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Dictionary Activities in the Elementary Classroom: News For Lexicographers M; Erin McKean "ost dictionaries produced for a general audience assume .that the user has the requisite dictionary skills to read, use, and understand the peculiar structure of the dictionary. However, very little attention is paid to how the user acquires these important skills in the first place. Even though every dictionary has an introductory section explaining the parts of the dictionary entry, special features , pronunciations, etc., it is assumed that few users take the time to actually peruse this section in depth. It is presumed that, like the capitals of the fifty states and the nine-times table, basic dictionary skills are acquired in elementary school. Native-speaker users of monolingual dictionaries are supposed to have learned their dictionary skills in elementary school, whether they did or not. Several excellent studies of how various kinds of users use their dictionaries, at levels ranging from nine years old to adult, have been done over the past decade. Many of these, however, apply only to ESL dictionaries and their users. These studies often make many suggestions as to how dictionaries can be changed to improve ease of use, most of which involve considerable expense to the publisher.1 Unfortunately, there seems to be little research on how, exactly , elementary school teachers teach these important skills to native 'Such studies include Atkins and others (1987), Béjoint (1989), Laufer and Melamed (1994), Meara and English (1988), and Mitchell (1983a and 1983b); these and others are cited in Atkins and Varantola (1997). Dictionaries:fournal ofthe Dictionary Society ofAmerica 21 (2000) 82Erin McKean speakers. There is even less information as to how teachers use dictionaries in the classroom. We presume that they use their dictionaries to teach dictionary skills, but this isjust an assumption. This dearth of information is especially inconvenient for the makers of school dictionaries , who are entrusted with the task of making the training-wheel versions of dictionaries that should enable students to learn the dictionary skills they will need throughout their lives. School dictionary lexicographers, then, have two end-users to keep in mind: the student using and learning to use the dictionary, and the teacher using the dictionary to teach. A dictionary that does not support the activities that teachers want to use in the classroom is a dictionary that will gather dust on the shelf, and teachers may abandon dictionary activities for want of that support. Even without hard data (or even mushy data) , school dictionary lexicographers have been trying to encourage the teaching of dictionary activities and dictionary use in the classroom. A search of the Scott Foresman archives (Scott Foresman was the first U.S. publisher to make dictionaries specifically for children and has been making school dictionaries for more than sixty years) turned up several ancillary products for teachers designed to encourage dictionary use (specifically, Thorndike and Thorndike Barnhart dictionary use) and dictionary skills teaching in the classroom. A 1943 pamphlet, "Getting Places with Words," features a template for a word log, which students are expected to fill out with new words they have encountered , the words' pronunciations, citations of use, the words' meanings, and examples of how the student has used the words in his or her own speech or writing during the week. The cover features this blurb: "Friday Fun! Comparing dictionary notebooks, 'Getting Places with Words,' to see who learned the most new word meanings for the week." This booklet is aimed at "middle-grade pupils." Notes to the teacher emphasize that the "best results will be obtained if every child has a copy of the THORNDIKE on his desk to refer to whenever he needs help on the meaning, spelling, or pronunciation of a word." A 1962 Scott Foresman booklet, "Fun With Words," gives teachers nineteen pages of "pace-changers — dictionary games that are good for the spirit and good for the mind, too; games that can contribute to dictionary understandings and skills, to vocabulary growth, to interest in dictionary use and the big, wide, wonderful world of words ... they can be fitted into the life of your school day whenever Dictionary Activities in the Elementary Classroom83 the time is right and...


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