Why are Print Dictionaries More Helpful Learning Tools than their Online Counterpart?

Dictionaries. These days you can quickly find most anything online. This includes definitions of new words. According to my students, it is so much easier to just ask Alexa than to open a book.

While observing my students trying to navigate their way through a printed dictionary in our classroom, they will randomly open to a middle page and then get stuck. I will next suggest, “find the first letter in the word.” Students will often reply, “I don’t know how to.”

After explaining how to just follow the alphabet and helping them to maneuver to the first letter, I will then ask them to find the second letter in the new word. The usual response? “I don’t know how to.” Once upon a time, a student even slammed his head down in defeat on the dictionary exclaiming, “I am NO GOOD at dictionaries.” My reply? “So how do you get better at something? With practice.”

We live in a fast-moving world and being able to access information as quickly as possible is a good thing, right? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Online resources often can’t compare to its printed counterpart. And when needing a dictionary this could not be more true.

Have a Print Dictionary Available
in Your Classroom or at Home.

Please keep a print dictionary in your home for your children to explore. Better yet, select one which includes the word etymology as well. Word study and root etymology are crucial components in our Montessori curriculum. Why? It helps students connect language to bigger concepts. Etymology illuminates the history behind our words and how our words are rooted in our language.

You can find a free resource on word etymology here:
Spelling & Etymology: Latin Root -cent Elementary Montessori Language help pages

Current research supports reading from a printed book format helps with the skill known as deep reading. The printed format seems to offer higher levels of comprehension and retention than reading text from a computerized screen:

This concept of print reading vs. screen reading was more fully explored in a previous blog post, Reading: Just 20 Minutes a day makes a huge Impact!

“When reading long, linear, continuous texts over multiple pages that require a certain amount of concentration, referred to as “Deep Reading,” the reader often experiences better concentration and a greater overview when reading from a printed medium compared to a screen.”


Do we read differently on paper
than on a screen?

In the 2017 article, Do we read differently on paper than on a screen? 
Maria Gilje Torheim wrote:

“An interesting finding in some of the empirical studies is that we tend to overestimate our own reading comprehension when we read on screen compared to on paper. Some studies have shown that we believe we have understood the text better, when we read from a screen. However, it has been found that we tend to read faster on screen and consequently understand less compared to when reading from paper.”

In addition to deeper reading and understanding, there are at least five more compelling reasons to encourage your child to use a print dictionary at home.

Five reasons why Print Dictionaries
are a better option:



Anyone can set up a web page and call it a dictionary. In contrast, printed dictionaries go through an extremely thorough editing process. You know the information you’re getting is accurate.

Added bonus: Less clutter, no ads. No pop-ups, no cookies. No one is trying to sell you anything or trying to get you to read something else. You make all your own decisions independently.


Open your printed dictionary to any page and you will most likely see at least one word you did not know how to spell.

An important brain exercise is simply finding the word alphabetically. As mentioned above (“I don’t know how to.”), students are rapidly losing the ability to alphabetize! Print dictionaries help to keep our spelling genes working.

You could argue, spelling is quickly becoming an antiquated art form because we have spell check now. Spell check certainly has changed the playing field. However, spelling leads to discovering word families and roots. Roots lead to word origins and deeper connectedness and understanding.

If a student is great at spelling, they will continue to be. If they struggle with spelling, print dictionaries will improve your child’s skills.


Open your dictionary to any page and you will see a word you never knew existed before. The Oxford Dictionary includes more than 170,000 English language words!

When you open a dictionary to any two-page spread your eyes tend to wander. Words are enticing. A dictionary page holds so much information it is easy to find something else interesting within that page.

Learning new words is a great “side effect” of looking up a word in a print dictionary. You can open to any page spread and likely stumble upon a word or words you have yet to discover.


It’s always fun to find words you’ve forgotten about. This happens all the time when you’re using a printed dictionary.

Seeing a word and wondering, “Now, what does that mean again?” is an activity almost ensuring you will think about the word and probably start using it again.


Speaking of fun, you can get lost in a print dictionary by just looking at cool new words. It is a great and educational way to pass some time.

Added bonus: In a print dictionary, you may see an intricate line drawing, a colorful illustration, a photograph or even a reproduction of a painting or statue.

Print dictionaries offer more than just quick definitions on the run – they offer students a holistic learning experience.

And, that’s cosmic, baby!

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Read More: Is Memorizing Multiplication Tables Worth It?

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References & Read More:

Do We Read Differently On Paper Than On A Screen?

Why Print Dictionaries Are Far Better Than Their Online Counterparts

9 Reasons Why Print Dictionaries Are Better Than Online Dictionaries