Category Archives: Dictionary Use

On “Round Teachers” and Round Batteries


*** Note: A downloadable letter for students on the topic of batteries for electronic dictionaries can be found at the end of this post. The letter is in Hebrew.

The latest buzzword at our school is ROUND.

Reopening schools under the conditions deemed necessary due to the pandemic is a very complex thing, requiring things no one is used to.  Therefore, all of us teachers are asked to be ROUND.


Round – Round – Round

Personally, I think the imagery could be improved on.

Obviously, we teachers are supposed to be “rolling with the punches”, hence we need to be round.

But round things can easily roll away and get lost.

Round things aren’t particularly known for being flexible.

Aesop’s fable about the oak tree and the reeds comes to mind when we are looking for flexibility in challenging times.

How about “going with the flow”?

Go with the flow


However, since ROUND it is, let’s talk about round batteries and “round” teacher behavior when the lack of the aforementioned becomes a problem.

Round Batteries

All students today from 7th grade onwards may use an electronic dictionary on their EFL exams. Many students use these dictionaries during the lessons too.

All is well during the first year following the date of purchase, as the two most common models I see used today come with batteries that usually last more than one school year.

But then – the shocking revelation!

The dictionary isn’t “ruined” and you don’t need to buy a new one.

I suspect that it’s not just my Deaf and hard of hearing students who find the concept of a device that isn’t rechargeable totally incomprehensible. Particularly if one of the models requires (oh horror of horror) LITTLE ROUND BATTERIES…

“Wait a minute”, you say.

“One of the models can be plugged into an electrical socket, remember? ”

To which I must reply:

“Schools are obliged to do many things for the students. Providing rooms with multiple  desks close enough to electric sockets during exams is not one of its obligations.”

There’s no way around the round objects – they are needed.

Even in times of a pandemic, batteries are really easy to purchase. They are sold in a great many stores, including those which are deemed essential and always remain open.

A fact that is neither here nor there for those kids who have never replaced a battery in any device in their young lives!


At work…  (Naomi’s Photos)

Take a moment to think about those “model students”, well organized, responsible, and industrious, whose dictionary suddenly stops working in the middle of an exam.

A stressful situation indeed.

“Round” Teacher Behavior

“Round” as in being flexible and not dealing with the same problem in the same way with all the students.

Some of the points mentioned below are good for everyone, others are for certain students.


Show the students that the Oxford electronic dictionary displays the state of the battery when you go into the menu. Show them what AAA batteries look like.  I DON’T CARE IF THEY SAY “DUH”! I’m even tempted to add pictures of stacks of batteries by a cashier at a supermarket but haven’t gone that far yet…

When you announce a date of an exam, send the students a picture like this on your platform of choice as a reminder.

In relevant cases, send this explanation to the parents of students who use this model.


Show the students the little round batteries CR2032 (two) needed for the  “Babylon -Texton” electronic dictionary.

I  have not located a battery indicator on this model. In addition, a small screwdriver is needed in order to replace the batteries.

I’m still looking into the question of which additional tools can be used to do this ( a coin doesn’t seem to work) and whether I should keep a little screwdriver in the English Room for this purpose.

Any suggestions?

Sometimes you have to grow up… (Naomi’s Photos)

There’s a thin line between helping a student in times of need and “learned dependency”.

Some students really, truly, need you to give them a dictionary (or batteries) for the exam because of their dire home situation. Particularly in times of a pandemic.  Not that I have enough for them all… But I don’t make a fuss.

These students are often the ones who don’t say a word and don’t ask for anything.

Then there are the students who are just “testing the limits” – they won’t do anything about their dictionary unless it “bites”.

I hand them a printed dictionary if they show up for a test without a working dictionary. They hate that.

You may not be “on to them” the first time it happens but by the second time…


A teenager who presents himself as ” such a poor thing“, who is unable to purchase batteries because they are not sold in the store right next door to his home (true story!) is a call for action!

I found that asking the homeroom teacher to send a message to the parents can be very effective in some cases.

Even if it results in having a student complain that “because of me” he had to spend  15 whole minutes walking to a store one afternoon!

