There are many reasons to adore libraries on Library Lovers’ Day

Modern libraries can take the form of a local book exchange to a huge community centre, complete with roof gardens and cafes.

The reasons why Australians love them are just as diverse. From the smell of books to the friendly librarian, there are plenty of reasons to visit, and to love, our libraries.

To mark Library Lovers’ Day, here are some of the OUP Australia staff’s favourites.


I did high school work experience at the library. I love books and so I spent a lot of time there; I wanted to see what it was like behind the scenes.

As a kid, I remember borrowing the Saddle Club books, or sitting in the kids’ section of my local library and reading.


I love libraries. My sister works at a law library, so when we were in New York, we visited the legal library there. We also went to the New York library with the lions out the front, and we visited libraries in Washington DC and Beverly Hills. We also visited the Beast’s Library from Beauty and the Beast at Disneyland. Pure Magic!.

I love taking photos of the buildings. The library in Boston had beautiful study rooms, with green lamps and high ceilings – it was really picturesque.

I also regularly go to my local library in Carnegie to borrow books.

I remember my primary school library, and story time with the librarian. When I started work at here, I was excited to see some of the books that I read at that time, by Robin Klein and Alison Lester, were published by Oxford.



I remember going to the school library when I arrived in Australia from Italy when I was 11. I used to go to learn English and there was a great librarian there – she was enthusiastic and friendly, and spent time going through the books with me. I still have a copy of the Wizard of Oz that I read at the time. There were books about learning English, but I liked the novels the best.

Now, I often go to my local library to borrow books.


I love my local library because I can go there to get all the new releases. It has great service and is nice and quiet. Usually, I reserve books and go there to pick them up, but sometimes, I go and browse or do some life admin or writing.

When I was at uni, I used to go to the State Library to study. There was a little nook in the Redmond Barry Reading Room that was nice and quiet, and it smelt good.


I’ve just joined the Bargoonga Nganjin North Fitzroy library. It’s in a beautiful, brand new building on St Georges Road. It has a roof top garden and a community centre, and hosts concerts and other events. It’s a really nice space.

I just borrowed my first book from it for book club – Extinctions by Josephine Wilson.


I have strong memories of starting to read ‘proper’ novels in high school. I remember reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and S.E. Hinton’s books, and wondering how I was ever going to make a dent in all of the books along those huge shelves.

At uni, I loved the quiet and sense of studiousness at the library. It was a peaceful escape from the activity at the college where I lived.

As a mother, I reacquainted myself with libraries, taking my children to Rhyme Time. It was a happy surprise to see how libraries had become much more than just books – they were gathering places and learning spaces, with the books at their centre.

Parents need better support to ensure the health and well-being of children

Parents play a more important role than any choice of school in the mental health, well-being and even earning potential of children.

That is the belief of Matthew Sanders, the founder of the hugely successful Triple-P (Positive Parenting Program). The program, developed at the University of Queensland, has helped millions of families with the help of more than 30 years of research, becoming one of the Australia’s greatest social science exports.

Dr Sanders will launch The Power of Positive Parenting book, celebrating three decades of the program’s development, at the University of Queensland on Wednesday, 7 February.

As part of the release of the book, Dr Sanders is urging the Australian government to take a population-wide approach to parenting to improve the future of families, describing an emphasis on parenting as a major public health initiative.

“Statewide availability of The University of Queensland-developed Triple P – Positive Parenting Program in Queensland is an example of a forward-thinking, community health approach that supports parents to promote positive outcomes for children across the state,” he said.

“Unfortunately, there is not enough of this kind of thinking when it comes to government spending. Too often, when evidence-based or non-evidence parenting services are offered, support is limited to the most vulnerable, those who have been identified and targeted by agencies as needing help.

“While well-meaning, such an approach will never shift rates of children’s early onset mental health issues or child maltreatment. A mindset that views parents as the problem, rather than part of the solution and singles them out for attention is only going to send parents away from the very support we are trying to give them.”

