Plunging markets are always scary, but they also create great investment opportunities for those who are brave enough to reach out for them. Below, you'll find three smart ways to put your money to work to take advantage of markets in turmoil without losing your nerve in the face of market volatility.

1. Dividend growth stocks
If you want income from your portfolio, finding investment opportunities in stocks that pay dividends is your best bet right now. Although bond investments have provided strong total returns in recent years, most of those returns have come from price-gains related to falling interest rates. Looking forward, a potential reversal of rate declines could lead to a substantial drop in bond prices, hurting investors who jump in now.

By contrast, you can find many lucrative opportunities in dividend stocks. But rather than focusing on the highest yield you can find -- which often backfires when those companies slash their payouts -- look instead at stocks that have consistently grown their dividends over time. Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG) just raised its dividend by 7%, marking the 57th consecutive year that the company has made an increase to its payout rate. Office-products conglomerate 3M (NYSE:MMM) has almost as impressive a streak of 55 years of annual dividend increases, with its own 8% raise back in February. Sticking with proven winners like these stocks is a great way to appease your fears of investing near all-time stock market highs.

2. Low-volatility stocks
Another place where investors have a golden opportunity to protect their portfolios is in stocks whose price movements are less extreme than the market average. Studies have shown that low-volatility stocks actually provide better returns than their high-volatility counterparts, going against conventional wisdom that says that higher risk always yields higher potential return.

One sector with a good opportunity for investment right now is the pharmaceutical industry. In particular, Merck (NYSE:MRK) has done a good job of weathering its patent storm and developing promising new drugs for its pipeline, with a solid dividend going well together with its stable stock price. Similarly, AbbVie (NYSE:ABBV) is still getting used to its status as an independent company, but even with the challenge of going beyond its blockbuster Humira to build up its long-term prospects, the company has a stable of other drugs that could help it deliver good results in the future.

3. Value-priced tech company stocks
One of the biggest investment opportunities lately has been in beaten-down technology stocks. For instance, microprocessor giant Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) faces the monumental task of moving beyond the PC to bolster its nascent line of mobile chips. But its earnings multiple of just 10 reflects skepticism that the company has any prospects for future growth. As challenging as getting into the mobile market may be for Intel, investors are getting a margin of safety from the company. You can find similar bargains among several beaten-down big tech companies due to overall pessimism about the industry's prospects -- pessimism that may prove unfounded.

Seize the opportunities
Investing in a roller-coaster market makes even the best investors nervous. But capitalizing on investment opportunities that market declines present gives you the best chance at maximizing your returns over the long run.

Fool contributor Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. You can follow him on Twitter @DanCaplinger. The Motley Fool recommends 3M, Intel, and Procter & Gamble. The Motley Fool owns shares of Intel. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.