Sources of Words and Fun-With-Words in Print and On-line

Reading Center

University at Buffalo


Compiled by

Michael W. Kibby

With assistance from Karen Wieland, Gina MacKendrick, Constance Loda


Word Websites

Dictionaries and Word References

The Merriam-Webster OnLine Website. This website offers not only an excellent dictionary and thesaurus, but also in the Word for the Wise section contains brief informational and humorous articles on specific words or phrases (e.g., brass tacks). The Online dictionary is free, and includes high-quality pronunciation(s) of the word (including alternate pronunciations). Included with each entry is a link to the Top 10 Search Results for “Word” and a link to for more information on the word.

                In addition, there is a special section for kids (tab at top of page Merriam-Webster FOR KIDS). This section has a student dictionary and allows student to put their own words and definitions into a dictionary (Build Your Own Dictionary link). There is also a cool link called Daily Buzzword that presents each day a new word of the day, including pronunciation, meaning, usage, and sample sentences that let the student test whether they have learned the word or not.

  • Show dictionary [make sure Dictionary is clicked in upper right box, and not Thesaurus]
    • Enter palimpsest
    • Click pronunciation—both of them
    • Click Top 10 Search Results for “palimpsest”
    • Click link to
    • Click Thesaurus—but no synonym for this word
  • Show thesaurus [click Thesaurus in upper-right, not Dictionary]
  • Click tab Merriam-Webster FOR KIDS
  • Click in upper-left circle DAILY BUZZWORD
  • Click arrow to right of WORD FOR THE WISE on homepage [upper left list in a box], then click ARCHIVE and look up one or two words.

There is also access to Encyclopedia Britannica, Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, and Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary, but access to these is not free.

A Website that offers dozens and dozens of links to word puzzles, language resources, dictionaries, word of the day access. Also includes a thesaurus.

This Website accesses more than 900 Online dictionaries and 5,000,000 words. It also translates words and has a reverse dictionary page where you type a description of the concept, and the OneLook Reverse Dictionary finds words that might match that description. This is handy when you cannot find the word for something you want to say.

  • Click Browse Dictionaries link and just scroll through the pages
  • Click home, enter “basilica”
    • Scroll down to #27, Catholic Encyclopedia and click
  • Go back to Home
    • Write erased writing can still read
    • click Search all Dictionaries
    • click Search

An online dictionary, no more, no less.

At this site you may access the famous Roget's Thesaurus. This site is a product of Project Gutenberg. It is simple to use; enter the word on the minimalist home page and click submit. All the various meanings of the word appear, each with a list of synonyms. This online thesaurus allows you to click many of most of the various meanings or the differing synonyms which then lets you further explore shades of meaning of your word or similar words.

This site contains an encyclopedia, dictionary, thesaurus, quotations, and English Usage section.  What’s great about it are links to many references such as several online dictionaries, thesauruses, and books containing quotations.


Word Fun

This site contains a variety of vocabulary builders such as Word of the Day, Hangman, Hidden Word Puzzles, and Word Scrambler.  These are great activities for students in the middle to upper elementary grades.

This site is called Vocabulary University.  It allows students to pick a difficulty level for the many activities contained within this site.  Once the child has chosen a level, they may then choose from a wide variety of word activities such as fill in the blanks, definition matching, and a game called synonym and antonym encounters.  Again, this is a great site for middle to upper elementary students.

This site uses Jeeves as a search engine.  When looking for a definition, the user has the ability to obtain definitions from several dictionaries at once.  This site also contains links to numerous online dictionaries and thesauruses.

A list of homonyms—or homophones.  In grades two and three, children enjoy challenging themselves to come up with as many homonyms as possible.  This site may be fun for students to see the many homonyms that exist in our language. For more, see (, another homophone Website.

  • Click go to the list, scroll and display

An “Homonymical Poem” by Janet E. Byford on this site. WebMaster tells Ms. Byford to Take a bough.


                An Ode to the Spelling Chequer

Prays the Lord for the spelling chequer

That came with our pea sea!

Mecca mistake and it puts you rite

Its so easy to ewes, you sea.


I never used to no, was it e before eye?

(Four sometimes its eye before e.)

But now I've discovered the quay to success

It's as simple as won, too, free!


Sew watt if you lose a letter or two,

The whirled won't come two an end!

