Writing

Utilize the Dictionary After the First Draft

Posted on October 27, 2008

Utilize the Dictionary After the First Draft

Q: When students ask me how to spell a word, I tell them d-i-c-t-i-o-n-a-r-y. Is it wrong to expect kids to look up word spellings in the dictionary?

A: Looking words up in the dictionary is a necessary skill to learn. And when focusing on editing and conventions, then absolutely, the dictionary and other resources should be used.

Trait of Conventions Stuck Spelling Wall ChartHowever, it's not necessarily an appropriate first-draft spelling strategy. If students stop their first drafts in order to look up a word, by the time they find the correct spelling, return to their seats and write it down, some will forget where they were going with the rest of the sentence. And other students don't even bother to look up the word when directed by the teachers. They will simply settle for a "little word" spelled right rather than the more precise word they initially wanted.

Develop a list of grade-level appropriate strategies. Then post them on a wall chart for students' future reference. Hold a class discussion:

  • Point out that none of the strategies read, "Ask Mr./Mrs. ___________ (insert your name)."

  • Point out that the "Spell it wrong and circle it" technique is highly valued on standardized writing tests where a dictionary is not permitted.

  • Discuss how a bigger, stronger, more specific word that is spelled wrong is more valued than a little, dinky, overused word spelled correctly.

Consider having a varied expectation of correct spelling, dependent on the writing process. If it's the final draft, then yes, getting the dictionary and editing for correct spelling is appropriate. However, encourage on-the-spot spelling strategies to help students get their ideas down for a first draft.