Grab Hold of Your Vocabulary with VocabGrabber!

We're tremendously excited to present a new feature on the Visual Thesaurus website called VocabGrabber, a tool that intelligently extracts words from any document you're interested in. All you need to do is copy a text and Vocabgrabber will instantly pull out the most useful vocabulary words and show you how those words are used in context. You can sort, filter, and save the lists, and also view Visual Thesaurus wordmaps and definitions. It's a boon for students, teachers, English language learners, or anyone who wants to bring some interactive fun to vocab learning.

To understand how VocabGrabber works, it's best to see it in action. You can choose your own text — a newspaper article, a book chapter, a speech, a historical document, or anything else that strikes your fancy. Or try one of our samples, like the United States Bill of Rights. When you feed the Bill of Rights into the VocabGrabber text box and click "Grab Vocabulary," a list of words and phrases immediately pops up, starting with such constitutional terms as compulsory process, cruel and unusual punishment, and probable cause. Clicking on any item will display the Visual Thesuarus wordmap, definitions, and examples of the word shown in their original context. You can view the words as a "tag cloud" (with the size of the words based on their frequency in the text), as a list, or as a gallery of wordmap images.

The word list that gets generated is ordered by relevance — that is, by how significant the words are to the average reader. We look at how often words appear in the text and compare that to frequencies of words in standard written English in general. In the Bill of Rights, terms like compulsory process and probable cause get used very infrequently outside of legal circles, so those shoot to the top of the list. Common words like law and right appear more often in the text, but because they're also common elsewhere in written English, they're not as important to an understanding of the fine points of the Bill of Rights.

Or try grabbing another sample text, the first two chapters of Oliver Twist. Right away you'll see some very Oliver Twist-y words, like workhouse, gruel, and pauper. You also might notice the hidden meanings behind some Dickensian names, like Mr. Bumble (bumble means "make a mess of, destroy or ruin") and Mrs. Thingummy (thingummy is "something unspecified whose name is either forgotten or not known"). Want to look at just the words that might typically show up in vocabulary instruction? Click the box that says "Vocabulary" and SAT-friendly words like choleric, controvert, and voracious rise to the top. You can also filter your list by various subject areas, allowing you to zero in on, say, just the science-related words from the latest New York Times coverage about swine flu.

One great feature is the ability to add VocabGrabber to your browser toolbar. After it's installed, any webpage can get the VocabGrabber treatment right away without needing to copy and paste. Try it with your favorite online newspaper or magazine! Individual subscribers to the Visual Thesaurus can enjoy another bonus: you can take any VocabGrabber list and turn it into a VT word list, just by clicking the "Create Word List" button. (If you don't see the button, you don't have an individual subscription.)

Who says learning vocabulary has to be boring? So click here and start grabbing!

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Comments from our users:

Tuesday May 5th 2009, 9:13 AM
Comment by: Don H. (Brentwood, CA)Top 10 Commenter
That's amazing! I can't see right at the moment how it's going to be more than a toy — but what a toy!
Tuesday May 5th 2009, 10:32 AM
Comment by: Robert G.Visual Thesaurus Contributor
It's easy to see why you're tremendously excited. A remarkable invention and device. I cut and pasted the first chapter of "Billy Budd" and went through all the features, the most remarkable to me of which was the virtually instant diagramming of synonyms in perhaps a thousand boxes. I'm looking forward to finding creative as well as practical ways to use it.
Tuesday May 5th 2009, 4:14 PM
Comment by: Katherine S. (Brooklyn, NY)
I love this tool! Not only does it seem wildly useful for published text, from fiction to poetry to newspaper articles, but it seems to me students could also paste their own writing into the box so they can analyze their word use and patterns. The "vocab" feature is also very helpful for teachers who need to quickly find the words that might stymie their kids in whatever text they've assigned...And I have to also mention that the little "vocabgrabber" icon is adorable.
Wednesday May 6th 2009, 11:43 PM
Comment by: anna S. (South Africa)Top 10 Commenter
I can see several uses for this tool. Students could analyze repetition of a word or phrase in a text. Sometimes the repetition could be engaging and effective. Other times...not so much. It may also be used as a summarizing tool -- how do the words most often used influence our summary? Finally, and maybe most powerfully, the tool could be used to initiate a discussion on word choice. Since synonyms, of course, are revealed, students could discuss why one word is more effective than another.
Thursday May 7th 2009, 8:28 AM
Comment by: Patricia K. (Chicago, IL)
Love it.. writing assignments (essays) get a little tedious and so to read them must be too. Run through this little tool, can find the overkill and the power. for my fiction writing, it is likely going to serve me well.
Friday May 8th 2009, 10:06 AM
Comment by: Adele C. M. (Charlotte, NC)
Is there an Educational Software of the Decade Award? This is it, hands-down!
Friday May 8th 2009, 11:42 AM
Comment by: David H. (London United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
This is a terrific tool. I can envisage using this with psychology students to demonstrate how word use frequency follows a power law.
Thursday May 21st 2009, 2:04 AM
Comment by: Gary C.
Among the numerous uses,this is a wonderful tool for second language speakers, developing adult readers and their teachers.
Saturday July 11th 2009, 12:37 AM
Comment by: Jeanna B.
Love it!! One question: is there a search tool for other lists on the site? I see where the 50 most popular are posted, but I would like to be able to see if someone has already created a list before I make one of my own. Any tips? Thanks.
Monday September 7th 2009, 8:55 PM
Comment by: David W.
This is an amazing tool, but I think that in addition to sort by relevance, occurrences, and familiarity, you should also be able to view the text in its original order. Then you could read the text and look up words as you read through. I would certainly use it more often if that were the case. It would be more of a tool than toy at that point.

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