For some online vocabulary development activities I recently developed for my classes, I figured it might be a good idea to link words to some kind of online dictionary resource so that my learners could get a better sense of them. I ended up going with Wordnik and, watching learners in class today, realised it was an excellent choice.
Wordnik listings have all the features of most other online dictionary providers (things like definitions, linked thesaurus, examples, pronunciation, etc.), but a couple of their own which I think are particularly useful.
First up, I love the fact that the selected word appears at the top of the page in huge letters. This is so great for creating a real impact and a visual BANG which I honestly think helps some of my learners remember the spelling more easily.
I also think the live Twitter feed showing your selected word in use in real-world tweets is particularly brilliant. These examples are much more 'real' and raw (sometimes embarrassingly so - see below!) and make for a very useful comparative tool alongside the more traditional (formal) examples provided.
My 16-17 year old vocational trades learners liked referring to this part of the page, and when they can see examples like this one:
Well, I can assure you that it gets their attention!
But sniggering and smirking aside, I love the fact that this is real world language in use, pretty much live. And truth to tell, if this is the sort of thing that makes 'disengaged' teenage learners like looking up new words in a dictionary, then that's fine by me.
Another advantage with the stream being live is that, as the learners tend to come to different word landings at different times, the Twitter examples are different pretty much every single time.
The other thing I like about Wordnik is the Flickr image stream associated with particular words. I'm not sure how accurate or reliable it is, but for learners like mine (who are often much more visually inclined), it creates interesting 'anchors' for remembering words and discussing their broader (possible) meanings and applications.
If you're looking for an online vocabulary reference/resource tool for your learners, I'd really recommend taking a squiz at Wordnik - I'm surprised and happy with how it has engaged and helped my students with their vocabulary development.