Myths & Tips: Using Electronic Dictionaries in the Classroom – Part Five

Are we there yet?
Epstein family photos

This is part five of  a series in which I share my experience based on working daily with electronic dictionaries in the classroom with my Deaf and hard of hearing students.  I hope that other teachers may find my experience with Deaf and hard of hearing students useful. To read more about the background for these posts, click here.  

Note: This is a “two Myth & Tips” post!

1) Myth – The electronic dictionary is “The Great Equalizer”. “Equalizer” as in now that all the students can use them, teachers no longer have to accommodate students with special needs.

I believe that it is wonderful that the act of using an electronic dictionary in school will no longer label a child as “one who needs accommodations”.  Some students do not mind but I have certainly encountered students who refused to use the electronic dictionary because they did not want to be perceived as being different. The new policy also solves the problem of those who felt that using an  electronic dictionary would help them yet were not permitted to use one.

All students may now be allowed to use the same tool, but the manner in which they learn to use it effectively may not be the same.

Some of the students with a learning disability may need more explicit instruction of basic dictionary skills. For example, some students waste precious time by looking up names. If a name happens to be similar to a word with a meaning the student will be led astray. It helps these students to review the use of  capital letters and practice  identifying names of places /people.

All students need to be encouraged to form a habit of  looking at the screen of the electronic dictionary before hitting the “enter” key in order to make sure they are actually looking up the intended word and not gibberish. However, some students need more encouragement and explicit modeling than others in forming this useful habit.

I have found it worth spending time on  convincing struggling high-school learners that it actually matters (matters to them!) whether or not one just blindly copies off a translations from the dictionary instead of stopping to check whether it is a noun or a verb. I emphasize the three words most students think they know well “name” “shop” and “play” and patiently let them complain a bit (or a lot!) about English being an annoying language that has more than one meaning for some words. Complaining contributes to memory! Here’s a simple worksheet that I use for starters. It’s meant to be done in class with a teacher. It is not self-explanatory (I snuck in a mention of Shakespeare, doesn’t hurt!).

noun vs verb exercises 1 and 2-1p0k6b7

If you have a Deaf or hard of hearing student in your class, you may encounter the following: a student uses the dictionary beautifully, finds the correct translation, yet is still baffled by the word. To read more about that, click here. 

Bright eyed and bushy tailed…
Epstein Family Photos

2) Myth – A teacher can be “an island”.


There’s no way one teacher can know everything about every feature of every model of dictionary AND have a full bag of tricks, tips and worksheets ready for every type of learner on her /his own.

If you have been reading these posts you will see that I haven’t covered everything and certainly don’t know everything.  Thanks to Dorian Cohen I now know that at least one of the newer models includes an “example” button, which will let you see the word used in a sample sentence. Older models didn’t have that and I hadn’t noticed it myself. Jennifer Byk wrote about issues related to color of letters, size of keys and teaching phrasal verbs. I’m looking forward to the dictionary worksheets she’ll be sharing.

Share what works for you and benefit from what others have learned and are sharing. Break free from the walls of the teachers’ room by joining the professional online groups on ETNI mail and the various Facebook groups. Be a member of ETAI – electronic dictionaries are a hot topic now, I’m sure we’ll see helpful information in upcoming conferences, mini-conferences and in the ETAI forum.

Don’t forget the counselors that are available, especially if you are teaching students with special needs. Information is your best friend!

Have a wonderful school year!



4 thoughts on “Myths & Tips: Using Electronic Dictionaries in the Classroom – Part Five”

  1. Thank you so much for posting these ideas. I find them really interesting and helpful.
    Best wishes,
    sharon Binnes

  2. Naomi – well done. I have just had time to sit down and read all your posts related to electronic dictionaries. You make excellent points. Thank you so much.

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