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Reference Materials #2: Dictionaries and Alphabets #2: Dictionary Basics

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Lesson Overview:

Having practiced putting words in alphabetical order, it’s now time to transfer those skills to a dictionary.  I find that many children have a hard time making this jump, so it’s a wise course of action to practice.  This lesson will step your kids through some very basic dictionary exercises.  Be sure to teach slowly and carefully, pointing out each of the dictionary’s features.  Then, let the children get to work using their newly acquired alphabet skills.

Lesson Plan:

Suggested Grades:



To practice alphabet skills in a children’s dictionary.

Suggested Time:

45-50 minutes

Success Criteria:

Students will correctly complete simple dictionary games/exercises.

Lesson Outline:

1. Introduction:

Ask students if they remember how being able to use the alphabet is like a key.  Today students will get a chance to practice using the alphabet by exploring basic parts and functions of a children’s dictionary.

2. Main:

Show the class a children’s dictionary.  Ask what a dictionary can be used for.  Be sure to mention:

  1. Definitions
  2. Spellings
  3. Parts of speech
  4. Common usage
  5. Pronunciation

But, before we can get to this information, we have to find the words!

To find a word in the dictionary:

  1. First, find the first letter.
  2. Second, find the first and second letters
  3. Third, find the first, second, and third letters, and so on.

Teach how to use Guide Words.

Students work with a partner to complete dictionary games/exercises.

3. Conclusion:

There is still more dictionary work to do, but hopefully you can now find the words in the dictionary by looking letter by letter.

  1. Class set of children’s dictionaries.
  2. Handout with dictionary exercises (attached, plus answer key).
  3. Pencils

I have found that it is very difficult for third-graders to locate words in the dictionary.  Even if they know the alphabet and letter order, they give up easily.  Common problems include:

  1. Not using guide words
  2. Turning too many or too few pages at a time
  3. Not being able to search for a word on a page, even if the guide words tell you that you are on the right page!
  4. Giving up too easily

In this lesson, the children can and should help one another, but they should not call out page numbers or show each other where the words are.  The goal is to get each child to think through the process of locating each word.

You must be careful to design the questions on your handout based on the dictionary you will be using.  I prefer the Scholastic Children’s Dictionary because it is illustrated, has the entire alphabet printed down the edge of each page, in both upper and lower cases, and highlights the main entries.

Recommended books for this lesson:

Scholastic Children’s Dictionary

Key Terms:

Alphabet, Alphabetize, Alphabetization, ABC Order, Dictionary, Dictionaries

Student Handout, Dictionary Basics

Answer Key, Dictionary Basics