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Why does your child need a dictionary?

Dictionaries can be a great way for your child to find out new words and improve their vocabulary – but not just any will do. For your child to get the most out of a dictionary, it has to include words they are likely to hear and use at home and school. It also needs to have definitions and examples that will make sense to them.

Publisher Sam Armstrong explains how Oxford Children’s Dictionaries are made to work perfectly for different ages, and how the Oxford Children’s Corpus is used to figure out which words to include by analysing real children’s language.

Why do we need dictionaries for children?

Making dictionaries for children is all about tailoring them to suit different ages and abilities. Choosing the right design, layout, colour, and fonts all help make our books easy to understand and enjoy. Everything is tested out in the classroom, and educational experts give guidance on curriculum vocabulary.

We try to make our books fun to look at, with plenty of illustrations and help for the younger children. The alphabet is on the side of every page, and the letter you are in is highlighted. This helps make them easy for every child to use.

Our children’s dictionaries are compiled specially for children – they are not cut-down, edited versions of our adult dictionaries. As the reader gets older, the complexity and the quantity of definitions tends to increase – a first dictionary wouldn’t describe ‘foot’ in terms of poetic metre, for example.

We make our dictionaries using something called the Oxford Children’s Corpus.

What is the Oxford Children’s Corpus?

The Oxford Children’s Corpus is a huge database of language – a unique word bank that has been built up over the last 10 years by Oxford University Press. It contains over 300 million words, from countless examples of writing both for and by children. The writing comes from lots of places, like websites and books for children, as well as the stories from BBC Radio 2’s 500 Words competition.

We can search the Oxford Children’s Corpus to research how children are using language. This makes our dictionaries completely evidence-based – by finding out exactly how children use language, we can tailor our books to fit them exactly. We include the words that children actually use, not the words we think they use.

We can also analyse the writing to see where we can help young people. For example, we can see the gaps between more and less able writers, and produce material that supports children across the range; we can identify bespoke subsets of language, such as a specific 19th century corpus for children studying the Victorians; and we can stay completely up-to-date, with relevant content and supporting resources like crosswords and anagram puzzles.

Our data means that we tend to be first to spot emerging trends, too, like the increasing use of ‘gaming’ vocabulary, like ‘ramp’, ‘glitch’ and ‘level’, in children’s writing about real life situations. This all helps us make dictionaries that are as useful as possible for developing vocabulary at every age.

More from Oxford Owl

Our favourite dictionaries

Please note: all book links lead to more information on Amazon.co.uk

Oxford First Dictionary

Oxford First Dictionary

Suitable for children aged 5–7

The perfect first dictionary, guaranteed to give a love of language for life! This dictionary includes fun word jokes for children and information on time, seasons, the body and question words, along with the alphabet, numbers, colours and shapes.

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Oxford First Illustrated Dictionary

First Illustrated Dictionary

Suitable for children aged 5–7

Beautifully illustrated by well-known picture book artist Emma Chichester Clark, this book is the perfect first building block for 5–7 year-olds to engage with words and language. Over 2000 entries give clear meanings and definitions, parts of speech, word forms, word families, synonyms and opposites to build vocabulary and first literacy skills.

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Oxford Phonics Spelling Dictionary

Phonics Spelling Dictionary

Suitable for children aged 5–7

Using the Oxford Reading Tree Floppy’s Phonics Sound and Letters Programme and synthetic phonics, the Oxford Phonics Spelling Dictionary helps children become proficient readers and spellers. With 4000 words, ordered by sounds and spellings and linked to the Alphabetic Code Chart, it makes preparing for the phonics screening check simple and fun.

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Oxford Children's Rhyming Dictionary

Children’s Rhyming Dictionary

Suitable for children aged 7+

Poetry and creative writing is fun in the classroom and at home with the Oxford Children’s Rhyming Dictionary. With inspiring poems by John Foster, quirky illustrations and engaging creative writing activities, this alphabetical rhyming dictionary gives over 3000 rhyming words to help children to write their own poems, riddles, and nonsense verse.

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Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary

Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary

Suitable for children aged 8+

Lots of dictionaries tell you what an ‘alligator’ is, or how to spell ‘balloon’, but they won’t explain the difference between a ‘ringbeller’ and a ‘trogglehumper’, or say why witches need ‘gruntles’ eggs’, or suggest a word for the shape of a ‘Knid’. This dictionary does all those things. All the words that Roald Dahl invented are here, like ‘biffsquiggled’ and ‘whizzpopping’, to remind you what means what, but that is not all. You’ll also find out where words came from, rhyming words, synonyms and lots of alternative words for words that are overused.

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Oxford Mini School Dictionary & Thesaurus

Mini School Dictionary & Thesaurus

Suitable for children aged 10+

The Oxford Mini School Dictionary & Thesaurus is the ideal one-volume quick reference tool for the school bag. It is the only one of its kind for students ten years plus, ideal for primary school leavers about to start secondary school. Each page has the dictionary entries at the top with the companion thesaurus entries at the bottom making it easy to find the right words quickly. The dictionary contains clear simple definitions, up-to-date example sentences, and support on spelling, grammar and punctuation.

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Oxford Illustrated Dictionary of 19th Century Language

Oxford Illustrated Dictionary of 19th Century Language

Suitable for children aged 11+

This unique dictionary provides clear definitions and example sentences for 3000 interesting, peculiar and difficult words found in the 19th century fiction and non-fiction texts studied at secondary school. As well as help with unfamiliar usage of modern words and dialect, the dictionary includes letter opener facts, panels on the context of the period, and an illustrated section on themes such as transport, crime, fashion and childhood. By demystifying the language of the time and putting its use in context, it will help students to access, and enjoy the novels and poems of the 19th century.

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