6 Online Dictionaries for English Learners

Dictionaries are an extremely useful source of information about a language, and they can certainly be very helpful to our students as well. Luckily, nowadays, various dictionaries are freely available on the internet, and I believe many of you are familiar with the most standard and commonly used ones, such as Merriam-Webster, Cambridge, and Oxford. Also, TESOL blogger Tara Arntsen described these frequently used online dictionaries in one of her blog posts.

In addition to these general dictionaries, I’d like to draw readers’ attention to a few online dictionaries that focus on specific information about lexical items, such as phrasal verbs dictionary, idioms and idiomatic expressions dictionary, collocations dictionary, synonyms dictionary, etymology dictionary, and visual dictionary. This information can be particularly useful to English language learners.

Dictionary of English Phrasal Verbs

Phrasal verbs belong to some of the most challenging aspects of the English language for many learners. This online resource provides references to more than 3,000 current phrasal verbs. As in any other dictionary, the verbs are organized in alphabetical order. You can also look up a particular verb or a particular preposition. For example, if you are interested in various verbs that are used with the preposition “up,” you can set up your search accordingly and get the list of all items available in this dictionary that are composed of verbs and the preposition “up,” for example, make up, follow up, mess up, sum up, and write up.

Idioms and Idiomatic Expressions Dictionary

Another common lexical challenge in the English language (and in many other languages, for that matter) is idioms. This dictionary offers a list of almost 4,000 English idioms. Each entry comes with a definition as well as references to other similar idioms. For example, if you are looking up the idiom “off the wall,” the dictionary will also refer you to the idioms “fly on the wall,” “back to the wall,” and “talking to a brick wall.”

Collocations Dictionary

This basic collocations dictionary may be very helpful to both beginning and advanced learners. What I particularly like about this dictionary is the organization of the collocations that can be used with the target word: common collocations before the target word, common collocations after the target word, as well as common collocations of different parts of speech used with the target word. For example, if you are looking up the word “question,” the dictionary indicates “no common collocations used after this word.” The common collocations used before the word “question” include ask, answer, any, few, same, and without. Some of the common noun collocations used with the word “question” include answer, side, discussion, mark, and object, and the common adjectives used with the word “question” include direct, little, next, political, and such.

Synonyms Dictionary

This is a pretty straightforward dictionary of synonyms: You enter the target word and get a list of synonyms of that word. But it also provides synonyms of found synonyms, which I find particularly useful. For example, if you are looking up the word “vehement,” the results are passionate, torrid, ardent, fierce, extreme, impassioned, fiery, and intense. You can further elaborate your search and look up synonyms for each of these adjectives. For example, you can search for synonyms for the word “intense,” which are (according to the dictionary) 1) concentrated: fierce, vehement, furious, violent, unwavering, desperate, vicious, and 2) profound: strong, deep, hard, extreme.

Etymology Dictionary

This is an extremely interesting resource not only for English learners but also for native speakers. It enriches users’ knowledge about the language and provides insightful details on the meanings of the words that people commonly use in their everyday interactions. The resources that the authors used to compile this dictionary include Weekley’s “An etymological dictionary of modern English,” Klein’s “A comprehensive etymological dictionary of the English language,” “Oxford English dictionary” (second edition), “Barnhart dictionary of etymology,” Holthausen’s “Etymologisches Wörterbuch der Englischen Sprache,” and Kipfer and Chapman’s “Dictionary of American slang.”

Visual Dictionary

This dictionary may be particularly helpful to beginners. The items in the dictionary are organized according to the following topics: astronomy, Earth, plants and gardening, animal kingdom, human being, food and kitchen, house, clothing, arts and architecture, communication, transport and machinery, energy, science, society, and sports and games. Each of these themes is further broken down into smaller thematic categories. The dictionary is well organized and easy to navigate.

What dictionaries to you use in your classes or recommend to your students? Please share in the comments.

from TESOL Blog http://blog.tesol.org/6-online-dictionaries-for-english-learners/


Thank You, TESOL Volunteers

This is National Volunteer Week! What better way to begin my TESOL President’s Blog series. It provides us with a wonderful opportunity to recognize the importance of volunteers for our association. Without their willingness to devote many hours of their already-scarce time, we certainly would be unable to do what we do.

