Teacher notes

UK KS3, US grade 6-8

This short scheme of work (four lessons, with appropriate worksheets for students) is intended specifically to fulfil the Objectives at “Word” level in the document Framework for teaching English Years 7, 8 and 9.

The specific criteria addressed are:

  • Objective 15 Year 7
    Use a dictionary and thesaurus with speed and skill
  • Objective 7c Year 8
    Understand and explain exactly what words mean in particular contexts
  • Objective 5 Year 9
    Make use of different kinds of dictionary, thesaurus, and spell checker

However, the electronic search challenges also address the requirements of using ICT across the curriculum, as well as taking the opportunity to review (or teach) parts of speech, punctuation of speech, pronunciation and touch upon the development of the English Language.

As with any scheme of work, this can be used as a self-contained unit, or adapted by expansion or compression, to suit the needs of the particular groups of students.

The scheme of work assumes a level of literacy from Level 4 upwards.

Lesson 1 – Introduction to Dictionary work

Use in conjunction with the appropriate worksheet, if required.

This can be oral work, suitable for either the whole class or pairs, or can be handed out as a worksheet.

Teacher to provide prompts if not used as a written worksheet.

  1. Have you ever heard of the Oxford English Dictionary?
  2. If you wanted to look up a spelling, what would be best?
    1. An online dictionary
    2. A small pocket dictionary
    3. A big multi-volume dictionary(Try to get to the concept that there are different types of dictionary to suit different purposes.)
  3. What advantages are there in having an online dictionary rather than a paper version?Hopefully students will provide suggestions such as
    1. You can check words while you work
    2. It can be very up-to-date
    3. There can be lots of detail – more words and variation of word use, as well as quotations showing the uses of words
    4. Possible help with pronunciation
  4. Can a paper dictionary tell you how to pronounce words?
  5. Can an online dictionary tell you how to pronounce words?
  6. Are dictionaries likely to include “modern” words or uses of words that you tend to use with friends?

Main lesson – students become familiar with the web site

Preferably this lesson will be conducted in a computer room where students can have access to a machine each or a shared machine. However, if this is not possible, a whiteboard or other projector can be used, and some interaction employed in the second part of the lesson.

Students (or teacher if whiteboard is used) to log in to the Oxford English Dictionary Online. It will take 10-15 minutes for the teacher to explain how to navigate around the dictionary, and the meaning and use of links such as Entries, Phrases, Definitions, Etymologies, Quotations and Full text, as well as all the functions to the right of the screen.

Students should then be given the opportunity to explore the site for 10-15 minutes, perhaps with a task such as how an advanced search might help (which will fulfil requirements for ICT skills as well as literary ones).

A simple example would be to look up the word chill in a simple quick search, which will provide 4 entries and 60 definitions. However, in the advanced search mode, entering chill in definition then adding rows to specify “NOT” cool and “NOT” cold, both in full text, restricts the answer to about 20 definitions.

The teacher should allow the students to spend the rest of the time exploring the site and clicking on functions, just to see what they do. Inevitably, some students will take the opportunity to look up “inappropriate” words. It is entirely up to the teacher whether to warn against this use, or turn a blind eye, on the understanding that students will learn that these are words in common usage and therefore are entitled to an entry in a dictionary covering all uses!


In the last five minutes, ask students to answer the question: “What does the OED Online offer to users that you did not realise was there at the beginning of the lesson?”

Answers, hopefully, will include Boolean searches, dates, quotations, multiple definitions – as well as the fact that there are swear words in there as well!

Extension activity

Possibly taught as an extra lesson or offered as homework.

What is Received Pronunciation?

(useful sites)

What is the International Phonetic Alphabet?

(useful site)

These two concepts might be a little “high-brow” for detailed work at KS3 and KS4 but it is useful for students to know that they exist, and will perhaps form a starting point for work on how the OED Online uses pronunciation conventions.

Lesson 2 – Using the OED Online

Use in conjunction with the appropriate worksheet, if required.


Parts of speech

Revision of nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives.

Main lesson

Students are given a worksheet with a list of 23 unusual words, some of which have a specific meaning, others left without a definition; in pairs, they are to put a tick alongside the words they would expect to find in the dictionary.

After they have been told that all the words are in the dictionary, they are given a second task – to try to link the 13 words below with the definitions (which are printed with the answers in their correct sequence below!). As an extension / Plenary exercise, students can try to use a few of the words in sentences of their own, showing correct uses of nouns, verbs, etc.


