Building a Better Vocabulary

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very useful and well taught I thought I would gradually watch this and pick up a few vocabulary words that I could use. It definitely worked and I have been able to use some of the words in conversation. I have even noticed a few popping up in a novel I am reading and because of the course, I understood the passages much better than I would have. Many words were ones that I sort of knew what they meant but the professor clearly explained the exact meanings. That along with hundreds of new words and advice on analyzing words for roots, stems, suffixes, prefixes etc. made this course highly value.
Date published: 2020-10-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Engaging instructor Very good instructor-learned quite a bit about how to "pick" a word apart to find meanings w/o having to run to a dictionary or guess.
Date published: 2020-09-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from "Teaches you how to fish" !! Exotic words but worth every penny. Great Teacher. Principles of building vocabulary are emphasized and exemplified with every word. I'm enjoying the course. The accompanying book is very useful for revision.
Date published: 2020-08-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I like the professors love of words I am a retired computer/English teacher and have looked for something worthwhile to do with my "shelter @ home time"! I have enjoyed it thoroughly and at a reasonable price.
Date published: 2020-08-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fun!! I bought this a few weeks ago and have completed 4 sessions. This is the first time I’ve purchased a course although I get the sale catalog every year. I usually toss it but with Covid 19, I thought why not? I’m so glad I did! It is so much fun and I’m actually keeping a vocabulary notebook. Prof. Flanigan keeps your attention. This will not be my last purchase!
Date published: 2020-08-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating, scientific Fascinating, scientific. I highly recommend :)))))
Date published: 2020-07-17
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Terrible Sorry I purchased this. Very leftist political and I doubt I will ever buy Great Courses again.
Date published: 2020-06-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Having fun while learning Professor K. Flanagan teaches this course with such enthusiasm, it keeps you awake. The methodology used in this course is extraordinary. It goes beyond memorizing and more into a systematic way of learning. Love the stories and historical background behind the words he introduces in every chapter. Great buy
Date published: 2020-06-23
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Building a Better Vocabulary
Course Trailer
Five Principles for Learning Vocabulary
1: Five Principles for Learning Vocabulary

Toss aside the rote memorization of childhood and explore the cognitive science behind the five core principles of effective vocabulary learning: definition, context, connections, morphology, and semantic chunking. Through interactive examples, see how you can improve your ability to remember the definition of a new word or a long list of familiar terms.

33 min
The Spelling-Meaning Connection
2: The Spelling-Meaning Connection

Unlock the English language's powerful morphological system with a concept known as the spelling-meaning connection, and see how our spelling system makes a lot more sense than you may have originally thought. Then, learn how to create a vocabulary notebook that effectively organizes all the words you will learn in this course for best recall.

31 min
Words for Lying, Swindling, and Conniving
3: Words for Lying, Swindling, and Conniving

Begin building your vocabulary in earnest with this lecture on wonderful words to describe liars and the lies they tell. Learn trenchant words to describe the cheats, swindlers, charlatans, scam artists, barracudas, sharks, and sharpies, and their hustles, flimflams, and double-dealings. Reveal the nuances of meaning between similar words like specious and spurious.

30 min
Words That Express Annoyance and Disgust
4: Words That Express Annoyance and Disgust

Turn now to annoying people and their irksome, vexing, irritating, nettlesome, and exasperating behavior. Tease apart the differences between words that use the Latin root quir/ques, and those that spring from the word queror. Then, study words that describe excess-from sickly sweet, sappy, and sentimental words to downright offensive and disgusting ones.

32 min
Fighting Words and Peaceful Words
5: Fighting Words and Peaceful Words

English is replete with lively, hard-hitting words to describe conflict and harmony. Delve into the morphology and etymology of words relating to war and peace, including examining two high-utility Latin roots, bell and pac. Add some pugnacious words to your everyday lexicon, including melee, contumacious, and donnybrook.

31 min
Going beyond Dictionary Meanings
6: Going beyond Dictionary Meanings

How can you ensure that new words don't slip from your memory? In this lecture, Professor Flanigan shares effective and fun strategies to reinforce your vocabulary knowledge, including a clever graphic organizer that anchors your new word to words you already know, and a game designed by a leading expert in reading and vocabulary.

32 min
Wicked Words
7: Wicked Words

Use the Latin prefix mal to generate over a dozen rich vocabulary words, all of which concern things that are bad, evil, or done poorly. Then, learn a fun, albeit archaic, term of contempt, and get a firm understanding of the difference between invidious and insidious.

32 min
Words for Beginnings and Endings
8: Words for Beginnings and Endings

Go beyond Latin to learn a word for inexperience that has its roots in Old English. Distinguish between people who are innocent and naive, new to a skill, or pretending to know more than they do. Then, turn to words for endings, and learn why we say "immortal," and not "inmortal."

32 min
Words Expressing Fear, Love, and Hatred
9: Words Expressing Fear, Love, and Hatred

Agoraphobia. Xenophobia. Claustrophobia. Begin this lecture with words that describe fear. Then, using the Greek root phil/phile and the Latin root amor, build words relating to love. Finally, embrace your inner misanthrope with words about hatred, which spring from the Greek verb misein.