Our volunteers’ support and energy help us to inform research, influence policies, and enable best practices around the world. Among many things, our volunteers made it possible for TESOL International Association to

Volunteers review proposals and manuscripts, help with the convention, lead interest sections and affiliates, serve on professional councils, and freely give their time and expertise in many other ways.

On behalf of the TESOL Board of Directors, TESOL staff, and myself, I would like to express my deep gratitude for all our volunteers. Our engagement allows us to stay focused on promoting excellence in English language teaching around the world.

from TESOL Blog http://blog.tesol.org/thank-you-tesol-volunteers/

Leadership Research In The West For Students In The East

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

The Dead Poets Society” was a 1989 award winning movie.  A few years later, The Dead Fukuzawa Society (TDFS) was created by some of Chalmers Johnson‘s students at the School of Global Policy and Strategy at the University of California, San Diego (GPS/UCSD), where I am an alumnus. The inspiration for the establishment of TDFS was Fukuzawa Yukichi’s belief that Japan should learn from the West. The members of TDFS thought that the West should learn from Japan and the East.  Over 20 years later, in March 2017 before the TESOL convention in Seattle, I traveled from Japan to visit GPS/UCSD. My purpose during my research trip was similar to that of Fukuzawa. My aim was to learn from leaders in the West (i.e., San Diego, California) in order to provide better leadership development and professional communication training for my undergraduate students in the East (i.e., Japan).  In San Diego, I was able to meet with leaders at GPS/UCSD and at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL).

The University of California, San Diego, School of Global Policy and Strategy

Discussion about leadership with Global Policy and Strategy (GPS) graduate student leaders

My research interest has been to explore leadership as a conceptualization using discourse analytical approaches (see Knight, in press).  David Robertson, Director of GPS Career Services) arranged a lunch meeting with a focus group of eight very busy and talented GPS graduate student leaders, four male and four female, with whom I was able to explore conceptualizations of leadership. Further, David spoke to me about leadership (because he had taught leadership to undergraduates in the past) and shared a publication that describes a leadership project (Robertson & Lubic, 2001).

Meeting with JUMP leaders

I was also able to meet with Ulrike Schaede, professor and director of the Japan Forum for Innovation and Technology (JFIT), and  Takashi Kiyoizumi,, JFIT executive manager, leaders of JFIT’s “new immersion program for female executives in Japan [that] equips participants with the skills and confidence to be managers on a global scale.” The program is titled the Josei/Women for Upper Management Program (JUMP). In addition, I spoke in a Japan discussion group and explored leadership conceptualizations with doctoral candidate Jonathan Shalfi, who was a former leader of the GPS alumni chapter in Japan.

The Center for Creative Leadership, San Diego Campus

Meetings with leadership consultants

Thanks to an introduction from David Robertson to the Center for Creative Leadership, which is ranked in the global top 5 for executive training programs, I was given a very warm welcome  from the Managing Director, Russ McCallian, and three leadership consultants: Kevin Liu, Maggie Sass, and Sam Soloman. These four leadership experts shared conceptualizations of leadership that inspired me to think about leadership and to conduct leadership development in new ways.

I left San Diego with a deep appreciation of, and deep gratitude for, professional connections. Through these connections, I was able to acquire information and inspiration to pursue my professional goals. As a linguist, such connections were especially valuable because my interactions with leaders exposed me to the communication skills and professional and leadership discourses that will inform my training programs. (For this reason, I was very pleased to see that Ulrike Schaede was creating networking opportunities at a recent GPS event in Japan, which I was unfortunately unable to attend.)

In connection with my leadership development goals, I also like to watch the TED Talks related to leadership. In some talks, leaders are telling their stories. In other talks, experts are talking about leadership. As I focus on the communication (in the talks), I tend to ask the question, “Why?”  For example, “Why is this talk being given?” “Why now?” “Why is leadership being conceptualized in this way?”

In this increasingly digitally interconnected world, traveling abroad would seem to be unnecessary because everything is at your fingertips. However, my research trip to San Diego has changed my thinking, and thanks to an hour-long discussion with Russ McCallian at CCL, I am looking at leadership now in terms of inspiring the creation of movements. Further, from such discussions, I begin to see more clearly how leaders use communication as a tool to create and achieve their visions.

