A few weeks ago, while my colleague and I were having our weekly meeting, the discussion suddenly turned from what we were planning to do that week to a reflection on how this academic year had gone. After chatting about the positives in our curriculum that had taken place, we got down to talking about what needed to be improved for next year. Within a couple of minutes, we both agreed that basic vocabulary building was the one part of our self-made syllabus that we hadn't focused on enough throughout the year. With all of the teaching of grammar, reading, writing, ICT tools and general academic skills, vocabulary seemed to just get pushed to the side. At the end of the meeting, we promised ourselves that in the coming months, we would find more time and better methods for teaching vocabulary to our students next year.
A few days later, while surfing the net for vocabulary teaching strategies, I remember that my colleague had suggested to me that I check out a free vocabulary studying app called StudyBlue. Simply put, StudyBlue is an app in which teachers and students can make their own visually-engaging vocabulary flashcards. These can then can be shared with friends and peers in seconds. Just have a look at their trailer below...
As you can see from the video, the concept of the app is very simple. With StudyBlue being available on the web, as well as on smartphones and tablets, (you can reach the Apple App store link here) it allows students to study vocabulary or other items on the go, 24/7.
After registering for free, it takes just a few minutes to create your very own flashcards which are automatically in your 'backpack'. You can produce very basic flashcards with just text, or you also have the option to include images.
For a trial run, my colleague and I decided to create two sets of simple flashcards for our students with vocabulary words from the novel we are currently teaching our students, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, by John Boyne. From the onset, however, we agreed that we would not teach the vocabulary items with the app, but rather it would be just an extra tool for them to use. The reason for that is that, generally, we find that our students are not ableto truly focus for longer periods of time when using technology in the classroom. With activities like learning new words, it is better for our students to first engage in a more classic style of learning, like worksheets or dictionary-diving, and then have the ICT tools as a support mechanism.
After finishing the flashcards with the chosen lexical items from the novel, we shared them with our students via Edmodo. We told them that they would have a quiz on the words in a few days time, and for those of them who wanted, they could use StudyBlue to help them study. Unfortunately, many of them could not be bothered with it as it was a choice for them, but the few who did use it told us that it was helpful and easy-to-use. Several of them studied on the bus coming to and from school on their IPhones, and when asked after the quiz, they felt that it had a positive impact on their learning.
While we are planning to do a lot more in terms of improving our vocabulary teaching for the next academic year, StudyBlue will definitely be used as an extra support tool for the students. Try it out today, and let us know if and how you plan to use in your curriculum. We would love to know.