Monday, February 21, 2011

Dictionaries, Definitions and Vocabulary

Purpose: To give intermediate and advanced level students practice working with dictionaries and recognizing differences in the definitions of similar words, as well as increasing learners’ vocabularies

Preparation time: 10-15 minutes

Materials: class set of dictionaries, such as the Longman Student Dictionary of American English

Preparation: Prepare a short list of words that have similar meanings, and their definitions, to use in modeling the activity (see first example). Then create an additional list of 5-6 words and definitions (see second sample list). Plan to write both sets on the board, unless you prefer to create a handout.


I do it:

1. Explain that you are writing a letter to the editor of your local newspaper to complain about ways that your life has been negatively affected by the economic crisis. For example, city services have decreased, as have your hours at work, etc.

2. Ask the student(s) what you could do to find some other words that have meanings similar to decrease. Generate a list. If no one suggests looking in a dictionary, ask if anyone has ever used one to find words to use in writing.

3. Pass out the dictionaries. Ask students to look up the verb decrease and suggest some alternate words for you to use.

4. Discuss which words would work best in the context of your letter to the editor. Then write a few sentences on the board using those words. For example, you might use go down, drop, fall, diminish.

5. Since the alternate words can have slightly different meanings in other contexts, refer to the dictionaries again for sample sentences and additional definitions.

We do it:

1. Write the short list of words and definitions on the board in two columns. For example, you might choose the word see and write two or three others words that also mean see, but are used in slightly different ways:

2. Explain that all the words mean see but that they are used for different purposes.

3. Ask students to look up the first word in the dictionary. Can they help you match it with its definition?

4. Once you agree on the definition, draw a line from the word to its definition.

5. Ask students to look up the other words, then come up to the board and connect the words to their definitions.

You do it:

1. Now repeat the activity with the list of 5-6 words and definitions.

2. Let’s assume you’ve chosen the word tell. Explain that all the words mean tell but they can be used for different purposes.

3. Ask the students to use their dictionaries to match the words and definitions. Here’s a sample list:

Wrap Up: Students come to the board or in some other way indicate which words they matched with which definitions. Now ask them to use each word in a sentence. Check the sentences and select several to use for a dictation exercise.

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