All the best,


Knight, K. (In press). Exploring leadership conceptualizations in semi-structured interviews from multiple perspectives. In C. Ilie, & S. Schnurr (Eds.), Challenging leadership stereotypes through discourse. Singapore: Springer.

Robertson, D., & Ludic, B. (2001).  Spheres of confluence: Non-hierarchical leadership in action. In C.L. Outcalt, S.K. Faris, & K.N. McMahon (Eds.), Developing non-hierarchical leadership on campus: Case studies and best practices in higher education. Westport, CT: Greenwood.

from TESOL Blog http://blog.tesol.org/leadership-research-in-the-west-for-students-in-the-east/

Reflecting Students’ Lives in Children’s Literature

When I was a K–6 ESL teacher, I often felt frustrated because I couldn’t find high quality books that reflected my students’ lives.  Many of the books available to my students were about the folklore or fables from their home countries, but  I wanted my English learners to read books where they could see themselves and that reflect the lives they are currently living. I felt that it was important for my students  to make connections between the books they were reading and their lives so that they would become lifelong readers.  In 2014,  I read an opinion piece in the New York Times by Walter Dean Myers titled “Where are the People of Color in Children’s Books?”  This article led me to research the number of books published each year that could be considered multicultural.

Cooperative Children’s Book Center

My search online led me to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center ( CCBC) at the School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison. CCBC has been keeping track of the number of books written by and about people of color since 1985. At CCBC the term “multicultural literature” is defined as books by and about people of color and First/Native Nations individuals: African and African Americans, American Indians, Asian/Pacific and Asian Pacific Americans, and Latinos. I decided to look further to investigate literature about Latino children. To qualify for the CCBC list, a book had to feature a main character or a substantive secondary character who is Latino. In 2016, only 166 out of 3,400 books that were published for children were written about Latinos and qualified for the CCBC list.

Tools to Help You Find High Quality Multicultural Literature
One of the challenges for teachers and librarians is deciding if a a multicultural book is of good quality. Read, Write, Think  has some tools to help teachers and their students evaluate the cultural relevance of multicultural books.  Questions they might ask are, “Is the author from the culture that they are writing about?” “Has the author written other books about this culture?” “Does the book contain characters that are stereotypical?”  Another method to judge the quality of a multicultural book is to have the students  from the target culture judge it. Read, Write, Think has a couple of tools to help students judge the quality and cultural relevance of the books they’ve read: Cultural Relevance Rubric and Gathering Evidence on Cultural Relevance. A lesson plan is also available to help teachers use these tools with students.

Additional Resources

Cooperative Children’s Book Center (2015). 50 Multicultural Books Every Child Should Know, University of Wisconsin-Madison. This article list books for preK–6 grade students.

Meyers, C. (2015). The Apartheid of Children’s Literature, The New York Times.  Meyers talks about the difficulties he had as a child finding books that reflected his life.

Melville, K. (2017). Where’s My Story? Reflecting All Students in Children’s Literature, Education Week Teacher. This is a blog by a high school teacher who challenged her students to study and rate multicultural books and then write their own books to reflect the cultures of their first grade buddies.

from TESOL Blog http://blog.tesol.org/reflecting-students-lives-in-childrens-literature/

Online Tools for Teacher Collaboration

Today’s guest blogger Yefei Jin discusses how education technology can help teachers collaborate and problem solve. He is the founder of LessonPick.com, a free English language teaching resource-sharing platform.

English language teachers (ELTs) in the United States often feel siloed, alone in looking for quality resources and buy-in from colleagues and school leaders. Exacerbated by immense caseloads, often exceeding 100 students, ELTs also feel the need to double up as curriculum developers and organizers of their own professional development. Although the rise of the Common Core did create common benchmarks for publishers, correlating instructional content aligned to English language standards and best practices remain a challenge in the United States. English language standards and protocols often get revised, and frankly, there are not enough trained educators on hand to differentiate materials, let alone find time to coach others.