32 min
Words for the Everyday and the Elite
10: Words for the Everyday and the Elite

Will you be hobnobbing with the hoity-toity gentry or the hoi polloi? Gain even more words to enrich your vocabulary when it comes to describing things that are ho-hum and others that are high class. You'll even learn a useful synonym for trite remarks, hackneyed phrases, and platitudes.

30 min
Words from Gods and Heroes
11: Words from Gods and Heroes

Forge a link between the tales of Greek and Roman gods and heroes and the English vocabulary words they inspired. What is the difference between a herculean task and a Sisyphean one? What Gordian knots do you have in your life? This lecture full of ancient myths is a true delight!

32 min
Humble Words and Prideful Words
12: Humble Words and Prideful Words

Transition into the next lecture with a story about Odysseus and his hubris. Then, explore other words about people who think too much or too little about themselves, including a fascinating word that has a positive connotation when it refers to a voice, but a negative connotation when it refers to speech or writing.

34 min
High-Frequency Greek and Latin Roots
13: High-Frequency Greek and Latin Roots

Power up your "morphological radar" and gain the ability to spot Latin and Greek word parts in unfamiliar words, aiding you in uncovering their definitions. Investigate words using the affixes eu-, dis-, in-, pre-, post-, and dys-; then, turn to words that build from the roots man, umbr, tract, and therm.

32 min
Words Relating to Belief and Trust
14: Words Relating to Belief and Trust

Turn now to precise and powerful words for facets of trust and belief. Study words that have their roots in the church, but have expanded their reach into other areas of life. Use your knowledge of Greek roots to show the difference in the belief of an apostle (stellein) and an apostate (stenai).

33 min
Words for the Way We Talk
15: Words for the Way We Talk

Study the fascinating stories behind words that describe how we speak-from the laconic Spartans to the pithy Jedi master to the loquacious ventriloquist. At the end of the lecture, return to Greece for the story behind a word inspired by the Athenian orator Demosthenes and his opinions about King

34 min
Words for Praise, Criticism, and Nonsense
16: Words for Praise, Criticism, and Nonsense

Continue your study with a useful word that describes the verbal equivalent of meandering. Then, turn to the Bible for a word derived from the Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah, who prophesied the imminent downfall of the Kingdom of Judah. Finally, discover a word for playful banter that English borrowed from French.

32 min
Eponyms from Literature and History
17: Eponyms from Literature and History

Step back in time and learn about words inspired by the great men, women, and places of literature and history. English is replete with a host of lively eponyms, such as bloomers, sideburns, and sandwich. In this utterly enjoyable lecture, the professor shares the people and stories behind eight excellent eponyms.

32 min
Thinking, Teaching, and Learning Words
18: Thinking, Teaching, and Learning Words

Begin with a fun psycholinguistic experiment that shows how your brain processes new words. Explore the work of some major scholars of learning and language-Skinner, Watson, Chomsky-and get an exegesis of erudition. Delve into the process of language acquisition, including why a child might say, "I winned the game, Daddy!"

31 min
Words for the Diligent and the Lazy
19: Words for the Diligent and the Lazy

From polished professionals to slothful slackers, this lecture covers a wide range of words to describe work ethic. Dig into the nuances that separate similar words like tenacious and pertinacious. Expand your knowledge of the Latin root fac (to make or do) to include alternate spellings and a useful suffix.

32 min
Words That Break and Words That Join
20: Words That Break and Words That Join

Using the Latin roots rupt and junct, create a list of words related to breaking and joining. Discover the fascinating subject of Janus words such as cleave, which means to split apart and to stick close together. Finally, explore a variety of words that describe groups or gatherings of people.

30 min
Some High-Utility Greek and Latin Affixes
21: Some High-Utility Greek and Latin Affixes

Add some powerful Greek and Latin affixes to your vocabulary notebook. Explore intriguing etymologies for words like abdicate (which originally had nothing to do with royalty) and antediluvian (a word with ties to the Bible that got a new lease on life). Don't absquatulate now, there are more great words to come!

29 min
Cranky Words and Cool Words
22: Cranky Words and Cool Words

What's the difference between someone who is irascible, one who is testy, and another who is dyspeptic? What about the difference between stoic and stolid? Professor Flanigan's stories from his childhood and from pop culture vividly illustrate the new words you'll learn here.

30 min
Words for Courage and Cowardice
23: Words for Courage and Cowardice

You likely know that the word courage comes from the Latin cor/cord, meaning heart. Explore words for different kinds of courage, including false courage, cheeky courage, and reckless courage. Then study the flip side with words about cowardice. This fun lecture skips from Latin to Yiddish to Middle French to Old Italian!

32 min
Reviewing Vocabulary through Literature
24: Reviewing Vocabulary through Literature

Take stock of your accomplishments thus far with a review like no other! In this lecture, you will be able to test your knowledge by relating the words you have learned to some of the most colorful characters in literature, as written by Oscar Wilde, Moliere, James Joyce, J.R.R. Tolkien, and others.

