Vocabulary Resources

102 Top Pick for homeschool curriculumIndicates that the item is a Top Pick. The full review is available in 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum.

Ultimate Vocabulary is an online vocabulary learning and practice program for first graders through adults. You subscribe for a three-year period, and this gives you access for up to five family members on multiple computers. (It probably won’t work on tablets or other devices since you need to use the keyboard and can’t have it blocking part of your screen.) The program comes with 193 lists of vocabulary words, and you can also create your own.

Words lists are extensive with the majority averaging about 100 words per list; there are over 142,647 words in the program’s database. The grade-level lists that are likely to be most appealing to many homeschoolers begin with 26 words in the first of the ten lists for first grade, growing to 42 words on the tenth list for first grade. There are ten lists for each grade level for first through tenth grades, with the number of words per list gradually increasing.

Students preparing for the SAT (11th grade) can use the ten SAT study lists with about 100 words per list. Lists are included for a number of other purposes: GRE Exam (both Masters level and Ph.D. level) TOEFL Exam (advanced ESL words), GMAT exam (ten lists each for essential and supplementary words). On an easier level that is most likely appropriate for ESL students, there are lists of Most Common English Words and English Conversation Words. You could spend years working through all of these lists! If that’s not enough, you can also create your own word lists, storing them in the Cloud so that they are accessible anywhere.

The number of activities available for studying each group of words and the huge number of word lists are what sets this program apart from others.

Students have an option to simply study words in an activity that is similar to reading through dictionary entries with “Word Discover.” Word Discover defines words one at a time with various nuances of meaning and usage. Since there are no games or activities with this section, it is likely to be used only by diligent students who want to dig deeper into word meanings. While various meanings of each word are taught here, the other activities on the site all use a single definition for each word.

Most students will gravitate immediately toward the “Activities and Games” section which has three categories of activities: “Master Words,” “Cool Games,” and “Vocab Quizzes.”

Under “Master Words,” five activities help students master the words and their meanings. “Flash cards” can be flipped quickly to help students review words, their definitions, and their part of speech. “Quick Train” presents a definition followed by two different words from which the student chooses the word that matches the definition. While many of these are very obvious, it still reinforces the definition in the student’s mind. “Vocab Match” presents a matching exercise with six words and definitions. The program remixes words from the group of words selected by the student each time the student plays, but words and definitions repeat from time to time.” Vocab Memory” is played like memory card games, but matching words with their definitions rather than two identical items. Blue word cards and green definition cards are randomly mixed, making it needlessly difficult to play in my opinion. “Crazy Clues” should be played only after a student has worked with a word list enough to be very familiar with the words. Students need to fill in selected letters to create vocabulary words. They can use the hints (definitions) or not.

“Cool Games” has four games: Unscramble, Crossword, Word Finder, and Hangman. The games all offer variations of their namesakes, with Crossword being the least like a standard version of the game. (It fills in multiple letters for you both at the beginning and as you play.) Games reinforce learning. You should think of them as learning activities rather than fun. The entire program is businesslike rather than colorful and game like.

Under “Vocab Quizzes,” you can select Word Recall, Meaning Recall, Spelling Drill, and Power Recall. As with “Crazy Clues,” Power Recall should be reserved until students are very familiar with a particular list of words.

Students must choose activities each time. The program does not have a preset sequence they must follow. However, it does track student progress and shows levels of success.

In addition to online study options, there are also printable worksheets with three choices. You can print out flash cards, vocabulary worksheets, or spelling worksheets. (There are no answer keys for the worksheets, but students should be able to figure out answers themselves. Students can use the program’s dictionary online if they need it. Audio pronunciations are available as well.

Since Ultimate Vocabulary targets both children and adults, there are no separate teacher and student logins. Students can access everything. This doesn’t present a problem. The program is set up for independent study with instructions readily available as needed.

While it has word lists for younger students, it is likely to be more useful with older students. Sometimes the definitions of words for younger students include words with which they might not be familiar, and I suspect some of the activities might be frustrating for young students as well. I think that fourth or fifth grade would be an ideal point at which to begin using the program. It should be great for high school students as well as for older students needing to brush up vocabulary skills for graduate-level exams and for adults who just want to develop a stronger vocabulary.

