The Word of the Day

John Spiri, Akita International University

Quick Guide

  • Key Words: Email, review, proverbs, poems, news
  • Learner English Level: Beginner to advanced
  • Learner Maturity Level: From middle school up
  • Preparation Time: Initial setup 2 hours; subsequent updates 5–10 minutes each; daily emailing about 10 minutes
  • Materials: Computer with Internet access

Classroom teachers can utilize electronic devices such as computers and cell phones as tools for English learning by instituting a Word of the Day email list. Such lists exist for native speakers (see Resources), and present recipients with a word, its definition, and some other feature such as a proverb. This small daily investment of time to learn or review a word and proverb gives recipients a chance to enjoy language and is all the more relevant for nonnative speakers of English. Approximately 90% of my students elected to voluntarily join the Word of the Day list for nonnative speakers and receive the word, definition, and proverb that I send out daily.

The topical focus of the daily word can shift from the review of classroom vocabulary, to the introduction of slang or thematically based postings. It is helpful to decide on a theme and provide related words for a week or longer. Some thematic topics that I have used include: "pick" related idioms (such as the various meanings of "pick up" and "pick out"), feelings, weather, food, etc. An even easier thematic approach would be to choose one word a day from a short passage from a poem, song, or from a website. In this case I started each email with a reminder of all the previous words related to that theme. Once all difficult words have appeared as a Word of the Day, the entire passage can be provided. An AIDS-related series of messages can bring students vital information such as recent statistics on the rising rate of AIDS in Japan, prevention methods, and so on.

My policy was to welcome responses with the understanding that I would not necessarily respond to received messages. Several commented on how much they enjoyed receiving the Word of the Day. See the Appendix for the most recent format of my Word of the Day and Resources for a good proverb site.


Step 1: Explain the concept of the Word of the Day and write a sample of what students can expect to receive by email (see appendix for a possible format).

Step 2: Pass around a sign up sheet for students to write their email addresses. I explained that cell phone addresses were fine, but emphasized the fact that a message would be sent on a daily basis.

Step 3: Input all of the email addresses into an email address book, then create one or more groups. As a time saving alternative, ask those interested to send you an email; the sender's information can then be added to your email address book with a click.

Step 4: Send a Word of the Day to the group by email.

Step 5: Provide in-class quizzes, handouts (like gap exercises), or online pages for students to read and review all the words. I provided an online page so students could easily review and gain an overview of the progression and thematic topics (see Resources).

Although cell phones tend to be the preferred mode of communication for students—and it's nice to see them put to educational use—they are inferior to PCs for a few reasons. First, cell phone addresses change frequently; when they do, the sender gets bounced-back messages. Thus, I made students responsible for informing me of address changes, which most did, a sign that they were interested and reading the messages. Second, occasionally the teacher may want to write a longer than usual message (for example, to give a survey); on cell phones, however, long messages may get truncated. Third, sending pictures from a PC to a cell phone is not an option. Finally, it was fun to stay in contact with students while I was back in the states for the summer, but I apparently woke up a couple cell phone users with ill-timed messages.

One may want to keep list members' addresses anonymous by sending the message to yourself, and using the "bcc" (blind carbon copy) line for the group name. It's good to have a copy of the message sent, and this prevents members from bothering other members with unwanted messages.



My Word of the Day Format

  • The word (part of speech) – definition in English – (Japanese translation in romaji, when possible)
  • Sample sentence
  • A proverb with a brief explanation or rephrasing