33 min
Words for Killing and Cutting
25: Words for Killing and Cutting

Turn to dark words to discuss terrible deeds. The Latin word caedo, meaning, "to cut" or "to kill," is at the root of many of these words, such as genocide and homicide. Learn a unique word that refers to both the crime and its perpetrator, then focus on words that stem from the root seg/sect, meaning, "to cut."

31 min
A Vocabulary Grab Bag
26: A Vocabulary Grab Bag

Engage with some wonderful words that Professor Flanigan adores, but could not fit into the themes of the other lectures. This grab bag lecture is full of great vocabulary, including a useful phrase for describing a "take it or leave it" situation.

31 min
Words for Words
27: Words for Words

Open the Bible to the book of Judges and read the story that spawned the word shibboleth, which is a test word, phrase, or custom that differentiates one group of people from another. Then, tease apart the fascinating differences between dialect, vernacular, and jargon.

30 min
Specialty Words for Language
28: Specialty Words for Language

Over the years, linguists and language scholars have organized and categorized words in a number of different ways. In this lecture, explore many of these linguistic categories, including spoonerisms, phrases that give us a unique insight into how our minds plan out our speech.

30 min
Nasty Words and Nice Words
29: Nasty Words and Nice Words

Follow the intriguing evolution of the word nice, which originally meant ignorant or unaware. Then, dive into words for things and people that are nasty or nice. You'll find words to wish good health, to describe your favorite uncle, and to warn others about hidden sources of harm and downright poisonous people.

30 min
Words for the Really Big and the Very Small
30: Words for the Really Big and the Very Small

Is ginormous a real word? What's the difference between capacious and commodious? What are the two words Gulliver's Travels gave to English for big and small? Get answers to these questions and more in this lecture, where you'll also build words using the Latin roots magn and min.

32 min
Spelling as a Vocabulary Tool
31: Spelling as a Vocabulary Tool

Review the three layers of information in the English spelling system: alphabet, pattern, and meaning. Delve into several studies done by Professor Flanigan and other literacy researchers to see how children acquire the ability to read English and what insights we can apply to your own acquisition of new words.

32 min
A Medley of New Words
32: A Medley of New Words

In this final grab bag lecture, learn a new word to describe partisan politics or views. Then, go beyond bang and shush and add some more sophisticated onomatopoeic words to your repertoire. Finally, a fun pop quiz helps you review some of the words you've learned in the last few lectures.

30 min
Building Vocabulary through Games
33: Building Vocabulary through Games

Start this lecture with some clever vocabulary games and activities that are not only fun to play, but will reinforce your word knowledge and ability to confidently use your new vocabulary words. Then, learn how you can leverage the power of context to improve your reading and writing vocabulary.

30 min
Words English Borrowed and Never Returned
34: Words English Borrowed and Never Returned

English is notorious for being an omnivorous language. Substantially more than half of English vocabulary is from languages other than its Anglo-Saxon ancestor, Old English. Why do words get borrowed, and how do these words eventually settle in and become just as familiar as English ones? Find out here.

30 min
More Foreign Loan Words
35: More Foreign Loan Words

Continue your study of foreign words that migrated to English. Encounter new and exciting words from French, German, and Spanish, and along the way, engage in a fun psycholinguistic experiment that shows how your brain processes language. By the end of this lecture, you'll have the mot juste for every situation.

29 min
Forgotten Words and Neologisms
36: Forgotten Words and Neologisms

In this final lecture of the course, travel back in time for some delicious words that Professor Flanigan believes deserve to be brought back to common usage. Then, explore neologisms, or new words that are coming into English every day, like meme, boson, and muggle.

35 min
Kevin Flanigan

Ever since I was a kid, I've been moved, awed, and at times, even gobsmacked by the power and magic of words.


University of Virginia


West Chester University of Pennsylvania

About Kevin Flanigan

Professor Kevin Flanigan is a Professor of Education in the Literacy Department at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. He earned his B.A. in History from Mary Washington College, his M.Ed. from James Madison University, and his M.Ed. in Reading Education from the University of Virginia. After working as a middle grades teacher and reading specialist, he received his Ph.D. in Reading Education from the University of Virginia, with a dissertation on emergent readers' developing concept of word in text.

In 2011, Professor Flanigan was nominated for the U.S. Professors of the Year Award. In 2009, he and his colleagues at West Chester University received an Educator 500 award for innovative teaching.

Professor Flanigan's research focuses on developmental word knowledge, vocabulary development and instruction, and interventions for struggling readers. He presents frequently at national and international conferences and works with schools to implement effective literacy instruction. He is coauthor of Words Their Way with Struggling Readers, Vocabulary Their Way (2nd edition), and Developing Word Recognition. Professor Flanigan is on the authorship team for the Vocabulary Their Way middle school program. He has published articles in many professional journals, including The Reading Teacher, the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, and the Journal of Literacy Research.

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