The Vocabu-Lit series begins each lesson with an excerpt from a book, story, essay, poem, or speech. Within each literary piece, ten vocabulary words in bold become the focus of each lesson as students encounter the words in a number of ways to develop a nuanced understanding of each word’s meaning. After the literary piece, the layout in the first four books (B through E for grades two through five) differs from that of the rest of the series (Books F through K for grades six through eleven).

In Books B through D (not including Book E), students first copy definitions for each word from the dictionary in the back of their books. The next exercise focuses on context clues as students fill in the blanks with the correct words; in books for grades three and four students also circle the context clue within the sentence. Students identify synonyms and antonyms and work with word relationships in the next two sections. There are still two more activities for each lesson! One of them uses a graphic organizer to work with words. For example, one graphic organizer presents a word web for students to identify words or phrases from the story that relate to a particular topic. The final activity is a puzzle of some sort that uses the words from that week’s list. Grade two exercises differ from those in the other two lower-level books. They are simpler with students doing such things as circling yes/no answers or selecting one of two answers by checking a box. They skip the graphic organizers, but they do include puzzles and some composition activities.

vocabu lit upperBook E steps up the level of difficulty with more lessons and some activities more similar to those in Books F through K. However, it has puzzles, games, and drawing activities for the final lesson exercise rather than introducing a writing assignment. Books B through E each have three or four reviews and no assessments. You will need the separate text booklets for testing if you think it worthwhile to test.

Books F through K for grades six and up have been rewritten for better alignment with the Common Core State Standards. The improvements should appeal even to those who oppose the Common Core. Students begin by reading an excerpt from fiction, non-fiction, speeches, and primary sources—both classic and contemporary.

In the first two exercises for each week's lesson, students work with context clues and prior knowledge to try to write definitions of the ten master words in that lesson. This serves as sort of a pre-test. Students then look up and write the definitions from a dictionary, comparing these with their own definitions. The third exercise has students work with the words in different contexts as well as with antonyms and synonyms in a variety of ways. Students are encouraged to consult a dictionary as needed. The next exercise seems easier as students fill in the blanks of ten sentences with the correct word. The fifth and sixth exercises vary from week to week. They include work with analogies, shades of meaning, words with multiple meanings, figurative language, root words, affixes, synonyms, idioms, foreign words and phrases, etymologies of words, oxymorons, and euphemisms. Each week's lesson concludes with an interesting writing assignment. Each assignment is different, reflecting many different modes of writing. Some students will need assistance with composition skills for some assignments. The writing assignments are worth using as a substantial part of a student's composition work.

There are six review lessons, with one after every five lessons, and each review is followed by an assessment. You will likely spend at least one or two days on the review and a few days on the assessment. Both reviews and assessments use a variety of question formats. Reviews often require students to write full sentence responses. Assessments include questions in the same formats that students will encounter on both the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium exams—new exams tied to the Common Core. In addition, assessments always include a written assignment. Interestingly, for the assessment composition tasks students are supposed to work through the writing process with peer review, revisions, and rewrites. And some writing assignments require research. Clearly, these extend the time required for the assessments beyond a single session. Note that previous editions of the upper level books used to conclude with puzzles and games rather than the writing assignments at the end. In my opinion, the new exercises in the new editions are much more substantial and worthwhile.

For all levels, teacher editions are the same as student workbooks but with overprinted answers.

You can easily skip the teacher edition for second grade, but you will probably want them for other levels to save you time even if you can easily figure out the answers yourself. Separate text booklets are available for grades five and up, but you shouldn't need them.

I particularly like this series for a number of reasons: the use of literary excerpts, the variety of activities, the selection of words (challenging yet more practical than in some other resources), and reasonable cost.

Sample pages are available at the publisher's website.

Levels A through F in the BJU Press Vocabulary series are for grades 7 through 12. You will need both the worktext and teacher's edition for answers. There are only 15 fairly brief lessons per book, so little time is required compared to books like Wordly Wise. Saving time means that students receive minimal practice actually working with the vocabulary words.

According to the BJU Press catalog, new words are taught "...primarily through context. Students learn about word parts (prefixes, roots, and suffixes), word families, synonyms, antonyms, homonyms, and methods of word formation. The study of word parts helps students learn spelling as well as meaning. Some lessons also contain helpful spelling principles.

