What's in the Dictionary?

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SWBAT utilize the dictionary effectively by creating a resource to explain the parts of a dictionary entry.

Big Idea

There's more than a definition in the dictionary!


10 minutes

To begin today's lesson, I display the PowerPoint slide with the information about "South Pacific." The album cover is a link to this YouTube video which plays the song and displays the lyrics for the song, "Younger Than Springtime."

This lesson is an example of why I love teaching middle school.  I use their adolescent reactions to words to teach them about how the meanings of words change over time.  Specifically, there is a line in this song where the very handsome man says to the very pretty girl that he is, "Gayer than springtime" when he's with her.

It's really fun to play it straight and then innocently ask them why they were giggling (because, trust me, they will giggle).

Once I get them to tell me why they were giggling, we talk about how the meaning of the word "gay" has changed significantly since 1958.

Using this hook technique, my students always remember dictionary entry day!

Getting Down to Business

25 minutes

Once I have their attention, it's time to get down to the business at hand: learning about the dictionary.

I hand everyone a copy of the Dictionary Entry Cornell Notes so that they have a dictionary page they can mark without getting in trouble.

Using the PowerPoint slide, I walk them through the following parts of a dictionary page:

  • guide words
  • pronunciation
  • year of first use
  • language of origin
  • chronological order of definitions


I will point out one of these at a time and ask them what they think the information is.  I'm always surprised at how well they're able to guess some of these items.

Did They Get It?

15 minutes

To wrap up today's lecture, I throw some discussion questions to the class.  This is a great time to have them share with a partner or small group and then share out with the rest of the class, if time permits.  You can also just have a whole-class discussion. 

The conversation I want them to have centers around the idea that words change meaning over time.  I want them to think about why this important to the study of literature.  I will ask them ask them about the use of "gay" in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (yes, they giggled then too). 

A fun activity to finish the day is to have them use a dictionary to look up the word "text."  Until 1998 "text" was only used as a noun.  In my classroom, our dictionaries are so old that we don't have the verb definition of "text" in the print dictionary.  I show it to them online

In the summary section of the Cornell Notes, I have them reflect on the information we can get from a dictionary and how it helps us understand literature.

Then, to top things off, I ask them (again) if "gay" means happy today.  Of course, they all say, "no!"  I let them know, then, that I do not  want to hear anyone calling anyone else "gay" in the hall and then looking at me and saying, "What? It means 'happy'!"  This is a good reminder that as language changes over time, so do rules of appropriateness.