One of the comments made after my first foray into blogging about some of the tech tools that are touted for teachers was that I must’ve chosen a duff site for starters so that I could have a good rant. Now, as any of you who read my blog regularly know, I do like a good rant as much as the next person, if not more, and as I previously promised, I will also be blogging at some point about some sites / tools that I rate and think have validity in ELT. However, it really must be said that you don’t actually have to look very hard to find soft targets. As the dash towards digital becomes ever more frenzied, so Scoop It and other ‘curating’ (how I loathe that term!) mechanisms become ever more clogged with uncritical propaganda bombarding decent teachers with endless things that we’re all supposed to be keeping up with if we are to survive as teachers in the 21st century . . . and, perhaps predictably, most of them are utter dross and not worth wasting teachers’ time with, let alone students’ precious spare moments! Or do I mean extra moments? Or redundant ones? Or excess? All will be soon be revealed!
Today’s topic is Snappy Words. I can’t for the life of me remember who first suggested I spend half an hour of my life checking this site out, but those are thirty minutes I’ll never get back and if and when I do remember, I’ll hold them personally responsible. As is to be expected, the site itself touts its wares with some considerable degree of self-promotion. Apparently, “Snappy Words is a free visual English dictionary and thesaurus that lets you search the meaning of words and other associated words”. Enter any word or phrase into the search box and it will create a web of related words, phrases, and definitions. Hover your cursor over any word or phrase in the web to read its definition. Click and drag any node to explore other branches of the web. Double click on a node and it will generate new web branches. Oh, and it’s free! All the 21st buzzwords you could wish for in just a couple of sentences: click, drag, free, fun, web, visual – the works!
And a brief trawl of the ELT-oriented sites out there promulgating these things for teachers reveal that most folk simply take the hype at face value. Here’s just a sample of the gushing guff that folks would have us believe: “Snappy Words could be a good resource for students that are stuck in the rut of using the same words and phrases repeatedly in their writing” – yes, God forbid that students should learn how to use words and phrases and then repeat their use again. Where would we be if repetition ever occurred?! “Snappy Words will give such students access to alternative words and their definitions much faster than thumbing through a thesaurus.” Another suggested use is as follows: “learners can use it either before a new theme or reading, as well as for revisions – especially to set during a self-learning time where each learner focuses on vocabulary they want/need, thus adding personalized learning in a very simple way.”
As is always the way with these things, it sounds almost too good to be true, doesn’t it?
Well, in keeping with the tech theme, I’ve made a relatively teched-up little overview of what happens if and when students were to go to Snappy Words, so you can judge the rest for yourself.
Clearly, the site suffers from many of the dictionary issues arising from using free online sources that I blogged about when discussing Lingro, but these problems are compounded by its very nature: the web of supposedly related meanings just vomits forth language problem after language problem that any student ill-advised enough to waste time here would be confronted with. Within seconds of starting off on the start they wind up dropping down one rabbit hole or another, possibly only emerging many minutes later none the wiser and possibly considerably more baffled than they previously had been.
I’m reminded of a student who once came to me at the end of a lesson and asked if the sentence It has typical peacock markings was correct. Bemused as to where this sentence had come from, and also curious as to what on earth the IT in the sentence might be if it wasn’t actually referring to a peacock, because, let’s face it, not many things out there do actually have typical peacock marking, I asked – only to be told it was from my previous class! I know I may sometimes write things up on the board that I later realise could’ve been done better, but this struck me as an unlikely lapse. I said it seemed unlikely, and asked if she could show me where exactly it was from. I was then pointed to an exercise in Innovations Intermediate (I think) that was looking at national stereoptypes, adjectives used to describe groups of people, and how to refute or argue back against stereotpyes, so it’d contained things like:
He’s a typical Englishman – cold and unfriendly.
> Oh, come on! I’ve met plenty of English people who were really warm and friendly.
and so on. TYPICAL had been used in almost every mini-dialogue, and I’d thought I’d explained it rather well at the time, but this particular student, whether because of diligence or confusion, had gone home, looked the word up and in the examples of the word in action that they’re terrible dictionary had provided for them then encountered the gem above about having typical peacock markings. As this sentence contained two words that were unknown, the dictionary had come out again and had led to peacock blue and proud as a peacock, followed by did you mark where it fell and the marks of violence! The student had given up at this point, quite wisely, but clearly could have contained unravelling this thread indefinitely!
This way of studying takes a long time and is bound to lead to confusion. It also illustrates the problem many students have when they separate grammar and words and when they rely predominantly on dictionaries.
Yet dictionaries, even ones that come up with the kind of weirdness described above, don’t come anywhere near to taking students down shit creek and abandoning there when seen in the light of Snappy Words. And let’s face it, that’s not a place most students pay us to deposit them.
Without even leaving them a paddle!