Reference Tools: Third Grade Digs into Dictionaries

One of my third grade teachers said in passing the other day, that she was assuming that I was going to be teaching the students about reference tools.  I was planning on it, but was waiting for inspiration for a new approach or activity.  Thought a bit and then realized that with our school system’s 1:1 initiative on the way (tablets coming our students’ way), I should also instruct students about the online equivalent to the traditional format.

New Hook-Using Real Tools

Borrowing an idea from one of my Florida State classes (online program for my Specialist Degree), I brought in real tools and the students talked about how the tools were used. We talked about needing the correct tool for the job and when you need information you also need just the right tool.


Used real tools to help the students relate that reference tools also have unique purposes

We started off with the dictionary.

Printed vs Online

I checked with the third grade teachers to see if they had been using dictionaries in their class so far this year.  Two had and the other two had not.  I skipped the hands on dictionary time with those classes that had some experience with dictionaries this school year.  We did look up a word in the paper dictionary for those who needed practice.  We then looked up the same word in the online dictionary.  I created a graphic organizer so that the students could compare the different formats to discover the similarities and differences.

Form and Function: IB Key Concepts

As we are an International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme school, I focused on two IB key concepts at this stage, form (what is it like) and function (how does it work) while comparing the paper and online dictionaries.

Dictionary: form and function. This is what the students figured out about this reference tool.

Dictionary: form and function. This is what the students figured out about this reference tool.

I had the students use and working in small groups, they used a graphic organizer to list similarities and differences.  The students figured out that although the form was different, the dictionaries, whether paper or online, have the same functions: providing definitions, showing syllables, listing parts of speech.  They also figured out that the printed dictionary was arranged in alphabetical order and you used guide words to find the word.  They noticed that the online dictionary did not list the words in abc order, but they had to type in the word they were looking up.  A couple of students also discovered that if you aren’t careful and misspell the word or make a typo, you will not find your word!

I will continue to have the students compare the print and online version of each reference tool.



Filed under Information Literacy Instruction, Students using technology, Uncategorized

2 responses to “Reference Tools: Third Grade Digs into Dictionaries

  1. Katesa Walker

    The students really enjoyed this activity. Using those tools as an opener really got their attention! Thanks so much for always planning such engaging interactive lessons. The third grade team appreciates you!

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