Using an English Dictionary in ESL Classroom

Presented By

Mr. Jonathan Ruiz
Institutional/District Affiliation: 
Academic Learning Company
ESL Resource Consultant


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Presentation Info

Academic Vocabulary
Grade Level: 
Middle School/Jr. High
High School

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This workshop will goes over the different types of dictionaries and which kind is best suited for both the average user and the English language learner.

A dictionary is often the first resource people turn to when trying to learn English: it’s easy to use, portable, and doesn’t require a huge investment. And yet most educators don’t realize that, far from being confined to academic circles, the philosophies of dictionary publishers affect them greatly and how their students should use these reference tools.

This workshop will examine the descriptivism and prescriptivism debate as it pertains to dictionaries and how those differences affect the average user. For example, one of the common mistakes assumptions is that the first definition in an entry is the most commonly used. Descriptive dictionaries (such as Merriam-Webster) will order the definitions from oldest to newest.

This workshop will also explain how to use a dictionary with ELLs. Learning the differences between the schools of thought and how that affects the structure and even definition order is especially important for English language learners. One example we like to give is the entry for “awful” in Merriam-Webster. The first and second definitions are older: “inspiring awe” and “filled with awe.” It is not until the third definition that we see the more commonly-used, modern definition: “extremely disagreeable or objectionable.” And yet for an English language learner, the easy – and erroneous–assumption is that the first entry is the one they should use.

In addition, most teachers do not realize that using the right type of dictionary for their students makes a huge impact on English learning. We will explain the different types of dictionaries, such as the difference between an ESL dictionary and a bilingual dictionary, and go over which student will benefit most from each kind.


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