Can't you sea? It's as plane as the knows on yore face

S. Chequer's my very best friend


I've always had trubble with letters that double

"Is it one or to S's?" I'd wine

But now, as I've tolled you this chequer is grate

And its hi thyme you got won, like mine.

—Janet E. Byford

A Website containing hundreds of homonyms or homophones. More for fun than anything else, but most upper-elementary teachers have to teach the concept of homophones or homonyms some time, and this site makes it easier and more fun (and if you do not want to share the site with your students, you can find thousands of homophones for teaching and demonstration).

This site allows children in grade levels K-8 try to guess the correct definition of a word.  If the child guesses incorrectly, they are given the correct definition.  The number of people who chose each definition is also displayed.  One neat feature is that the kids can submit their own “fake” definition for a word.  They can then check back in a week to see how many people chose their definition.

This site claims to be the site for people who love to play with words—and it is.  There is a variety of word activity games that are interesting and very creative such as a compound word game in which riddles are used to figure out each part of the compound word, words within a word, a list of oxymorons, as well as an invitation for kids to send in their own oxymoron.  This site contains numerous word play games that would be highly enjoyable for middle to upper elementary grade students.

The name of this site is A Game a Day, and it is just for kids.  There are a variety of word games for kids to choose such as word within a word and a compound word game.  The theme of this site is a word game for each day of the month.

This site contains a variety of fun word games such as Hangman, Plaid Libs in which the user fills in words to create stories, Word Scram which allows players to take turns trying to make words out of a collection of randomly picked letters, and Brain Teasers which places words into various shapes or positions to form a word or saying. This is for students who read reasonably well, say grade five or higher.

The Wild World of Words offers its users a variety of word activities.  The focus of this sight is spelling, decoding, word building, and word meanings.  Each of these categories contains several word activities that focus on that particular skill.

  • Click Challenge Chaser on left of home page
  • Click Wild World of Words
  • Click Word Meanings
  • Click Homophones With Sound
  • Click Begin the Challenge
  • Hear sentence read, type in word you think is the word used in the sentence (e.g., bear, bare)
  • Click Check My Answer

The “Word Play” section on this site  (on left in Activities section) allows the user to play games such as find the antonym.  To play this game, a word is followed by four meanings.  Three of the meanings are similar and one word is an antonym.  There is also a section devoted to word meanings in which a word is followed by five possible meanings.  The user must choose the one that they feel is the closest possible meaning.  If the user is incorrect, the correct definition is displayed. The games are not instructional, other than correcting incorrect answers or acknowledging correct answers.

  • Click Word Play in the Activities section on left
  • Scroll to click the particular game you want.

The name of this site is The Anagram Genius Server.  The site allows the user to download a free copy of this software for windows.  The visitor to this site types in any name, phrase, or sentence and receives a slew of anagrams.  This makes for an interesting play on words.

The title of this site is The Linguistic Fun Page.  This site offers a variety of links that have fun with words such as color related idioms, the book of clichés, and crazy English which discusses some of the strange words that the English language contains.  There are also links to sites that contain articles about English as well as links to sites which contain puzzles and word games. Site is in construction but functioning. This site is for good readers at the middle-grade level or better.

Fun with Words is the name of this site.  There are a host of different topics, types of words, issues, and engaging activities available on this site. This site lists commonly confused words such as adverse and averse, affect and effect.  After each set of words, there is an explanation of each of the words and its use.  This site would be interesting to middle and high school students who have an interest in words.

The title of this site is The Word Spy.  The author of this site includes many interesting words that are fairly uncommon and writes about their meaning and derivation.  The author also lists words that are “new” terms that have been spotted multiple times in magazines and newspapers.  The word’s meaning, as well as a quote of where the word was spotted, are included.  This site is appropriate for upper level middle and high school students.  It is interesting to see the read about the new words that are created in the English language.  It would be a wonderful activity to challenge high school students to locate a “new” word in print. There is also a lengthy set of quotations.

This site includes a variety of word games that can be played in the classroom or at home for example. In addition to the games, there are many other interesting links and activities. The directions for the games are well written and are easy to follow.  Some of the games listed are Hink Pinks (like riddles), Hangman, Scrabble, Mad Libs, and a homophone game called Right Write.  Many of these games can be easily incorporated into the classroom language arts instruction.

  • Click Visit Site
  • First thing to appear are directions to the Dictionary Game (also included in the handouts).
  • Scroll to bottom and click Word Games.
  • More than a dozen word games are available—from very easy to moderate.

