Responding to the class novel: Wonder by R. J. Palacio.

Wonder wordlist-on cover image

Created using Tagul

This term our year 7 students are reading Wonder by R. J. Palacio. I have been working on different activities that our teachers could use with their classes. This week I have been working with one of the year 7 classes and they been the first to trial the some of the activities.

One of the first activities, for those that had finished reading the book, was to think about the vocabulary used in the novel, creating a list of words that the boys then created their own word searches. We use Word Search Generator that allows you to create your own printable “word find” worksheets. It is very simple and easy to use. There are several options that allow you to tailor the style of word search very easily. Some boys worked in pairs and others preferred to create one on their own. Some have already been shared with boys from other classes. Both groups have been totally engaged in their work and there has been some great discussion.


An example of a word search



These same boys have now gone away to create crosswords using Eclipse crosswords. This is a tool I have used many times to generate crosswords as extension activities. Our student book club boys have created some, based on books they have been reading, recently as well.

These new crosswords will be shared with the class next week. Eclipse offers another very simple tool that allows boys to explore the language used in the novel.

Eclipse crossword 2016-html

Literature by numbers.

Always looking for some interesting ways to approach literature, books and reading for our boys, I came across the fun infographic below. This is an appealing infographic (from the DailyInfographic site) that takes a look at the numbers behind some famous works of fiction. There are word counts of classic novels as well as modern works such as Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings. Novellas, haiku, epic poems as well as works by particular authors (Hemingway, Shakespeare and Austen) are explained by their numbers.

Words by Numbers: Famous Literature Infographic

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.

Forvo: a site for word pronuciations

Looking at tools to assist the Italian language students I came across Forvo.

I found a reference on a post on Social media in education. “It could probably be described as an audio wiki for word pronunciations.”

 At the time of writing there are 533.253 words, 443,313 pronunciations in 234 languages. This will change as it is constantly building up its list of words.

One of the biggest problem for our students trying to learn to speak Italian is trying to figure out how to pronounce the words. There is nothing like immersing yourself in the language. Unlike Europe, where it is very easy to take short trips to hear native speakers, Australian students have to learn to speak the language from listening to recordings.

This is where Forvo can help because it  hosts hundreds of recordings of word pronunciations by native speakers.

To use it from the home page when you want to know how to pronounce a word you:

  • Type the word into the search box and Forvo will come back with that word pronounced by a native speaker.
  • Click on the icon and you can hear it spoken.
  • If you click on the word you can  get more information about it.

Looking up “Grazie” and Italian, I got 4 uses and I clicked on one of them to get this information, including a map of where the speaker is from and an English translation.

So as well as providing a site that offers word pronunciations, Forvo also provides some basic demographic information about each language.

This is a social sharing site. The content is user-supported and user-generated so you can join and add words that you’d like pronounced to the list , or you can provide the pronunciation. New pronunciations are added on a regular basis.

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.