How to Teach the topic 'USING A DICTIONARY' in Form One.

Welcome to UNIT 5:1! 

Review: Previously in Unit 4:0, we discussed about various topics such as ‘Stating Directions (Form I), ‘Talking about elections (Form II), ‘Reading intensively for Comprehension’ (Form III), and ‘Listening for main ideas and taking notes (Form IV).  

In this first Unit (5:1) of UNIT 5:0, we will learn how to teach the sub topic, Using a Dictionary’ in Form One. In this sub topic, we will practically use dictionary and focus on how to guide students to productively use the dictionaries in finding the meaning and other related aspects of a dictionary.

2. Sub Topic: No Sub topic.
3. Periods per sub topic: 06
4: Class: Form One.

The main objective of this sub topic is to enable students to be able to use dictionaries effectively for obtaining meanings and spellings of words and beyond that. It is a good idea if every student is encouraged to have or to come with a dictionary of any kind when a teacher teaches this lesson. If the school has some copies, they should be supplied to those who will not afford to have their own dictionaries. It is even more comfortable to ask parents to buy dictionaries for their children because at secondary school level, English language is the most challenging and yet important subject.


The teacher and students brainstorm on how to get meanings of difficult words and the uses of dictionary. Traditionally, students should be guided to use dictionary effectively by following the guiding statements like:
Dictionary entry will always have the information like this:
  •   The Meaning: What is the meaning of the word ‘approve’?
  •   The word ‘approve’ means……………..
  •   The Part of Speech: It is a verb form of the word ‘approval’.
  •   Approve’ refers to ………………..
  •   The Opposite of the Word: The opposite of ‘approve’ is ‘disapprove’.
  •   Various Meanings: The word ‘approve’ has a number of meanings.
      The following illustration shows various information contained in the single dictionary entry:

Steps of Dictionary Use
To use dictionaries effectively, the students should be introduced to the following information so that they are well engaged in various dictionary learning activities:
As a teacher,
  •   Ask the children what a dictionary is for and what it enables us to find out. The teacher guides the students to brainstorm on the meaning and what does a dictionary mean to a student.
  •   Ensure that the students are aware of the alphabetical sequence of a dictionary. Also brainstorm with the students on the arrangement or appearance of the dictionary. This will make them aware of the contents of the dictionary.
  •   Test their understanding by displaying several groups of letters or words in a random order on the blackboard. Gradually increase the complexity of the arrangement of the groups of letters or words. For example, you may write these letters randomly (e, f, g, h, i, j) and let them rearrange them alphabetically. Also write the words like these randomly (butter, batter, beast, brilliant) and allow the students individually or in groups arrange them in alphabetical order. This activity will help students experience the real arrangement of the dictionaries.
  •   Introduce the dictionaries. Ask the students to find the definitions of a number of words (reinforcing facts already discussed).
  •   Introduce a timer to increase the speed of processing. You may set a timer or a stopwatch to make sure they keep up with time as they search for the words in the dictionaries.
  •   Ensure the students fully understand the layers of explanation offered in the dictionary, including word class information (See Activity 2 below).
  •   Discuss meanings and broaden the discussion to include, for example, synonyms (words that mean similar things) and comparison of powerful adjectives (eg joyful, elated, glad) or verbs (run, dash, dart, hurtle, scarper) and so on. Explore the impact word choice has upon meaning. (See Activity 2 below). 
The students should be guided on how to sue the dictionary to find the precise meaning and usage of words. The aim of this activity is help students be able to do the following:
1. To be familiar with the layout and purpose of the dictionary.
2. To understand the form and function of alphabetical order and be able to find words using alphabetical order up to the third or fourth character.
3. To understand how dictionary definitions are organized. Here is another example of an entry. It contains; 
  1. Entry word; 
  2. Pronunciation, 
  3. Part of speech, 
  4. First definition; 
  5. First example; 
  6. Second definition; and 
  7. Second example:
The students should also be taught how to apply the following dictionary elements in finding the words in the dictionary: These elements are explained below:
  1.    Entry word. This shows how the word is spelled and divided into syllables for some dictionaries. It also shows variant spellings. 
  2.    Pronunciation. Phonetic symbols and diacritical marks show how to pronounce the entry word. Some of the phonetic symbols appear on every first page of a dictionary.
  3.    Part-of-speech-label. This tells us how the entry word is used. When a word can be used as than one part of speech, definitions are grouped by part of speech. For example, increase as (vi) and (vt).
  4.    Other forms. Sometimes the spellings of plural forms of nouns, principal parts of verbs and comparative and superlative forms of adjectives and adverbs are shown.
  5.    Word origin. (Etymology). This shows where he word comes from. Some words come from Middle English, some come from Latin and so on. Thus, some dictionaries tend to give out this information.
  6.    Definitions. If a word has more than one meaning, the meanings are numbered or lettered.
  7.    Special-usage labels. These labels identify special meanings or special uses of the word. Here, archaic indicates an out-dated meaning. In some dictionaries, a word can be labelled ‘Law’ because it is mostly found in the field of law.
  8.    Examples. Phrases or sentences show how the entry word is used.
  9.    Related word forms. Other forms of the entry word are listed. Usually these are created by the addition of suffixes. The illustration below shows some simple forms of prefixes and suffixes:
    Photo: Via
  10.    Synonyms and antonyms. Synonyms (words similar in meaning) and antonyms (words opposite in meaning) may appear at the end of the entry. This illustration below shows some synonyms and antonyms:

Photo: Via

Later, the teacher can help the students to practice making use of dictionaries to obtain meanings, pronunciations, spellings and other usages.

