Celebrating National Dictionary Day

Fake Dictionary Dictionary definition of the word encourage.
image source: www.bigstockphoto.com

This weekend has been filled with social gatherings and sharing our thanks with friends and family – and our students, but in the world of teaching, before one major theme is complete, our thoughts are filled with what’s next.  October is filled with major themes – Fall harvest, Thanksgiving, and Halloween, but did you know it’s also the month of National Dictionary Day?  As Shakespeare said, what’s in a name? Well for many language learners, the answer is “a lot”. Students often ask us how they can build their vocabulary or why even though one word is a synonym for another word, it’s not appropriate in that particular context. That’s why I like Dictionary Day; it’s a day when we can not only have fun with words, but also delve into conversations about where words come from, how they’ve changed over time, or the contextual (often cultural) meaning behind them.

As October 16 marks the day of National Dictionary Day, I’ve outlined some ideas you can bring into your classroom to both celebrate the day and have some word fun with your students…in a very educational way of course!

Vocabulary Challenge

This activity is more of a month long idea, but National Dictionary Day is a great day to start it.  Many educators already have some sort of system for having students build their vocabulary, and some students thrive with challenges. You can either make this a classroom challenge or a personal challenge – and the personal challenge would work great for PBLA.

At the start of each week, have students pick 1-3 words they would like to really understand. The best way to learn vocabulary is to use it, so this is their chance!  Provide them with a (or have them create their own) scoring sheet.  Challenge them to use their selected words as many times as they can in the week either in speaking or writing.  As the weeks go on and they choose new words, remind them to challenge themselves to increase their scores with each new week.

You can provide them with prizes or individual incentives if you like, but the language lover in me would say the ultimate prize is the confidence in the language that this game brings.

Around the World

This game is something that my school does for Dictionary Day. We have a smart board with the map of the world and on the side various English words that actually come from other places.  We have students take turns touching the map and matching the words with the region they think it comes from.  It has been really neat to see students’ face light up when they realise an English word connected with their language. This game is also a great conversation starter because you can talk about how that word developed which might mean some etymology digging for you, but etymology is really cool and your students will be amazed.

The Silent Languages

National Dictionary Day is also a great day to incorporate Sign Language.  At my school, I have worked with students who communicate with Sign Language and I think it benefits us to know some introductory phrases of ASL if that’s the predominant sign language being used.  During Dictionary Day, why not introduce some phrases like Hello, Thank You, Goodbye, or My Name Is along the English counterparts. You could also have students then teach the class these same phrases from their languages to help build connections with other students and you.

So next Monday, to celebrate Dictionary Day make learning vocabulary fun. Challenge your students to use new words, have them make worldly connections, or teach them about different forms of language.  Can you add more activities to this list?


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