Using Dictionaries & Glossaries: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Mary Beth Burns

Mary Beth has taught 1st, 4th and 5th grade and has a specialist degree in Educational Leadership. She is currently an assistant principal.

Never be intimidated by words that you don't know ever again! Good readers will use resources, like dictionaries or glossaries, in order to learn these unknown words. Come and learn how you can do the same in this lesson!

Help! I Don't Know This Word!

How frustrating is it when you are reading a book, but you get stuck on a word? Sure, you could use contextual clues in order to figure out the meaning. However, this doesn't work all the time, especially when you come across uncommon words from a specific domain (i.e. scientific vocabulary). Not to fear - glossaries are here!

When you are reading informational texts, especially in science and social studies, you might notice that there are bolded words. Most likely, these are the vocabulary words in the text or words that many readers do not know already. The bold words are also a clue to you that there might be a glossary at the back of the book. A glossary is an alphabetical list of the commonly unknown words with their definitions.

Sometimes, you read informational text online on a mobile device or computer. Did you know that there are digital glossaries, too? They are super easy to use! If a digital text has a glossary, you simply click the 'glossary' tab or page and type in the unknown word. Viola! Your definition is there, and you are ready to read on!

Use the glossary if your book has one!

Help! My Book Doesn't Have a Glossary!

So, you might be thinking ''This is all great, but sometimes I run across words I don't know, and the book does not have a glossary. What would I do then?'' There is another amazing resource for you to use: a dictionary. A dictionary is similar to a glossary in that they both provide you with definitions of words in alphabetical order. However, dictionaries can tell you so much more. While glossaries will only give you words from the text, dictionaries will give you every word in the English language.

Dictionaries are online, too. If you are reading a digital text and need to know the definition of a word, there are several free online dictionaries that you can use. You will simply type in the word, and the definition pops up. It's like magic!

A set of print dictionaries

Key Terms for Dictionary Use

Have you ever come across a word that you know what it means, but you don't know how to say it? Dictionaries can help you here, too. They give you much more than just the definition. For example, let's say you come across the word 'ambulance,' and you decide to look it up in the dictionary. You might see something like this:




A specially equipped vehicle used to transport the sick or injured.

French, from (hôpital) ambulant, mobile (hospital)

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