He can also introduce students to the correct usage of IPA symbols in a dictionary to obtain correct pronunciations of words through variety of pronunciation drills. The following are some IPA Symbols found in a dictionary: Vowels and Consonants.
Photo: Via

The teacher should also diagnose students’ pronunciation problems and design activities to solve the problems.

Here are the activities which a teacher can use to engage students in dictionary tasks and make them effective users of the dictionaries. In these activities, a teacher can choose those that suit his or her class. They are not arranged in procedural series, so a teacher can choose which activity to be the first provided that if two activities are used, a teacher should make sure that they first complements the second. When what is supposed to be the first becomes the last, students can get confused and the contents delivery cannot be smooth. Here are some of them:

Activity 1: Focus on phonology
This activity highlights the usefulness of a good dictionary in determining the correct pronunciation of a word. It assumes learners already have some knowledge of phonemic script and that the teacher's pronunciation is close to the dictionary form. The steps are as follows:
  •   Teacher selects some key words that are important for the lesson and writes them on the board.
  •   Learners look up the pronunciation in their dictionaries.
  •   Teacher pronounces each of the key words in two ways: one is correct and the other is incorrect. Learners use the phonemic spelling to guess which one is right. They get a point for each correct answer.
  •   In the feedback stage, the teacher drills correct pronunciation and answers any questions.
  •   Conclusion. Then a teacher can conclude an activity by emphasizing the importance of pronunciation in English language.
Activity 2: Speedy Word Search.
In this game, a teacher can play with the students as follows:
  1. First, a teacher gives each student or pair of students a dictionary.
  2. Second, he/she calls out a word, and the student(s) must find the word as quickly as possible.
  3. Lastly, the first person to call out the correct page number wins the round.
This would be a good one to do in teams; everyone has his or her own dictionary, but the winner wins a point for the whole team rather than individually.
Activity 3: Mystery Word Game.
To play this game, the students are given a series of clues. When they hear the clues, they look for the word in the dictionary. For Example:  Clues: I begin with the fourth letter of the alphabet. My second letter is an “o.” I am one syllable long. I can protect you at night and hunt for you. (The answer is ‘dog’).
Tell the students more exercises and clues to find the correct words in the dictionaries: Here are some examples a teacher can give his/her students:
  1.  My first word begins with “h”. It is something we wear and it is one syllable word. (The answer is “hat”).
  2.  My second word ends with “th”. It begins with the second letter in the English alphabet. Without doing it, our body looks bad. (The answer is “bath”).
  3.  My third word has the letters “ctu” in the middle. It is something we like to do when we have cameras. (The answer is “picture”).
  4. My fourth word ends with “fe”. It is an object used to cut objects. (The answer is “Knife”).
  5.  My fifth word begins with “Lo”. It is something that carries heavy loads. It is driven. (The answer is “Lorry”).
Activity 4. Keeping a Notebook of New Words.
In learning foreign language like English, some activities should not be ignored. One of them is to have each student keep a notebook of new words. This is a nice activity to do daily or a few times a week. It is also good for handwriting practice. Each day, each student finds a word in the dictionary that he does not know. He then writes the word, the definition, and an original sentence using the word in his notebook. An illustration would make a nice addition. Have students share their words with at least one other person.
Activity 5. Making Up New Words.
In this activity, students are asked student to make up a new word and a definition. Have each student write his or her word and definition. A teacher can have manila papers and stick them somewhere where students can stick their new words and in a appropriate place as the dictionary of the class. Make a class list of the new words and their definitions. Challenge the class to use the words in everyday conversation. A teacher can use a form like this to help students form their own words by using their experience of using a dictionary:
A Photo Via:

6: CONNECTION: Beyond the Sub Topic. In this topic, students can develop various skills including; Outlining skills, Sentence Writing skills, and to be independent dictionary user. Apart from that, students can generally improve their spoken and written English through effective use of the dictionaries.

7: NOTE: learning Dictionary Use is important for Secondary school students especially Form One Students. Teachers should not neglect dictionary work. Like pronunciation, it is a natural part of any course that needs to have an appropriate focus and allocation of time.
By encouraging the intelligent and self-guided use of dictionaries, learners become more independent, and as teachers this is one of our core goals.
Parents, guardians and students should also be encouraged to have dictionaries of their own so as to make learning process even easier.

Check out how to Study & Teach other Form One Sub Topics in this Blog!
And many more from ‘O’ Level English Blog!

Also check out how to Study & Teach the following Form Two Sub Topics in this Blog!
And many more from ‘O’ Level English Blog!


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