Monday, May 4, 2015

Liesl Johnson, Private Tutor and Website Founder

liesl johnson, word a day, vocabulary website, transience templeLiesl Johnson is a self-employed private tutor as well as the founder of a word-a-day vocabulary email subscription, called Make Your Point.

Tell us a bit about yourself.
As a private tutor, I teach reading and writing to students one-on-one in their homes, and I love it! I’m always hauling in piles of books to recommend to kids and teens and helping them find topics that excite them to write about. Overall, my goal is to help each student I work with become an accurate, fast reader and a fluent, expert writer.  My favorite thing to teach is vocabulary, because you can always play games to review the words, and kids and teens are so proud of themselves when they use their new words.

Describe your vocabulary email subscription, Make Your Point, for readers unfamiliar with it.
Make Your Point is a fairly new project: it launched on January 1st of this year. It’s a free, daily email that goes out to anyone who wants it, and each email teaches you a useful, sophisticated word. The readers so far have told me that it takes about five minutes to work through each issue, and they’re happy with how I make the definitions really easy to understand.

Who is your target audience?
That’s interesting, actually! The target audience is practically everybody in the English-speaking world. My youngest reader is less than five years old. She’s highly precocious and is homeschooled by her mom. There are lots of ambitious, college-bound students who use Make Your Point to study. But I think most of the subscribers are just regular adults who care about being precise and colorful in their word choice, and they like to be reminded of nifty words that they knew before but have forgotten about. The oldest subscriber I know personally is a poet in her sixties who has sworn to never stop learning new things.

What inspired you to start a daily vocabulary email subscription?

Thank you for asking this! Ha ha. This is really important to me. Okay, two reasons: first, there are already several other word-a-day email services available, but I wanted to improve on them.  As a vocabulary teacher, I’m kinda critical of them. They tend to focus on really random words that you won’t be able to use in daily conversation—words like “perfervid” and “livery”—and they all just give some quick information about the word without actually teaching it to you. I felt like I could create a word-a-day email that would offer both practicality and research-based instruction. (My undergraduate degree is in English education, and my master’s is in educational psychology.) So basically, Make Your Point was created to help kids and adults focus on useful words and learn them well. 

And then the other reason I was inspired to create Make Your Point is that I love, love, love teaching vocabulary and I’m nerdy enough to want to gather up all the words worthy of being learned and share them with anybody who’s interested. The format and content of each issue are the result of about ten years of experience in teaching vocabulary.

So, what information do you include in your daily vocabulary emails besides just the word and definition?
So there’s that, of course, and the definition is always phrased in really plain language (as opposed to being reported straight from the dictionary.) Then you have:

•    The part of speech, with an explanation of how that helps us put the word into a phrase

•    Related forms (like “jerry-build,” “jerry-building,” and “jerry-builder”)

•    How to use it: the right phrases and sentence patterns

•    Two real-life, true, contextual examples

•    A prompt for you to explain the meaning in your own words without saying certain key words from the definition. (It forces you to think about the meaning of the word instead of just memorizing the definition!)

•    A template for making your own sentence with the word to describe something from your life, along with another example sentence in that template

•    A quick word game and a quote to ponder. These distract you for a moment so that when you try the upcoming review questions, you’ve temporarily forgotten about the word’s definition, and you have to call it to mind on your own. That strengthens your ability to remember the word.

•    Two review questions that get you thinking about the word

•    Answers to those questions

In addition to reading the daily vocabulary emails, do you have any other suggestions for people looking to expand their vocabulary?
Sure! Read, read, read. Read novels that take place in the 1800s when people did nothing but sit around trying to be witty. Read blogs and magazines about topics you know nothing about. Read the editorials and the reviews in the paper, because when those writers get mad, they spit out incredible words. And turn on the English subtitles every time you watch TV or Netflix and read what you’ve been missing.

Were you always interested in new words or is it something that developed through your education?
Always! One of my sharpest memories from elementary school was when I used the word “tangible” in class and my teacher, Mr. Cleek, let me share with the other kids what it meant. OMG, I was so happy. And to the other girls at my summer camp, I was that weird one who went everywhere with a copy of Kaplan’s Word Power, commented on people’s “exorbitant” canoeing skills.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Anyone who wants to get the vocabulary emails can sign up at And anyone who wants to nerd it up and chat about their favorite words can email me at Thanks so much!
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