Books A through C concentrate on Latin word parts along with more common vocabulary topics. Book D teaches Greek word parts; Book E covers words originating from French along with some Greek and Latin words; and, Book F broadens to cover words from many languages.

Many lessons are designed around one or more word parts (with all vocabulary words derived from them), while others might center around topics such as synonyms, antonyms, a particular subject, or a literary selection. Lessons sometimes crossover to include grammar and writing skills.

The format is more interesting than that of many vocabulary workbooks because of the background information and applications in the lessons. Christian content is another plus.

You might also use the words in each lesson as spelling words rather than using a separate spelling program.

Levels A through C are suggested for grades 7 through 9. Levels A and B can be interchanged. Level D should be used after Level C, generally for 10th grade. Levels E and F are suggested for grades 11 and 12 and might interchanged. Students might complete either one or two of these books per school year.

General vocabulary study makes sense for the younger grades, but the type of more specialized study with Greek and Latin roots we find in Vocabulary from Classical Roots becomes more useful for older children since they have already built up a foundational vocabulary and can start to make connections with prefixes, suffixes, and roots. The publisher recommends levels 4, 5, and 6 for grades four through six and Books A through E for grades seven through eleven, although the letter designations for the upper level books make them easily adaptable to students above and below the recommended levels.

The series draws upon both Greek and Latin roots simultaneously to expand students’ English vocabulary. For example, the second lesson in Book A begins by introducing the Greek word tri and the Latin word tres, both meaning three. It goes on to a study of the words trilogy, trisect, and triumvirate. Greek and Latin words are not always this similar. Lesson four introduces the Greek word pan and the Latin word omnis, both meaning all.

Students with some exposure to Greek or Latin will immediately recognize the derivation of words from those languages. Other students without prior knowledge of those languages will develop some familiarity with Greek and Latin simply by using these workbooks.

Each book is written at an increasingly difficult level. Words with similar roots are grouped thematically for ease of study. A variety of exercises, including work with synonyms, antonyms, analogies, and sentence completion, helps students develop full understanding. "Nota benes" (important notes) include etymological, literary, historical, and geographic references that help develop cultural literacy. Suggestions for extended writing activities in Books A through E help older students to apply new vocabulary.  Books D and E add exercises for testing vocabulary within the context of short articles. Periodic review exercises help students retain knowledge.

While students can work independently through most of the lessons, discussion should be helpful for most students.

A teachers guide and answer key for each level has teaching suggestions, exercise answers, and glossaries of some of the literary and historical references.

Vocabulary Vine directs students through a one-year study of Latin and Greek roots. While it has goals similar to resources such as English from the Roots Up and Vocabulary from Classical Roots, its methods are different.

The author stresses three distinctives of Vocabulary Vine. First, the words taught and used as examples are familiar rather than simply chosen because they fit. For example, "thermometer" is used rather than "diathermy" as examples for "thermo." Second, the program uses a spiral approach to some extent. Words introduced as example words with the root being studied that day, usually include another root that will be studied within the next few days. This helps students to review and make connections. Finally, example words are selected so that their meaning fairly obviously helps reinforce the definition of the root.

The structure of the program is very simple. The book contains a "Main List" of 108 "Study Roots." Each Study Root is followed by three or more example words. Definitions are provided for the Study Roots and sometimes for the example words. Students are to create a 3 x 5 card for each Study Root. On each card they list the source language and meaning of the root, three example words and definitions that emphasize the roots, and a few additional example words without definitions.

Cards are filed in a box alphabetically for easy review. After the first week of creating cards and studying the words, students can begin to play some of the twelve games described in Vocabulary Vine. (Some can be played alone, but most will need at least the parent, but preferably another student, to play.) This actually provides both review and a form of assessment for parents, although the games are optional.

Nancy Hasseler has also created Bingo & Game Tile Set (suggested price $6.50), an inexpensive bingo style game with roots to be matched with definitions. The tiles (printed on cardstock) can also be used with some of the other games described in the book.

(You might also be interested in Science Roots by the same author. Science Roots is a companion for high school biology, and is keyed explicitly to Apologia's Exploring Creation with Biology.)

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