ah, monkey into men!") and the box on the right gives a series of words. Hold your mouse over them and a plain english definition appears. Click on the other words and a whole new word constellation begins. The map clearly shows how closely related the synonyms are and gives students a chance to find out their meaning by holding the mouse over them.

Great for showing the whole class when stuck with a concept.