Offers links to dictionaries, quotes, thesauri, slang and word games. Strictly for upper grades and college.

This site offers a fun way to explore the Dictionary of Occupational Titles. Any student reading grade four or higher might find this sight interesting for a short while.

  • Click L
  • Click Leacher-Lexicographer
  • Click Leacher (paper & pulp)
  • Note what a leacher is

The best part of this site is the word of the day. Students may also have the word of the day sent by email. Each word is not only defined, but is pronounced and used in authentic texts.

This Dictionary of Symbolism endeavors to provide some possible cultural significances of various symbols, and suggest ways in which those symbols may have been used in context. Most symbols are not code signals, like traffic lights, where red means stop and green means go, but part of a complex language in which green can mean jealousy or fertility or even both, depending on context. It is up to each of us to explore works of art sensitively, and decide for ourselves how the symbols in each work function. This website is offered as an aid in that enriching activity.

·         Click B

·         Click Bee or Bat

An amazing site, with hundreds of links to important references, including words. Created by Northwestern University, this page is like going to a reference desk (some of the major links are shown following this paragraph). Links to eight or nine major online dictionaries, including American Heritage, Cambridge,, Merriam-Webster and OneLook Dictionaries. A good page to start searches for word meanings. This site is not for elementary school students unless they are superior readers.





Ask an Expert






Current Events


Directories Encyclopedias




Historic Docs.

How To







Public Records






White Pages

Yellow Pages

Zip Codes

Not a site for meaning vocabulary, but many interesting activities for word reading activities. Sir Gawain’s jousting game with onsets and rimes is cool.

Many word activities—as well as math, science and all other topics—but little focus on word meanings.

Crosswords probably do little to increase vocabulary specifically, words used in them are seldom recalled or useful in writing or speaking. But crosswords might facilitate interest in words.

Crosswords, scrambled words and hundreds of other non-word games.

Houghton Mifflin Website. Kind of lame for such a big company. Geared to primary and early elementary grades.

  • Click Kids’ Place link in banner.
  • Can click Games and play a word game called Fake Out (yawn).
  • Can click Brain Power and play a word game called Web Word Find (even bigger yawn).

Mostly consists of links to other word Websites.

Some very cool “Wordies,” which is to translate the arrangement of letters, numbers, and symbols into a familiar phrase, saying or cliché (e.g., what is r/e/a/d/i/n/g—“reading between the lines”). 

Learning new concepts is the essence of meaning vocabulary. This means that students need to learn many new things—objects, ideas, actions, feelings. Some use the word “stuff” instead of things. This Website tells how things work or what they are: e.g. , how an internet search engine works, how a hand grenade works, how batteries work, how airplanes work. Many concepts are presented—and the words that signify them. If you want to know how bowling pinsetters work:

  • On Home Page, type “pinsetters” in Search HowStuffWorks.
  • In From HowStuffWorks box, click How Bowling Pinsetters Work.

Areas include ComputerStuff, ScienceStuff, HomeStuff, MoneyStuff and more.

The entire SIKids Website is cool, and that includes the three sections on slang in sports: one each for baseball, basketball and football. Animated with sound, these are up-to-the-date sites with the edge to them you would expect from SI.

Latin and Greek Roots and Affixes on the Web

Greek and Latin Root Skills: This page presents 20 Greek and Latin roots, teaches their definitions (without using support words or sentences), then offers an online flashcard quiz, a game of concentration, a word search, and a matching activity to help students practice and memorize the roots. The activities are fun; it is a shame more roots are not covered.

Focusing on Words: This page gives a list of many Greek and Latin roots and their definitions. Some of the roots cross-reference to other pages containing games, etc., but one must be a subscriber to access these more advanced functions.

Practice Quiz on Vocabulary containing Greek and Latin Roots. Sixty roots are covered thoroughly with both a multiple-choice test using sentences with context clues and a final multiple choice exam. This page seems to have been designed by a teacher who wanted his students to practice and develop mastery of roots using this game-like format.



A teacher-designed activity designed to reinforce 20 Latin and 14 Greek roots.

This page contains lists of Greek and Latin roots, prefixes, and suffixes, and their meanings. The list was compiled by teachers in the Kent School District.


Commercial Word Games


The Dictionary Game Long a favorite in my household when my kids were young. this game is easily played with even seven and eight year olds. It is a great game for free-time in upper elementary grades. Directions for playing this game taken from the ThinkQuest Website are included.


