In a recent review of Vocabulary.com for her school's technology resources blog, speech language pathologist and technology integration specialist Jessica Conrad wrote about a feature of the game that might not jump out at you at first: hints.

Hints appear in the game when players pause while answering specific questions. You may see three options: a "50/50" hint, which narrows the field; a "Definition" hint, which displays a definition phrase; or a "Word in the Wild" hint, which displays the word used in a sentence drawn from a real-world news or literature source.

When we contacted Conrad to ask her to share her early impression of Vocabulary.com as a tool that is specifically helpful for special education students, she explained just why hints are so crucial. She works with a room of sixth and seventh graders, mostly boys, all identified as needing special education services. The fast-paced gamification of Vocabulary.com caught her students' attention, but it was the hints that allowed them to stay in the game.

The hints helped scaffold their word learning, which matters to Conrad a great deal. “My students are working on goals such as being able to read a grade-level text, to reuse words, to understand non-literal language, and to understand multiple meanings of words,” she told us. Anything that makes this word learning more accessible is key. And of the three hints the game offers, the most useful one was Word in the Wild, Conrad said. “Anything that asks students to try to understand a word’s meaning from within the sentence is valuable for students who are ELL or have language impairments.”

But what was most exciting about early play for her students was a matter of luck: a sentence provided as a Word in the Wild hint was drawn from a mainstream news article about Iran. “They were learning about Iran in current events, so being able to read the sentence and know they had learned about that already, that was really exciting. ‘We learned about that in class!’ they all cried.”

This lucky coincidence underscores the fact that our sentence examples are being drawn continuously from real-word news sources on the Internet. The more Conrad's students keep learning words, and keep learning about the world, the more these connections will arise.

Conrad works in the Johnson County and Surrounding Schools district in Franklin, IN.