One Dictionary to Rule them All

Feb 13, 2007 by

Since I decided to devote this entire week to online reference and dictionary sites, I thought it would be appropriate to point out OneLook.com, Lord of the Internet Dictionaries. Corny literary references aside, while looking through all of the Word of the Day sites yesterday I noticed that one particular online dictionary kept popping up with links to other dictionaries. Upon further investigation I discovered that OneLook is not actually an online dictionary, but a search engine for online dictionaries. Think of it as a meta-dictionary, bringing you results from over 900 different online dictionaries.

What good is that in the classroom? Besides trying to get your students to wrap their brains around what a pile of 900 dictionaries would look like, it really gives learners an opportunity to compare online sources for their accuracy and information worthiness. In other words, if students need to look up a science vocabulary word like “artery“, would they be more likely to find a definition they need on an online Etymology dictionary, a rhyming dictionary, a medical or biological dictionary, or will the plain old Webster’s definition work? Chances are the Webster’s or medical definition will do, but if they were writing in language arts then perhaps an etymology or rhyming dictionary might be more useful.

Besides allowing you to search a multitude of dictionaries at once, OneLook also provides one of the coolest tools I’ve ever seen in a dictionary; a reverse lookup. Rather than start with the word, just type in a short description, a question, or sentence about the word you need, and OneLook will provide you with a list of possible matches. Students routinely ask me, “What’s that one word, Mr. Rimes, you know, the one that means really, really big?”. As I rattle through a quick list of possible words, all of which are met with the shaking of the student’s head “no”, I begin to realize that they have the specific word in mind, but just can’t recall it. The reverse lookup functions like a thesaurus in that it provides synonyms for the provided description. Searching for the word that means “really big” provides pages of results that include, momentous, massive, thundering, and hundreds of others. Granted, there are plenty of results to throw the student off course like power, tornado, and handsome, but it’s a great opportunity to talk with students about sifting through information. Being able to sort through a maze of information, language, and ideas is one of the most coveted skills for any young graduate entering college or the workforce, and OneLook provides a great opportunity to help teach students those skills.

I’ve rambled on enough for now, but I definitely need to revisit this site, or at least pass it on to teachers in my district (especially the high school), as I think it could be an invaluable resource to many secondary teachers and students.

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