Using Dictionaries

A good dictionary is very helpful for studying a language. It helps students with meaning, spelling, grammar, and pronunciation.  It is a good idea to use a dictionary which shows all aspects of a word so that students can see how the word is used, and which uses the IPA (International Pronunciation Alphabet) to show how the word is pronounced. Always encourage your students to use an English-English dictionary, especially at a pre-intermediate level and above.

Teach Students How to be Creative with Dictionaries

Your students can also create their own dictionaries when recording new vocabulary.  This is a good way to remember the meaning and all the aspects of a new word.

Vocabulary records can be organized in different ways:
–          by parts of speech ( nouns, verbs, etc.)

–          alphabetically

–          in word families

–          in the order that they are in the book

–          by situation (e.g.  at the shops)

–          by topic (e.g. clothes, money)


Journals – Using a Dictionary

Teaching students how to use a journal along with a dictionary is a very good way of helping them improve their vocabulary. It is important that you teach students how to choose which words should go on the journal and how to avoid translation.


Games and Activities – Using a Dictionary

There are many activities that will help students learn how to use a dictionary. Tic-Tac Toe, memo tests, and crossword passwords are just a few. The OnTESOL blog How to Improve English Vocabulary Using Dictionaries explains how to play these games and in which part of the lesson teachers can use dictionaries.


The use of dictionaries in the ESL classroom has always been a controversial issue. Read ESL Lessons and Dictionaries to learn how dictionaries can be used in context to teach new vocabulary effectively.



OnTESOL: 250-hour TESOL Diploma, recognized by TESL Canada on completion of a 20-hour Practicum.