How to Help Your Kids Build Dictionary Skills

October 24, 2022

Sarah Shelton

Sarah Shelton

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With so many digital devices and the Internet at our fingertips, kids don’t seem to have an opportunity to learn how to use a dictionary anymore. Dictionary skills used to be taught to elementary school children in a classroom setting.


Dictionary Skills

Dictionaries are a great tool to help you understand new words and their definitions. Furthermore, you can easily look up a word in a dictionary and get a definition and then look up the word again to make sure you know how to properly pronounce it.

You can also look up the word in a dictionary and see if it has any synonyms or antonyms that you might not know. That’s more fun that doing synonyms and antonyms worksheets for hands-on learners.

Parts of a Dictionary

There are many different parts of a dictionary, but the four main parts include the entry word, guide words, pronunciation, part of speech, definition, and origin.

Learn more about the parts of a dictionary below.

Entry Words

An entry word is the word in the dictionary that is normally bolded or in a different font as to be distinguished from the other words. The spelling, definition and meaning of the entry word follows. These words are in alphabetical order.

Guide Words

The guide words are at the top of the page in the dictionary, normally on the opposite side of where the page number is. They tell you the first and last words that are on that specific page. 


You can learn the pronunciation of a word and how to pronounce the entry word because the syllables are broken down in the entry.

Parts of Speech

The abbreviations n., v., adv., adj., etc… shows you what part of speech the defined word is.

Plural Form

The plural form of a word shows how the dictionary entry word will look when you make it plural.

Word Origin

The word origin shows the origin of the entry words and what word it is derived from.


Syllables are broken down with spaces in the keyword. This is helpful to show your kids when to pause as they are pronouncing the word.


The definitions of words can be found directly after the entry word in the dictionary. 

Words with Multiple Definitions

There are many words in the dictionary that have multiple definitions. Multiple meaning words are called homonyms and the definitions are listed one after the other after the entry word.

Dictionary Skills

Dictionary skills are not taught as often as when we were in school. Many children haven’t seen a dictionary page before and may be overwhelmed when they first see all the words and meanings. When your children learn how to use a dictionary they will be rewarded with many other skills as well.

Spelling Skills

If your child struggles with spelling, a dictionary can be such a wonderful asset in building spelling skills.

Vocabulary Skills

Along with a solid dictionary, a good vocabulary curriculum is another great addition to help your kids work on building vocabulary skills.

Vocabulary Curriculum

Alphabetical Order

A dictionary is a wonderful way to teach your children to learn how to alphabetize. When they are looking at the guide words at the top of the page, they need to be able to put things quickly in abc order to find the words in between the guide words.

Free printable ABC Order Pack

Synonyms and Antonyms

Looking up words is a great way to learn synonyms and antonyms. You can take it further by using a thesaurus to help improve writing as well.

Types of Dictionaries

Dictionaries come in various types, such as general, specialized, language focused, and others. Each type of dictionary has a specific purpose and contains varying amounts of useful information.

For example, if I wanted to know what the meaning of a certain word was, I’d probably go with a general dictionary. However, if I were interested in learning how a word is pronounced, I might choose a pronunciation dictionary.

Visual Dictionaries

Visual dictionaries are also handy because they often include pictures of the word so you can better visualize what it looks like. Students should definitely learn how to use a dictionary, especially one that includes pictures.

The Benefits of Using a Dictionary

Dictionaries are amazing reference tools that can help your children to learn the meanings of unfamiliar words. There may be times when there is no power or technology available, and knowing the proper use of a dictionary can be a valuable skill to have.

Ways to Teach Your Child to Use a Dictionary

There are many ways to teach your child to use a dictionary in your homeschool. You can incorporate dictionary learning into some of  your homeschool subjects and it is a great way to teach research skills as well.

Choose an Age-Appropriate Dictionary

If you are not using an age-appropriate dictionary with your children they are going to get overwhelmed and frustrated. Adult dictionaries have very tiny print and words that are hard to read and understand.

A children’s dictionary will list the ages it is appropriate for. It will be more colorful and have larger words that are easy to read.

Keep a Dictionary Handy While Reading

A fun way to teach your child to use a dictionary is by having them look up unfamiliar words during some quiet reading time. I like to keep a little notebook for my kids as they are reading. If they find a word they don’t understand they can write it down. Then they can look it up to see the meaning and definition. 

Check for Correct Spelling

If your child is unsure of how to spell a word they can look it up and see the correct spelling and pronunciation. A dictionary is the classic spell check we all had to use before we had computers.

Dictionary Skills Worksheets

Printable dictionary skills worksheets are a great way to get your kids excited about their own research in looking up words and meanings. It will give them lots of different opportunities to practice using a dictionary in a fun and non threatening way.

Dictionary Skills Printable

Dictionary Skills Printable – This free dictionary skills printable pack will teach your children what a dictionary is and how to use it. They will even get a chance to create their own words and definitions. You can login to our subscriber library to download this Dictionary Skills Printable. 

dictionary skills printable

Dictionary & Thesaurus Printables

If your children aren’t used to looking up words in a real dictionary these dictionary skills worksheets will be a great resource to get them started. Using hard copies of a dictionary and a thesaurus teaches your children how to have real life research skills.

Free Online Dictionary for Kids

  • Kids.Wordsmyth – This online dictionary for kids has a children’s dictionary for upper elementary and an early reader version called W.I.L.D. It can be downloaded as a free app with pictures and interactive words to help your young readers get excited about a dictionary.
  • Wordsmyth’s Word Explorer Children’s Dictionary is designed for upper elementary children. There are more than 14,000 words and they all have a human voice pronouncing the words for your kids to see, hear and understand the word and definition.

Kids Thesaurus Online

Kid Thesaurus – Your kids will have fun searching for kid friendly synonyms with this online thesaurus with kid friendly words. Simply type the word into the search box and it will bring up synonyms with the same meaning. Each word also has a picture to accompany it to help your kids get a better grasp of the definition of the synonymn. 

Dictionaries for Kids

Looking for some dictionaries for kids to fill your bookshelves with? Here are some of our favorites:

  • Merriam-Webster Children’s Dictionary – This engaging illustrated dictionary has over 35,000 word entries and 3,000 full color illustrations.
  • Scholastic Children’s Dictionary – There are over 500 new definitions with bright colorful pictures and kid friendly pronunciations of the words.
  • Children’s Visual Dictionary – This is a fully illustrated bilingual children’s dictionary that will make learning Spanish and English fun.
  • My First Dictionary – Perfect for your little ones who want to do school with their siblings. Their first dictionary has over 1,000 words, pictures and definitions to learn.

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