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30 October 2012

Using Dictionary Entries Creatively


When I was a kid, I always asked my mom how to spell a word I didn't know. If I ever asked my dad, he'd say, "Look it up [in the dictionary]!" And my mom always just told me how to spell it. It seemed silly to me (as an elementary and middle school student) to search through a dictionary to find a word that I didn't know how to spell. I think my exact response was, "But if I don't know how to spell it, how can I look it up?!?!" Even at a young age, I was fighting with the illogical spelling of English words. That said, now I'm not a bad speller, despite my whining and utter refusal to learn spelling "rules." (i after e except after c? double the letter when adding -ing with some words but not others?? I wasn't buying it...)

I recognize now, as a teacher, how wise my father was with his encouraging my sister and I to use a dictionary for our questions. I am so comfortable using a dictionary, I used to take it for granted, but as an ESL teacher, I realize how difficult they are to use, especially for students with different alphabets (or no alphabet!) in their native languages. That is why I believe it's important to incorporate as much dictionary work as possible into class work.

Today I'd like to share an easy way to get students used to looking and reading dictionary entries. It is also a good way to teach/enforce word parts (suffix, root, prefix). Before I use this with students, I will do a few dictionary lessons and practice activities, so that they know what they're looking at. For more advanced students who already have a working knowledge of dictionaries, you may be able to skip this step. However, I never assume a student can decipher an entry...

 
First, I take dictionary entries and cut them into slips for each word. This includes the word, pronunciation, part of speech, whether or not it is an academic word, and the definitions (I like to include all definitions, unless they're really long). I use ESL dictionary entries, as they are made specifically for our students.
 
When choosing which words to use, I like to focus on prefixes, suffixes, and roots. I try to get a variety, which means I may have 2-4 entries with the parts that we've been exposed to from any readings or listenings we're encountered. For example: pre- (see above), -tion (see below), -cre-, ex-, phon-, or whatever you'd like to use, really. How how many word parts you want the students exposed to or how many students you have will determine how many entries to make. My higher level students usually have 15-20 students, so I have made a lot. This allows me to vary the entries I'm using.

After you have your entries, you can be really creative in how you use them in the classroom. The first thing I did with a group was to give each student a slip and have them find somebody who had the same prefix or suffix or root as he/she did. Then they would have to identify how they matched, i.e. they have the same suffix (for prediction and creation, -tion) or same root (for incredible and credit, -cred-). After they have told me how they match, they move onto the next activity or whatever I want them to do. After getting students exposed to this method, I then use it as a way to partner them up. This takes out the decision making from the students or myself--it's random. AND they're getting accustomed to reading dictionary entries!

Now I am the one saying, "Look it up in the dictionary!"

I will post more later about different dictionary activities, but this one is fun and creative. Does anybody else utilize this method? Something similar? I'd love to hear new ideas!