How to integrate dictionary work into lessons

Summary of #ELTChat on July 18, 2012 (by @marcusmurilo)

 

 

This is the summary of the second #ELTChat on July 18, 2012. The topic of this chat, which was co-moderated by @theteacherjames and @SueAnnan, was how to integrate dictionary work into lessons.

 

The chat was kicked off by @theteacherjames, who asked if anyone insisted that their learners have dictionaries at hand. Some teachers commented that many students are now able to sort themselves out with respect to dictionaries because of the advent of gadgets such as tablets and smartphones, from which they can access free online dictionaries.

 

Others also commented that their schools provide students with dictionaries, but in some cases these are rarely used by learners. However, it was generally agreed that students need training with respect to how to make the best use out of dictionaries and @tim_crangle pointed out that, since some students are allowed to use dictionaries in exams, they need practice.

 

Favorite dictionaries

The discussion then centered on what dictionaries teachers use/recommend, with teachers mentioning the following:

 

http://www.merriam-webster.com/

http://www.macmillandictionary.com/

http://www.wordreference.com/

http://www.ldoceonline.com

http://www.mycobuild.com/free-search.aspx

www.dictionary.cambridge.org

http://dictionary.reference.com/

http://oald8.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/

 

What kind of dictionary?

Many teachers commented that they encourage their students to make use of monolingual dictionaries. @leoselivan pointed out that these give students context, provide natural examples as well as highlighting collocations and colligations. @PlanELT argued in favor of monolingual dictionaries as these are more likely to lead to acquision as they engage students in higher-order thinking skills.

 

@leoselivan also mentioned that a useful technique is to encourage students to look up words twice: first students check meaning in a bilingual dictionary and then look up how a certain word is used in a monolingual dictionary. @SophiaMav also made the excellent point that there are monolingual dictionaries for beginners, which are more accessible to lower-level learners as they include simple definitions and pictures to aid comprehension.

 

Last, but certainly not least, @leoselivan stressed the importance of having students develop good dictionary skills for them to promote learner autonomy.

 

@SueAnnan also said that she uses picture dictionaries with her adult students who need very specific vocabulary and @vickyloras said she uses the Oxford Picture Dictionary.

 

What do teachers use dictionaries for?

 

Teachers reported that they use dictionaries to work on a number of things, such as:

–       definitions

–       pronunciation

–       stress pattern

–       collocations

–       word families

–       other parts of speech

–       similar words (eg, say X tell)

–       spelling

–       lexical grammar

–       semantic prosody*

–       usage frequency

 

(*) I wasn’t familiar with this term and @hartle was kind enough to share this Wikipedia article > http://t.co/3Jwq0Aht

 

How much do you spend training your students to use dictionaries?

 

@PlanELT said he likes doing a dictionary quest challenge so as to familiarize students with the mains functions and features of dictionaries. @SophiaMav said she does some introductory lessons and then tries to incorporate dictionary skill-building activities throughout the year. Many teachers also commented that they felt they spent very little time training their students to make good use of dictionaries.

 

When would you ban dictionaries?

 

Some teachers admitted to having banned dictionaries at times. Some expressed disapproval of students’ looking up a word to check if what the teacher said was actually correct. It was also said that at times students may get distracted if they are continuously looking up words in a dictionary while the class is going on.

 

@sigardit pointed out the importance of also getting students to try and understand meaning from context before letting them use a dictionary to check their inferences. Finally, @SueAnnan reported that she always tries to give her students a dictionary task a couple of times a week to stop them from using a dictionary all the time.

 

Favorite dictionary activities

 

Teachers shared some of their favorite activities. The list follows below:

 

LearnBoost Broadening vocab & perspective: have a grp of students find a word in the dictionary & create a skit entirely around it! Super fun #eltchat
glasgownumana #eltchat with low levels I start with games , alphabet games then word hunt games
SueAnnan You can play Call my bluff with odd words and spurious definitions too #ELTChat
PlanELT put defs on wall, give Ss words- 1S per team has to go + read defs + try to memories correct one to tell team #eltchat
singernick The sentence was written on a piece of drurb. Most drurb, like snow, is osgrave. get sts to work out content #eltchat
PlanELT also- jigsaw definitions like 2 words per group- find defs and then explain to rest of class- saves time for lots of new words #eltchat

 

More online tools & resources

 

ELTChatters also shared some other online resources:

 

@singernick pointed out that you can use Google as a dictionary by typing, for example, “define:have” in the searchbox.

 

@tim_crangle asked if anyone uses Linguee (http://www.linguee.com/), which @EileeMur said she uses for her translation jobs as well as with some online students

 

@SueAnnan suggested http://phras.in/ as a useful concordance for checking collocations

 

A couple of corpora were also cited following @theteacherjames’s comment that he prefers using corpora to dictionaries:

 

http://corpus.byu.edu/coca/

http://corpus.byu.edu/bnc/

 

To which @hartle responded by saying that, though she’s a fan of corpora, some dictionaries have already done the work for students in relation to collocations.

 

@singernick shared a lovely exercise using nonsense aimed at teaching students to understand meaning from context http://t.co/iZFCbHch

 

@leoselivan shared his own collection of dictionaries and corpus-based tools available on his blog at http://leoxicon.blogspot.co.il/p/essential-lexical-tools.html (Yay!!)

 

@hartle also shared some great videos she uses to familiarize her students with dictionaries >> http://hartledistancelearning.wikispaces.com/Vocabulary+Skills (Wow!!)

 

@theteacherjames shared a book by CUP filled with activities to inspire teachers to make more regular use of dictionaries >> http://t.co/5X01p2m2 (BTW, there are a couple of sample activities you can download here >> http://tinyurl.com/d2qj8wt)

 

 

Thanks to @theteacherjames and @SueAnnan for moderating this #ELTChat and to all the participants who offered their valuable time and expertise to this informative and lively discussion!

 

 

Marcus Murilo Lacerda has been an EFL teacher for over seven years. He holds an ICELT and currently works at Casa Thomas Jefferson, a binational center in Brasílila, Brazil.

You can follow him on Twitter at @marcusmurilo.