Visual Thesaurus – A Useful Tool in the Multicultural Classroom @VisualThesaurus

No Spanish, Please. We’re American.

As a doctoral student, Visual Thesaurus is a resource to discover just the right synonym to provide variety in my writing adventures. I want to learn the multicultural aspects of this website for my STEM Parity initiative. Visual Thesaurus includes a monthly Language Lounge column, and I came across an article by Orin Hargraves regarding, “No Spanish Please. We’re American.” The article recounted incidents in 2018 when Americans objected to hearing Spanish conversation in their vicinity; a customer in San Diego at an Albertan’s supermarket, a lawyer in a New York Deli, a border patrol agent in Montana. Two bills, introduced by Republican Representative Steve King of Iowa to the current 115th House of Representatives and Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma to the current Congress (2017-2018), are among many attempts to legislate English as the official language of the United States. Thus far, the bills are opposed by pro-immigrant legislators who believe that such laws are racist and discriminatory.

Hargraves argues that victors of economic, cultural, and World Wars tried to inflict their language on those they defeated. Representative Steven King forwarded the English-only directives of World War I era Iowa Governor William Harding who mandated English over German spoken by recent immigrants to the state of Iowa.

One does not have to look very far to witness the reaction to Hargraves’ article than the comment stream submitted by Visual Thesaurus subscribers that reveals the divisive nature of this topic.

How does an educator use Visual Thesaurus to infuse Banks (2016) five dimensions of multicultural education into their practices?

1. Content Integration – Read all viewpoints of the language debate such as Hargrave’s article to familiarize yourself with discriminatory legislative initiatives. I created an account on and clicked “Get Alerts” to track the progress of the legislation. By using Visual Thesaurus as a tool in the classroom, science teachers can include origins of weather words, such as tornado, from the Spanish word for thunderstorm “tronada” and “tonar“, to shake.
2. Knowledge Construction Process – Visual Thesaurus has a lesson plan section with topics such as Spanish-English Cognates in the ELL Classroom: Friends or Foes? Become inspired by reading other teacher’s plans to improve knowledge construction.
3. Prejudice Reduction – Visual Thesaurus has a setting to display five additional languages with the English entries (see Figure 1). This is helpful to ELL students and those in mainstream classes to be sensitive to language differences.

Figure 1. Language settings on Visual Thesaurus.
4. Equity Pedagogy – The VocabGrabber feature of Visual Thesaurus gives students the opportunity to copy and paste the words of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech into a text box (see Figure 2) to reveal the definitions of vocabulary in word web format. Instead of placing screenshots of the webs in a paper report, the images can be archived in a Google Keep document that becomes a student’s portfolio. Teachers can share this online portfolio with parents instead of physical bulletin boards where content might go unnoticed or removed at the end of a semester.

Figure 2. VocabGrabber feature on Visual Thesaurus.
5. Empowering School Culture and Social Structure – Teachers can share Visual Thesaurus with colleagues in informal or formal professional development settings. Educators who embrace multicultural education can share their knowledge regarding Visual Thesaurus with their peers to foster multicultural strategies.

Working toward parity,
Sharon Mistretta


Banks, J. A. (2016). Cultural diversity and education : Foundations, curriculum, and teaching (Sixth ed.). New York, NY ;Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Rutledge.

Hargraves, O. (2018). No spanish, please. we’re american. Retrieved from

Thinkmap. (2010). Spanish-english cognates in the ELL classroom – friends or foes? Retrieved from

This article was written by Dr. Sharon Mistretta

Sharon Mistretta is a Senior Instructor for the U.S. Satellite Endeavor STEM Teacher Education Program with a concentration in Coding, Robotics, and 1:1 Devices. Dr. Mistretta holds a Doctor of Education degree from Johns Hopkins University School of Education with a concentration in Instructional Design for Online Teaching and Learning. Her dissertation centers on Understanding Gender-Based Attitudes in STEM Environments. She received her M.A. in Computing in Education from Teachers College, Columbia University, and has over forty years’ experience in the field of Information Technology. With extensive programming and systems analysis experience, Dr. Mistretta brings an in-depth knowledge of coding techniques and the integration of technology into her teaching practices in Pre-K through graduate curricula.  She is at the forefront of utilizing project-based learning to integrate science and math topics through programming and robotics.  She coached her robotics team to a top thirty finalist status in the 2015 Google MoonBot competition. Currently, her Oasis Orbiters competes in FIRST Tech League events using the Tetrix and Android robotics platforms. As an instructor in STEM enrichment programs, Dr. Mistretta teaches programming to fourth through twelfth-grade students using Robot Virtual Worlds, Vex IQ ClawBot, Lego EV3, Finch, and Ozobot robots. In 2016, she achieved the Outstanding Technology Educator Award by North Jersey Media - The Record.

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