Teaching Dictionary Skills

Valorie Delp
Dictionary skills are important.

All you need for teaching dictionary skills is a dictionary and a notebook. While dictionary skills generally are not difficult for students to grasp, they are essential as learning how to use a dictionary will make researching in general easier.

Teaching Dictionary Skills

You should start teaching dictionary skills around third or fourth grade, as soon as your student is reading well independently. Before you start dictionary skills, however, you'll need to make sure that your child can alphabetize well. Make sure that your student knows all the rules for alphabetization, including what to do when two words start with the same letters.

Guide Words

One of the most valuable skills your child can learn is how to use the guidewords on the page. It's much easier to learn to use guidewords than it is to skim pages. A great exercise to practice this is to use your child's vocabulary and have him write down the guidewords on the page where the vocabulary word is found.

Reading a Dictionary Entry

A dictionary entry has several parts. It lists the syllabic divisions in a word, the pronunciation, the part of speech, and of course the definition. Teach your child how to identify each of these components of a dictionary entry. A great way to do this is to assign your child a few words that he does not know and have him look them up. Have him show the syllables, list the part of speech and then of course write the definition is his own words.

Of course the best way to help your child understand how to truly use a dictionary is to encourage him to look up a word when he asks you what the word means. Encouraging your child to use the dictionary, even when it may be easier to simply answer, puts valuable skills to a pragmatic use.

Dictionary Activities

While you're working on teaching those valuable dictionary skills try some fun activities to take the monotony out of learning how to use the dictionary.

Scavenger Hunt

You can use a pre-made scavenger hunt, but you can also create your own asking questions like:

  • What is the second entry on page 183?
  • What are the guidewords on the page where you find beaver?
  • What page is the word gigantic on?

You can include questions that pertain to the vocabulary you're studying or throw in a few random questions here and there on a daily basis until your child is a pro at using the dictionary.

Connection to Literature: The Frindle

The Frindle, by Andrew Clements is a book about a boy who starts to question how it is that words come into being. As a result, the word "frindle" is born and nothing is ever the same again. If you are studying dictionary skills for awhile, it may be worth reading this book out loud and leading your student into a discussion on how exactly words, particularly slang words, do get into the dictionary.

Visit Word Central

Mirriam Webster's kids' site, Word Central is a great place to continue learning how to use the dictionary. With a few games and a kid friendly format, it can be something you incorporate weekly into your language arts routine. There is also a section for educators that gives great ideas and lesson plans for taking your dictionary study a little further.

Dictionary Skills

Dictionary skills should be a part of your language arts study, particularly in the upper elementary years. Mastering dictionary skills is important, not only because the dictionary itself is important but also because it is an introduction into the world of reference materials. Most, if not all, reference materials are organized not only alphabetically but also by guidewords. Learning how to use these valuable features will only serve to further your students research and writing skills.

Teaching Dictionary Skills