Using Dictionaries In Class
I use dictionaries if I think I will need to explain a word in detail – generally for advanced classes. Students are surprised that sometimes there are English words I don’t know, or more regularly, there are words I understand but may not be able to explain concisely. For students, a dictionary can help with phonemic pronunciation and with grammar details like verb patterns or prepositions that go with verbs or nouns.
One vocabulary which goes well with dictionary work is Call My Bluff.
With very advanced groups, I often bring in a few (monolingual) dictionaries. When we read for gist, and even for specific information, I realize there may be good vocabulary that some students may be interested in that we just don’t have time to discuss in depth and isn’t essential to the meaning of the reading.
Generally, if students are using dictionaries as a main activity, I give them a time limit. They have to decide how to manage their time, but it is very easy to get bogged down with details using a dictionary and it’s important not to let this happen. It also helps to have a specific task. I’d say it’s relatively rare in my classes for students to simply have a list of words and look them up, but sometimes I use this a) for variety, or b) because even in relatively good communicative textbooks like Headway and Cutting Edge, vocab lists (or “boxes”) seem to appear regularly.