A letter to the teachers of English: 47How to use a dictionary (3) [Archives:2004/720/Education]

March 15 2004

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

Dear Fellow teachers,
In addition to the activities mentioned in my earlier letters, there are a few other activities you can use in the class, which will enable your learners to use a dictionary effectively. As suggested in the last letter, these activities can be in groups, so that fewer dictionaries may be used, if many copies are not available.
Another activity with the dictionary, called 'Sounds like' can help your learners to be familiar with the pronunciation of commonly used words. The activity is like this: Choose 20 commonly used words, underline one or two of the letters and against each word leave a blank. Ask the learners to find in the dictionary a word that has the same sound represented by the letter or letters.
For example,
boat )))))))))-
sharp )))))))))-
wife )))))))))

This activity will make them familiar with the phonetic symbols given in the Key to Pronunciation and improve their pronunciation to a large extent. Try this.
Yet another activity, called 'Decoding' for familiarizing them with the abbreviations used in the dictionary. In a dictionary, with each word there are abbreviations like (n), (v.t), (adj), (U) etc. You can choose some words from the dictionary and ask them to find the abbreviation used with each one and what it stands for. This activity will not only develop the dictionary skill but also improve their knowledge of grammar, especially the parts of speech. Similarly, you can pick out a number of commonly used abbreviations such as UNO, OPEC, UNICEF etc and ask your learners to find from the dictionary what each one stands for. This will be a big help in increasing their general knowledge, which will equip them to face the interviews for scholarships or jobs in the future.
There are many other activities using a dictionary for developing the dictionary skills. You can make them find the plurals of commonly used nouns, find the words in other dialects such as American English, find the slang and colloquial words, find information related to a word, find the origin of the word; some of these activities are suitable only for higher classes.
Good dictionaries are published periodically by well-known publishers such as the Oxford University Press, Longman Publishers, Collins publishers etc. They most often bring out a pamphlet along with the dictionary with information for using the dictionary effectively; some of them contain good activities for using the dictionary too. The Collins COBUILD dictionaries are said to be very good, mainly because they are based on their Bank of English, which is a collection of 400 million words from various sources. The Randomhouse Dictionary, which is an expensive one, is a very useful and informative source. As I said earlier, any good dictionary will serve our purpose; remember that it should be a recent one, not necessarily an expensive one.
Alternatively, you can produce glossaries with the help of your learners. A glossary is a list of new words occurring in a particular lesson and their meanings. A student of mine has produced a glossary for the English Course for Yemen (PBs 1 to 6) as a part of his research exercise and he will find it very useful, when he becomes a teacher. Try some of these activities. Good luck.

Yours fraternally,