Activity: Dictionary Skills

If your child is learning to learn on his own, he’ll need to develop a set of research skills — including finding his way through a dictionary. The dictionary is often the first place we turn when trying to find out what something is or means. Here are 10 ways to develop dictionary skills with resources and suggestions.

Before your child is ready to consult a dictionary, he will need to be able to put things in A-B-C order.

Other dictionary skills to develop include:

  • Using guide words to find what you are looking for.
  • Understanding what is represented in each entry.
  • Syllabication.
  • Pronunciation.
  • Parts of speech indicated in the entry.
  • Finding the meaning you are looking for.
  • Etymology.

Developing dictionary skills does not have to be boring! The best way to develop these skills is, like most things, to introduce them when they are needed. Help your child find his way through a dictionary when he needs a source of information for an independent project he is working on, or for something he is writing (he is writing every day, right?). Obviously, you will not want to hit him with all of these skills at once!

You’ll find a few resources below for the occasional introduction or reinforcement of these dictionary skills.

Oh, and one thing the dictionary is not good for — looking up words you do not know how to spell!

Suggestions (vary each day)
  1. Put your list of spelling words in alphabetical order.
  2. For a more kinesthetic way to alphabetize, have your child write his words on separate strips of paper and arrange them in alphabetical order.
  3. Look up the five words on your spelling list and for each word record the guide words on the page in your dictionary where the words were located.
  4. Write the syllabication for each of your spelling words.
  5. Have your child write his name phonetically.
  6. Create a short list of words spelled phonetically (use the same phonetic spelling as will be found in the dictionary your child uses). Have your child locate and write down the actual word.
  7. During a read-aloud, when your child doesn’t know what a particular word means, have him find it in the dictionary and tell you. (Don’t overuse this one!)
  8. Using a word from your child’s spelling list that can be used as more than one part of speech, have your child write the word in a sentence for each part of speech listed in his dictionary.
  9. Create a word chart showing the different forms of a word for each part of speech; i.e, beauty (noun), beautify (verb), beautiful (adjective), and beautifully (adverb).
  10. Trace down the origins for a word from your child’s spelling list.

Further Investigation

Reading the Dictionary
Extensive how-to with examples, questions, and test from Pearson Learning.

Pronunciation Key
Of course, the one in your dictionary may be different, but this helps explain how to read one.


Dictionary Guide Words
Guide word practice.

Guide Words to the Stars
Interactive where you choose the set of guide words between which a particular word would be found.  Great for practicing alphabetizing skills.

Dictionary Scavenger Hunt
Go on a scavenger hunt through your dictionary with these worksheets from Enchanted Learning. Also see Part 2 and Part 3.

Unit Studies & Lesson Plans
Webster's American Dictionary: A Unit Study

Webster’s American Dictionary: A Unit Study
Our own unit study that covers not only Webster, but also includes alphabetizing activities and other helps for finding your way around a dictionary.  An easy introduction!

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