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Lesson Plan

Brave New Words: Novice Lexicography and the Oxford English Dictionary

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Brave New Words: Novice Lexicography and the Oxford English Dictionary

Grades 9 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Six 50-minute sessions (plus additional time for composing essays and presentations, if necessary)
Lesson Author

Scott Filkins

Scott Filkins

Champaign, Illinois

Publisher

National Council of Teachers of English

 

Student Objectives

Session One

Session Two (To be completed just before the word selection is due)

Session Three

Session Four (After students have had time to research their words)

Session Five

Session Six (and additional sessions if students need more time to compose their essays)

Extensions

Student Assessment/Reflections

 

STUDENT OBJECTIVES

Students will

  • gain a basic understanding of lexicography, or dictionary making.

  • research the meanings and uses of a word not currently in the dictionary.

  • construct a dictionary entry using their research and an adapted form from the OED.

  • write a persuasive essay defending their word's inclusion in a dictionary.

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Session One

  1. Ask students to make a list of at least five words that they use or have heard that they think are probably not currently in the dictionary.  In groups, have them discuss these words.  Encourage groups to focus on questions such as

    • Where did these new words come from? 

    • Who uses them? 

    • Why do they think they are not included in the dictionary?
  2. Have students verify their predictions by looking in a current print dictionary or a free online dictionary.  Are students surprised by what is and is not in the dictionary?  Facilitate a discussion of their responses.

  3. Provide a list of recent additions to the OED, which is updated frequently.   Ask students to determine what kinds of words are being added.  Do they see patterns or types of words that are more prominent than others?  How might these words be seen as reflections of the world at the time?  What trends, social communities, or age groups do these words seem to represent?

  4. Share with students the amount of time you will be giving them to become word investigators, looking for "new words" in print, media, and conversations.  They can use words from the activity in this session, but only if they also hear or see the word used in a natural context in their environment.  They should use the New Word Investigation handout to record down the words, the date(s) they were exposed to them, and the context(s) in which they were used.  If they see or hear a new word multiple times, they should record each of the uses.

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Session Two (To be completed just before the word selection is due)

  1. Tell students that in this session they will begin their apprenticeship as lexicographers, or dictionary makers.  They will be exploring parts of the Website for the OED, arguably the most famous and authoritative dictionary in the English language.

  2. Direct students to the About section of the OED Website and read through this information with the class.

  3. Then have students go to the History section of the about page and give them time to process the text with a partner or small group using the Introduction to the Oxford English Dictionary handout.

  4. After they have completed the reading, handout, and small group conversation, guide a discussion of the new content and prepare them for the work for the next session.  They will need to look back at their New Word Investigation handout and choose which word they think is the best candidate for "new word" status. This would be a good time to review your standards for word selection.

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Session Three

  1. Begin the session by asking students to share some of the words they have chosen based on their investigation of new words.  At this point, you can allow students to form groups around specific words if you wish, and you can decide if more than one student can conduct research in the same word.

  2. Distribute copies of the Preparing Your OED Entry handout, an adaptation of the Guide to OED Entries, and explain to students what information they need to be able to find or produce.  Point out that because they are in the role of researcher/creator, they will not be able to find these answers directly online or from another source. They are doing the work of determining a definition.

  3. Give students time to record what they already know about the word they have chosen.  Then give them time to search the internet for additional examples.  You will need to give students a few days to research for more uses of the word.  Inform students of the date of next session, when they will need to have as much research on their word completed as possible.

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Session Four (After students have had time to research their words)

  1. Have students share their findings so far.

  2. As students continue to work on their Preparing Your OED Entry handouts, use the Checklist for OED Entry to provide students feedback before they move on to the persuasive writing stage.

  3. All students should have the Preparing Your OED Entry handout fully and accurately completed for the next session.

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Session Five

  1. Share with students the guidelines OED uses to determine which new words will be accepted in the dictionary.

  2. With this in mind, prepare students to use the Persuasion Map to argue for their word's inclusion. 

  3. They will need to consider the audience of the argument:  dictionary makers.  These people are concerned about language, so they will want the writer to take the argument seriously, even if the word is not all that serious. 

  4. They also care about a specific set of criteria and are looking for certain kinds of evidence.  Therefore, students will need to discuss the word in their introduction and make the case using such criteria as the word's usefulness, evidence of several independent examples, and evidence of the word being used for a reasonable period of time.

  5. Share with students the New Word Persuasive Essay Rubric.  Point out to them that the rubric can—but does not have to—serve as a paragraph-by-paragraph guide to drafting their essay.

  6. The Persuasion Map will guide students through the process of stating a main persuasive idea ("My word should be considered for inclusion in the dictionary because...") as well as supporting the argument with reasons and evidence.

  7. Depending on your students' level of familiarity in persuasive writing, you may continue from this point or consult the ReadWriteThink lessons Persuading the Principal: Writing Persuasive Letters About School Issues and Persuading an Audience: Writing Effective Letters to the Editor for additional instructional strategies.

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Session Six (and additional sessions if students need more time to compose their essays)

  1. Allow students time to complete their persuasive essays.

  2. Have students meet in pairs to read and comment on each other's drafts. Students can use the New Word Persuasive Essay Rubric to provide constructive feedback to guide the revision process.

  3. Students should eventually share their entries and essays, in a future session if necessary.  Have the class vote on the entry and essay that makes the most convincing case for the best "Brave New Word."

  4. After completing all activities, have students respond to the prompts on the OED Lexicography Reflection Sheet.

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EXTENSIONS

  • Read all or parts of Simon Winchester's book The Professor and the Madman, an account of several early years of the composition of the OED.

  • Go back past years' lists of new words for the year and verify if they had staying power.  Try to determine the kinds of cultural trends that were producing those new words.

  • Have students discuss the power of a dictionary.  Have them debate whether a dictionary should describe language as it is used or prescribe the way users should use it.

  • Have students enter all of the nominated words into the Word Matrix and analyze trends of positivity/negativity of connotation as well as formality/informality of register.

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STUDENT ASSESSMENT/REFLECTIONS

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