I have a book at home that I read a lot but I don’t think I’ve ever started at the beginning. I certainly haven’t finished it even though I’ve had it for years and it is well worn. It doesn’t matter which page I read and it’s a book where yesterday follows today.
Yes, a dictionary.
For both teachers and children a dictionary is one of the most important books you can own and having one that you like and get on with helps you improve your vocabulary, pronunciation and grammar.
When I say ‘get on with’, I mean a dictionary I feel comfortable with. I have a few dictionaries that aren’t user friendly and I just haven’t warmed to them. I have one that I particularly like though and it fits me like an old pair of comfy shoes.
I taught at a school once where some new dictionaries suddenly appeared in every classroom. The literacy coordinator had bought some but it was the first we knew about it.
The thing was, the dictionaries weren’t a good fit and children didn’t like them. None of the teachers did either. They were more suited to secondary students and they were really only used by Y6.
It was like giving Lord of the Rings to a 6 year old and was an expensive lesson in making sure that you consult pupils and staff first and trial a few before you buy in bulk.
One dictionary written for children that you should definitely test out comes from Schofield and Sims. This is a dictionary that provides simple but highly specific definitions with easy and accessible language and yes, it is suitable for primary classrooms although it would be suitable for above KS2.
Five years in the making, it contains over 75,000 words, definitions and examples and it is one of the first new English dictionaries of the twenty-first century.
It contains lots of contemporary real-world words (such as chillax, phablet and selfie) as well as older authentic words (like dell and tidings) found in children’s classics, explores words they use at school and very importantly the vocabulary of National Curriculum subjects.
The dictionary also attaches great importance to explaining letter shape origins, word origins and the cultural factors that have shaped the English language. These and other special features are clearly displayed in around 3000 information panels. Common American words are also identified and defined.
Looking at a typical page you will find ‘origin’ panels at the start of each new letter of the alphabet providing information on the history of the shape of the letter. The words thereafter are presented in black and green for contrast. The words in black are headwords followed by their precise definitions and the green text provides examples.
Clearly children will benefit most from a dictionary that is written with their development in mind and so the language used in Schofield and Sims is tailored like a Saville Row suit; it is easy to read, stimulating and friendly.
It is not technical or out of reach but within the comfort zone of most primary children with a really well thought out focus on lucidity and practicality.
A good children’s dictionary not only provides the meanings of words but also offers contextualised and meaningful examples to use the words and this dictionary does just that.
Boundless care has been taken to ensure that definitions include enough exact information for children to understand what a word means. It can often be difficult to choose the right word to use in the right context, however, this dictionary points out how to use words with similar meanings correctly.
There are guide words in the top outside corners, interesting culture note panels containing fascinating facts, synonym and antonyms are included throughout, and important suffixes and prefixes are given as headwords.
You will also find cross-references and language extra panels proving information on alternative spellings and word forms, different ways of using a word, grammar, common errors and other key points to remember. A couple of pages at the end of the book are devoted to parts of speech and punctuation.
The only real reservation I have is about the sheer size and weight of the dictionary. It’s big, bigger than some children in Reception and you might need a forklift truck to hand them out as they will be too cumbersome for children to do by themselves.
This said, you get an awful lot of dictionary for your money at only £20 making it one of the best value dictionaries available. Some users will miss illustrations and pictures though as this dictionary is text only.
For me a good dictionary tells you how words are spelt, how they are pronounced, gives different meanings of words, provides examples in different contexts, gives the plurals of nouns, tells you whether a noun is countable or not, gives synonyms and antonyms, and gives words derived from the same root or family.
It also gives comparative and superlative forms of adjectives, gives the past tense and participle forms of verbs, tells you the origin of words and the meanings of useful phrases and tells you whether a certain word is a slang word, a formal word, archaic word or colloquial expression. This dictionary does.
This is a reliable and clearly organised curriculum friendly dictionary that is up to date and full of extras not found elsewhere.
It’s the sort of dictionary that thankfully doesn’t contain the traditional stuffy ‘dictionaryese’ but uses fresh and dynamic age appropriate language children will understand.
This dictionary stands out from the competition and I would confidently recommend using it for expanding children’s vocabulary and improving their reading, writing and spelling skills. One thing is for sure, children won’t be lost for words.