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Author Bio: Betty Hsu is a former English teacher and school district consultant. She is the co-founder of ProfessorWord, a site that helps students learn vocabulary as they read online. Visit us at

Having a strong vocabulary is critical, crucial, vital, essential, indispensable, imperative – the list can go on and on. In fact, research shows that vocabulary is one of the single most reliable predictors of a student’s future academic and career success.

And yet, our students are struggling. On the 2011 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP)  Reading Assessment, the average vocabulary score for 4th grade students was just 218 out of 500; 8th grade was 265; 12th grade was 296.  That’s not good.

How can you help your students improve?

Direct-vocabulary instruction is important, but it’s not enough.  Learning 20 words a week x 36 weeks of school x 12 years = 8,640 words, which falls well short of the estimated 65,000 to 75,000 words needed to read and write well as adult.

Research has shown that the most effective way – really the only way – to build such a substantial vocabulary is to read widely and deeply from a broad range of high-quality and increasingly challenging literary and informational texts.

ProfessorWord offers free resources that can help your students do just that:

1. Free tool to learn vocabulary from any website

Our free tool works on any website to identify SAT/ACT vocabulary words and to allow students to click any word to learn its definition. Try it out today! Whether your students are reading an article from The New York Times or the online Folgers Edition of Romeo and Juliet, tell them to use ProfessorWord to help them learn vocabulary in context as they read.

2. Free SAT/ACT Vocabulary Reading Challenge

We also offer a free 6-week SAT/ACT Reading Challenge to help students learn the top 100 SAT/ACT vocabulary words. Over the six weeks, by reading 1-2 interesting articles a day (curated from top websites), students will be exposed to these 100 vocabulary words, multiple times in multiple contexts, to ensure that they really learn them.

Check out our free tool and subscribe to our free Reading Challenge today at

We’re also working on the ability for students to save words to a dashboard to create personalized study materials and to receive personalized reading suggestions to help them develop the vocabulary they need to succeed. If you’re interested in beta-testing with your students or if you have any comments or suggestions, please let me know at I’d love to hear from you!