Note: The decision to post this series at this time is based on the following two facts:
- My Deaf / hard of hearing students and I have been working with electronic dictionaries on a daily basis since the very first models were sold. The students had special accommodations that permitted the use of these dictionaries.
- This will be the first year that all 7th-12th grade students in the school system will be allowed to use electronic dictionaries. Many teachers are currently expressing interest in the subject. I hope that these teachers may find my experience with Deaf and hard of hearing students useful.
MYTH – Everything we used to teach about using a dictionary is now useless.
First of all, using an electronic dictionary does not exclude use of a printed one, and there are many students who will still benefit from knowing how to use a printed one.
In addition, while it is true that it is no longer necessary to know the alphabet well or where to find head words when using an electronic dictionary, most other skills remain relevant indeed!
Tips: Start with the most “critical” points
“Critical” as in the ones I find lead to the most common errors, at least when working with struggling learners.
- “S” & “ies” – Whether we are talking about the plural “s” or one that has been added to the third form singular verb, you must remind the students repeatedly to “drop the s” before looking words up (and “es” / change “i” to “y). They must get used to doing that.
I stand by this statement despite the fact that the latest models of the electronic dictionaries are much more sophisticated than the ones we used in the past. There are now words which students can type in as they see them in the text and the dictionary will lead them to the right answer.
For example, If the sentence reads “He buys apples every day” the dictionary will now lead you to the definition of “buy” in the suitable context even if you type in “buys“. However, in the context of the sentence ” She flies to London every month” , not changing the verb form to “fly” informs you that “flies” is the theater term for the area above the stage for storing scenery. I admit, I did not know that. True, taking advantage of the arrows will lead you to a more suitable translation but struggling learners tend to use them less than I would like.
2. Suffixes “er” “est” – The same principle. Type in “bigger” or “smaller” and you will now get a suitable translation (believe me, this was not so in the past!). However, if you type in healthier you will be directed to “healthy.
If you type in “unhealthy” you will get a suitable translation. But if you type unhealthiest you will be redirected to unhealthy.
Note – To the extent that I have seen, the prefixes “un” and “re” typed in along with the word seem to lead to the desired result. I am referring to the latest models.
*** Being able to identify a word as a noun or as a verb before looking it up is (of course!) a powerful dictionary skill which enables students to find the most suitable translations.
More on that in one of the future posts in this series.