Who Knew a Dictionary Could Bring So Much Joy?

I know what you’re thinking.  Who still uses an actual, physical dictionary?  After all, there are many good dictionaries readily available on the Internet and mobile devices.  I admit I use online and app dictionaries all the time.  Yet, there’s something about holding the physical book in your hands, perusing the guide words on each page, and the joy of discovering a word you’d never before come across.  Imagine my surprise when my tech-savvy fifth graders felt the same way.

Two weeks ago, tired of the same old spelling and vocabulary practice, I introduced my class to a game we call Dictionary Races.    Over twenty years ago, at the beginning of my teaching career, I used this game as a way to have my students practice alphabetical order and using guide words in a dictionary.  As a new teacher at the time, I’m pretty sure I found the idea in Mailbox Magazine, which at the time was my go to resource.  My students loved it then, and my fifth graders love it now.  So, once I “liberated” a few more dictionaries that I found not being used, we were ready to play.

To play, I partnered up students to share one dictionary. You could easily have students compete on their own, but I didn’t have enough dictionaries and they really enjoy partner games.  Then, I wrote a spelling word up on our whiteboard.  Students raced to locate the word.  Once located, the first team to find it read the definition and scored a point.  If we were using the same dictionaries, I would have the team locating the word first to also call out the page number.  Since we don’t have the same dictionaries, I make sure the winning team loudly reads the definition. We played until either time ran out, or we were out of words.  This could also be used to look up new content vocabulary as well.

My students were one hundred percent engaged with this activity.  No prep or worksheets involved.  I just needed a place to display each word and dictionaries.  There were groans when we ended the game for the day.  On the flip side, there were shouts of joy when I announced this week it was again time for Dictionary Races.  This time around more teams made the scoreboard. There was also more competition, and then bewilderment at how fast some teams could locate the word.

It’s amazing how something so simple as a race to find a word in a dictionary could spark so much excitement.  So, just remember that no matter how much we love our technology and want our students to be adept in using it, there’s still something to be said about going low-tech to create a sense of excitement in learning.






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