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Reference Materials #3: Dictionaries and Alphabets #3: Word Wall

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Lesson Overview:

The students have reviewed alphabetical order and practiced using a dictionary, so now it is time to have a bit of fun using their new skills.  In this lesson, students use the dictionary to find interesting words.

Lesson Plan:

Suggested Grades:



Students will practice using the dictionary in a structured activity to create a class “Word Wall.”

Suggested Time:

45-50 minutes

Success Criteria:

Each student will select two words to submit to the word jar.  Each student will also draw two words from the word jar, define them, and, after sharing them with the class, post them to the class “Word Wall.”

Lesson Outline:

1. Introduction:

We’ve worked on putting words in alphabetical order and on using the dictionary, but words can be LOTS OF FUN.  Today we will play with words, and we will create a class “Word Wall.”

2. Main:

Give the children the following instructions:

Today we are going to play a word game.  This is how the game works:

  • Everyone will take two pieces of cut paper.
  • Using the dictionary, look for two words that you find interesting and that you think would be good “Grade 3” words. Don’t pick words that are too easy or too hard.  Try to pick something that you find interesting and a word that you think other kids would like to learn.  For example:  “harmony,” “sylvan,” or “synergy.”
  • Write the word, neatly, in large, darkly colored letters on the paper.
  • Put the paper in the disco hat (or word jar if you don’t have a hat.)
  • You have five minutes – GO!

After everyone submits two words, give these instructions:

  • Pull two words out of the disco hat (or word jar).  If you pull out your own word, return the word to the hat and make another selection.  You should have two words that were put into the hat by your classmates.
  • Using the dictionary, write the part of speech and the meaning of each word. Do this in regular pencil in your neatest handwriting.
  • Once you have written the definitions, we will take turns sharing our words to create a “Word Wall.”
  • You have ten minutes – GO!  (You’ll probably have to allow 15 minutes.)

Move around the classroom and help the kids locate their words.  Most will have trouble.

Once the kids have their definitions, try to split them into two groups for the sharing and posting.  Hopefully you will have another teacher or another assistant so that each student will get to come to the front, wear the disco hat, and present his or her words to the class.  Once the words have been presented, post them on the flipchart paper to make a “Word Wall.”  The “Word Wall” goes to the classroom as evidence of learning.

3. Conclusion:

Thank the children for their work and encourage them to continue to use the dictionary to find new words and to try to use their new words in everyday conversations.  Share a favorite word of your own!

  1. Pieces of paper, cut to a uniform size, approx. 15 cm. x 11 cm. (about ¼ of an A4 piece of paper).
  2. Colored pencils/pens.
  3. Regular pencils/pens.
  4. Set of Scholastic Children’s Dictionaries (or children’s dictionary of your choice.)
  5. Copy of Donovan’s Word Jar by Monalisa DeGross and Cheryl Hanna.
  6. Flipchart paper, divided into “bricks” into which the pieces of cut paper will fit.
  7. Other word-themed books such as:
    1. The Boy Who Loved Words by Roni Schotter and Giselle Potter.
    2. The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet.
    3. Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet.
  8. Silly hat. I like to use a sparkly, party top hat that I call a “disco hat.”  Usually you can pick these up at a party store for very little money.
  9. A large jar, pot, or box if you don’t have the hat.

Even though the students have practiced alphabetical order and have done a few dictionary exercises, I find that it is a big leap for them to be able to use a dictionary to look up words, at least in Grade 3.  Be prepared to offer a lot of help and many opportunities for practice.

Watch out, because this is almost always the lesson in which kids discover that, “there are bad words in the dictionary!”  Many of them have a grand epiphany when they come across the word “sex.”  Be sure to check your dictionaries.  Once I had a little girl stumble across the word “orgy.”  In some countries, the word “gay” may prove problematic.  Use your discretion, but some of these words have perfectly acceptable definitions.

You’ll note that I have listed Donovan’s Word Jar for this lesson, but not referred to it explicitly in the instructional plan.  Donovan’s Word Jar is a fabulous read-aloud about a boy who collect words just as his peers might collect rocks or marbles.  The chapter book has strong reviews, and it is a wonderful insight into the joy that comes from learning and sharing new words.  If you can, try to read a chapter or two in the next lesson.  I’ve found that this lesson sometimes runs long.  If you can’t work it into this lesson, perhaps open with a few chapters in the next lesson.

I have also had Grade 2 and 3 teachers use Donovan’s Word Jar with very positive results.  This is the perfect book, especially if students are keeping a vocabulary notebook or making their own dictionary of Unit of Inquiry words.

I’d like to offer a huge shout-out to the amazing Mrs. Meg Connors, formerly of the International School of Stuttgart, who designed this lesson first!  It was her idea and her plan.  I’ve simply slotted it into my library integration lessons.  Over the years, I have found that the Word Wall activity is a wonderful way to consolidate new alphabet and dictionary skills.  Thanks, Mrs. Connors!  You are awesome and I’ve never forgotten your passion in teaching young learners.  This one’s for you!

Recommended books for this lesson:
  1. Donovan’s Word Jar by Monalisa DeGross and Cheryl Hanna.
  2. The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet.
  3. Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet
  4. Scholastic Children’s Dictionary.
Key Terms:

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