This is going to be a mini series of posts on some tips and tricks for people thinking of moving in an unplugged direction with their teaching. These will be things that you can use, both physical objects you might take into the classroom or activities to make the most out of whatever you are doing. These may not be totally new for everyone, but I hope you’ll be able to get something from them. As ever, comments are most welcome if you have anything to add.

Number 1 – learner dictionaries
Something I have got into the habit of doing over the past year or so is always taking a level appropriate learner dictionary (or dictionaries) into class. My big reason for this is that, despite what many learners seem to think or assume, an English teacher is not a dictionary. (and we all know that teaching/learning a language is not just about knowledge or content transfer, right?)

If I don’t use a word regularly, then I am sorry, I am usually not totally sure of its spelling. I always try to consult a dictionary if this is the case, which I would hope among other things is reassuring for learners. I mean, if Mister Mike has to look up words sometimes then I should not be sad if I have to as well…

But this is not all. A dictionary, and a learner dictionary often more so, is a great versatile and extensive resource that can be equally used for standalone activities as for supporting whatever you may be working on in class. What follows are a few things you can do with learner dictionaries that I have found in different places…

A) raise awareness of roman script alphabetical progession with dictionary races:
Take a list of words and find them in a dictionary, noting down the page numbers. Give groups of your learners copies of the same dictionary (same edition), call out or write up the words. The winners are the first to locate the words and note their page numbers.

Read all of that! I am timing you...

B) raise awareness of phonics of English:
Most learner dictionaries have a page showing all the sounds in English, the consonant and vowel sounds along with example words containing these sounds. Use these to introduce the sounds of the language to your students.

These dictionaries usually also have transcriptions of words in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)  next to their entries. Make use of this by asking learners to find words that contain particular sounds. These could be sounds that cause particular problems for learners, for example /b/ and /v/ sounds for Spanish speakers.

C) raise awareness of meaning:
One of the best things about learner dictionaries is that they have definitions that are level appropriate. Make use of these by asking learners to find words based on definitions that you give them (again, make sure you and the learners are working from the same dictionary and edition)

None of the ideas above is really original, but reminders of simple, useful and adaptable resources I find good (even if only for myself on this blog!). In the meantime, if you have any tips for using learner dictionaries for language teaching please leave a comment below. Looking forward to your ideas!

Sources and useful reading:

Five Minute Activities by Penny Ur and Andrew Wright http://amzn.to/o06QDN

Teaching Unplugged by Scott Thornbury and Luke Meddings http://amzn.to/pbul3C

Image credit: English Dictionaries by jovike on Flickr

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