The Repository @ St. Cloud State

Open Access Knowledge and Scholarship

Date of Award


Culminating Project Type


Degree Name

English: Teaching English as a Second Language: M.A.




College of Liberal Arts

First Advisor

Choonkyong Kim

Second Advisor

Shawn Jarvis

Third Advisor

Isolde Mueller

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.


Vocabulary is the most essential part of language proficiency (Carter & McCarthy, 1988). As ESL students develop their understanding of and expressive ability in English, it is increasingly important that they employ language learning strategies to deal with the unknown words that they encounter. Dictionaries are one learning strategy that students can use to help them acquire new vocabulary knowledge. Their use is acknowledged as a beneficial strategy for both understanding words in context and using them productively in speech and writing. However, in order to utilize dictionaries well, students need to know how to use them effectively. Unfortunately, little research exists about students’ actual use of dictionaries (Luppescu & Day, 1993).

In order to address this lack of research, this study investigated ESL students’ use of as well as opinions about dictionaries as well as the training they receive in their classes related to dictionaries. Data was collected through four parts, including observation, interviews, and questionnaires. Twenty ESL students from varying levels of a university’s IEP performed a glossary creation task in pairs in which they created vocabulary glossary items for five to ten new words that they selected from a reading. The task involved observation and video-recording. This was followed by an audio-recorded stimulated recall interview for one pair from each of three levels. Two separate questionnaires delivered to the student participants as well as teachers from the program were also used. The questionnaires asked about dictionary use habits as well as preferences with and their knowledge about dictionaries.

The results showed that, while the student participants reported that they used a combination of book and online dictionaries, they overwhelmingly relied on online dictionaries. The participants also were selective in the information they used from dictionaries, often including only information about definition and examples in their glossaries. The findings of this study indicate that teachers should incorporate ongoing training about online look-up sources into their classes as well as to train students in how to utilize the rich information provided in dictionary entries. Learning about how to use information about part of speech and collocation can benefit students as they develop their productive language abilities.