Using the Riggs Dictionary - A Powerful Language Tool for Primary Teachers and Their Students

Have your students been using the Riggs Institute's Basic Spelling and Usage Dictonary to help them increase their word and world knowledge? If so, how has that been going for them?
 
Have your students also been using this dictionary for daily reading practice and as a resource during sentence-writing work? How has that been going? We'd like to hear from you. Are your students becoming more powerful readers and writers with the help of this time-tested learning tool? I bet so. (Most students grow by leaps and bounds after they begin to work regularly with this resource.)
 
If you are a parent, a classroom teacher, a remedial reading specialist, a tutor, an ELL teacher, an ESL teacher, or any person who is working with a beginning reader, this dictionary is a must have, in my experience. The more kids use it, the more they love it. It's a perfect and powerful tool for all primary-level students of English, regardless of their age. 
 
Originally published in 1947 by Whitman Publishing Company, this Riggs Institute publication was written by teachers and has been updated and edited by Riggs to include 2154 primary-level entry words (e.g., CATCH, FIRE, and FINISH) along with 2678 variants of these words (e.g., CATCHES, CATCHER, CATCHING; FIRES; FINISHES, FINISHED, FINISHING). It also includes 1200 whimsical drawings and thousands of easy-to-read sentences for in-context reading practice. (You get a whole lot of bang for your buck with this book! You will teach and teach and teach with it.) Your beginning readers will be fascinated by this text.
 
As a young student who has just opened the book randomly to pages 129 - 132, for example, I would find many things that would help me increase my understanding of the English language. I would find 20 great words to study, and I would see many of their variants, and I would see simple drawings and sentences to help me understand how these words are commonly used. I would also start to read all of these words and sentences. (Note: these sentences are all "decodable" to students who have mastered the first 72 Riggs lessons--about the halfway point for first grade. It's almost impossible to keep such students from reading these sentences. They're drawn to them.)
 
As a student, here are the 20 main entry words (and their variants) that I see on pages 129-132:
 
FINE (FINER, FINEST; FINES, FINED, FINING)
FINGER (FINGERS)
FINISH (FINISHES, FINISHED, FINISHING)
FIRE (FIRES)
FIRE ALARM
FIRE CRACKER (FIRE CRACKERS)
FIRE ENGINE (FIRE ENGINES)
FIRELIGHT (FIRELIGHTS)
FIREMAN (FIREMEN)
FIREPLACE (FIREPLACES)
FIRE STATION (FIRE STATIONS)
FIRE TRUCK (FIRE TRUCKS)
FIRST
FISH (FISHES, FISHED, FISHING)
FISHHOOK (FISHHOOKS)
FISHLINE (FISHLINES)
FIT (FITS, FITTED, FITTING)
FIVE
FIX (FIXES, FIXED, FIXING)
FLAG (FLAGS)
 
Here are the sentences:
 
Peter Rabbit said, "How fine I look."
The man drove too fast. He had to pay a fine.
Flour is fine but oatmeal is coarse.
I have five fingers on each hand. Which finger is longest?
Jack is reading a book. He will [finish it],[come to the end] soon.
The house is on fire. It may burn down.
This is a fire alarm. We use it to call the firemen.
We had firecrackers on the Fourth of July. Did you ever shoot a firecracker?
fire engine is used to throw water on a fire.
The Indian sat by the firelight.
The fireman helped put out the fire.
They made a fire in the fireplace.
The firemen stay at the fire station until they are called to a fire.
The firemen drive the fire truck. The ladders and hose are carried on the fire truck.
Bob and I ran a race. Bob got to the tree [first],[before I did].
Some fish are good to eat. Fish live in water.
We catch fish with a fishhook.
The fishline is tied to the pole. The fishline is a strong string.
My shoes are not too big. They just fit my feet.
Here are [five],[5] stars. Count them.
See father [fix],[mend] the tire.
This is an American flag.
 
Here is a description of the drawings that go with the words and sentences on these pages:
 
A drawing of Peter Rabbit dressed in fancy clothes (the word is FINE)
A human hand (FINGER)
A house on fire (FIRE)
A fire alarm (FIRE ALARM)
A bundle of firecrackers (FIRECRACKER)
Some firemen using a fire truck to put out a fire (FIRE ENGINE)
A close up of a fireman and his hose (FIREMAN)
Two children putting logs on a fire in a fireplace (FIREPLACE)
A fire station (FIRE STATION)
A fire truck (FIRE TRUCK)
A fish (FISH)
A fishhook (FISHHOOK)
A fishing pole with line (FISHLINE)
A row of five stars (FIVE)
A man working on a car's tire (FATHER)
An American flag (FLAG)
 
Aren't these sentences great for vocabulary development, for initial reading practice, for conversation starters, for writing lessons, and for much, much more? And every page in this dictionary contains great sentences for children to work with.
 
Your students will be delighted by the drawings and sentences in this spelling and usage dictionary, I'm sure. (I've never met a student who wasn't, given a proper introduction to it). If you let them do it, they'll pore over this book for hours. And why not let them?  It will keep them out of trouble while increasing their word and world knowledge.
 
