Though you probably haven’t had to study for a vocabulary test in the recent past, you might still remember how it feels to read an unknown word and commit its definition to memory. Even if you succeed in memorizing the meaning, it’s difficult to truly understand how to use it without context.
To make it easier on students in kindergarten through 12th grade, speech-language pathologists Deena Seifert and Beth Lawrence have devised an app called InferCabulary, which pairs vocabulary words with audio and visuals that show how the word can be used in various scenarios. According to WBAL-TV, they call their teaching method semantic reasoning, because it gives students an opportunity to flex their critical thinking skills to infer the meaning of a term.
The app shows you four images—each accompanied by a caption that you can play aloud—and asks you to choose the word (from a list of four) that best matches the images. For example, the word buoyancy is the correct answer for the four images captioned as follows: “Swans glide easily on top of the water,” “The red lifesaver floats in the water,” “The lily pads seem to hover over the water,” and “Because beach balls float, they make good pool toys.” Once you choose buoyancy, you’re given its definition (“the ability to float on or in the water”).
Seifert and Lawrence originally intended InferCabulary to be an educational learning tool for students with specific learning challenges, but Seifert told WBAL-TV that “classroom teachers were using it with every student in the classroom … especially the middle kids who are struggling but don’t get any services.” Towson University and Google are both supporting the Baltimore-based project.
Educators aren’t the only ones endorsing InferCabulary—students love it, too. Keegan Nolan, a seventh grader at Calvert School in Baltimore, told WBAL-TV that “it’s a really good feeling because I get to impress my teachers with … big words.”