Here is a downloadable letter for students:

Dictionary letter for students PDF


What do you do? Share your “round” advice!



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!



“The Dilemma”: Using Electronic Dictionaries in the Classroom – Part Four

Naomi’s photos

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. 

This is not a “myth -tips” post but rather an attempt to present the different aspects of a dilemma that arises when using electronic dictionaries in class. Since there is no “right” way to deal with these questions, I believe they should be discussed by the staff in each school. These issues must be addressed.

Naomi’s photos

I believe that it is each student’s responsibility to acquire and bring his /her dictionary to class. Especially in high-school. Taking responsibility is a life skill that we want to foster, but it goes beyond that. We want students to recognize that their dictionary is a tool they need to have with them, just like a calculator for math lessons, because it is helpful and makes a difference to their studies. It is part of them taking ownership of their studies. 


While the price of the approved electronic dictionaries has gone down significantly thanks to the change in policy, we all know that some students will  not be able to afford to purchase one. Will you allow students to share dictionaries during lessons? What happens when there is an exam? These questions must be discussed by the staff.

Some schools may choose to purchase a few electronic dictionaries for such students to use. Sometimes donors will help. It may seem like a good idea to place these dictionaries in the English Room or English Closet, where students can access them easily during a lesson.


Naomi’s Photos

Who will be allowed to use these dictionaries? Will you tell student K., who happened to forget her dictionary at home today, that she can’t have one because her family isn’t considered “needy” while student D. can use one because of his family’s level of income? To avoid labeling students in such a manner a teacher might allow any student who needs an electronic dictionary to take one for the duration of the lesson. Not only does the teacher then have to worry about whether or not there will be a dictionary left for the student who can’t afford one (especially if the quantity is small) , but a new problem presents itself. The larger the number of  school-owned electronic dictionaries  available for use  during the lesson the larger the number of students who stop bringing their own dictionary to class completely. ..

Naomi’s Photos


I prefer to have any extra electronic dictionaries obtained for such students come from the counselor’s office, not the English Room. The student signs a “contract”  promising to care for the dictionary and return it at the end of the school year. Then the students become responsible for a dictionary, as was discussed above.


There may be too few electronic dictionaries to lend to students who need them. Sharing may be necessary. Staff members should discuss how this will work.

And then…

What about the student who owns an electronic dictionary but due to his /her particular learning disability has serious difficulties with organization and often forgets his dictionary at home (or perhaps can’t find it in his school bag among his chaos because it is so small)? Such a child may need the dictionary  even more than other students do. If the teacher just leaves this kind of student to take responsibility for his/her dictionary completely  on his /her  own, the student’s progress may be seriously impaired. Sometimes a good friend in class can be enlisted to remind such a student to put the electronic dictionary in a specific school-bag pocket at the end of every lesson. In other cases, involving the school counselor could be the way to go.

There is no right answer to these questions. These are all issues that arise and need to be addressed by the staff members of each school.





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

Take it slowly, relax! Epstein Family Photos

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!

Naomi’s Photos

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.

  1.  “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.



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

Naomi’s Photos

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 – The teacher can ignore the purely technical aspects of the electronic dictionary – the students are all “digital natives” and know how to use the device immediately, on their own.

While there most certainly are students who will feel at home with any new technological device within a very short time, there are also students who are surprisingly clueless about anything digital that involves more than posting photos or messages in the current popular social platform. I know it seems hard to believe when it feels that the students’ cell phones never leave the palm of their hands, but it is true.

The models in the market today are very “user-friendly”. Nonetheless, there are some points that need to be discussed. particularly those related to classroom management and teacher’s peace of mind.

