If you have taught French (or another second language) I’m sure you have heard one of the following questions on a daily basis:

– Can’t we just use Google translate?

– What does ______ mean in French?

– What does ______ mean in English?

– How am I supposed to look that up?

– Is _____ masculine or feminine?

And the list goes on! Most of these answers can be found in a little invention called… The French-English Dictionary! french_pb

And as easy as these seem to be for us to use, most kids actually need to learn how to use them and they need some practice using them too. I created a little activity to help me teach how to use some of the important aspects of the dictionary.

Also, and honestly maybe most importantly, it helped me to answer the “Can’t we just use Google translate?” question in a way that the students actually seemed to understand! (My answer – Google translate can have its place but when we look in a dictionary we can see synonyms, masculine/feminine, verb/noun/adj/adv, etc. and sometimes we need that information just as much as we need the word itself. And based on the sheer amount of times I hear the questions above, I think the students really understood that we DO need to know these things!)

To teach proper use of the French-English Dictionaries, I had the students working in partners on a “Dictionary Hunt” (available from our Teachers Pay Teachers store here). The hunt took most students the whole block and some needed a little extra time. It also kept them engaged enough that I was actually able to walk around and help partners with mini-lessons on using the dictionaries.

The directions in the hunt had simple things like “Find the meaning of this French word” to more complicated ones, such as “What are two French words that can be used to show the meaning of _____?” I also had students look up whether or not words were masculine/feminine or nouns/verbs/adjectives.

If you are making your own hunt here are some suggestions for things to include (the more practice with the tricky steps the less questions later on!)

  1. Choose words near the split between English/French sides of the dictionary to make sure students understand it’s divided into two parts
  2. Ask for the feminine form of certain words because they are often listed in the form: avocat (m), -cate (f) and students need to learn that the dash means to leave the root of the word the same
  3. Flip your questions back and forth between using the French and English side of the dictionary to give more practice searching for the right word

After we did the Dictionary Hunt we moved on to searching for vocabulary for our first unit in French. I had the students look up the words for the topic, write the English word, the French word, the part of speech, and masculine or feminine. It worked out well as a way to put their new dictionary knowledge to the test!

As always, please let us know if you use the lesson ideas here! We love to know how things work or don’t work for our readers.