Lexercise Descriptor: an online vocabulary-building game



 Descriptor is the Lexercise online game for Station 5 (vocabulary).  As with the other Lexercise games, the words used in the game are those from the client’s current Word Bank, selected by the clinician when setting up the client’s current Practice Plan.  Descriptor requires a Word Bank containing at least 10 base words (no prefixes or suffixes) that are either nouns (not proper nouns), verbs or adjectives.

The goals of Descriptor are:

1) To improve auditory working memory in the context of reading;

2) To improve reading fluency and reading comprehension. (Isolated word reading speed has been shown to improve text reading speed and reading comprehension.1)

Descriptor is a challenging! 

 This game taxes both auditory working memory and single word reading.  First, the player must hold in working memory a difficult-to-process, formal definition, spoken by a computer voice, while reading single printed words and -- under pressure -- select the best match. 

Users sometimes comment that the word choices fall "too fast".  (For exactly how fast, see "Speed" below.)  But this speed element is important and is one of the goals. Fast, isolated word reading (~1/2 second per word) has been shown to predict comprehension of text.2

Still, to progress, the player has to be able to get his/her foot in the Descriptor door!  If the player is struggling to progress here are some modifications that the clinician can make to scaffold progress:

  1. Limit the Word Bank to 35-40 words. That way there will be lots of repetition of words.
  2. When selecting a customized (smaller) Word Bank words, choose common, familiar and concrete words (e.g. <log> vs. <bog>) -- and mostly nouns. (Nouns are more easily processed that verbs.3)
  3. The child should always be coached to think of an error simply as an opportunity to learn the correct match for next time. Thinking of errors not as failures but as opportunities to learn encourages a growth mindset -- with power that reaches far, far beyond this simple game. (See Talking to kids...)
  4. Select a short game time for the online Descriptor Game. Three minutes is the default but an even shorter (one or two minute) game might be good if the child fatigues easily.
  5. Provide the parent with this description of how to do a table-top, offline Descriptor Game.  The guardian login always has the current  Word Bank words cards in a printable format.
  6. The Descriptor definitions are from a dictionary so encourage the student and parent to use to look up any troublesome words and read the definition entry.


Here is how the Descriptor Game works to improve working memory, reading fluency and connect words to their meaning:

The player hears a spoken, formal definition and then is challenged to select the matching written word from a set of words printed on falling asteroids.  The definition is spoken by Tracy, a computer-generated voice, much like the voices in a growing number of modern digital devices.

The player makes a choice by clicking on a word/asteroid. A correct choices is signaled with a bell and the word expands to center screen. An incorrect choice is signaled with a buzz and the word vanishes. The player can continue to choose words from the remaining asteroids – a total of three times – before they sink below play level. If no choice (or no correct choice) is made, the game announces the correct word and puts the definition back into play for a later round.

As play continues, the game adjusts to match the player’s performance in three ways: speed, number of choices and number of points.

  • Speed. A correct choice on the first click decreases the fall-time of the asteroids by 3 seconds (to a minimum of 8 seconds). A correct choice on the second click does not change the speed. A correct choice on the third click (or no correct choice) increases the fall time by 3 seconds (to a maximum of 20 seconds).
  • Number of choices. A correct choice on the first click increases the number of asteroids by one (to a maximum of 8 asteroids). A correct choice on the second click does not change the number of asteroids. A correct choice on the third click (or no correct choice) decreases the number of asteroids by one (to a minimum of 3 asteroids).
  • Points. Points are assigned as the game evaluates the player’s combined speed and accuracy. This game is designed to improve single word reading fluency (defined as accuracy + speed).  So, a correct and fast choice on the first click earns the most points. The player gets 15 points for clicking the right word at a relatively “fast” speed (8-12 seconds), 12 points at “medium” speed (13-16 seconds) and 10 points at “slow” speed (17-20 seconds).  A correct choice on the second click earns only 5 points and a correct choice on the third click earns just 2 points. No choice, or no correct choice, earns the player no points for that round. 

The clinician and/or the parent can use the error words from the child's online game in an offline Descriptor Game. This combination of online and offline practice is powerful and effective.



1. Tan, A and Nicholson, T. (1997). Flashcards revisited: Training poor readers to read words faster improves their comprehension of text. Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol 89(2), 276-288.
2. Morris,D., Trathen, W., Frye, E.M,   Kucan, L. Ward, D. Schlagal, R. & Hendrix, M. (2013). The Role of Reading Rate in the Informal Assessment of Reading Ability. Literacy Research and Instruction. Volume 52, Issue 1, pp. 52-64.
3. Traficante, D., Marelli, M., Luzzatti, C., & Burani, C. (2013). Influence of verb and noun bases on reading aloud derived nouns: evidence from children with good and poor reading skills. Reading and Writing, 1-24.


Please sign in to leave a comment.