"Dictionary" Skills and Tech

Are you teaching dictionary skills to your students? In third grade, the Common Core dictates that students learn to use glossaries or beginning dictionaries, both print and digital, to determine or clarify the precise meaning of key words and phrases.

"Back-in-the-Day" many families had their own chunky dictionary book and libraries had rows of encyclopedia bookshelves. Now days, students simply ask Siri!

"Dictionary" Related Goals

Let's dive a little deeper into why we use a dictionary. Is the goal to define the word? Pronounce the word correctly? Spell the word? Find a synonym? If so, most people now use tech to accomplish these goals. Personally, when composing on my computer, I keep my iPhone handy and simply ask Siri to "define", "spell", "synonym for" the desired word. With the iPhone, simply press the Home button to access Siri - it is not necessary to even unlock the phone or if set up, simply say, "Hey Siri". Have an Android device? No problem, you can access Android's voice assistant by saying "Hey Google". Home voice assistants, such as Alexa or Google Home, also work well. Voice assistants will pronounce the word correctly, will spell the word, provide multiple definitions, provide information about homophones, and if asked, synonyms and antonyms.

Note: For devices used in the classroom, it is strongly recommended that the student use a keyboard command/home button to access the voice assistant and not a voice command, as the voice assistant will activate when ANYONE in the class gives the voice command! 

Remember, voice assistants require internet access! In settings, when you activate the voice assistant, you also have the ability to turn off sharing the voice assistant recording (for privacy purposes).

If turned on, your Mac also has Siri. You can add Siri to your Dock and Menu bar. (Learn more about Siri on the Mac here.)

Microsoft has a voice assistant called Cortana. (Learn more about Cortana here.)

Chromebook also has a Google Assistant. (Learn more about Google Assistant for Chromebooks here.)

Student Activities

Ask your student to use a voice assistant to:

  • Define vocabulary words
  • To check spelling when writing papers
  • To find synonyms 
  • When writing, to replace simple words with synonyms
  • Find antonyms
  • Determine the correct Homophones (two words that are pronounced the same but spelled differently); determine
    • Create puns using homophone words!

Be sure to set rules, such as no voice assistant allowed during spelling tests!

Dictionary Apps and Websites

There are additional goals that are have been taught with dictionaries that are not taught with voice assistants. When using a dictionary, students are taught about guide words and alphabetical order. Dictionary skills are currently still being taught in classrooms. For student with visual impairments, online dictionaries may be a better option; large print and braille dictionaries are often not available and a full braille dictionary would be humongous! Websites and/or apps enable the student to use his/her preferred accessibility settings on his/her device - making the mainstream digital dictionary accessible. With that in mind, it is always good to expose students with visual impairments to sample dictionary pages with guide words. (Hmm, are guide words activities incorporated in high stakes assessments?)

Note: Dictionary websites often do not have guide words or use alphabetical order, as the student simply types the desired word into a textfield!

There are a number of online and app dictionaries; both free and for purchase. Below are two popular examples but keep in mind there are many others!

Merriam-Webster Learner's Dictionary is a website; simply type in the desired word.

Wordsymth a free online kids' dictionary provides a full set of features in a safe and stable environment on mobile phones or tablets.