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Meggin McIntosh

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Teachers - Build Vocabulary With the Dictionary Game
by Meggin McIntosh   
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Last edited: Saturday, January 24, 2009
Posted: Saturday, January 24, 2009

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Students love games. And having a game that involves dictionaries is a triple win. This article teaches you how to get ready for 'The Dictionary Game' and then how to play it with students.

Students love games. And having a game that involves dictionaries is a triple win:

  1. Students love games.
  2. Students are engaged.
  3. Students are learning and reinforcing vocabulary learning.

Of course, reason #3 is the whole point! Here's how to get ready for "The Dictionary Game."

  1. Create a list of vocabulary words that you have been helping students learn. These words could be from language arts, social studies, science, mathematics, or any other content area.
  2. Either write the words on the board, display them via PowerPoint, or print them out to give to students.
  3. Have students get into groups of 4 - 5.
  4. Distribute dictionaries, preferably making sure that each student in a group has a different dictionary.

Here are the 'rules' for "The Dictionary Game:"

  1. Designate a student to start (and each group will move clockwise from the first student).
  2. The designated student will choose a target word from the list that the teacher has provided.
  3. Each student in the group (including the designated student) will write down 5 words that they think will be in the definition of the target word when they look up the word in their dictionaries. All words listed must be "content" words (vs. "functors," i.e., the, and, in, is, from, and the like). The idea is that students are thinking about the meaning of the target word and so you want them coming up with words that are part of the target word's definition and/or are synonyms for the target word that might show up in the dictionary entry.
  4. Once all students have generated the 5 words they predict will be in the definition of the target word, the designated student will go around the group and ask each student to choose one of the words that that they have written that they believe is most likely to show up. The reason students write down 5 words is because it is possible that an earlier student in the group will have already named one of their words and each student needs to put forth a different word than previous students. This helps reinforce the learning for all students.
  5. After each of the students (including the starter) have noted their prediction, all students will consult their dictionaries to see what words appear in the definitions (or accompanying list of synonyms, when applicable). Each student who was 'right' gets a point.
  6. The 'turn' now moves to the next student (going clockwise). That student chooses a new target word and the game begins anew.

From my experience, students NEVER get tired of this game. And, they will often get VERY excited about the words and will start arguing and consulting other dictionaries in the classroom. And, how great is that?!

Because I also love this game, I always hope that I get to play, too. It's a game that allows for a variety of reading levels, ages, and sophistication so it is perfect in a classroom that espouses differentiated instruction.

Note: This game is a learning activity that offers the repeated encounters with words that are's not an introductory activity. Play this game with words that you have already been teaching and now just need to reinforce. Have some fun with words this week!

I invite you to access the free vocabulary free resources that you can use to build word knowledge in your classroom, including PowerPoints, PDFs, and Word documents, by going to...

** Owning Words for Literacy

To get numerous articles with teaching tips (for free), just go to

**Articles for Teachers

- and see what's there for you to use in your classroom.

(c) 2009 by Meggin McIntosh, Ph.D., "The Ph.D. of Productivity"(tm). Through her company, Emphasis on Excellence, Inc., Meggin McIntosh changes what people know, feel, dream, and do. Sound interesting? It is!

Web Site: Emphasis On Excellence

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