Using the Dictionary to Support Vocabulary Learning
Stage of Literacy Development:
Stage 3: Literacy for Growth
1. Choose 7-12 vocabulary words from a current content area unit
2. Create a passage that incorporates all of these vocabulary words and make enough copies for each student
3. Make a transparency of the passage to display on a screen using an overhead projector
4. Make copies of the What Does That Word Mean worksheet for each student
5. Ensure you have a class set of dictionaries
1. Hand out copies of the passage containing the vocabulary words to every student
2. Model the think-aloud process of choosing words in the passage to look up in the dictionary
a. Find a vocabulary word that you are unsure of the meaning of
b. Advise students to look to the context to determine the meaning of the word
c. If you cannot determine the word by the context, tell students to look up the word in a dictionary
• Look up the word in the dictionary and read aloud the definition
d. If the word has more than one definition, choose the one that makes the most sense in the passage
3. Divide students up into small groups of 3-4 and assign them several words from the passage to look up
a. 2 students can look up the team’s selected words
b. 1 student can act as a recorder and write down the meaning of the words
c. After each word, the students should change roles to ensure each individual has an
opportunity to practice using the dictionary
4. Congregate as a whole class and have each small group of students challenge their peers to guess the meaning of the words they looked up
a. Assign points to the groups that guessed correctly
b. Have students share the actual dictionary definition
English Language Learners/ESL:
- Pair vocabulary words with pictures - Pair/Group ELL students with stronger students who can model the process for them
LD/Reading & Writing Difficulties:
- Create a simplified dictionary of all the words and allow students to use this instead of a regular dictionary - Allow students to use a dictionary website to find the meanings of the words
- Allow students to draw a picture of the meaning of the word - Prepare pictures that illustrate the meaning of a word along with a sentence using the word in context - Bold the vocabulary words to help students identify them more easily in the passage
Graves, M. F. (2006) The Vocabulary Book: Learning & Instruction. New York, NY: Teachers College Press, International Reading Association, and National Council of Teachers of English.
Miller, G.A. and Gildea, P.M. (1987). How children learn words. Scientific American, 257 (3), 86-91.
The goal of What Does That Word Mean?: Using the Dictionary to Support Vocabulary Learning? is to give students practice using the dictionary to find the meaning of a word while learning vocabulary that will be used in a content area unit.
What You Need
30 minutes - Choose vocabulary words from an upcoming science or social studies unit - Construct a passage containing all the vocabulary words - Make copies of the passage for each student - Make a transparency of the passage and prepare an overhead projector - Make copies of the What Does That Word Mean worksheet for each student - Assemble a class set of dictionaries
60 minutes - Teacher hands out copies of the passage with the chosen vocabulary words - Teacher models think-aloud strategy when choosing words and looking them up in the dictionary - Students practice looking up the remaining words in the passage in small groups - As a whole class, each small group of students challenge their peers to guess the meaning of the words they looked up - Students share the definitions of the vocabulary words with their peers
Teacher: - A list of vocabulary words used in a content area unit - Overhead projector - A transparency of passage containing all the vocabulary words
Students: - One copy of the passage per 3-4 students - What Does That Word Mean worksheets - Dictionaries
Optional: - A computer with internet access to look up some words that may not be in a dictionary
What You Do
Direct instruction: - when modeling how to look up words in the dictionary
Consultant: - when students are looking up definitions in the dictionary in small groups
Supporter: - when students are challenging their peers to guess the meaning of the vocabulary words and sharing the definitions they found with the whole class
Whole class: - during modeling and when sharing definitions with the whole class
Small groups: - during both sessions
- Assess how students are using the dictionaries in their small groups to look up vocabulary words
- Throughout the unit, have students choose their own vocabulary words and create a personalized dictionary
- Use the vocabulary words from the unit of study to play charades or Pictionary as a form of test review
- This activity reminds students that the dictionary is an important tool for reading and writing and helps them develop the habit of using the dictionary rather than asking the teacher for the meaning of vocabulary words.
- This is a great activity for pre-teaching vocabulary to ELL students.
- Use this activity in conjunction with other activities to create a rich network of understanding for each vocabulary word.