Glossing - Pedagogical considerations

What is in a gloss? Glosses are many kinds of attempts to supply what is perceived to be deficient in a reader's procedural or declarative knowledge.

According to Hullen (1989), glosses were once of three types: synonyms, encyclopedic comments, and grammatical notes.

Blohm (1982) coined the term gloss paraphrase, which he defined as "a type of reader-activated superimposed intratext notation that replaces abstractly-composed text content with concrete referents to promote readers' cognition".

More examples of a gloss "by any other name" are: adjunct aids (Otto & White, 1982), metanotes (Wolfe, 1990), metatext (Lantolf, Labarca, & den Tuinder, 1985), and paratext (Genette, 1987). Oxford (1995) provides many possibilities under the rubric of assistance: "error correction... a useful learning strategy... a full explanation, a schematic/partial explanation... a leading question... a pictorial representation of a verbal expression... a cooperative learning activity... an encouraging word at just the right moment".

Electronic glosses can take many forms. Online (hyper) glosses can be in the form of video, sound, or pictures. Icons, a type of picture, have also been used as glosses.

WHY HyperGloss?

Pedagogical considerations

There are two important implications:

  • Increased efficiency - learners can read passages containing electronic annotations significantly faster than they can read non-enhanced versions of the same passages. This is strong support for their inclusion in both print and online materials. (Roby, 1999)
  • Ease-of-access of online annotations. In a study, Aust, Kelley & Roby (1993) coined the term "consultation trigger point" to refer to the finding that the subjects looked up significantly more words in electronic conditions.

Pedagogically, 'click happy' behavior should be discouraged, but the online provision of comprehension aids would appear to lessen the disruption of the reading process caused by conventional dictionary look-ups.

Taxonomy of Glosses

Addapted from Roby (1999)

It is not claimed that these arrangements are definitive. An important point is that glosses can be much more than just translations or explanations of "hard words."

I.   Gloss authorship
    A.  Learners
    B.  Professionals
	   1.  Instructors
	   2.  Materials developers
II.   Gloss presentation
	A.  Priming
	B.  Prompting
III.  Gloss functions
	A.  Procedural
	   1.  Metacognitive
	   2.  Highlighting
	   3.  Clarifying
	B.  Declarative
	   1.  Encyclopedic
	   2.  Linguistic
	     a.  Lexical
	       i.  Signification
	       ii.  Value
	     b.  Syntactical
IV.  Gloss focus
	A.  Textual
	B.  Extratextual
V.   Gloss language
	A.  L1
	B.  L2
	C.  L3
VI.  Gloss form
	A.  Verbal
	B.  Visual
	   1.  Image
	   2.  Icon
	   3.  Video
	     a.  With sound
	     b.  Without sound
	C.  Verbal + Visual

Technical Considerations

Three kinds of variables are certainly factors to consider: (a) text type, (b) learner level, and (c) outcome measures. There are many implementation issues to weigh in the building of pedagogical materials. The proposed taxonomy applies to the kinds of information that is provided. Other parts of the "how" question are interface design and screen layout.

How can readers be signaled that glosses are available?
Dependant on the text formatting - boldface type, underline, highlighting, colours (as an online reading variable: many and/or different colours may inhibit the reader), small icons, instructions at beginning.
Where should the glosses be displayed?
i) A possibility is to dedicate a portion of the screen as a gloss space. For example, all glosses could appear in the lower right corner in a box.

ii) Pop-up boxes, which are positioned so that they do not cover up the portion of the text in which a glossed word is found. In this way users can read the gloss and the glossed word''s context together.

How much to gloss?
While it is technically possible to attach a wealth of information to a text, this does not mean that it is prudent to do so. By excessive glossing, however, there is a danger of overwhelming learners.

Some Limitations

  • Demanding for beginning developers/instructors.
  • It is time and effort consuming
  • Consider online reading variables: with hypermedia-annotated text, readers may proceed "globally, rather than linearly".
  • Cross-browser compatibility issues


  1. Aust, R., Kelley, M. J., & Roby, W. B. (1993). The use of hyper-reference and conventional dictionaries. Educational Technology Research & Development, 41, 63-73.
  2. Blohm, P. J. (1982). Computer-aided glossing and facilitated learning in prose recall. In J. A. Niles & L. A. Harris (Eds.), New inquiries in reading research and instruction: Thirty-first yearbook of the National Reading Conference (pp. 24-28). Rochester, NY: National Reading Conference.
  3. Hullen, W. (1989). In the beginning was the gloss. In G. James (Ed.), Lexicographers and their works (pp. 100-116). Exeter, UK: University of Exeter.

So, what can be glossed?

In simple words, what can be glossed (in HotPotatoes exercises too) is

1. Text glossed with:
  • text
  • image/icon
  • audio/video
  • combination of these
2. Images glossed with:
  • text
  • audio/video
  • image/icon (if appropriate)
  • combination of these

Let's look more closely at Glosses in Hotpotatoes:


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