The Dictionary Dilemma

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a dictionary... what am I supposed to do with that?I’ve been wondering for a while how I could teach my nine year old how to use a dictionary. He’s using the Michael Clay Thompson vocabulary series and the instructions in there say that he should be regularly looking up words he doesn’t know from lists of synonyms to the word’s he’s studying, but we don’t have a particularly good dictionary. Once I took the word list he was supposed to look up and found a few of the words in his dictionary and then asked him to look those us, but I don’t exactly have time to pre-check his words for him and its incredibly discouraging for him to look them up and not find them. So I gave up that exercise. I thought about buying a decent dictionary, but never did. He knows I look up words on my computer, why should he use the paper version?

But I still want him to learn how to use a dictionary, so I was happy when I noticed in an All About Spelling book a suggestion to flip to a section of a dictionary. I could give him our student dictionary and ask him to flip to the letter D. That would give him practice using it! He could sit next to me while I wash dishes, and I could call out a word and he has to look up the section of the dictionary closest to where that word is and read me one random entry. We refined the procedure. He had to read me the entry he thinks would be above the word I call out (if the word itself isn’t there). I could challenge him to think about lists of alphabetized words without going through the frustration of being deprived of his goal.

Of course that gets a little silly. Isn’t the goal of a dictionary to find the meaning of the exact word one is looking for? But no… it isn’t. If the goal was that, he could type it in online and find the result. The goal is to think of words as alphabetized lists and to know where to find one. It is a game of hide and seek really, an exploration of the relationship between the letter order and not an exploration of the individual word itself.

Yes, I probably should just break down and buy a really good dictionary. Recommendations for which one?

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