Exploiting the dictionary: quick mini-activities

Published on 13th May, 2010 in Teaching Tips by Frances Watkins

successDictionaries are a great tool in the classroom. I tend to use them as a way of rounding off or padding out a stage; catering for early finishers, rather than as a large ‘dictionary slot’ per se.

The suggestions below will hopefully serve as a reminder as to how you can incorporate work on lexis, using this extraordinarily valuable tool. In so doing, you not only provide students with skills to become more autonomous learners, you also teach them more about lexis, and practise different sub-skills of reading. Two suggestions have already been mentioned in an earlier tip, Catering for Early Finishers.

Choose a word from a text or the lesson in general:

• which collocates strongly with a given verb, noun, adjective or adverb. Students have to look up and locate the collocate(s), eg rain heavily; address / solve a problem, etc.
• which is associated with an idiom. Let’s say the word moon comes up in the lesson. You could put up the related expression: once in a blue moon. Ask students to predict what they think it means, before checking in a dictionary.
• which lends itself to work on word families and word stress, eg science, scientific, scientist. First elicit the different word classes, then ask them to predict the stress, before checking in a dictionary (show them how the dictionary illustrates this, if necessary).
• which has a useful word family members, eg if the word imagination has come up, elicit the possible options for the adjective form, presuming students probably do not know it. Then they check the dictionary. You could handle this (as well as some of the above ideas) as a pair race: the first ones to find imaginative shout the answer out!

For more examples, see next week’s tip.