Getting to Know Your Dictionary

Purpose:  To familiarize learners (low intermediate and above) with parts of a dictionary entry.  This activity would work especially well if a weekly spelling/vocabulary list is part of your instruction.

Note: Dictionaries are a great resource for tutors as well as for learners.  For example, the Longman Dictionary of American English defines words in simple language that students can understand.  It also uses each word in a sentence to aid comprehension.  Not sure how to explain a word to your students?  Check the learner dictionary!

Prep time:  10 minutes

Materials:  word list, class set of learners’ dictionaries

Prep:  Prepare several dictionary entries to use as examples.  Decide which features you’d like students to become familiar with.  It would be ideal to project the examples on the white board or use a transparency for easy viewing.


I do it (Tutor):           

Explain the purpose of the activity.

Have actual learners’ dictionaries on hand as visual aids.

Ask learners:   When and why do you use a dictionary?

                        What information can be found in a learner’s dictionary?

                        Elicit:   definitions/meanings of words

                                    grammar information


                                    (other features may be discovered in next steps)

Put an example of an entry on the overhead projector.  Initially, you might restrict yourself to 3-4 features.  Underline, circle and label the features.  For example: pronunciation


example of the word used in a sentence

grammar/part of speech

We do it (Tutor/learners together):

Do another example, this time asking learners to come up and label the different parts.

Hand out the dictionaries and look together at the section in the front that explains abbreviations, short forms and codes.  Highlight a few of these.

You do it (Learners working independently or in pairs)

Provide students with a list of vocabulary words or refer them to your word wall. Working with dictionaries, students look up each word, noting the definition, the grammar information, and one other piece of information about the word.

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