The Dictionary Quest

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The Dictionary Quest

Today’s notebook paper topic is: The Dictionary Quest. For this one not only are we going old school on the notebook paper, but we are going old school on the dictionary as well. For this activity you’ll need a good old fashioned print dictionary. The kind with those helpful guide words at the top of each page. The kind that you lose yourself in for a few minutes when you are flipping to and from the word you are looking up- as you see another word that catches your eye. Remember those? Remember when there was some browsing that went along with finding a word in the dictionary?

The Case for Using a Print Dictionary

This idea came from an issue of Homeschool Enrichment Magazine- the July/August 2008 issue and the article was entitled, “Open Your Dictionary! The Educational Value of Your Most Common Reference Book” by Deanna Blackburn. She challenged her readers to see the dictionary as a useful resource “in the great toolbox of learning”. She makes compelling arguments for old fashioned dictionary use even mentioning that online tools are sufficient for those of us who grew our base vocabularies prior to the online age. How about that?

How to Implement The Dictionary Quest

  • Using the article I read as a model, I can choose any page and any word. This afternoon I opened up the dictionary and looked for a page with a picture and happened upon a camel. I chose the quest word to be “cameo”. It’s a great word with multiple meanings and the words that accompany it on the page are fun to explore. My kids have the chance to learn more about camels- they can tell me how many kinds there are, where they are from, and a few features which distinguish them from each other.
  • In keeping with our theme of action, all it takes is a dictionary at hand and a quick peek inside to pull out some words to explore.  Once you’ve chosen a word, you can ask for its meanings, have them list the guide words on the page, tell any alternative spellings for the word, and even identify illustrations found on the same page or nearby. You can find cross-referenced words and I love to send my kids on a chase with words found in a thesaurus to see if a word they have gotten from a thesaurus has the same meaning as the word they are replacing or if it is meant for another purpose. And no need for any special format! Just grab that piece of notebook paper, jot it down, and hand out the assignment!
  • The possibilities are endless, but it all comes down to getting kids to fall in love with words. I have a child who does not care for writing a whole lot, but she loves words and anything I assign to her with a challenge to use words, find words, or explore the subtleties of the different meanings of similar words…well she adores.
  • We often take for granted all the experience we’ve had with a print dictionary, but our children are not as inclined to make that choice with such handy electronic resources available. Just think of all the extra tidbits they miss out on when they don’t flip through a thick book to find a word! When you need something for the next long trip, drop a dictionary- or two into the backseat and hold a treasure hunt!

One last thing, the dictionary you choose makes a difference. Having used this reference more than a few times already this year, I have seen huge blunders in definitions between two Webster’s editions- one for “school” and the collegiate version. Make sure you have a good dictionary!

Stay tuned for some more word fun on notebook paper again next week…

Thanks for joining me!


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  1. Awesome post. I love your ideas with ordinary notebook paper and a dictionary. My dd8 is now old enough to do things like that.As useful as ebooks and things of that nature has been, it will never replace real, hardcopy books in my opinion.

  2. Oh – you know it's so true! I love flipping through a dictionary! (Encyclopedias too for that matter) Another really inspiring post!

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