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Hitting the Books: Teaching Students to Use Dictionaries, Glossaries, etc.

Objective: By the end of the lesson, students will be able to use dictionaries and glossaries effectively to improve their vocabulary and reading comprehension skills.

Grade Level: Grade 4

Common Core Standards:

  • NL-ENG.K-12.1 Reading for Perspective: Students read a wide range of texts to build an understanding.
  • NL-ENG.K-12.4 Communication Skills: Students adjust their spoken, written, and visual language use.
  • NL-ENG.K-12.12 Applying Language Skills: Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes.

Materials Needed:

  • Dictionaries; print copies only!
  • Glossaries; provide glossaries or find them in the texts read in class.
  • Vocabulary lists; provide a list of vocabulary words or let the students create one from the class text or their own unknown words.

Lesson Starter:

  1. Begin the lesson by asking students to brainstorm a list of words they are unfamiliar with or have recently encountered in their reading. (You can brainstorm as a class and write the words on the board.)
  2. As a class, discuss the "supposed" meanings of the words and any connections they have to other words or concepts. Encourage students to use context clues and their prior knowledge to infer the meanings of the words.

Direct Instruction:

  1. Introduce the concept of dictionaries and glossaries as tools for looking up the meanings of unknown words and finding definitions of terms used in a specific subject or field.
  2. Demonstrate how to use a dictionary or glossary by looking up one of the words from the brainstorming activity. (Do this as a class, as many times as necessary, for the students to fully grasp the concept.)
  3. Explain the different parts of a dictionary entry, including the pronunciation, part of speech, definition, and example sentences.
  4. Model how to use a glossary by looking up a term from a textbook or other reading material.
  5. Discuss the importance of understanding word meanings to improve reading comprehension and communication.

Additional Resources

  1. "Using a Dictionary | English Vocabulary Lesson" from Help Teaching.
  2. "Reading - Dictionary and Glossary - Topic Overview" from Education Galaxy.

Guided Practice:

  1. Have students work in pairs or small groups to use dictionaries or glossaries to look up the meanings of words on their provided vocabulary lists. Encourage them to use context clues and discuss their predictions before looking up the word with their partner.
  2. During practice time, provide feedback to students on their use of dictionaries and glossaries.
  3. As a class, review the definitions and discuss any patterns or connections between the words.


  1. Review the lesson's key concepts and the importance of using dictionaries and glossaries to improve vocabulary and reading comprehension.
  2. Ask students to share any new words or terms they learned during the lesson and discuss how they can continue to use dictionaries and glossaries in their independent reading and writing.

Note: If your students have mastered using a print copy of the dictionary, you can show them how to use these resources:


To assess your student's understanding, students will use dictionaries and/or glossaries to find and define a list of given words. The following may be ideal assessments for your students:

  • Observe students during the guided and independent practice activities to assess their understanding of dictionaries and glossaries.
  • Have students create a list of new words from a class reading to submit as a summative assessment; the only resource, of course, would be a glossary and/or a dictionary. 
  • Have students complete a word chain. Students start with one word and continually locate the next word that is related to the first. You can have students finish the chain after 3-5 words. For example:
    1. Accomplish "To bring to a successful finish." ->
    2. Successful "Resulting or ending in success." ->
    3. Result "To come about as an effect, consequence, or conclusion." ->
    4. Etc.,
  • Use a vocabulary scavenger hunt word list as a formative assessment of student learning. Students will locate the word and write down the definition. As an additional option, have students use the words they defined on the scavenger hunt in a sentence or short paragraph.  

Dictionary Scavenger Hunt Word List:

  1. Accomplish
  2. Border
  3. Compare
  4. Defend
  5. Essential
  6. Furious
  7. Generic
  8. Heal
  9. Insert
  10. Jubilant

Answer Key: 

  1. Accomplish (To bring to a successful finish.)
  2. Border (An outer part or edge.)
  3. Compare (To describe as similar.)
  4. Defend (To repel danger or attack.)
  5. Essential (Important in the highest degree.)
  6. Furious (Very angry.)
  7. Generic (Not protected by a trademark registration.)
  8. Heal (To make or become healthy or whole.)
  9. Insert (To put or place in.)
  10. Jubilant (feeling or expressing great joy.)

Written by Violet A.
Education World Contributor
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