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Happy Birthday, Noah Webster!

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Learn more on the Web about the life of Noah Webster, father of the dictionary (born October 16, 1758).
Included -- Dictionary games! Cross-curriculum activities! Skills pages for use across the grades!

Noah Webster was born on October 16, 1758, in the West Division of Hartford (Connecticut). Noah's was an average colonial family. His father farmed and worked as a weaver. His mother worked at home. Noah and his two brothers, Charles and Abraham, helped their father with the farm work. Noah's sisters, Mercy and Jerusha, worked with their mother to keep house and to make food and clothing for the family.

So began the life of Noah Webster, the man often called "the father of the American dictionary."

Webster began writing his dictionary at the age of 43. It took him more than 27 years to write it. In this first "American" dictionary, Webster introduced distinctively American words such as "skunk" and "hickory" and "chowder." In addition, he introduced American spellings such as "color" and "music," derivations of the English spellings "colour" and "musick."

But not all Webster spellings from that first dictionary stuck! For example, "tung" (tongue) and "wimmen" (women) aren't used today -- even if they are more true to their pronunciation.

The facts above are available in brief bios of Noah Webster that you can explore online on your own. Check out A Short Summary of Noah Webster's Life on the site connected to the Noah Webster House Museum in West Hartford, Connecticut, and Noah Webster and America's First Dictionary on the Merriam-Webster Online site. You'll find some historical information about Noah Webster's "Blue-Backed" Speller, the best-seller he wrote before his dictionary, on the Blackwell History of Education Research Museum site.

FAKE OUT

Want to build your students' vocabularies?
Fake Out! is the game for you! A different game is available online each week at this site from the folks at Houghton-Mifflin. Fake Out! offers five words at three different levels of play: Grades K-2, Grades 3-5, and Grades 6 and above. Most of the words are sure to stump! But that's half the fun. Click on each word and guess which meaning is the correct one. Submit your guesses and get immediate feedback about your answers! Get the correct definition too (assuming you were wrong, that is). You can also click on "View Counts" and see how many people have guessed each definition.

This might make a fun "dictionary learning center" for your students each week; they could follow-up by writing the correct definition as found in a classroom dictionary.

And if nurturing spelling champions is your goal, check out the official site of Scripps-Howard's National Spelling Bee. The site includes guidelines for participation, study activities and tips, and rules.

DICTIONARIES ONLINE

Ever come across a word the meaning of which has you stumped? The definition is just a URL and a mouse click away on the WWWebster Dictionary. Just type in the word -- spelling counts! -- an up pops the definition.

For a wide range of resources, go to dictionary.com The site includes a Hypertext Webster Interface (just enter the word directly on the dictionary.com screen and get the simple definition) and links to many other sites, including:

  • Bartlett's Quotations -- a collection of passages, phrases, and proverbs traced to their sources in ancient and modern literature.
  • Common Errors in English -- simple, entertaining explanations of common errors in English.
  • The New Hacker's Dictionary -- hacker slang and jargon.
  • Roget's Thesaurus -- a catalog of English words and phrases that can be accessed by keyword searching.
  • whatis.com -- a cross-referenced glossary of Internet terms designed for fast lookup, organized alphabetically and by topic.

Looking for other reference material? The apt-named Reference Material site includes links to dictionaries of all sorts. Yes, a link to Webster's is here. You'll also find links to an acronym dictionary and a biographical dictionary as well as to resources that will help in finding telephone area codes, Post Office zip codes, and more.

BUILD DICTIONARY SKILLS

Finally, if you're looking for a couple activities to teach or reinforce basic dictionary skills, check out two skills pages we've created just for you. Just click below on the page(s) you want to view, print it out, and duplicate it for use tomorrow in your classroom!

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 2005 Education World

Originally published 10/13/1997
Links last updated 09/27/2005