Print Dictionaries

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

Print Dictionaries

These days you can quickly find most anything online. From addresses to GPS maps. You can even instantly message a friend you rediscovered on the other side of the world. Menus, videos, online shopping, you name it. And, if you are unsure of a meaning of a word, you most certainly can find its definition online too.

In fact, according to my students, it’s so much easier to just ask Alexa about a new word than to open a book. Print dictionaries are now “old school.”

I find it interesting to observe students trying to navigate their way through a printed dictionary. In the classroom, when discovering a new word, they quickly open the book to a random page and then freeze up.

I would offer the suggestion, “start by finding the first letter in the new word.”

Students would often reply with, “But, I don’t know how. And they’re right. If you have a chance, ask a child to try to find their favorite letter in a print dictionary. Most students won’t even know where to begin.

After explaining how to just follow the alphabet at the top of the pages and helping them to maneuver to the first letter, I would next suggest finding 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 on the dictionary in defeat. He exclaimed, “I am NO GOOD at dictionaries.”

My reply? “So how do you get better at doing something? With practice.” I might now also add to this, with practice and with patience. In our brave new world filled with instant gratification, anything taking more than 10 seconds to learn is a hard sell.

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

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

I strongly recommend keeping 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 word etymology are crucial components in the 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.

Current research supports reading from a printed book format helps with the skill known as deep reading.

“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.”


The printed format seems to offer higher levels of comprehension and retention than reading text from a computerized 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. The printed format seems to offer higher levels of comprehension and retention than reading text.

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.”

Five reasons why Print Dictionaries are a better option.

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.



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!

Do you have more suggestions for encouraging children to use print dictionaries? Do you have a suggestion for another blog topic? Please send me an email with your ideas and experiences at

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Read More: Comprehension Thinking Strategies
How do We help older students become better readers?

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References and Read More:

9 Reasons Why Print Dictionaries Are Better Than Online Dictionaries

Do We Read Differently On Paper Than On A Screen? By Maria Gilje

How Reading 20 Minutes A Day Impacts Your Child By Scripps Media, Inc. 2017

Why Print Dictionaries Are Far Better Than Their Online Counterparts

Reading Help – Just 20 Minutes a Day! – Learning Guide