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Titulka > Modul články > Základní vzdělávání > Dictionary skills – introduction

Dictionary skills – introduction

Teoretický příspěvek
odborný příspěvek
Autor Radmila Záviská
Úvodní článek pro seriál Dictionary Skills in English Lessons for the 8th and 9th Grades. Představuje teoretický úvod k tématu, zabývá se otázkou, proč učit dovednost pracovat se slovníkem, a předkládá stručný výběr slovníků vhodných pro výuku na základní škole. Dále si čtenáři vytvoří představu o jednotlivých článcích tohoto seriálu.

An introductory article of the series Dictionary Skills in English Lessons for the 8th and 9th Grades. It represents a theoretical introduction dealing with reasons for teaching dictionary skills at primary schools also including a brief description of the main kinds of dictionaries suitable for primary school learners. Readers can also form an idea on the other articles in this series introducing some practical examples of dictionary activities to be used in lessons.

There is no doubt that probably one of the most important resources pupils should have for learning English is their dictionary. The aim of this article is not to persuade readers – especially teachers – to use dictionaries in their lessons because I hope they do it. The aim is to give the teachers a collection of exercises that may help them to extend their portfolio of activities to practise key dictionary skills.

This article is the first part of the series Dictionary Skills in English Lessons for the 8th and 9th Grades. It is a theoretical introduction dealing with: 

  • reasons for teaching dictionary skills at primary schools;
  • a brief description of the main kinds of dictionaries that can be used in the lessons at primary schools;
  • dictionaries suitable for the pupils of the 8th and 9th grades.

Next articles of the series mentioned above are devoted to the practical examples of working with dictionaries in the lessons. I have decided to divide these examples into six articles and each one is focused on developing a specific dictionary skill.

The first article Dictionary skills – getting started introduces the basic terminology and the key features of a dictionary. There are also activities providing practice of the alphabet and the spelling.

The second article Dictionary skills – working with the headwords contains activities concerning finding the right part of speech, understanding the word formation, phonemic symbols and various dictionary codes.

In the third article Dictionary skills – working with the meaning I present a set of activities focused on working with the meaning of the headwords, for example choosing an appropriate word in a certain context and understanding relationships between the words.

The fourth article Dictionary skills – vocabulary development looks at ways of using dictionaries to develop pupil’s vocabulary. It deals with idioms, collocations and differences between British and American English. It gives some tips how to organize vocabulary.

The fifth article Dictionary skills – verbs is devoted to a specific part of speech – to verbs. It looks at verb patterns and regular, irregular and phrasal verbs.

Finally, in the sixth article Dictionary skills – picture dictionary I give two tips how to create a simple picture dictionary based on one topic – Christmas.

Some of the activities are adopted from various resources for the teachers and I have also drawn from my own teaching experience. 

1. Reasons for teaching dictionary skills

Various kinds of dictionaries have long been an inseparable part of the library of every learner of English. They are recommended not only by the teachers but also by linguistic experts as a source of enriching vocabulary and understanding the language as a complex. In addition, even in the age of computer corpora dictionaries can bring more reliable information about the behaviour of words and their usage.

However, most learners use dictionaries only to look up the meaning of the word and they do not take full advantage of the wealth dictionaries offer. That is why I consider the teaching of dictionary skills as an important part of language skills as a whole. Teachers should not suppose that learners are born with the knowledge how to use dictionaries. If they could use a dictionary well, there would not be as many misunderstandings as there are for example in translations. Dictionaries can also provide useful support when the teacher wants the pupils to confirm their own doubt about something (for example the spelling). 

On the other hand I understand the reasons for not teaching dictionary skills I have heard from experienced teachers. They do not consider activities connected with dictionaries interesting, which can be partly true, and sometimes they do not have a precise idea of how to teach these skills and what exactly to focus on. Moreover there are other skills which must be taught according to the school syllabus but the number of the lessons is limited. This leads to neglecting not only dictionary skills but also for example writing skills (because they are time demanding).

According to my own experience with teaching dictionary skills, I would really recommend it. As the pupils become more familiar with the benefits of the dictionary and they know where to find the answers to their questions, they are able to produce better English and they are not so afraid to use the language. 

2. The main kinds of dictionaries

There are several types of dictionaries and they can be divided according to various aspects. The most commonly used is division into bilingual, monolingual and learner’s dictionaries, but I will also mention picture dictionaries, because these four types are mainly used at primary schools.

  • Bilingual dictionaries

These dictionaries are used to translate words or phrases from one language to another. They are the most common ones.

  • Monolingual dictionaries

These are dictionaries designed for native speakers. The words or the phrases are not translated, but defined.

Both kinds of dictionaries have their advantages and disadvantages. So the best choice – from the teacher’s point of view – seems to be the learner’s dictionary.

  • Learner’s dictionaries

They are monolingual dictionaries for foreign students. They can be at different difficulty level and they may target specific groups. The range can vary from children’s and young learners’ dictionaries to the near native-speaker level ones.

  • Picture dictionaries

They use photos or drawings to illustrate the meaning of the headword. They are especially useful in teaching young learners and they are usually organized by the topic.

I would like to mention here that the list of the dictionaries is not complete – I wanted to give just a brief description of the main kinds of dictionaries that can be used in the lessons at primary schools. 

3. Dictionaries suitable for the pupils of the 8th and 9th grades

Many teachers understand the need to teach dictionary skills but one of the reasons for not doing so is the lack of dictionaries at schools. It can be argued that it is not a problem for the pupils to buy a dictionary – the teachers should lead their students having it in their home libraries. If you ask them to bring their dictionaries, there is a little chance they all have the same dictionary and it can cause some problems. The best solution is to have a set of the same kind of dictionaries in the classroom – but still the question is which ones. From my point of view there is no satisfying answer to this question. There is no doubt that the level of the learners is the most significant feature. The second problem is – a monolingual or a bilingual dictionary? The answer is neither and both. Both types of dictionaries have their role in the system of language teaching and learning. According to my experience, many pupils automatically use only small bilingual dictionaries and it can have negative effects from a long-term perspective. The aim is to be able to work with English and this can be better achieved with learner’s dictionaries. Of course, the pupils must be ready for it.

My recommendation in this debate is to start from using the small bilingual dictionary and then to move to the learner’s dictionary. For the first mentioned type I can advise the range of dictionaries by the LEDA Publisher, for the latter either Cambridge or Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries.

Both publishers provide dictionaries on the professional level. Using these dictionaries is made easier by giving clear examples explaining all features of entries (meanings, codes, phonemic symbols etc.). The information in these dictionaries has been carefully chosen and presented in the way which follows the latest pedagogical approaches.

At the end I would like to mention electronic versions of dictionaries. They are increasingly popular and they bring many advantages of modern technologies. The electronic versions can be in a form of CDs or DVDs and can be used on the PCs. Lots of modern mobile phones also have the dictionary application installed. There are also many free online dictionaries accessible via the Internet and popular among the pupils. Anyway, the main purpose of my article is to encourage pupils to use traditional printed dictionaries.

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