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Firstly, choose a dictionary that is suited to the needs and reading level of your students. For beginning readers, a picture dictionary such as the Martin's Picture Dictionary by ERA Publications is a good choice, as it combines an extensive word list of over 1000 words with clear pictures and logical groupings of words under topics. A picture dictionary has the advantage of being able to be used by students in elementary classes who have beginning reading skills, as successfully locating a word is not dependant upon being able to spell, order letters alphabetically or decode. Students can simply use their visual skills to find the relevant picture in the dictionary under the appropriate topic and then read the word underneath.
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Top Five Dictionary Activities
Sounds Like...can you find a word that sounds like (teacher supplies some appropriate hints that rely on phonological awareness skills of students). For example, can you find a word that has an ending that sounds like 'tin' - student then finds words which rhyme, such as 'thin'. This boosts phonological awareness skills, as well as encouraging general use of the dictionary to locate words, and categorising and word rules awareness.
Portrait Posters - students make a poster about themselves using words they have found in the picture dictionary. This encourages an understanding of parts of speech, particularly in relation to adjectives. For example, the student could find words such as 'tall', 'happy' or 'funny' as adjectives to describe themselves.
Matching Cards Race - Students race each other to find the relevant page number for words from the picture dictionary according to words given by the teacher on colored cards.
Topic Poems - students work as small groups to create a poem that uses words from a particular topic or category in the picture dictionary (Martin's Picture dictionary works well with this activity, as the words are grouped under various topics already - for other dictionaries, the teacher could provide examples of appropriate categories such as 'garden' or 'home').
Word Bases - students take a base word from the dictionary and see how many new words they can make from the base word in a set timeframe - around 10 seconds works well. For example, set students the challenge of finding new words that use the base word 'loud' - louder, loudest, loudly. Students may also enjoy experimenting with nonsense words using a base word, and then talking about which words are correct and which are made up.
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Find Out More
The Martin's Picture Dictionary referred to above has some useful companion resources that can also be handy for use with beginning readers. The 'Step Beyond English' teacher and student books contain a wide array of practical learning activities that are ideal for encouraging beginning readers to use their dictionary skills and also to build on general literacy and writing abilities. These are full colour volumes that are appropriate for beginning readers and those with more advanced skills. They are great in situations where teachers are seeking a range of English resources that are aligned with each other, and therefore reduce the teacher preparation workload (especially useful in the early years of teaching elementary classes).
Top Five Dictionary Activities for Beginning Readers
There are lots of great activities to boost the skills of beginning readers in elementary school. Getting a good start on reading skills puts learners on the right pathway throughout their schooling. Phonics, decoding, sight vocabulary, rhyme and oral storytelling all build beginning reader skills.