Review by Monica Encarnacion, Common Sense Education | Updated September 2015

Wordsteps

Crowdsourced site offers dictionaries and adaptive language practice

Subjects & skills
Skills
N/A

Subjects
  • English Language Learning
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
7-12
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Pros: Helpful for creating personalized collections of foreign words and phrases for students to learn.

Cons: Thirty-one languages are listed, but the quality and quantity of translated words across all languages is inconsistent.

Bottom Line: Potentially useful in cementing new language, but more complete and consistent content across the site would boost usefulness.

Teachers could use WordSteps in any of the major language classes taught in middle or high school. It's also a good tool for ELLs at any levels. The site could even be helpful for teachers who are looking to translate or learn foreign-language words to communicate more effectively with students and their families. Students new to a language can benefit from the images and audio clips that sometimes accompany translated words. Students closer to achieving language fluency could benefit from reviewing word recognition and word-writing exercises.

Teachers could also use the site as part of a crowdsourcing activity by giving students the chance to create new dictionaries or add new words to existing ones. Although most major languages are well represented, students could have fun finding and adding new or uncommon words. Beginning-level students can find and illustrate words by including images or video clips, while more advanced speakers can record themselves pronouncing words for others to learn. Students can keep their created dictionaries private, but making them public will help contribute to the site's database for other learners. 

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WordSteps is an online tool for personal vocabulary learning and memory training. The site allows students to access online dictionaries in a wide variety of world languages and categories. English language learners (ELLs), foreign language students, and teachers can access dictionaries by selecting the dictionaries tab; from there users can select the language they're learning and their native language from the respective pull-down menus. Some dictionaries offer access to illustrations and videos to further illustrate word meanings. Each dictionary varies in difficulty level.

Exercises include reverse flash cards, word variants, listening variants, and writing words by translation activities. Students memorize new words through repetition, and the program claims to adapt to individual students' needs, based on their responses. Correct and incorrect responses are tracked, but lessons are self-directed, so students will self-identify whether or not they know a word. At the end of every lesson users are given a percentage for correct responses, and the option to repeat a lesson or move on. Customization options appear prior to the start of each lesson; these include the ability to personalize the order of the exercises or delete any undesired exercises. WordSteps also offers access to paid online courses, monthly subscriptions, and free iOS and Android apps.

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The nice thing about WordSteps is that it can potentially help language learners at any level. It's best suited for students in a foreign language classroom but can also provide support for those in an ELL class. However, be aware that not all words will translate correctly. The site is free, but it's also crowdsourced. Though there are some great features built in, the content available at present is somewhat hit or miss, depending on the language. That said, students can certainly use the site to practice a new foreign language or build on preexisting language skills. Lessons use a built-in algorithm that calculates ideal time and repetition for follow-up lessons, based on the results of the current lesson. If students are almost fluent in English but still need a few words translated, they can click on those words within the dictionary without having to complete an entire lesson.

If you use WordSteps, keep in mind that some dictionaries may be incomplete or offer inaccurate information. Also, some languages aren't equally represented. For popular languages such as English and Spanish, it's possible to translate thousands of words. However, fewer translations exist for other, less popular, languages; for example, Serbian is listed but doesn't presently include any translated words. Homonyms aren't always offered for every word, which can make it difficult for students to learn words in the correct context. Teachers should also keep in mind that matching audio clips and/or images aren't consistently available. Also note that, when signing up for a free account, users are given the option to sign up via email or a social media account.

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Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

The overall design is basic but clean and without distractions. It's too bad that all 31 languages listed aren't equally represented in the available dictionaries.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Kids can learn new vocabulary with customizable exercises aimed at reading, writing, listening, and word-identification practice. Based on students' progress, a built-in algorithm adapts subsequent lessons.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

Navigating the site's tabs could be confusing, and there isn't a start-up demo or tutorial. Aside from supporting audio clips and images when available, this site doesn't offer additional learning supports for kids.


Common Sense Reviewer
Monica Encarnacion School support staff

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