A Review of WordWeb and Its Use in an Educational Setting
WordWeb operates as a small icon at the bottom of your screen and can be used easily with a variety of text and word processing programs such as Microsoft Word. To check a word, highlight it on your screen, and then click on the WordWeb icon. The window will open to show the various definitions, as well as how the word functions as different parts of speech (nouns, verbs etc). It can provide a list of 'nearest word' (words closest in spelling to that chosen), synonyms and antonyms and a link directly to relevant Wikipedia pages and other resources. You can also 'hear' the word pronounced, a huge bonus when a student encounters a word they are unfamilar with.
In addition, WordWeb is handy because it allows users to access the information which is relevant to them in a timely manner, without undue disruption. Looking up a word is fast and simple, and so the flow of writing can continue uninterrupted. Being able to link to Wikipedia pages in particular also encourages students to learn about and experiment with words and expressions as they are working, rather than reverting to the same old words they always use.
The thesaurus function also helps students expand their vocabulary the more they use it, and can be a great asset for helping older elementary students prepare for the more stringent writing assignments they will soon be facing in the higher grades.
When choosing a spelling software tool, especially for younger students, it needs to be easy for them to operate on their own, and WordWeb gets an A for ease of use. The 'nearest word' list function is especially useful as it means students can self-correct their work easily, even when they have significantly misspelled the word, though this feature works better with the bundled add-ons. (More on that in the 'negative' section below.)
Overall, the program works because it is so subtle, which is great for kids who struggle with their spelling and reading skills and need to constantly check and revise their work.
Both a freeware program and a Pro version of the software is available. The freeware program is limited and subject to licensing agreements as part of the download. The Pro version pricing can be a bit confusing to sort out. The basic software price is reasonable. And, the more units you purchase, the lower the cost. However, there are variables such as additional word lists, dictionaries and bundles that can add to the cost -- in fact, those 'add ons' can 'add up' significantly.
The Pro version contains 5000 more definitions than the freeware version, but, it contains 70,000 more audio pronunciations. If that is a core feature you feel your student(s) will need, then that's a significant difference. In addition, only the Pro version offers the ability to customize the online referencing and glossaries to suit individual needs.
For some students, WordWeb may prove more of a distraction than a support. Teachers need to monitor their use of the program, and ensure they use it appropriately. It would be wise to also teach standard dictionary and thesaurus skills in addition to relying on software, as students benefit from having both sets of skills at their disposal. It is not faster to use if you have to turn on the computer to look up a word first! (Though they do offer a mobile app that is free, for those students with smartphones and iPods at the ready.)
Should You Give it a Try?
In general, the ease-of-use makes WordWeb a winner in most situations, as it is a spelling tool that students actually seem to use, and most importantly, like to use.
Both the freeware and Pro versions can be downloaded from their website at http://wordweb.info/. Note the separate pricing for Teacher Networks.