• Shari Stein

The Word of the Day: Dictionary

When is the last time you looked up the definition of a word in a print dictionary? Do you even still own a dictionary?

Our high school’s recent inaugural Unplugged Day, sparked many conversations among teachers, students and administrators. I made a point of asking, “What good came out of the day for you?” Our main teacher of ELLs (English Language Learners) was quick to describe the scene in her classroom when her students were dumbfounded and asked, how will we be able to look up the Word of the Day if we are unplugged? Fortunately, Mrs. S. was prepared with good ole’ Webster’s, in print! What resulted was not just the realization that we can learn words without googling and clicking, but serendipity.


Thumbing through a dictionary to find a word leads to all sorts of great discoveries. For example, in writing this blog, I decided it would be good to have first-hand experience. I put my almost two thousand page and very heavy dictionary next to my laptop. Instead of opening another tab to check the parts of speech of veteran, I flipped through to the v’s. I did find what I needed and much more. I first, by chance, opened to the Ammonite to ampere-hour page (page 49). As I glanced across the page, my eye caught the word amora and I then learned a little history about Jewish scholars as well as Babylonian and Palestinian rabbinical academies from the 3rd to 6th centuries. This “coincidence” fueled (or perhaps was caused by) my current exploration of ancient Jewish texts. I’ll admit, I could have spent another few minutes or more perusing the dictionary’s pages.


This seemingly small experience has great takeaways.

  1. The Internet is not the sole driver of distraction. Curiosity is a root cause and fortunately or hopefully, unavoidable. Opening the dictionary to a random page led me to thumb through even more pages. You could say I “wasted” a few minutes, but I would argue that I gained some potentially useful knowledge and awareness. We need to take back control of our time despite the big tech companies efforts to lure us into the digital abyss. If pressed for time or needing to focus, it’s up to the individual to stay on task whether googling or turning pages.

  2. Use the dictionary for a fun contest in class or at home. Divide the participants into groups. Half of the groups are given print dictionaries and the other half use their digital devices. The leader or teacher gives a word to look up and sets the timer to see who finds the definition first. The “winner” reads the definition outloud. Bonus: Compare the online and in-print definitions.

  3. Get creative with other lessons or dictionary activities. We know what happens If You Give a Mouse a Cookie…. What happens if you give your disciples a dictionary?

Before talking with Mrs. S about this, I had not opened a dictionary in a very long time. I do keep my dictionary handy to add much needed, extra height to my step stool. I’m glad I held onto it and am looking forward to using it for its original and still relevant purpose.


There was not one student, teacher or administrator who commented that unplugging for a day is a bad idea. It is apparent that we all understand the importance of honing our time online. This dictionary discovery is just one of many opportunities we uncover when we are offline.