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Exploring a Dictionary

Lesson Plan

Exploring a Dictionary


Students will explore craft and structure through the use of a dictionary. Students will:

  • review when and how to use a dictionary.
  • use a dictionary to find definitions, syllabication, parts of speech, synonyms, and antonyms.
  • distinguish literal from nonliteral meaning.
  • identify affixes to support in determining the meaning of an unknown word.

Essential Questions

  • How do we think while reading in order to understand and respond?
  • Why learn new words?
  • What strategies and resources do I use to figure out unknown vocabulary?
  • How do learners develop and refine their vocabulary?


  • Literal: The true or given meaning of a word.
  • Nonliteral: A figurative or metaphorical meaning of a word.
  • Synonym: A word that has the same or almost the same meaning as another word.
  • Antonym: A word that has the opposite meaning of another word.


1–2 hours/2–4 class periods

Prerequisite Skills

Prerequisite Skills haven't been entered into the lesson plan.


  • Merriam-Webster Children’s Dictionary. DK Publishing, 2008.
  • Scholastic Children’s Dictionary. Scholastic Reference, 2010.
  • The American Heritage Children’s Dictionary. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009.
  • student copies of the Dictionary Scavenger Hunt worksheet (L-3-2-1_Dictionary Scavenger Hunt.doc). You may need to adjust the scavenger hunt based on the number of dictionaries available.
  • a list of 15 to 20 grade-appropriate content-related words for students to look up in the Dictionary Race game. (You may wish to have varying lists based on students’ skill levels.)
  • stopwatch for Dictionary Race
  • chart paper
  • quick-assessment chart on a sheet of chart paper (Write one student’s name or number in each box. The boxes need to be large enough to accommodate a sticky note. Post the chart so that students can stick their answer notes in their name box.)
  • student copies of the Word Cards worksheet (L-3-2-1_Word Cards.doc)

The goal of this lesson is to provide students with an opportunity to explore and practice working with a dictionary. The above dictionaries were selected because they are easy to use. Alternative resources should include grade-level dictionaries. Suggested titles include the following:

  • Macmillan Dictionary for Children. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2007.
  • Thorndike-Barnhart Junior Dictionary by E. L. Thorndike and Clarence L. Barnhart. Scott Foresman, 1992.
  • Teachers may substitute other books to provide a range of reading and level of text complexity.

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Related Materials & Resources

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Formative Assessment

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    The goal of this lesson is to reinforce and expand students’ dictionary skills. The activities are designed to build on students’ understanding of how to use a dictionary to increase their understanding of text. Through observation and anecdotal notes, assess each student’s progress. Use the following activity to determine which students have met the goal:

    • Give students a word to look up in the dictionary and find the following information for the word:
      • number of definitions
      • number of syllables
      • part of speech
      • an antonym
      • a synonym

    Have students write this information on a sticky note and place it in their box on your quick-assessment chart. After the lesson, check students’ responses to see who is able to use the dictionary effectively. Work with small groups to reteach any part of the lesson that was not understood. If additional practice is needed, pair a student with a peer who has mastered the skills.

Suggested Instructional Supports

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    Active Engagement, Modeling, Explicit Instruction
    W: Review the uses of a dictionary.
    H: Provide a purpose for using a dictionary by having students alphabetize word cards, identify multiple-meaning words, and identify related words with affixes.
    E: Engage students in meaningful games that provide practice in finding words in a dictionary and expand students’ knowledge of the uses of a dictionary.
    R: Provide opportunities for students to work in groups to compare their answers.
    E: Use the quick-assessment activity to evaluate students’ understanding of dictionary skills.
    T: Have students extend their thinking by using unfamiliar vocabulary words.
    O: The learning activities in this lesson provide for large-group instruction and discussion, small-group exploration, partner interaction, and individual application of the concepts.


Instructional Procedures

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    Focus Question: How does exploring a dictionary help readers learn more about words?

    Distribute the Word Cards worksheet (L-3-2-1_Word Cards.doc). Allow time for students to cut out the cards and arrange them in alphabetical order. Remind students that the words in a dictionary appear in alphabetical order.

    If possible, provide each student with a dictionary. Have students browse through the dictionary. Show the following question on chart paper: “Why do we use a dictionary?”

    Have students discuss how a dictionary is useful.

    On the chart paper, record students’ responses, such as the following:

    • to learn how to spell a word
    • to learn how to pronounce a word correctly
    • to find the definition of a word or to find out which definition of a word fits the context of what we are reading (multiple-meaning words)
    • to find out how many syllables a word has
    • to find out what part of speech a word is
    • to find synonyms and antonyms for a word

    Review the following terms:

    • Pronunciation: The way a word is pronounced. A dictionary uses symbols to show the sounds of the letters in a word. Review a dictionary pronunciation key. Have students identify the sounds in the pronunciation key.
    • Syllable: A word or part of a word spoken with a single sound. A dictionary generally uses dots between the syllables of a word. Have students practice clapping the number of syllables in various words.
    • Synonym: A word that has the same or almost the same meaning as another word. A dictionary may list synonyms for a word. Have students give synonyms for words such as little/small, rock/stone, funny/silly.
    • Antonym: A word that has the opposite meaning of another word. A dictionary may list an antonym for a word. Have students give antonyms for words such as happy/sad, short/tall, dark/light.
    • Part of Speech: A group in which words are placed, depending on how they are used in a sentence. A dictionary indicates what part of speech a word is, such as noun, verb, or pronoun.

    For the following activities, make sure students’ dictionaries list synonyms and antonyms.

    Play Dictionary Race with students. Use the list of words you created as suggested in the Materials section. Read aloud each word, and time students to see how quickly they can find the words in the dictionary. In the beginning, tell students how to spell the words. Then tell students just the first few letters. By the end, see if students can find the words completely on their own.

    • Make the Dictionary Race a race in which students compete against themselves. Tell them to try to improve their own time, not race against their classmates. You may need to have different lists for various students’ skill levels.
    • Have students identify how many meanings a word has. Ask how they know which is the correct definition to choose.
    • While students are playing Dictionary Race, take note of students who are successful at finding the words in the dictionary and students who need additional help.

    Have students work in pairs to complete the Dictionary Scavenger Hunt (L-3-2-1_Dictionary Scavenger Hunt.doc). Walk around the room, monitoring students’ progress and providing assistance as needed. Take notes on how students work in groups, as well as on their understanding of dictionary skills.

    Have students work in groups to share the answers they found in the Dictionary Scavenger Hunt. Remind students that their answers may not be the same, but that doesn’t mean that one person’s answers are wrong. Encourage students to revise their answers based on the group discussion.

    Discuss classroom situations that would require students to use a dictionary. Encourage students to use a dictionary whenever they need one.


    • Provide additional opportunities for learning by assigning a different student each day to come up with a “Word of the Day.” Tell the student to find a new vocabulary word and write the word and its definition and use the word in a sentence. Have the student post the word in the room. Allow the student to present the new word to the class.

Related Instructional Videos

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Final 03/01/2013
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