This unique classroom resource has so many features that appeal to beginning readers that it's hard to know which to praise first. Instead of diacritical marks the words are marked with the Riggs Institute’s simple yet powerful mnemonic system, for starters, and this allows children to see exactly how a given word has been formed (spelled) with an orderly series of commonly-used graphemes.
 
For the word CATCH, for example, students will immediately notice that the <TCH> grapheme is underlined, which helps them grasp the idea that the three letters <TCH> are working together to form a single grapheme.  (The word CATCH has five letters but only three phonemes and three graphemes.)
 
This child-friendly dictionary helps children (and adults, really) understand our English spelling system, and it can be used to help them understand much, much more.
 
For example, at the entry for the word CATCH my beginning readers may simply be asked if they can tell me how many sounds are in this word, and then I might ask them if they can decode this word. (Note: I never ask students to decode words before I teach them to read and write the Riggs phonograms because these are the keys to the written English code.)
 
I might also draw their attention to the sweet little drawing of two children playing catch, below which are two simple sentences: Bob is throwing the ball. Tom will catch it. But they will probably have already noticed it. So I might just read the sentences to them, helping them to understand how we use this word in English.
 
Students who are a little more advanced might practice reading these two sentences independently. (Riggs students can begin after week nine, which is when the dictionary is introduced.) I may also ask my students to write their own sentences based on this model.
 
Older or even more advanced students may be asked if they can use some of the listed variants (CATCHES, CAUGHT, CATCHING, and CATCHER) in creative oral or written sentences. (Or in sentences that reflect some topic that we are studying in science or math, etc.)
 
Students who need to be challenged even further might be asked to figure out how the variants CATCHES, CATCHING, and CATCHER were formed. (All older Riggs students will be able to tell me that these words share the base morpheme CATCH but have a different suffix.)  These students might also be asked to present their findings to the rest of class, perhaps with the help of a matrix and some word sums.
 
As you can see, there are many different ways to use this powerful resource to meet the instructional needs of a wide variety of students, so teachers can use it regularly to keep everyone working on the edge of challenge. That’s what I love about it. From remedial readers to gifted students, this book has something for everyone.
 
Every primary-level student would love to learn how to use this book for phonics practice, for vocabulary development, for English usage, for grammar work, for syntax, for punctuation, for capitalization, and for ideas for creative writing. It’s such a powerful resource that I wouldn’t want to teach without it. In fact, I like this dictionary so much that I would encourage you to order one for every three or four students in your classroom. And why not?
 
Since the words in this dictionary are in the spoken and comprehensible vocabulary of most of your English speaking students, and since they need to be in the oral and written vocabulary of all of them, it’s a perfect resource for your primary-level classroom, especially if you are teaching Riggs. (This powerful teaching tool is a must have for Riggs classrooms; and you’ll be amazed at how many of your phonics scholars love to “read it” for fun.)
 
If you haven’t been using this dictionary in your classroom, you’re in for a treat. Since most of the Riggs Institute’s 2,400 spelling-vocabulary words are in this dictionary, and since all of its sentences have been written to appeal to children, your students will love using it. In fact, Riggs dictionary work will soon become one of the most interesting, pleasant, and productive parts of their work day, especially since you can customize it to meet their needs. For example, here are some Socratic teaching questions you might want to use with your students (I’m sure you will come up with more of your own).
 
Can you find the word ___________ in your Spelling and Usage Dictionary?
How many graphemes are used in this word?
Do you know of any spelling rules that might apply?
Can you explain any of the markings?
Does this word have any variants?
Can you tell how these variants were made?
Look at the picture (if there is one). What is it showing us?
Can you read the sentence?
Can you write (or speak) your own sentence for this word?
Can you write a sentence for each of the words that are related to this entry?
Can you find each of today’s spelling words (alone or in a small group) in this dictionary?
Can you write your own sentences for each of today’s spelling words?
Can you read all of your sentences aloud to a partner?
Can you listen to a partner as they read their sentences aloud to you?
Can you write a sentence for each of the variants of one of today’s spelling words?
Can you create some word sums and a matrix to show how one of your spelling words and some of its variants are related?
Using the dictionary for inspiration, children may also be asked to create  illustrations for some of their sentences.
 
Finally, when children have their own copy of this dictionary, they usually want to personalize it by using colored pencils to add lovely hues to the informative and nostalgic illustrations. (Check out six sample pages of this dictionary on pages 244-245 of Riggs Level I Teacher’s Edition [2003].)
 
When I taught kindergarten, I always had my personal copy of this dictionary on my desk, and I sometimes allowed my students to color one of its pictures. But of course they had to sign and date their pictures, and of course they had to be willing to let me keep their drawings forever. (And of course I still have them.)
 
Doesn’t all of this sound interesting and fun? 
 
I mean, why not do all of this? Why not teach children how to read (see Riggs Lessons 1-80) and then show them how to use this book to increase their own word power, to complete their own writing assignments, and to do much, much more. It will keep them interested, focused, and growing.
 
"After students learn to read," said Riggs Institute founder Myrna McCulloch, "this books shows them what to do with words and takes them on into grammar, vocabulary development and composition." 
 
Are you using the Riggs Institute’s Basic Spelling and Usage Dictionary in your classroom?
 
If not, why not?
 
If so, I’d love to hear how that is going for you.
 
 

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