Fun with Dictionaries

You might think paper dictionaries are “serious” books that help us write our essays, but they can be used for fun language-learning and language-extension activities, too. Teachers and parents can try the following activities for intermediate to advanced learners of any age.

1. Dictionary Digging

To play this game, give a series of clues. As students hear the clues, they look for the word in the dictionary. The clues should be broad so that many words can be a correct answer. This game is fun because students enjoy finding more than one word to fit the clues and sharing their findings with each other. Example: Find a word that begins with “t”, has three syllables, has double letters, and is an adjective. There can be multiple correct answers. Do this under timed conditions. This activity helps develop phonetic and grammar knowledge.

2. Dictionary Comparison

Get two different dictionaries, for example, a learner’s English dictionary and a regular English dictionary. Select a word or series of words and look them up in both dictionaries. Ask the participants to state the differences between the two dictionaries and say why they are different. This activity helps participants to understand that different dictionaries have different functions and helps them determine which dictionary they find easier to use, or more appropriate for their own needs.

3. Make up New Words

Ask each student make up a new word (linguists call new words “neologisms”) and gives its definition. The new word is then put in an example sentence.  This is an interesting way to show if someone knows the “word formation” rules of the English language (how the vowels and consonants join up; the possible sound combinations).

Each can write his or her word and definition on a Post-it and put the Post-it in the appropriate place in the dictionary. In a group situation, a list of the new words and their definitions can be put together by the whole class. The inventor of the new word needs to explain the word orally to whoever is involved in the activity, whether a class or a parent.

Have fun learning with your dictionary!

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