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Sunday, February 26, 2017

For the love of words

Due to the volume of students wanting to borrow dictionaries from the Learning Commons, during every exam period, we have been discussing the validity of why we include a paper dictionary on the booklist for all our Year 7 students. There is an assumption that if something is put on the booklist then it is used and valued by both teachers and students to enhance learning. But the students wanting to borrow these dictionaries have gone months, if not years without using them. How useful are dictionaries in a 21st Century classroom?

Most of our secondary students use computing devices all the way through their high school years with access to online dictionaries, grammar checkers and thesaurus, and yet we force them to purchase a dictionary in Year 7 that often ends up in the bin or lost. What is the educational value in a physical copy of this resource? Is the paper dictionary dying? Do students still use dictionaries or has Grammarly replaced the role of the dictionary?

The argument for keeping the dictionary on the booklist was made by one teacher, justifying that "we teach students how to read paper maps, therefore we should teach them how to use paper dictionaries". But further investigation with the Geography teachers reveals that paper map reading skills are slowly slipping away and being replaced by GPS coordinates and Google Maps. Online dictionaries are instantaneous, we can hear the words and there are many avenues for exploration once we have finished reading the word that we have looked up. But is this multi-focus environment beneficial when we are trying to increase our vocabulary or understanding? Barbara Ann Kipfer gives us 9 reasons why print dictionaries are better than the electronic ones in the classroom.

Using dictionaries as a regular tool in the classroom as part of a structured learning activity has the capacity to increase vocabulary range, build word acquisition skills by providing guidelines on pronunciation and use, engage students in linguistic understanding by showing the origin of the word and synonyms. But are these skills valued by teachers and what skills do we implicitly teach vocabulary and grammar into our classes to increase the range and understanding of our student's understanding?

Here are five ideas on how to build a love of vocabulary and understanding of words into your classes, regardless of whether it is a paper or electronic dictionary.
  1. Test your vocabulary
    Merriam-Webster has some great online games to increase your knowledge of words and expose you to new words. Of course, students can be exposed to new vocabulary by regularly engaging in recreational reading.
  2. Word of the day
    Lots of "word of the day" websites on the internet, this one shows you citations using the word of the day so that you can build contextual understanding.
  3. Grammar Girl
    Podcasts and other tools to improve your grammar.
  4. Lexipedia
    Shows synonyms in a visual brainstorm to increase your vocabulary.
  5. Doing it differently: Tips for teaching Vocabulary.
    A discussion about new ways to teach vocabulary. Look for online tools such as Vocabgrabber.

Further Reading: