The Word Vine

The Word Vine is an addictive interactive puzzle created by Chris de Carteret.  The player gets a list of words which can combine together to make compounds. For example, grapevinegrapevine, and cherrypitcherry pit.  The player also gets a graphic of a vine, with nodes leading off in one or more directions. For example, at the basic level, the word list might be apple, sauce, and tree, which can be combined to make apple sauce and apple tree. At the “hard” level, there are more words and more ways to combine them: bone, cake, check, dog, egg, fly, fruit, grape, guide, list, pound, salad, vine, wish, which can be combined to make compounds like fruit fly, pound cake, egg salad, fruit salad, wishbone, grapevine, checklist, wish list, dog bone, and so on. Making a list of compounds may be easy, but the words (shaped like leaves) can only fit on the vine one way! It’s a race against time as you try to figure out how to organize the leaves on the vine.


Vocabulary (and) Spelling City

Vocabulary and Spelling City is a fabulous site! I’ve been using it with my beginning class recently. I have a premium membership, so when I create a spelling list for my class, all the activities are available to my students. However, as a student, you can create your own list by typing the words you want to learn into the yellow notepad on the home page. Then SpellingCity will model the words’ pronunciation, spell the words aloud for you, and create spelling tests and vocabulary, writing, spelling, and alphabetizing games as well as printable handwriting exercises, The games vary from very easy (e.g., Missing Letter) to more difficult (e.g., Sentence Unscramble). Feedback is immediate. You can play the games over and over again until you really know those words. If you want, you can use Find a List to search for my spelling lists under the username nliakos; but remember, they are for beginners, so depending on your level, they might not be very useful to you.

Watch the video “Getting Started” on this page of the website to see how you can create your own spelling lists or use some of the many lists in Teacher Resources, such as  capitonyms (words that change their meaning when they are capitalized, like turkey/Turkey), compound words, or (for advanced students) analogies.

Double Entry Reading Journal

Keeping a double-entry reading journal is a great way to improve your reading skills while increasing fluency and accuracy in your writing. When I have my students keep these journals, I collect and respond to their entries, correcting their grammar and spelling and answering their questions; but even if you don’t have anyone respond to your entries, this is a great way to improve your English.

Here’s what to do:

    • As you read, mark any passages (of any length) which interest you, puzzle you, please you, or displease you in some way. Copy them out word for word. This forces you to slow down and notice the details you normally don’t pay attention to when you are reading, such as punctuation, capitalization, grammatical structure, and spelling.
    • Beneath the copied passage, write your comments, questions, interpretations, thoughts, or ideas about the passage. What you write can be either longer or shorter than the passage you copied. This develops your writing fluency and forces you to express your thoughts about what you read.
    • You can either hand-write your journal or type it on a computer, but don’t photocopy or scan the text you select. The act of copying, while tedious, will actually help improve your writing, while scanning or photocopying will have no effect on your writing.

      That’s all there is to it!

      Tip: Remember that different kinds of writing (academic papers or articles, newspaper articles, fiction, poetry…) have different rules. In particular, modern fiction (both novels and short stories) tolerates a lot of rule-breaking, such as sentence fragments. Dialog is written to reflect the way characters actually speak, which may be ungrammatical, and writers sometimes misspell words to represent regional pronunciations. If you need to write for academic or professional purposes, it is probably wiser to choose passages without much dialog!

      ESL Blues

      ESL Blues‘ main page has lots of quizzes and exercises for low-to-high intermediate level students. Most of them concern grammar, but there are some links to reading and vocabulary exercises and quizzes as well. There is also a section called “Common Errors Explained” which focuses on topics like do vs. make and adjectives ending in -ed and -ing, which even advanced students still struggle with.  The quizzes supply the correct answers if you make a mistake; sometimes, you are given the rule as well. My personal favorites are the “double quizzes,” which combine grammar quizzes and trivia quizzes. Do you want to know which English king died on the toilet? Take the first Pot Luck double quiz and find out!

      Dave’s ESL Cafe

      Dave’s ESL Cafe is the grand-daddy of ESL/EFL websites. Dave Sperling was experimenting with ways to use the internet to teach and learn English when most of us still didn’t know what email was! The ESL Cafe is a vast site with many pages of interest to both students and teachers of EFL/ESL. If you click on STUFF FOR STUDENTS at the top of the homepage, you will find pages devoted to various types of quizzes, slang, phrasal verbs, idioms, and more. There are forums where you can pose a question about English, and two chatrooms, one for teachers only and one for students and teachers (you will have to register if you wish to participate in chat). There is a podcast to listen to, over one thousand ESL/EFL links, and lots more. It would take a week just to explore everything that is here.

      Reading for Pleasure

      Reading is the best way to improve many things: reading comprehension and speed, certainly, but also grammar and vocabulary. If you read modern novels with a lot of dialog, it also helps you improve your speaking. If you “read” audio books, you can even improve your listening by reading! (If you live in the U.S., it is best to borrow audio books from the public library; the ones that you can buy in a bookstore are usually abridged, or shortened, versions of the paper books, so if you are reading as you listen, you may get confused when the audio book skips something.)

      You can read anything that interests you: newspapers, magazines, novels, short stories, graphic novels, children’s and young adult books, biographies, history and other nonfiction, and websites are all good! If you start something but find it too difficult or boring, stop and choose something else. Remember, this is reading for pleasure. If it isn’t pleasant, don’t do it.

      Your reading material should not have so much new vocabulary that you need a dictionary to understand every sentence or paragraph or page. If you have to look up too many words, reading will not be a pleasure, and you will not want to continue doing it. Choose materials that are easy enough for you to understand the main ideas without your dictionary, but which have some words that you don’t know. You will begin to learn these new words naturally, even if you don’t look them up in the dictionary, as you encounter them in different contexts. It’s okay to use your dictionary occasionally, but it’s not necessary. You are not going to take a test on what you read, so if you don’t understand every detail, it doesn’t matter. Remember: this is reading for pleasure.


      FreeRice lets you drill vocabulary while actually helping to feed hungry people in the world. It’s true! The site’s sponsors pay for the rice, which you “earn” ten grains at a time by selecting the correct meaning for the word you are given. (Don’t worry! There is no penalty for mistakes, and they even tell you the correct answer.)

      Joe Heim writes in the Washington Post that FreeRice was created by John Breen, a computer programmer and father who was watching his son study for the SAT (Scholastic Achievement Test, which most college-bound American high school seniors have to take). Breen thought he could make vocabulary study more enjoyable while at the same time helping the world’s poor. (Breen had already created two other online sites to fight poverty and hunger: The Hunger Site and

      Wait a minute, you may be thinking, English is not my native language! These words are going to be too hard for me! Well, they are definitely challenging, but Breen says that the words in the database range from pretty easy to extremely difficult, depending on the level (there are fifty levels in all). The program assigns you a starting level based on your first few tries. Then, you change your level with your right and wrong answers. If you get three words correct in a row, your level goes up; make a mistake, and your level goes back down. For more details, visit the FAQ page at FreeRice.

      Click here to try it out!