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Now there's a way to fight hunger and improve your vocabulary. There's an Internet game that's becoming all the rage for school children, foreigners learning English and some people who should otherwise be working. It's called FreeRice.com.

NPR's Michele Kelemen explains what it's all about.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Indiana computer programmer John Breen says the idea came to him one day in the kitchen, when he was sitting with his two teenage sons, trying to help the older one learn vocabulary to get ready for the SATs.

Mr. JOHN BREEN (Computer Programmer, FreeRice.com): And the younger one made a mockery of the whole situation. You know, he kept saying, oh, he doesn't know this word, he doesn't that word. So I decided to do something on the computer to help my son learn vocabulary words.

KELEMEN: He came up with a word game that he thought others might like to play on the Internet. And since Breen already had started a Web site called Poverty.com to inform people about hunger, he decided to combine these very different projects of his. Out came FreeRice.com.

Mr. BREEN: You have four definitions for each word. And if you click on the right definition, then we donate 20 grains of rice to the United Nations World Food Programme, who distributes it in different countries in the world.

Mr. MICHAEL HUGHES (English Teacher): Can you read that? Oh, that's a great word. Stress.

Unidentified Child: (unintelligible)

Mr. HUGHES: Everybody listen. Ennui.

Unidentified Group: Ennui.

Mr. HUGHES: Everybody, ennui.

Unidentified Group: Ennui.

KELEMEN: English teacher Michael Hughes puts up the Web site on a large interactive screen, and uses the game to warm up his classes at Alice Deal Middle School in Washington, D.C.

Mr. HUGHES: Let's do another one.

Unidentified Group: Bovine. Bovine. Bovine.

Mr. HUGHES: Bovine.

Unidentified Child: (unintelligible)

Mr. HUGHES: How do you know that?

Unidentified Group: (unintelligible)

Mr. HUGHES: Go for it. Sometimes you're right.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. HUGHS: Good job.

KELEMEN: His class raised 280 grains of rice during a short session - not enough for a daily ration for a starving child abroad, but World Food Program's spokeswoman Jennifer Parmelee says it all adds up.

Ms. JENNIFER PARMELEE (Spokeswoman, U.N. World Food Programme): FreeRice is up to more than 8.2 billion grains of rice, which is one heck of a lot of rice. And it's more than enough to feed 325,000 people for a day.

KELEMEN: The way it works is that the Web site earns money from advertising and gives cash to WFP. $100,000 has already gone to buy rice to feed survivors of a recent cyclone in Bangladesh. Parmelee says the Web site offers a greater gift - the gift of awareness about world hunger. In just two months, FreeRice.com has become the driver of most Internet traffic to WFP's Web site.

Ms. PARMELEE: We're all kind of dazzled by the power of a great idea, an idea that seems to come completely out of left field.

KELEMEN: Back in Indiana, John Breen says he's hired a dictionary company to put some more words in the game, which adjusts as you're playing to different levels from zero to fifty.

Mr. BREEN: So I myself can't get much above level 45. And it's very rare that people get above level 48. But there are some people who just cruise right up to level 50. So for them, we're going to add some super, really ultra-tough words.

KELEMEN: So a quick question about your son. How did he do on his SATs?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BREEN: He hasn't taken them yet.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KELEMEN: But his vocabulary's getting better?

Mr. BREEN: His vocabulary has improved markedly, and so is his younger brother's.

KELEMEN: Breen says he's been getting e-mails from all over the world from people trying to learn English, to teachers and college students. And he's hoping they take away something more than just a few new words.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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