WordSift was created to help teachers manage the demands of vocabulary and academic language in their text materials


WordSift is a teaching tool, not an instructional program or approach. It was created primarily to support teachers and their students in better understanding key vocabulary words within a text. WordSift instantly captures and displays the vocabulary structure of texts that are pasted into an application embedded within the Word Sift website. Word Sift creates a Tag Cloud of the 50 most frequently used words text you pasted in. It and brings up Google images that correspond to any word that you click on and provides a Visual Thesaurus word-cloud web of target words. You can also instantly see how the words that you select are used in their original context. The possibilities for word study using this site are endless. This tool is available free to anyone (teachers or students) with no downloads needed.

How it works

Teachers choose a text they will be teaching, copy the text, and paste the text into box on the website’s homepage. The program instantly identifies “important” words that are essential to understanding the text. These “important” words are classified using different colors and sizes codes to show their level of important to the text and their presence on (or lack there of) on an academic word list. Science, Social Studies, Math, or science words can also be highlighted.

The site also displays a Visual Thesaurus entry for individual words that the teacher selects. These webs that show associations with different target word, helping students more deeply understand the useage and meaning of selected words. Visual thesaurus creates dynamic webs of words, to activate students' background knowledge and helps them create networks of meaning between words. As you click on individual words, the program highlights them in the text so that you can quickly show, and talk about, their contextual usage. By highlighting general academic words, WordSift helps ensure that these important words become part of teachers' lessons.

Teacher Created Video Demos

The video demos page presents a vital opportunity to learn about the tool and how it might be used in classroom settings. In the first video, Karen Thompson analyzes a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. and shares ideas for classroom learning using WordSift. In the second video, Diego Roman shows how WordSift can be used as a resource in teaching a science lesson.

Research Base

Research suggests that content area teachers tend to focus on teaching content-specific words (such as chloroplasts) and sometimes overlook general academic words (or inquiry words) such as analyze. WordSift highlights words that have been identified by research as appearing quite commonly in academic texts across different subject areas (the research on the academic word list was completed by a masters student named Averil Coxhead in New Zealand).

Related Resources To Aid in Word Study

  • Visuwords online graphical dictionary
  • Wordle generates “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. You can print them out, or save them to the Wordle gallery to use during discussions or reflection activities. Wordle is also a great collaboration tool for pre-writing.