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Freebee Friday: Dictionaries without the Bulk

We’re all used to seeing the classroom bookshelf of Merriam-Webster or American Heritage dictionaries sag under their collected weight, but there’s a better way to get the right word. With the right software, an Android device, whether it’s a tablet or a phone, can be an excellent classroom dictionary.

These three wordsmith apps work well in portrait or landscape orientation and get kids off to a good start by predicting the word they’re looking for based on the first letters typed. It’s excellent help for flustered early writers to find the exact word they’re looking for.

With money to replace printed dictionaries hard to find, these digital reference works are free and just a download away. The downside is that they display small and easy-to-ignore ads to pay for their operations. For a few dollars, the ads can disappear.


Dictionary.comGoing from a printed dictionary to Dictionary.com is less jarring than you might think because the pages have the look of a traditional dictionary with numbered definitions that are organized by word form. On top of a vocabulary-increasing daily word, Disctionary.com has a separate thesaurus for finding the right synonym for when words fail; the two are linked for quick look-ups. In addition to audio pronunciation help, kids can speak words of interest into the tablet to get to the word’s meaning, spelling and definition. Dictionary.com has detailed and often surprising information about the word’s origin and you can eliminate the ads for $3.


Merriam websterFor many, Merriam-Webster is the definition of dictionary. The company’s Android app comes in a smaller and more portable package, yet mirrors the content of the company’s flagship Collegiate Dictionary. There’re several digital goodies included, like the ability of kids to speak the word to get a definition. The dictionary promises to update itself with the latest in cyber-speak and it highlights related words in the definition that are linked to their entries. In addition to its origin and when the word was first used, Merriam-Webster has audio pronunciation examples. A big plus is that rather than a separate thesaurus, synonyms and antonyms are displayed with the definitions. The ad-free version costs $3.


Urban dictionaryTom Clark’s Android Urban Dictionary is hipper and edgier than the others (e.g., mouse potato: the computer or gaming equivalent of a couch potato), but may not be appropriate for all classes. Unfortunately, the app lacks audio pronunciation help and all-too-often the definitions cross the line into slang, irreverent language and scatological terms. Still, it has access to more than 6 million entries, so it’s complete as well. It has a cool feature that will become a classroom favorite with students: shake the slate to get a random word with definition and example. It may seem haphazard, but it’s an excellent way to increase a class’s vocabulary. You can dump the ads for a reasonable $2.




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