How to Use a Dictionary

Our most recent accommodations update post was all about the dictionary.  The dictionary can be a great tool to have at your disposal, but if the student is clueless on its purpose and its magical word finding powers, it becomes nothing more than another heavy book.

So where should you start?  The first place to start might be with the Top Ten Reasons to Use a Dictionary.

1.  Learn how to spell a word and its plural form.
2.  Determine if a word is capitalized or abbreviated.
3.  Learn how to break the word into syllables.
4.  To pronounce the word correctly.
5.  Learn the part of speech of a word.
6.  Find the different meanings that the word has, as well as synonyms (same meaning) and
antonyms (opposite meaning).
7.  Find a sentence or expression with the word used correctly.
8.  Find the meanings of important prefixes and suffixes.
9.  Learn the special uses of a word.
10.  Find other words derived from the main word.

Now that your students are armed with the Top Ten Reasons to Use a Dictionary.  They’ll need some practice to learn how to use it.  We’ve found some really helpful dictionay-focused websites and instructional tools.

The resources below include information about guide words, parts of speech, pronunciation keys, and entry words. There are worksheets, definitions, games, lesson plans, tutorials, and more.


1.  Reading the Dictionary—This 26 page PDF file from Pearson includes explanations of how to use a dictionary, it includes exercises on syllables, parts of speech, definitions, and more.

2.  Education World, Dictionary Activities—This page has eight different dictionary activities and lessons for various grade levels.

3.  “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” Dictionary Game—Students can play this game to test their knowledge of guide words.

4.  Dictionary Scavenger Hunt Example—The scavenger hunt provides students the chance to practice using a variety of dictionary based skills.  The example is in Microsoft Word, so feel free to create your own sheets to play with your class.

2011-2012 STAAR Accommodations Update #6

The Dictionary

The dictionary is now considered a type 2 accommodation aimed at helping students with disabilities to facilitate comprehension of unfamiliar words.  There are a few differences in how students with disabilities are able to use a dictionary on STAAR than previously allowed on TAKS.

We’ve listed four of the major highlights below.

Highlight #1
The use of a dictionary is now ONLY allowed as an accommodation for grades 3-5 Reading, STAAR, STAAR Spanish, and STAAR Modified assessments.  The 2010-2011 TAKS Accommodations Manual lists the dictionary as a Supplemental Aid, which can be used on the following TAKS Accommodated and TAKS-Modified assessments: Reading/ELA, Social Studies, and Science.

The dictionary now stands on it’s own as an accommodation and must be noted separately from the use of a Supplemental Aid for STAAR.

Highlight #2
Sometimes the dictionary is a required tool that must be made available during specific STAAR assessments.  In this situation, there isn’t a need to identify the dictionary as a necessary accommodation on the students IEP or IAP paperwork for assessment purposes.  A dictionary must be made available to all students taking ALL of the assessments below.

  • STAAR Reading assessments (including STAAR Modified) at grades 6–8
  • STAAR Writing assessments (including STAAR Modified) at grade 7
  • STAAR English I, II, and III Reading and Writing assessments (including STAAR Modified)
Highlight #3
Only students that meet ALL of the eligibility criteria below are eligible to use this accommodation during the available grades 3-5 STAAR Reading assessments.
A student may use this accommodation if he or she…
  • receives special education or Section 504 services,
  • routinely, independently, and effectively uses this accommodation during classroom instruction and testing, and
  • has a disability that affects memory retrieval and/or decoding skills.
Highlight #4
Teacher-made or student-made dictionaries are NEVER allowed.  Only dictionaries that have been commercially produced are allowed for student use.  Electronic dictionaries that are able to read the text to the student are now an allowable accommodation.
Upcoming Post…
In an upcoming post we will share some resources focusing on how to teach students to use a dictionary successfully.  If you already have some great ideas on how to teach students to use a dictionary please leave them in the comments section below.

FREE Webinar: Spelling Type 2 Accommodation Tools

Join Nichole Kertis, our ESC Region XIII Assistive Technology specialist for a free webinar on Type 2 Accommodation technology tools for spelling.

Participants will learn about some amazing free and commercial technology tools that provide text-to-speech, speech-to-text, word prediction, and other technological supports for struggling spellers.

The exciting part about those amazing spelling tools is that students will be able to use them on specific STAAR and STAAR Modified assessments.

If you’re interested in giving your students a spelling advantage during instructional and assessment time, click on the link below to register.

Reserve your Webinar seat now at:

Date: Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

Time:  12:00 PM to 1:00 PM CST

Presenter:  Nichole Kertis, OT, Assistive Technology Education Specialist