A letter to the teachers of English: 46How to use a dictionary (2) [Archives:2004/718/Education]

March 8 2004

Dr..M.N.K.Bose ([email protected])
Associate Professor of English,
Faculty of Arts, Ibb.

Dear fellow teachers,

Dictionary skills are very useful to a learner and a teacher. What are they? They include being aware of the alphabetic order of the letters, referring to a dictionary in a reasonable time, understanding the abbreviations and other signs used in a dictionary, understanding the grammatical explanations given in the dictionary, reading the phonetic symbols used in order to pronounce the words correctly, and understanding the idiomatic uses of the words given in the dictionary.
Do you think that referring to a dictionary quickly is easy? Many people find it difficult. Though the words are arranged in an alphabetic order, it is not as easy as we think to refer to a dictionary quickly; this needs practice. You can frame exercises for your learners as the following: Choose about 20 words with different spellings and ask them to arrange them alphabetically. Then choose 20 words with the same first letter but with different second letters and ask them to arrange them within a short time. You can go on doing this with the third, fourth and fifth letters, being different till your learners are able to arrange them correctly in a very short time. To make this exercise more challenging, you can choose or you can ask the learners to choose the difficult words from a new lesson and arrange them alphabetically. You can make it a group work: divide the class into three or four groups and each group can be assigned a paragraph in the new lesson for this exercise and whichever group finishes the work first is the winner. One of my teacher trainees turned this exercise into an interesting game. She prepared 40-odd word cards and gave one to each student in her class, she gave them one minute to read the word, and then she asked them to form a line with their words in the alphabetic order. It was a real fun to watch the students struggling to find the right places in the line. Those who failed to find the right places and those who could not do it within the time limit were losers in the game. Innovative teacher, wasn't she?
Another exercise to help your learners to use a dictionary well is to make them use guiding words. Guiding words are those printed at the top of each page in a dictionary; the one on the left is the first word on the page and the one on the right is the last word at the bottom of that page. The exercise is as follows: Choose 20 words and write them in the following way; ask your learners to refer to a dictionary and write down the guiding words in the blanks.
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Have you got the idea of the exercise? You can also make it a group work, giving a sheet of paper with the words to each group and setting a time limit for the work. This activity will enable them to refer to a dictionary quickly with ease. This activity is possible only with a dictionary and so it can be a group activity, with one dictionary for each group; please see that all the groups are given the copies of the same dictionary.
It is important that school libraries have good and new dictionaries. Here is a tip for how you can get dictionaries for your libraries. You can ask the teacher trainees who come to your school for teaching practice to donate collectively one or two dictionaries to your library; this is what my trainees do every time they go to a school for teaching practice. More about the using of dictionaries later.

Yours fraternally,