Consider the state of Minnesota, where half of English learners (ELs) are refugees with limited or interrupted formal education—compared with 14% nationally. The unique needs of these ELs reinforce the need for greater awareness in the field, teacher professional learning, and systems-level buy-in. For innovators and entrepreneurs, sustainability depends on these political dynamics, the very challenges for which edtech has few solutions. While local teacher education programs and the state’s TESOL chapter seek to build a strong pipeline of teacher leaders, technology should play a greater role not simply in resource sharing but more fundamentally, in streamlining teacher access to one another’s expertise. Whether around facilitating conversations, feedback loops, or discussing action research, collective problem solving is critical to the ELT profession.

Putting school finance and good leadership aside for a moment, can we envision technology that inherently builds leadership capacity for ELTs and promotes collaboration? Some online technology is gaining momentum: Lesson-sharing websites like Teachers Pay Teachers have built communities around lead teachers, and Twitter has become the de facto platform for teacher chats. Why are tools like Teachers Pay Teachers, Twitter, Pinterest, or even SMART Boards so popular among teachers? Answer: They provide teachers with solutions where traditional learning materials do not suffice.

Still, educational technologies need to overcome the industry’s own biases. A product that is aesthetically appealing or hands-off should not be confused with being “teacher friendly.” Teachers Pay Teachers is not designed for organizing ELT materials at the specificity teachers need. Google Drive, as a storage platform, does not work well for curation. Individualized learning platforms that replace human interaction risk overlooking the necessity of face-to-face teaching for ELs. Given the national ELT shortage, schools are challenged to find time for teacher-learner interaction, let alone support and monitor the effective use of these learning tools. Instead of hacking products geared toward general education, can we imagine a new generation of EL specific tools that carry the social aspects of Twitter or Pinterest to help teachers learn and solve problems? Request Feed, LessonPick’s upcoming group messaging and idea-sharing platform for ELTs, is one such tool that can make a difference in organizing the process of access to resources and professional learning.

As English language instruction in the United States increasingly demands the collaboration of all educators and their continuous professional learning, the ELT profession will undoubtedly look to redefine norms and establish a stronger sense of legitimacy in a historically underserved field. To support these efforts, we need more field-specific, research-informed, and teacher-centered tools. Technology certainly has great potential if we really listen and understand the daily struggles and triumphs of teachers in the classroom.

Yefei Jin’s Bio

Yefei Jin is the founder of LessonPick.com, a free teacher resource sharing platform. He has significant experience serving refugee English learners in St. Paul, Minnesota. In 2013, he founded the T2C Project, an after school arts-based program for teenage girls from Myanmar. Currently, he is the assistant director of Camp Hokulea, a mission driven cultural summer camp that seeks to promote the social and emotional well being of Asian immigrant children.

from TESOL Blog http://blog.tesol.org/online-tools-for-teacher-collaboration/

ESP Project Leader Profile: Kay Westerfield

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

In the 30th ESP project leader profile, we meet the founder of the ESP Interest Section, a former member of the TESOL Board of Directors, and one of the TESOL 50 at 50 award winners, Kay Westerfield.

Kay Westerfield is a veteran consultant and invited speaker in the fields of English for Specific Purposes, International Business Communication, Leadership, and Program Evaluation. Kay has worked with audiences in academia and in the corporate sector throughout Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East. She founded and directed the International Business Communication Program at the University of Oregon. Kay is the co-author of several articles and books, including Effective Practices for Workplace Language Training. She served on the Board of Directors for TESOL International Association and was recognized by TESOL in honor of the association’s 50th anniversary as one of the 50 at 50: 50 individuals who have made significant contributions to the profession within the past 50 years.

In Kay’s interview, we learn about intrapreneurship in ESP.

Kay Westerfield
Global Communication Consulting


1. Define leadership in your own words.

My colleagues in their postings have highlighted key aspects of leadership in ESP including recognizing a need, carefully listening to all stakeholders, building trust, creating an action plan, and communicating effectively (not easy!). To their gems, I’d like to add a few of my favorite quotes on the topic: “A leader is someone who wants to help” (Margaret Wheatley). “If you inspire others to dream more, do more, become more, you are a leader” (John Quincy Adams). “Leaders don’t force people to follow. They invite them on a journey” (Charles S. Lauer). 

Intrapreneurship in ESP

In ESP, we often have the opportunity to be intrapreneurs rather than entrepreneurs. That is, rather than creating our own business as an entrepreneur (which also definitely happens in ESP), we see the need for a change within our existing organization (e.g., university, language institute, school, professional association), and take the responsibility to make that change happen. For many of us, this might take the form of a developing a new program or content-discipline focused course to address the needs of a specific group of learners.

