That book on the shelf is a dictionary

Yesterday, we began our unit on the origins of words, with me using my Prezi show to engage the students in discussions about where they think our language comes from. Most had never even thought about it, so they were pretty focused on our discussions. They all laughed at the high school that has banned the word “Meep” because of overuse (or disruptive use) by students.

I finished the overview up with a talk about the dictionary. I asked: how many of you have used a book dictionary to look something up in the past two months.

Out of about 75 kids (in four classes), about a dozen raised their hands.

Then, I asked: how many of you have used an Internet-based dictionary in the past two months to look something up?

I got about 95 percent of the kids with hands in the air, although one student reminded us that “you can’t always trust what you find on the Internet.” We had a discussion about the pros and cons of online versus paper dictionaries.

  • Online: you can click the speaker and hear the word
  • Paper: You can stumble across unknown words
  • Online: You use a search engine
  • Paper: It’s always available
  • Online: Links to other resources
  • Paper: a reliable source

I acknowledged that most of us now turn to the Net for ways to gather information but that a dictionary is still an important source and we then spent some time going over how you “read” a dictionary — skills they clearly were lacking. We talked about guide words, pronunciation, syllables, parts of speech and even the origins of words.

The activity they had was to spend a few minutes looking through the dictionary and find a word they did not know, figure out the pronunciation and read the word and definition to the class. You would not imagine how much fun they had with this simple activity. They were laughing, looking and sharing left and right. It was a blast.

As an interesting side note: at the end of the year, when our sixth graders move on to our regional middle/high school, they are presented with a gift from the local Mothers’ Club: a beautiful dictionary. We’ve been trying to decide if this is still a useful gift, given the times, and after yesterday, I still think it is. They need to know and understand the dictionary, even if their use of online resources grows.

In case you missed my Word Origins presentation the other day, here it is:

Peace (in the book of words),

Working with Crazy Words

crazywords wordle by you.

As part of our unit on the Origins of the English Language, my students work on creating their own words that they hope will someday become part of the English Language. We talk a lot about how words come and go through time, and how language is always alive and taking new shapes. In this vein, a few years ago, I started to use a Wiki to have students add to a dictionary of made-up words. It is now in its fifth year and the number of words exeeds 400 at this point. It’s quite a thing and my students love to add their words to it, knowing they are creating something unique.

We use a wiki (Wikispaces) because it is so darned easy to use and to archive. The simplicity of the platform is perfect and it occurs to me that our wiki is a collaboration over time, as this year’s crop of writers are really working with my young writers from each of the last five years, and with the future in mind, too. That is interesting (for a sci-fi nut like me anyway)

Here are some of the words from this year, and I am including the podcast, too, since they read their words and definitions so that their voice gets archived with their words.

If you want to see the full dictionary:

Peace (in collaboration over time),