Using a dictionary

Learning focus

To revise what alphabetical order is and learn how to use a dictionary.

In Years 3 & 4, students are encouraged to:

  • use the first two or three letters of a word to check its spelling in a dictionary


A dictionary is a list of words or phrases and their definitions (what they mean).

Dictionaries are arranged in alphabetical order.

They help you to spell or understand any new words, so are a fantastic tool to use to improve your English skills.

Before we look at dictionaries in more detail, let’s revise what alphabetical order means.

Revise how alphabetical order works.

Now watch this short clip to see how to use a dictionary to look up an unfamiliar word.

Learn how to use a dictionary.

In an English dictionary you'll find words beginning with a at the front and z at the back.

There are lots of words in the English language which begin with a so it's not just the first letter that is important. Words are organised alphabetically according to the following letters in a word too.

For example: ‘Ankle’ will come before ‘ant’.

  • The first two letters of both words are the same
    (a and n).

  • The third letters are different though (k and t).

  • The letter k comes before t in the alphabet, so you'll find 'ankle' before 'ant' in the dictionary.

To find the word ‘lion’ in the dictionary, start by finding words beginning with ‘l’, then ‘li’, then ‘lio’ until you eventually narrow it down to ‘lion’.


You may need paper and a pen or pencil for some of these activities.

Activity 1

Complete these two short activities.

  1. Drag the words so they are in alphabetical order.
  1. Fill in the gaps in the sentences about dictionaries.

Activity 2

Choose three of the following words and then look them up in a dictionary or online dictionary.

  • neighbour
  • sleigh
  • obey
  • complain
  • unearth
  • prey

On paper, for each word you need to write:

  • the word
  • the word type
  • a definition of the word
  • an example of the word used in a sentence

For example:

  • happy
  • adjective
  • delighted, pleased or glad
  • I was so happy to see my best friend.

Activity 3

Complete the following tasks questions using a dictionary or an online dictionary.

For each task, write the word down correctly and then write out what the word means.

1) Find a word the begins with re-.

2) Find a word that begins with dis-.

3) Find a seven letter word that begins with mis-.

4) Find an adjective that begins with un-.

Where next?

In this lesson you have revised alphabetical order and learnt how to use a dictionary.

There are other useful articles on Bitesize to help you use reference tools.

There's more to learn

More English Guides
KS2 English
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