Naomi’s Photos


  • NAMES!!! Since there are only a few models of approved dictionaries, large numbers of students in every class will be using the exact same model of electronic dictionary. You really can’t tell them apart. It’s vital to start the year by having the students write their names on the inner side of the cover (if the model has a cover) or on the back. In my classes using Tippex (white-out) for writing is the prefered method as stickers are easy to peel off and some markers can be rubbed off. “Vital” as in avoiding unpleasant situations with students and their parents.
  • SOUND!!! For some unknown reason (to me!) devices come with a beeping sound every time you hit a key. Thankfully, this sound can be easily turned off. Just look for MENU / SETTINGS/ SOUND – OFF. This is an excellent time to enlist those “digital natives” in your class to help everyone get their beeping sound turned off. In my experience the sound  bothers most of the students (hearing and hard of hearing ) as well and they are happy to comply.
  • CLEAR – It’s a good idea to point out the “clear” key. Some students turn the dictionary off and then on again every time they type an error and want to start the word over.
  • Point out which key to use when changing languages.
  • Demonstrate how use of the arrows brings up phrasal verbs and more uses of the words. Even “digital natives” usually don’t notice that one on their own.
  • Batteries – Electronic dictionaries that I’m familiar with run on three small, round and flat batteries. They last a long time, often more than a school year. You don’t plug them into the nearest socket every day, like a cell phone. I’ve had so many students that were astonished when their dictionary suddenly stopped working. It never occurs to them it might be the batteries! Some don’t even know where batteries are sold (or is that just some of my students?).  It’s a good idea to point this fact out. 

More to come – watch this space!

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

The real definition of “B & B”?
Bison with birds!
Guest post by Omri Epstein

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 – Use of an electronic dictionary will result in all students getting stellar grades without studying any English.

It is completely possible to fail an exam “spectacularly” with a top quality electronic dictionary (“spectacular” as in grades such as 18 out of 100…).

The English language is not a simple language: many words have multiple meanings, use of idioms is common and the grammatical structure of the language is often very different from that of the students’ first language. This is particularly true for students whose mother language is not based on Latinate origins or whose main mode of communication is their country’s sign language ( Sign Language is not universal – different countries and languages have their own signs.).  A student needs a command of syntax and grammar in order to choose the right dictionary entry for a given context. In addition, he/ she must be able to think in a flexible manner when translating and reorganizing words translated into meaningful chunks.

Consider the following sentence:
When Dan arrived, he found out that there was no room in the car left for him. 
If a student chooses the first meaning appearing in the dictionary for every word in this sentence he will come up with a totally incomprehensible sentence. The resulting translation will appear as a jumble of unrelated words, including “left” as a direction, “room” as in rooms in a building, while “found” may become separated from “out” and be translated as founding an organization.

Knowledge is required in order to use a dictionary efficiently and correctly – using it mechanically will not improve a student’s results. Time is also a factor. It is worth noting that a student who hasn’t studied at all and looks up every single word in the dictionary will not finish the exam in the allotted time, even with an exam accommodation granting “extra time”.

The long path… Epstein family photos

TIP: Demonstrate ridiculous translations

At the beginning of the year, before exam time rolls around, choose sentences from texts you are using and write them on the board. Ask students to pull out their dictionaries, and translate the sentence totally mechanically using the first meaning given for every word, ignoring phrasal verbs and not changing word order. Discuss the results.

One lesson won’t do the trick. As students work with the dictionaries or hand in work, point out errors based on reckless use of the dictionary and have the students play detective and see if they can figure out what should have been done.  Bring up the matter when relevant, but students need this message repeated.

Unfortunately, some students need to do poorly on an exam before they heed their teachers’ warnings. Without naming names, put together  a worksheet demonstrating pitfalls students didn’t avoid on their recent exam (such as choosing the meaning of a word as a noun, not a verb, ignoring phrasal verbs and other things that will be discussed in the next posts).

More to come – watch this space!





Wacky Web Tales & the Art of “Some”


Where's the party? Naomi's photos
Where’s the party?
Naomi’s photos

Many EFL teachers, particularly those of struggling learners, reject using first rate online materials mainly because they feel their students can’t deal with the vocabulary or the sentence structures. Sometimes this may be a wise decision but in many cases wonderful opportunities are missed.

Identifying these opportunities all depends on employing “the art of SOME”.  The activity called Wacky Web Tales is a great example of this.

To create a Wacky Web Tale, student first see a series of prompts, asking them to fill in a noun, an adjective, a large number, the name of a song, etc.  All they know about the story they are going to get is the title. I chose, for our example, an absolute all time favorite called Simply Delicious . 

