Last year, in a Blog post "What is Vocabulary? Who Gets to Decide?" Director of Curriculum Georgia Scurletis described a study that showed middle school students put in charge of choosing vocabulary words learned the words more effectively.

Based on that study, Georgia suggested using the list-building tool to have students create Vocabulary Lists to accompany reading assignments. In this Back to School planning season, it's worth returning to Georgia's suggestion, as well as to some new ideas for using the tools on to boost student engagement with vocabulary learning.

1. Track a year's worth of lookups with a "Word Look-Up Journal."

At the beginning of the year, give your students a guided tour of the Dictionary, with special attention to the word family chart, synonyms, antonyms, "type of" information, usage examples, pronunciation help, and friendly explanation of the word. (Read about our Dictionary functionality here.)

Then, ask your students to create a list called "My Word Look-Up Journal." Show them the "Add to List" button on the Dictionary page, which allows them to quickly add any word they look up in the Dictionary to their new list. As the year continues, have them "journal" their look-ups by adding all the words they look up as they go.

Once your students' journals start to fill up with words, have them share the journals with others in the class, note when they're looking up the same word more than once, or play a fun and fast-paced word-learning game with just the words on their list. (See more about list learning here.)

2. Create a vocabulary journal for the class to share.

Think of this as an interactive, learnable version of a "word wall": Have a small group of students once a week present a word from their personal word journal to the class, creating a "Class-wide Vocabulary Journal" as the year progresses. By choosing and presenting their words to the group, students will model for one another their curiosity about words and their strategies for incorporating new words into their vocabulary.

3. Give students the job of creating Vocabulary Lists to accompany reading assignments.

As Georgia suggested above, students can use the list builder on to create lists quickly and easily. If you choose to have students take turns with this task, be sure to ask them to report on whether it was easier for them to learn vocabulary when it was their turn to prepare the list, and let that lead to a conversation with students about what helps them learn new words. (See "On Metacognition, or Thinking About Thinking" for more on this idea.)

If you can locate an electronic copy of the text you're reading in class, your students can even pull vocabulary from it in advance. (Watch a video on how to build this kind of list here.)

4. Assign a weekly vocabulary task, such as creating a ten-word Vocabulary List from online newspapers or magazines.

Again, our list-building tool makes this easy to do, and the close reading of the definitions and example sentences that list building requires will encourage students to think carefully about word choice in their own writing. This activity would be particularly meaningful for social studies teachers looking to involve students in thinking about current events.

Got other ideas for using tools to increase student engagement with vocabulary learning? Use the comments below to let the community know what's working for you.