2. Tell me an ESP project success story. Focus on your communication as a leader in the project. How did you communicate with stakeholders to make that project successful?

One ESP Project: The International Business Communication (IBC) Program at the University of Oregon

As Charles Hall wrote in his ESP Project Leader blog post, it’s hard to choose a “success” story because we learn a lot even from the “failures”—the projects that didn’t work out for one reason or another.

The The International Business Communication (IBC) Program, now in its 21st year, is offered at the University of Oregon by the American English Institute/College of Arts and Sciences and the Lundquist College of Business. It stands on the shoulders of other intrapreneurship projects in ESP-business that did not continue but were rich learning experiences and provided the foundation for subsequent ESP endeavors.

Through those early projects, I was able to bump up my knowledge and expertise in business communication (a field new to me!) by sitting in on classes in the College of Business; this helped me to build trust and relationships with senior business faculty and, therefore, my credibility when it came to establishing a new program in international business communication.

Program Needs Assessment

My colleagues in the College of Business and I believed there was a need to better serve international, undergraduate business students in their academic courses and in their future careers, so we embarked on a needs assessment—the heart of ESP.

The initial needs assessment focused on key stakeholders: students, business faculty, student advisors, top administrators, and companies.

  • For international students, we held focus groups (with snacks!) to determine interest, preferred courses, and the importance of receiving a Certificate of Mastery in International Business Communication. I also sat in on undergraduate business classes to understand what was required for student success.
  • For business faculty, we conducted face-to-face interviews using a questionnaire. We also worked closely with the university’s business and economics reference librarian to understand the business research genres and databases required in courses and by companies.
  • For student academic advisers, we met to understand the constraints in adding courses to student schedules and how best to manage that.
  • For top administrators, we met individually with those in our own institute or college and then had meetings with all together.
  • For company stakeholders (the future employers!), we relied on information from current and former international students, and statements from local and international companies.

The International Business Communication Program

As a result of our needs assessment, we designed five, 300-level courses in international business communication offered in the College of Business. For more information, see the international business communications programs at University of Oregon’s Lundquist College of Business and American English Institute.

Some Thoughts on Credibility and Communication in ESP

  • In ESP, being able to bump up one’s discipline-specific content knowledge is key for building credibility not only with content experts but also with colleagues in one’s own language department, the latter being emphasized by an early leader in language teaching, Wilga Rivers.
  • ESP course credibility is increased by pushing in to the field (housing advanced discipline-specific communication courses in the content department) rather than pulling out and offering those advanced courses in the language department.
  • ESP practitioners and researchers benefit greatly from strong cross-cultural communication skills as they seek to enter the new discourse community of the content discipline.

Here’s another leadership story that is not really an ESP story.

Intrapreneurship in TESOL International Association

Establishing the ESP Interest Section in TESOL International Association 20 years ago was an intrapreneurship project that arose in response to a clear need: the need to see the field of ESP more fairly represented by the number of ESP sessions at TESOL conventions. This project required

  • understanding the steps in the process to establish an interest section (IS)
  • being able to enlist others to collaborate, documenting the strong interest in ESP by listing past convention sessions
  • marketing our vision for an IS and gaining the required number of TESOL members committed to making the ESP IS their primary IS
  • listening to and effectively responding to the concerns of other IS leaders
  • fostering sustainable leadership within the IS after its approval.

The ESP IS will now be considering how best to continue advocating for ESP and enhancing communication among ESP practitioners and researchers during upcoming changes to the IS structure in TESOL International Association.

Kay’s responses illuminate the importance of collaboration on multiple levels. Her definitions of leadership were provided in view of the definitions of others. Her intrapreneurship activities were also conducted with others.

I see the future ESPIS as a community where members are all collaborating to do the following: (1) to achieve their own goals and (2) to help others to achieve their own goals. In my mind, this means that we all continue to develop our leadership skills (when leadership is conceptualized as an activity that involves creating and achieving a shared vision).

Do you have questions or comments for Kay? Please feel free to contact her directly.

All the best,

from TESOL Blog http://blog.tesol.org/esp-project-leader-profile-kay-westerfield/