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Teaching Word Reference Materials in Upper Elementary

January 27, 2023 No Comments

Word reference materials are something that a lot of elementary students struggle with each year. I think many of us don’t have a thesaurus or dictionary at home, and teaching students how to use them isn’t usually a high priority on the pacing guide. But that said, it’s really important that students learn how to use a dictionary, thesaurus, and glossary both as readers and writers.

I found that my students were usually pretty comfortable using a glossary, but when it came to using a dictionary or thesaurus, it was more challenging (guide words and ABC order, anyone?). And they often got confused trying to remember when to use each word reference source.

So here are some tips and activities that I hope help you teach word reference materials to your third, fourth, and fifth graders!

Use Word Reference Materials Anchor Charts

By upper elementary, students have likely had practice with all 3 resources before, but they’ll still benefit from reviewing what each one is for and how it’s organized – especially the dictionary and thesaurus.

Word reference source anchor charts make it easy for students to refer back to when they forget which is which. These are great to add to an ELA focus wall or a word analysis strategies display.

Reteach How and When to Use Each Resource

Since the dictionary, thesaurus, and glossary are similar resources, it helps students to review when they need to use each one. And of course, how to use it. Not only is this important for real life, but they’re also likely to see related questions on a standardized reading test.

I like to have students work in pairs and small groups for practice. It makes it a little more fun and I like that they can coach each other if they get stuck. They can explore them, hunt for words, and compare the differences.

These word reference materials worksheets help students practice reading a dictionary, glossary, and thesaurus page. And they’ll also review using guide words to locate a specific word.

And this sorting activity is a great way to review the differences among the different word reference options.

Plan Time to Practice ABC Order and Guide Words

I think that using guide words is the trickiest part for kids – especially when students have to alphabetize to the 3rd and 4th letter.

Sorting activities, “I have, who has” and I Spy games, scavenger hunts, task cards, and other activities that get kids working together and moving around make it more fun for students and teachers to practice!

abc order and guide words worksheets and sorts make it easy for upper elementary students to practice using a dictionary and thesaurus

Try Digital Word Reference Sources

Students need plenty of practice with print resources, but it’s good for them to see how digital versions are set up, too. Here are a few I like:

You can also have students practice with tools like the dictionary feature in Google Docs. The definitions aren’t super kid-friendly, but I like that they include synonyms and antonyms.

Include a Read-Aloud

You know I can’t get through a blog post without some read-aloud recommendations! Here are a few that you can use with your word reference material lessons:

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus
W Is for Webster: Noah Webster and His American Dictionary
What a Wonderful Word

Looking for Activities to Use?

If you want to save time on low-prep word reference material activities, this resource for grades 3-5 may be just what you need!

It includes anchor charts, worksheets, sorting activities, and a cooperative game to help your students strengthen their word reference skills!

Teaching students how to use a dictionary, thesaurus, and glossary is an important word analysis strategy. Let me know what other ways you like to teach and review word reference materials with your students!

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