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.

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 Poverty.com.)

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!