  1. numpty
  2. spanghew
  3. burble
  4. whillywha
  5. fucate
  6. choller
  7. floccinaucinihilipilification
  8. supercalifragilisticexpialidocious
  9. antidisestablishmentarianism
  10. scroyle
  11. streek
  12. logolatry
  13. plumper


  1. A noun meaning an idiot
  2. A verb meaning to throw violently
  3. A noun meaning a small spot or pimple
  4. A noun meaning a creepy person
  5. An adjective meaning false
  6. A noun meaning the jaw
  7. A noun meaning to count something as worthless
  8. An adjective meaning wonderful
  9. A noun meaning support for the Church of England as the National church
  10. A noun meaning a rogue
  11. A verb meaning to lie down
  12. A noun meaning the worship of words
  13. A noun meaning something you put in your mouth to make your cheeks look fatter.

Lesson 3 – Looking up words

Use in conjunction with the appropriate worksheet, if required.


Reinforcement of parts of speech

Use the OED Online to research and answer the following questions:

Main lesson


What is the earliest mention of the word? (1988)


How many different entries are there for this word? Include nouns and verbs. (4)


Find and write down all four main definitions of the word:

  • A fish tail
  • A sweetheart
  • Marijuana
  • A non-magical person

Make use of the quotations provided and write down the earliest recorded use of the word. (1275)

Why does the most recent definition have a capital “M”? (Proper Noun)

nadder and nuncle

Search for the word nadder. can you see why you are taken to the entry for nadder in adder? Can you work out why the word nadder changed to adder over time?

Now look at nuncle; how is its relationship with the word uncle slightly different? (Verbal misunderstanding through time which, in the first example, moved the N from the start of the word to end of the indefinite article – a nadder became an adder, and in the second example moved the opposite way from an uncle to a nuncle).

Look back at the earlier quotations for nuncle. Can you read the Middle English (the language of Chaucer)?

Can you see any letters of the alphabet that were used in Middle English that are not used today?

Try re-reading the early definitions, substituting the unusual letters with the sound “th”. Does it make any more sense now?


Look up the use of the word as a verb.

Is to text a modern expression? What is the earliest use you can find? (1564)


Look up the use of the word as a verb. Use the “About this entry” link to the right of the definition. How many numbered senses are there? (50)

Go to the bottom of the page where you will find the additional definitions since September 2003.

When was hang first used with the meaning to loiter/do nothing? (1941)


Words in common use which have not yet found their way into the dictionary.

Lesson 4 – Making use of vocabulary

Use in conjunction with the appropriate worksheet, if required.


Review of the punctuation of direct speech.


Students are to search the OED Online randomly in order to find obscure, obsolete, very long, or unusual words to use within a piece of writing of their own.

They are to write a piece which involves a conversation between two or more people. One of the speakers is to have a unique way of speaking, involving some of the strange words the students have discovered in their research of the OED Online.

The intention is to create a sense of character through the language used not to develop their own vocabulary. It is, in part, a lesson on appropriate and inappropriate vocabulary.

The teacher can, if desired, cite examples from literature or real life. Two examples which spring to mind are the compère in The Good Old Days and Mr Jingle in The Pickwick Papers, although these examples may not suit all students (or indeed, all teachers outside a certain age!)

However, I have included a sample of both, if they are of any interest.

  1. The assembled audiences for The Good Old Days were expected to dress in period costume (and stick-on side-whiskers and fake moustaches!) and ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ in all the appropriate places as Sachs introduced the next act with alliterative attacks of alarming alacrity in a constipated display of perspicacious polysyllabic peripatetics, culminating in the banging of his gavel, which heralded the appearance of a teaming torrent of tempting talent—for our delight and delectation, naturally.
  2. “Good reason to,” replied Mr. Jingle, stepping forward. “Mr. Pickwick—deepest obligations—life preserver—made a man of me—you shall never repent it, Sir.””I am happy to hear you say so,” said Mr. Pickwick. “You look much better.””Thanks to you, Sir—great change—Majesty’s Fleet—unwholesome place—very,” said Jingle, shaking his head. He was decently and cleanly dressed, and so was Job, who stood bolt upright behind him, staring at Mr. Pickwick with a visage of iron.


Sharing of words discovered in the dictionary.