Favorite free online dictionariesAll of the dictionaries listed below are good at suggesting correct spellings and work well on a phone screen unless stated otherwise.
Cambridge Advanced Learners Dictionary for American English provides simple definitions and synonyms. It is not as thorough at word nuance as a more comprehensive dictionary, but for a quick definition, it is hard to beat.
Oxford Dictionary for American English provides nuanced meanings for each word with sample sentences. It is well-designed for a phone screen. These are the definitions and synonyms you get if you use Google's define:
Vocabulary.com provides audio pronunciation and conversational definitions. It is not as convenient for words with multiple meanings, but many will like its "friendly" tone.
Onelook provides a quick definition with links to many other dictionaries including specialized dictionaries. Each word links to a powerful thesaurus. Specialized dictionaries include old dictionaries that can be useful for better understanding words as they were used in historic books. The site provides a lot of information that requires screen manipulation on a phone or other small device.
The dictionary built into Google's search feature provides definitions and synonyms from the Oxford Dictionary, but without as many samples. It has an interesting feature unique to Google. It shows how often a word was used in English over time. Typically, you can just type a word into Google's search box to get a definition, but to assure the dictionary will return a definition type "define:" prior to the word you want to lookup.
Reverse dictionary at OneLookA thesaurus is often useful when trying to recall a word. But when you can't even think of a good synonym, this reverse dictionary will search for the word based upon words used in the definition or even by searching for words that are often associated with the word you're trying to recall.
Choose the Right WordChoose the Right Word is an outstanding thesaurus that is only available in book form. It is limited in scope and not as up-to-date as would be ideal, but it does an outstanding job of discussing the nuance of synonyms. For example, is immaterial or irrelevant a better word choice? This book will discuss their distinctions along with words like extraneous and superfluous.
You can't easily preview the book because Amazon's "Look Inside" feature is not operable on it. However, you can search the first edition of the book at Google Books to see snippets. The snippets are too limiting, but if you want to preview the book online, it's better than nothing.
No Fear Shakespeare and moreWhen reading Shakespeare (and some other classic novels), No Fear Shakespeare provides the original text in the left column, and a modern translation in the right column. Often, it doesn't translate each word or even each line very well, but it does an excellent job of giving the gist of each passage.
Choosing books to assignYou might like to look at our Popular Book Lists. It contains such lists as:
- Books Most Commonly Assigned
- Books Most Frequently Read Independently (by grade)
- Books Most Popular at verbalworkout.com
- Books Most Cited by AP Literature Open Response Questions
Other good vocabulary quiz sitesThis is the best site for free, consistent vocabulary quizzes to augment high school and middle school reading. To this author's knowledge, it is the only site that offers vocabulary quizzes formatted in the new way the SAT and ACT test vocabulary; i.e., by using the word in context and then asking the student to choose the correct meaning of the word. This format also has the advantage of mimicking what goes on when a student is reading.
But there are some other excellent vocabulary quiz sites that offer their own advantages--especially with regard to creating your own quizzes. All these sites will require you to sign in. Vocabulary.com and Vocab Sushi will encourage you to pay for premium versions, but all three have a free version. Additionally, your school or district may want to look into Accelerated Reader; though it has no free version.