Dictionary Dabble (a published game similar to the dictionary game) [Alna Inc. One Industrial Drive, Windham, NH 03807]


Chicanery: Dictionary Trivia (a published game similar to the dictionary game) [©Jamotta, Inc.; Distributed by Crisloid Inc., Providence RI  02095]


Origins (a published game about the origins of words and expressions) [Flights of Fancy, 800 / 966-8004]; a card for a cliché is shown.



A Cliché or Expression—In the 17th century, criminals on the run learned to throw pursuing bloodhounds off their trail by dragging a cured fish across their tracks. This cliché refers to any effort to directly mislead.


Red Herring




Print Word References for Teaching Meaning Vocabulary


                Baumann, James F., Kame’enui, Edward J. (2004). Vocabulary instruction: Research to practice. New York: Guilford.


This edited book is divided into three sections: teaching specific vocabulary (i.e., direct teaching of specific concepts and words), teaching vocabulary learning strategies (affixes and context), and teaching vocabulary through word consciousness and language play. Each of the contributors has an excellent reputation in comprehension and meaning vocabulary.





                Beck, Isabel L., McKeown, Margaret, G., & Kucan, Linda. (2002). Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction. New York: The Guilford Press.


Beck, McKeown, and Kucan have spent their careers researching and writing about meaning vocabulary acquisition, most especially its impact on reading comprehension. This book results from their many studies and their need to teach meaning vocabulary in their instructional strategies for improving the teaching of reading comprehension. They recognize the difference in teaching meaning vocabulary in the primary grades and in the upper-elementary and middle-school grades. Their discussion of Tier 1, 2, and 3 words, though not necessarily scientifically based, is useful and probably accurate. They are enamored with teaching students to use context for word meanings, but they do cover the topic. A readable, useful book.


                Blachowicz, Camille, & Fisher, Peter J. (2002). Teaching vocabulary in all classrooms (2nd Ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall.


Peter Fisher earned his Ph.D. at the University at Buffalo, and his dissertation was on meaning vocabulary. Their review of research, teaching methods, and curricular materials is solid


                Johnson, Dale D. (2001). Vocabulary in the Elementary and Middle School. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.


This is an excellent book that also reviews research on the teaching and learning of meaning vocabulary and the methods and materials of teaching meaning vocabulary.


                Nagy, William E. (1988). Teaching Vocabulary to Improve Reading Comprehension. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.


This is a particularly brief book, but the writing is outstanding. Nagy is one of the two or three leading researchers in meaning vocabulary (with Margaret McKeown at U. Pittsburg and Stephen Stahl at U. Georgia). I used this book as a text for several years, and cannot actually state why I changed to Blachowicz and Fisher. Nagy’s book is still excellent, but does not have the breath of coverage of methods and materials of teaching that others do.


                Stahl, Steven A. (1999). Vocabulary Development. Cambridge, MA: Brookline Books.


Another very short volume that covers the research on meaning vocabulary and touches on methods and materials of teaching meaning vocabulary.



General References on Research on Meaning Vocabulary


                Anderson, R. C., & Nagy, W. E. (1991). Word meanings. In R. Barr, M.L. Kamil, P.B. Mosenthal, & P.D. Pearson, Handbook of reading research: Volume II (pp. 690-724). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.


                Baumann, J. F., Kame’enui, E. J., & Ash, G. E. (2003). Research on vocabulary instruction: Voltaire redux. In James Flood, Dianne Lapp, James R. Squire, & Julie M. Jensen (Eds.), Handbook of research on teaching the English language arts, 2nd Ed. (pp. 752-785). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.


Beck, I. J.,  & McKeown, M. (1991). Conditions of vocabulary acquisition. In R. Barr, M.L. Kamil, P.B. Mosenthal, & P.D. Pearson, Handbook of reading research: Volume II (pp. 789-814). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.


                Miller, George A. (1991). The science of words. New York: Scientific American Books.


A truly phenomenal read. Easy to read history of words, speech and word relations, words and thinking, word meanings, and the growth of vocabulary.


                Nagy, William E., & Scott, Judith A. (2000). Vocabulary processes. In M.L. Kamil, P.B. Mosenthal, P.D. Pearson, & R. Barr, Handbook of reading research: Volume III (pp. 269-284). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.


                Cunningham, A.E., & Stanovich, K.E. (1998). What reading does for the mind. American Educator. 22(1/2): 8-15.