Friday, August 17, 2012

Vocab Videos {Schoolhouse Review Crew}

The SAT worries me.  I have zero experience with the SAT, as I was never a student in the USA, and I don't have much idea what my students could expect or how they should prepare.  One thing I do know - there is a vocabulary portion of the test, and it's worth a significant part of the overall score.  Up to 150 points.  As part of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, we had the opportunity to review a program designed to teach those vocabulary skills.


Vocab Videos combines memorable videos which show the words used in a humourous story context with learning tools such as quizzes and digital flashcards to effectively teach vocabulary.  Although it was originally designed to teach vocabulary for the SAT, it has also proven effective for the ACT and other tests, as well as for ESL vocabulary-building.

Vocab Videos uses hilarious professionally produced short videos to illustrate the meanings of 500 essential vocabulary words. The platform is a highly effective system for learning words that appear on tests like the ISEE, SAT, ACT, GRE & TOEFL. Each video includes a representation of the meaning of a word in a way you can relate to and understand. Vocab Videos will expand your vocabulary--and you'll have fun along the way.

The videos are organized into episodes of 20 words, and take approximately 10 minutes to watch.  Each episode is a short story with an entertaining plot, and are based on (or parodies of) popular TV shows such as Lost, 24, The Office, and Gossip Girl.   They are professionally produced, and are really very funny!
Each video follows a structure designed to make memorizing easier, using both auditory and visual cues. A freeze frame of the vocabulary word and its definition generally start each video, while a voice-over provides the proper pronunciation and reinforces the meaning. The vocabulary word is then illustrated by the action in the video (approximately 30 seconds), and concludes with a voice-over of either the definition of the word or a sentence using the word in the context of the scene.
 Check out the Sample Video page - my favorite there is the Johnny Hightower episode teaching the word anachronistic (in the wrong time period).  Secret agent Johnny Hightower is captured by a crime lord and tries to defend himself with a miniature bow and arrow.  The crime lord mocks him for being so behind the times.  At the beginning and end of the video, a voice over pronounces the word and gives the definition.  At the end, the voice over also uses the word in a sentence about the video: "Johnny's bow and arrow is anachronistic.  It is an outdated weapon last used in combat centuries ago."  (Spoiler alert: Johnny overpowers the crime lord after all, and comments that he is "old school".  LOL)

After watching the episodes, there is a quiz taking about 5 minutes to review the words.  Also available are printable worksheets, a multimedia flashcard maker (for any subject!), puzzles, alphabetical glossary of the words, and more.  Check out the Learning Tools page for more info.


A workbook is available for $11.99.  We didn't review the workbook, but I have to admit I'm interested in it.  As well as flashcards, definitions, and category lists, it also lists the words by the episodes they appeared in.  It looks like a great companion for students who want or need the extra reinforcement of doing some writing and studying away from the computer screen.


There are lots of educator tools as well, because you'll want to track progress and download study materials.  The teacher dashboard is fairly easy to navigate, and offers lots of details to help keep track of where your students are in the program and how they are doing.


We really enjoyed this program, and found it an almost effortless way to expand and study vocabulary. At least it feels effortless, because the episodes are short and are so entertaining.  However, Spencer isn't planning on writing the SAT this year and Landon is still a few years away, so they were not particularly motivated by a need to know the material.  Spencer agreed that if he had the SAT looming, this would be the perfect way for him to learn the vocabulary, because the videos were engaging and gave him visual cues to recall the definitions and hearing the pronunciations of unfamiliar words is so much more helpful than deciphering a written pronunciation guide.  Because the videos give the words context and continuity, the words and their meanings are much easier to recall.  Spencer and Landon both did very well on the quizzes, so I know they were taking in the material.

I do need to offer a cautionary note before I summarize.  Some families may not be comfortable with some of the content for a couple of reasons - instances of "oh my god" being said by the characters, and the situations set up by the TV show parodies (crass humour, dating relationships, etc).  If a student isn't familiar with the show or movie that the episodes are based on, they may miss some of the humour although that doesn't in any way interfere with the educational aspect.  Just may make it a little less enjoyable if you don't "get" the joke or the reference.  This didn't bother us, to be honest.  While we don't appreciate the Lord's name being used casually, and we don't allow it, it is something that we hear around us in the world all the time, and we're able to filter it out.  Our family is familiar with some of the TV shows referenced, but certainly not all, and we found the episodes that were similar to shows we know (such as 24 or The Office) more enjoyable than those we did not.

What we liked best:

  • the humour used to teach the definitions and context! Being able to laugh in class is a huge plus!
  • each set of videos and the accompanying quiz is short and to the point.  This is not time-consuming, but it is effective!
  • lots of ways to study - flashcards, worksheets, and more
  • we're just starting with the flashcard maker, but I LOVE it already.
What we weren't crazy about:
  • although the uses of "oh my god" were certainly not a deal-breaker for us at all, I didn't appreciate it, and it doesn't seem to me to be a demonstration of a good command of vocabulary.  LOL  We found it only slightly annoying in an ironic way.
Bottom line for us is that we will continue to use it as a supplement because it's a fun way to build vocabulary, but because we don't have anyone headed towards an SAT testing room any time soon, it's not a necessity for us this year.  Since the flashcards can be used for any subject, we will be making use of those for science and other subjects - what a great tool!  

Would your students like to laugh and learn with Vocab Videos? Here's what you need to know:
We were given a Small Educator's Subscription for this review.  This subscription offers the ability to monitor student progress, access all videos and study materials, and create individual student accounts for up to 20 students.  This subscription is available for $74.99 for one year.

Individual student subscriptions are available for 6 months or 12 months.  Visit Vocab Videos for pricing and details. also offers a one-month free trial so you can see for yourself if it's a good fit for you.

Visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog for more information about Vocab Videos and to read other Crew member reviews.
Disclaimer: As part of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, we received a complimentary subscription to this service in exchange for our honest opinions.


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