Graph Words: a simple visual thesaurus

You have to love the social media sites and the sharing that is happening. I collected the tool from a Larry Ferlazzo post  late last year, who got it from a post from Richard Byrne via his Free Technology for Teachers site.

This is nice little tool that might help students – especially if they are visual learners.

I often notice a word that is being used too frequently when students are writing. Using a thesaurus seems to be a bit of a chore for a number of our students and some of these same thesauruses do not look very user friendly, especially for a student who already has an issue with language. This is where Graph Words could be a good alternative resource for students who need of some help in selecting new words to introduce to their writing. It is a very easy-to-use visual thesaurus that could assist students to improve their writing – and language skills as whole.

The visual tool Graph Words can provide webs of related words. For example the word “nice” is often used when there are many other more interesting and perhaps more contextually appropriate words that could be used instead.  Type “nice” into Graph Words and a web of alternative word choices comes up on the screen. The word you are searching for will appear in the center of the display, and with alternative word suggestions around it. Click on any word in that web to generate a new web of more related words. 

The webs you create can be downloaded as a PNG image. You could create some word webs for  words your students use most often in your classroom then download the word web images to display in your classroom or on a digital page.

If you hover over the nubs between the words you can see meanings as to how they relate to each other.

There is also a simple colour code to the words.

Linguee – Web as a dictionary

Linguee  is part dictionary and part translation tool. Created by Germans, Gereon Frahling (who once worked at Google Inc.) and software developer Leonard Fink , the original German / English version of the site went live in May 2010.  Recently it has added Spanish, French and Portuguese comparisons with English and has plans to add Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Russian and Italian next year.

The interface is very user-friendly and it searches for common phrases along with individual words. The results are presented in the form of a two-column comparison table with the source language shown on the left, and the target translations displayed on the right.

A very important feature for anyone studying a language is that it offers a contextual translation and also states the source of the translation and a link to the website from which it was taken.  For example it was not only useful for getting the right individual word for the context but also for finding the comparable idiom for something like “a fish out of water”.

When I searched various words it did a very good job assisting me in understanding the context  of that word and also in helping to find the right word for the appropriate occasion.

The relevance and  accuracy is achieved by indexing millions of online translations produced by human expertise. Those at Linguee look for professionally translated texts on the public Internet that exist in two or more languages. The EU and United Nations, for example, publish most of their documents and patents in numerous languages. Linguee also looks for professionally translated texts on company websites and other public resources such as technical journals. This means that the quality of translation is very high.

Other features include:

  • Option to hear a recording of the words being spoken
  • The internet explorer search plugin lets you search Linguee directly and there are others for Macs and Firefox
  • A pie-chart indicator shows how frequently one translation occurs compared to others, helping to narrow down the most appropriate phrase and the frequency of the translation is also provided
  •  there is a ‘comments’ function allowing people to leave feedback

I like what Linguee offers but we don’t teach German or the other languages covered so far at my school but the Italian and the Chinese version will come in very handy when these languages are added.

The Visual dictionary

A tweet led me to The Visual Dictionary.

I thought I would have a look. I went to a very clean homepage that described itself thus:

Visual Dictionary, to learn by way of image with thematic, clear and precise pages, with concise and rigorous texts, multilingual, the InfoVisual will become a academic resource. Different from an encyclopedia or from a traditional online dictionaries, thesauri and glossaries because the images replace the words.

I thought I would take a closer look and played around with some of the various searches offered.

You can look up the 6 major topics/categories and to see more specific topics you use the drop down list of sub-topics

You can search by word using either a simple AND, OR or phrase option.

If you choose to do a search by category, or a category is selected, you can browse a collection of images to for a variety of information about an image or topic. 

For example, by clicking on the Biology – animal title/thumbnail, you are taken to a page where you can click on an image of a spider to get the image below.

Or you can use the “seek image” tab that will show thumbnail images.

The diagrams are really clear and well labelled. With simple explanations below the images.

You can use the “image share” feature which gives you an embed code and you then put it into your site (see below) 

Internal anatomy of a spider

Internal anatomy of a spiderVisual Dictionary – Copyright © 2005-2009 – All rights reserved.

Once you have found your image there are other options that become available.

You have an Animation tab that will take you to a relevant YouTube Video. The Virtual object tab allows you to view the object as it revolves (usually the format is YouTube as well), a Photo tab that takes you to a photo (a number of these are from creative Commons sites).

At the bottom of the page you also have the option to do searches (using google) of the web, the site and wikipedia.

This resource is quite simple and would be a good place to start. It is not as comprehensive as the Merriam-Webster The Visual Dictionary Online. That resource requiresmore clicks to drill down to the anaomy of a spider and there is a lot of information that may not be required by someone just wants a simple diagram or a simple beginning to a topic. Both have their place but I like this simple but effective dictionary

Wordnik – more than a dictionary

Another Web 2.0 tool for those who are fascinated with words. This is a fascinating site as well and, be warned, you can become quite caught up in and forget the time. Wordnik

Wordnik offers an alternative to the more usual online dictionaries and thesaurus resources available. The site, is very new and still in beta, is built from existing sources and added to by contributors. So far it contains more than 1.7 million words. 


When a user searches a word using Wordnik it displays word definitions, pronunciations, synonyms, antonyms as well as their etymology. From the FAQ page, it states “Wordnik is based on the principle that people learn words best by seeing them in context.” (Not new to teachers that one!) The site goes about this in a number of ways. It pulls examples from novels and Twitter,as well as definitions from several dictionaries. Users can contribute example sentences, audio pronunciations and images from Flickr. This seems a simple thing, and, for instsnce, how better to explain a colour? The “related words” feature, which shows not only synonyms and antonyms, but other words that are used in a similar context, words that often show up in the same kinds of sentences.

This all means that it offers opportunities for users to gain a very good idea about a word, with different ways to approach information about how and when a word is used. I think that ESL (non-English speaking students) would find this a more useful tool than the traditional dictionaries.

Other interesting features include the word statistics that show you how Wordnik statisticsoften a word had been used throughout history and the opportunity to observe almost live reflections in blog posts and tweets.  Words are also presented in context of literary texts from various times, which allow you to see changes in style and use.

A post on the blog Inspirited Enterpriseoffers some information behind the development of Wordnik.

Wordnik is collaborative and the policy about words is an inclusive one and uses a broad definition about what is considered to be a “real word.”

If you’d like to contribute, you can sign up! Otherwise, it is worth a look and it will be interesting to see how it develops.

I am going to have more of a play to check out to see what ways it may be useful for the students at school.

A visual dictionary called Shahi

Shahi is another amazing tool that uses Flickr images (although you also have the option of choosing from Google or Yahoo). I found out about it from a shared bookmark, by shared by Carla Arena, in one of the Diigo groups I belong to.

What a great idea it is to combine the definition/s of a word with images pulled from Flickr. Shahi is so simple to use and the multiple images that accompany the definitions are really interesting and often very emotive.


You can go beyond simply using it to help students understand the definitions of a word, I can see Shahi being used to help with ideas for creative creative writing purposes. Typing in the words “love” and “sorrow” bring up the following images.





The images for the concepts of love and sorrow are interesting and could be discussed by students who could then try to find their own images to represent a feeling.

When you click on an image you like, an enlarged version pops-up. You can then follow it back, to the person responsible for that photo, to see what else they may have to offer. However also be aware that the images are not censored and the whole Flickr library is available.

Geometry of Death II

Geometry of Death II

Note: The Google option gives you images from google pages and you can find documents, with the tag you used, linked to the image.