This is the part that is so incredible from the teacher’s point of view, particularly so when the students realize how these stories work. Suddenly these struggling learners ask  to be reminded what a noun/verb is. These distinctions very important for such students. One of the reading comprehension strategies they need to acquire is how to decide which words to look up in the dictionary (verbs often give the most meaningful information in a sentence, for example) and then how to choose the definition/translation suitable for their context when they do turn to the dictionary. English is a language full of words that have a different meaning as different parts of speech!

There's only part of the tree... (Naomi's Photos)
There’s only part of the tree… (Naomi’s Photos)

It gets better.

Students are motivated to dream up what they deem to be interesting answers, so that their story will be funny. Since they usually don’t know many of the words they want to use, they look them up! These aren’t words I, the teacher, asked them to use – they are self-motivated to look up these words. That’s what I call meaningful learning! 

Even spelling comes up! Two 16 year old girls in my class (it’s a great activity for pairwork) today argued about the correct spelling of “beautiful” and “Italy” . Without my intervention they corrected their own spelling!

Now we get to the second part. When the students have filled in all the missing words they click to see their completed story. Here’s the “Simpy Delicious” story I created:


my simply delicious

There are many difficult and unknown words in the completed text, which in this case is a recipe. But that doesn’t matter at this stage. I have no problem supplying any unfamiliar word  (and they can read the words they inserted themselves!) as this is the stage to share a good laugh with the silly story they created. Remember “the art of the some”! We’ve done plenty of meaningful learning!

While the site is geared at 3rd grade American children, I find it suitable for use with struggling students with poor vocabularies in junior high-school and high-school as well.  I haven’t tried it with adults.

It’s great to be wacky sometimes – enjoy!


The Incredible Power of the Simple Homemade Dictionary

A Smart Move (Naomi's Photos)
A Smart Move
(Naomi’s Photos)

For a change, this is a reposting of post that just went up on my Key in the Apple blog. I don’t usually repost but I must tell you that I firmly believe that a homemade dictionary is every bit as powerful a tool for any learner who finds it difficult to remember vocabulary, as well as one with a hearing loss.

Students with a hearing loss are notorious for having trouble remembering vocabulary studied in an EFL class.

There are many strategies for working on vocabulary retention (more in future posts) but a beginner learner should learn to view the dictionary as an integral part of his/her studies, from day one. Students, especially the motivated students, get very distressed by the fact that they have forgotten the meaning of vocabulary items they know they have learned (perhaps even were tested on!). This distress easily turns into a belief that their English studies are doomed for failure and that it’s hopeless to try.

Students who have begun using a dictionary early on, know that there is a “life-belt” and while remembering words is more convenient, words forgotten aren’t going to stop them from understanding, and successfully completing, their reading comprehension assignments. Having confidence is an incredibly meaningful factor in predicting the student’s ability to successfully reach expected levels in his/her EFL studies.

Students at the Beginners level should begin with a “Homemade Dictionary”. This can be made from a simple notebook.
Each page of a notebook must be given a designated letter. Ready made alphabet notebooks can be found in stores. The student adds vocabulary items as he/she learns them, with a drawing or a translation into mother tongue. This dictionary should be brought to every lesson, along with the pencilbox and coursebook.

When the homemade dictionary no longer meets a student’s needs it is time to move onto “real” dictionaries. both printed and electronic.

Note: You will find a post on myths related to use of dictionaries with deaf and hard of hearing students in the previous post, under: “The lifesaver – the dictionary”.

Which electronic dictionary to choose?

I was asked today, once again, which electronic dictionary is better for students.

I dont’ know if posting specific names of companies is the right thing to do as I’m not affiliated with any commercial company – does anyone have any adice on that issue? But there are a few basic things to note:

1) See if it is capable of translating phrasal verbs such as “take place” – very important for pupils!

2) Type in an irregular verb in the past tense. If it notifies you that this is the past tense form of the verb (and gives you the present form) then that’s fine. DO NOT choose one that ignores these verbs and goes on to the closest matching word it can find.

3) Try typing in a word like “nose” or “sun”. If it gives you, as the first option, a translation using Biblical Hebrew – you don’t want that one!

4) If its really cheap – I hate to admit it, but that IS a bad sign….