Sunday, September 22, 2013

Building Dictionary Skills

This might be something you don't necessarily think of working on with your students, but I find a lot of kids need help with understanding how to look up words.  There's not only the issue of being able to look up the word correctly and finding out the appropriate meaning, but sometimes students aren't even sure what resources are available to them to find out word meanings.

So this year, I decided to work with my German 2 students on this skill.  Why German 2 and not German 1?  I thought my German 2 students had a large enough foundation in both vocabulary and grammar to do some of the activities I had planned (being able to recognize nouns vs verbs, understanding verb prefixes, etc).  German 2 is also when I start assigning longer writing assignments (including argument writing!) - they really need to be able to look up new words and know how to use them.  German 1 would be able to do these activities towards the end of the year, and it just wouldn't be that practical for them at this stage.

I picked a day to work on this skill.  The day before, as homework, I told students to bring in their smart phone, tablet, or laptop.  Our school is piloting allowing students to bring these devices to school and use them in class (as instructed by the teacher), so I thought this was a great way to incorporate it.  Everyone - kids included - prefers to use their own device.  And if this is something they're going to be doing at home, why not use the actual device they would be using at home.

The tricky part is, I know some of my students don't have this type of technology available to them (never mind the kids who forget to bring them in!).  I told the class ahead of time that if they didn't, it would be fine - they'd still be able to do the activities.  I have about 15 dictionaries available for student use, which would cover almost all of this class.  If worst came to worst, they could work in pairs or small groups.

If your school doesn't allow students to bring and use their own devices to school, or if up simply want an alternative, I would recommend having a class set of dictionaries or reserving a computer lab for the day.

In class, we went through a few activities where students had to first look up English words and find the German equivalent, then we went the other way around.  We talked about the problems they ran in to and ways to help them around it.  Students either used one of the various German-English dictionaries that I have in my room, or Beolingus.  Some students ended up switching from their electronic device to the book, which is good!  It lets students know what they're more comfortable with!
I had students use a flow chart to help them when looking up German words.  The flow chart is based on the preview file available for the TpT product German-English Dictionary Pack by Lessons to Learn. If you're interested in my version of the flow chart, click here.

I also had another worksheet for students to do as homework that was really just a continuation of what we talked about in class.  They had to look up German words in their dictionaries (or online).  I offered to allow students to check out a dictionary that night if they needed one to do the assignment.

The next day as our drill, we played Boggle.  I have a giant Boggle board I made - just needed a large enough sheet of paper, a sharpie, and a square to trace.  I had it laminated and now can write the letters on using dry erase markers.  Students looked for both German and English words in the puzzle - the catch was that they needed to translate the words they found into the other language.


For Boggle sets, check out Boggle Your Mind! on TpT (free resource!).  While I didn't use the student sheet in this resource since I needed one with room for both German and English, I did like the sample boards it includes (when I first tried to make one, I ended up with not enough vowels...).  If you're looking for a student worksheet with room for translation, check out Boggle El Juego for Foreign Language Classrooms.

Overall, I think the activities went well.  They seemed to improve and understand the different considerations they need to make when looking up words.  I also used this as an opportunity to get them away from using translation websites - if you're having this much trouble, why do you think a program can do any better?  We'll see how it goes once they start their longer writing assignments later this quarter!

If you're interested in purchasing this activity, click here to find it on TpT!

- Frau Leonard


  1. I like how you set up your Boggle Board! It's so much easier and manageable than the one I made!

    I think a lot like you - I'm not sure that my Spanish 1 students have enough of a foundation to do an activity like this. Ok - I take that back. One of my level 1 groups could do this with no problems, another would struggle but get it done, and the third group would be staring at the ceiling because it doesn't make sense to them in English.

    I wish I knew/taught German so I could purchase this activity!

  2. I definitely like the Boggle Board - the kids love finding words and it's so easy to store! Thanks for giving me the idea ;)

    I agree that whether or not a Level 1 (or even a Level 2) class is ready for this type of skill building depends on where the class is. My German 2 class did great with it... German 1 needs more time before they'd be able to tackle it.