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3-5: Dictionary Guide Words: How do they guide us?

by Anne Campbell and Carol Troutman, Learn NC

Students have difficulty locating words in a dictionary. This lesson will allow students to learn how to use guide words in a dictionary to locate words.

A lesson plan for Grade 4 English Language Arts and English Language Development

Students will:

  • define “guide.”
  • identify guide words in a variety of dictionaries.
  • locate words using guide words.
  • locate guide words using words.

Time required for lesson: 1 hour


  • chalkboard, white board, chart paper
  • paper & pencils
  • sticky notes – 1 page per student
  • chart with alphabet written out (see Activity 2)
  • class set of dictionaries
  • 1 copy each of 4-6 different dictionaries (# of dictionaries depends on # of cooperative teams)
  • Practice Page #1 (attachment below)
  • Practice Page #1 – Answer Key (attachment below)
  • Practice Page #2 (attachment below)
  • Final Assessment Page (attachment below)
  • Final Assessment Page – Answer Key (attachment below)


Knowledge of alphabetical order

Knowledge of dictionary usage for definitions & spelling


Activity 1: Brainstorming (large group)

Related Links

1. The teacher will write the word “guide” on the board/chart paper. The teacher will ask the students the following questions: “What is the definition of this word?”, “How is a guide used?”, “Who/what are examples of guides?”.

2. The students will respond orally to these questions. The teacher will record the answers on the board/chart paper.

3. Teacher will explain that guides are also words in dictionaries used to locate words alphabetically. Teacher will state that the goal of this lesson is to learn how to use guide words in a dictionary.

Activity 2: The Name Game (large group)

1. The teacher will give each student a single sticky note page. The teacher will instruct the students to write their name on the sticky note in large letters.

2. The teacher will show the students a chart with alphabet groupings printed on it. Sample Chart/Groupings:

A-D; E-H; I-L; M-P; Q-T; U-Z

3. The students will take turns (under teacher direction, i.e. “Place your name where you think it should go.”) placing their names under the appropriate alphabet grouping. Teacher should not call students by alphabetical grouping. The student turns should be random. The names need not be placed in any alphabetical order at this time.

4. Once all names have been placed, the teacher will ask the class, “Why did you put your names under the letters you chose?” The teacher will lead a brief discussion that ends with the answer “We put our names under the alphabet letter grouping which contained the first letter our names.”

5. Next, the teacher will ask the class, “What else do you need to do with your names under each alphabetical grouping?” The teacher will lead a brief discussion that ends with the answer, “We need to put our names in alphabetical order under each grouping.”

6. The teacher will allow the students for each grouping to go to the chart and rearrange the names into alphabetical order. The rest of the class will observe each “name team” and make corrections if necessary. The end result will be a chart with all names in alphabetical order under the correct grouping.

7. The teacher will end this activity by showing the students the reason for alphabetical groupings. (i.e. John’s name will always be between Jim’s name and Justin’s name.) The teacher will state that in the Name Game we used “guide letters.” In our next activity we will use “guide words.”

Activity 3: Guide Word Introduction (partners)

1. The teacher will divide the class into partners. The Practice Page #1 (attached below) will be distributed, 1 page per each set of partners. The directions will be read aloud (see Practice Page). The students will complete the practice page by circling “yes” or “no” as to whether or not the dictionary word would come between those two guide words.

2. Upon completion, the teacher will briefly review the answers (see Practice Page #1 Answer Key, attached below) and only discuss the items under question.

Activity 4: Guide Words Using the Dictionary (small group)

1. The class will be divided into teams of 3-4 students. Each team will receive a dictionary that is different from any other team and one copy of Practice Page #2 (see attachment).

2. The teacher will read and clarify the directions (see Practice Page #2). Each team will look up the guide words for the listed words in their dictionaries. The teams will record the guide words and page number for each of the words. The page number will be used to correct the Practice Page in Activity 5. There is no answer key for Practice Page #2 (see Activity 5).

Activity 5: Paper Swap (small group)

1. Upon completion, the students will put Practice Page #2 inside of the dictionary they used. The teacher will collect the work and redistribute it to a different team. (i.e. Team 1 will receive Team 2’s, Team 2 will receive Team 3’s, etc.)

2. The students will correct the other team’s Practice Page #2 by using the page numbers to locate the guide word answers. If the answer is correct, the team will put a check mark next to the answers. If there is an incorrect answer, the team will notify the teacher for clarification.

Activity 6: Final Assessment (individual – to be completed the following ELA class period – 20-30 minutes)

  • The teacher will distribute the Final Assessment Page (see attachment). The teacher will read the directions aloud and ask if students need any clarification. The students will complete Part One of the assessment individually, without a dictionary. Part Two will be completed individually with a copy of a dictionary from the class set. The teacher will use the Assessment Page Answer Key (see attachment) to correct the assessment. Important! The teacher will need to complete the answer key for Part Two using the dictionary available as the class set.


  • participation in brainstorming, Activity 1 (teacher observation)
  • participation in the Name Game, Activity 2 (teacher observation)
  • completion of Practice Page #1, Activity 3 (student work, teacher observation)
  • completion of Practice Page #2, Activity 4 (student work, teacher observation)
  • participation in Paper Swap, Activity 5 (student work, teacher observation)
  • completion of Individual Assessment, Activity 6 (student work)


Pratice Page #1

Practice Page #1 Answer Key

Practice Page #2


Assessment Answer Key

Related websites

The following website has additional information and activities for dictionary skills.


speak slowly

visual aids

cooperative learning

controlled questioning during brainstorming

clear concise directions

Alternative assessments

teacher observation of student participation, orally and in cooperative groups

Critical vocabulary

alphabetical order, dictionary, guide, guide words


This lesson plan was developed during the English Language Development Standard Course of Study lesson planning institutes hosted by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and LEARN NC, June and July, 2004. It includes specific strategies, instructional modifications, and alternative assessments which make this lesson accessible to limited English proficient students. Please note that this lesson has been aligned with the goals and objectives of the N.C. English Language Development standards.

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