Category Dictionary

Over the course of the school year, or at least one semester, students will add words that they’ve learned to their own notebooks.  They’ll add one category (fruits, animals, etc.) at a time, and have one page for each letter of the alphabet.  At any point, students can use the notebook as a reminder of words they can use, and by the end they can take pride that they know at least as many words that they’ve added to their little dictionary!

The project is ideal for young learners.

By the way, we’re calling it a ‘dictionary’ since it a reference book and partially alphabetized, but students don’t need to write a definition for each entry.

Prepping the Notebook

At the beginning of the year, give each student a notebook (perhaps a half-size one, only 7 or 8 inches tall).  After writing their name prominently somewhere, students should write a large ‘A’ at the top of the first page, then ‘B’ on the next page, and so on.  If you’d like to give your students plenty of space (either for more words or for large handwriting), you can you a full page for each letter, writing the large letters on the top of the left page for each spread.

The pages should progress alphabetically, of course, but don’t include Q, X, or Z.  Perhaps consider including the digraphs CH, SH, and TH, since their sounds are different from C, S, and T, respectively.  Also consider using twice as many pages for S, since far more words start with that letter than any other letter.

Adding Categories

Vocab terms are often taught in categories.  For example, a coursebook might present furniture nouns in one unit and family members the next.  Every time students learn a set of words, they should add those words to their notebooks.  Each word should go on the page of the letter that begins the word.  Students might be able to add multiple words to the same page at a time, and its okay for some pages not to have any words added.  You can assign this for homework if you’d like, but I’d recommend doing it in class at least the first couple times.  You can have students do this during the same lesson the words are introduced, or you can do it as review as you close out the unit.

Give each category a designation.  The easiest way would be to use a different color for each category (for example, write all vegetables in green and all places around town in red).  However, you run into problems once you’ve used all your distinct colors, so it’s hard to do more than ten or so categories.  Another way is to have a symbol to the left of each entry, perhaps a simple shape like a star, a square, or an arrow.  Maybe you can use the same sticker for every entry within a category (which means you’d need a lot of stickers).  There’s not a single great way to do this, so you as the teacher will need to figure out what makes the most sense for you class.

Once the words are entered, students can find a word by looking on the page of the starting letter, then searching for the correct color, symbol, or other designation for that category.

One final note is that while the notebook will progress through the starting letters alphabetically, the entries within a single page probably won’t be in alphabetical order.  For example, a student might have ‘broccoli’, ‘bear’, ‘brother’, and ‘barn’ in that order because the class learned vegetables, then wild animals, then family members, then buildings.  That’s okay, so long as all the Bs are on the same page.

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