Dr Sanders is concerned that parents’ about the outsourcing in public policy of parents’ responsibilities – of schools charged with improving children’s resilience and mental health and of the medical profession to deal with the common and everyday issues parents face in raising children.

He said that the way children are parented profoundly affects their long-term health, their ability to learn, their mental well-being and how they get on with others. Ultimately, it can determine their likelihood of ending up in jail, taking drugs, becoming violent, or alternatively, participating meaningfully in society.

“Evidence-based parenting programs can help parents and children regulate their emotions and behaviour, using competently trained and supervised staff, or robustly evaluated online interventions. They have an active coaching component and allow for the practice of skills as part of their core curriculum.”

Rather than blaming parents for society’s problems, Dr Sanders believes we needed to start supporting them with a public health approach informed by evidence.

Find out more about The Power of Positive Parenting  or listen to Dr Sanders speak about parenting on Talking Lifestyle

Power of positive parenting

In the age of spellcheckers, why do children still need a dictionary or thesaurus?

Today’s children never need to make a mistake. Before they even know they have misspelt (or should that be ‘misspelled’*?) something, it has been corrected by a spellchecker.

And so, why would they continue to need a dictionary?

Here are some points explaining why dictionaries continue to be important learning tools in the digital age.

  • To get spelling right

A dictionary will help to clear up those spelling issues which will cost children valuable marks. Confusable words, like ‘their’, ‘there’ and ‘they’re’ are highlighted, with additional help in children’s dictionaries.

complement NOUN complements 1 the quantity needed to fill or complete something –The ship had its full complement of sailors. 2 the word or words used after verbs such as be and become to complete the sense. In She was brave and He became king of England, the complements are brave and King of England.

  • To understand meaning

Oxford’s children’s dictionaries define words using a context that is familiar to and appropriate for each child’s age, with example sentences to illustrate how these words can be used at their best. Where a word has more than one meaning, each one is numbered.

Dictionaries will help to extend and enrich their vocabulary, which at school can help move them towards the top grades.

irony (say I-ron-ee) NOUN ironies 1 saying the opposite of what you mean in order to emphasize it, e.g. saying ‘What a lovely day’ when it is pouring with rain. 2 an oddly contradictory situation –The irony of it is that I tripped while telling someone else to be careful. [from Greek eiron = someone who pretends not to know]

  • To understand how language works, including punctuation and grammar

Dictionaries help a child to develop children’s writing skills by showing relationships between words, and how you can use grammar and punctuation to greater effect. Extra help is included on how to avoid common mistakes, for example in using an apostrophe correctly.

less ADJECTIVE & ADVERB  smaller in amount; not so much – Make less noise. It is less important.
USAGE Do not use less when you mean fewer. You should use fewer when you are talking about a number of individual things, and less when you are talking about a quantity or mass of something: –The less batter you make, the fewer pancakes you’ll get.

Why do children need a thesaurus?

A thesaurus will help to improve a child’s writing, whether it is writing reports, essays, or creatively for stories or poetry. They can be a further reference for help on punctuation and grammar, in addition to providing the right word for every occasion. A thesaurus can:

Find an alternative or more interesting word, for example, why use ‘walk’, when you could use ‘stroll’, ‘ramble’, or ‘saunter’?

Provide help on particularly overused words, such as ‘go’, ‘say’, and ‘get’.

Find the right word, specific person, place or thing’ for example, if you look up ‘shop’, you will find that someone who sells sweets is called a ‘confectioner’.

nice ADJECTIVE This word is often overused. Here are some alternatives:
1 We had a nice time in Greece.
– pleasant, agreeable, enjoyable, marvellous, wonderful, delightful, splendid
2 They are such nice people.
– pleasant, likeable, agreeable, personable, friendly, congenial, genial
3 That’s rather a nice distinction.
–  fine, subtle, delicate, fastidious


*according to the Oxford English Dictionary, ‘misspelt’ and ‘misspelled’ are both acceptable. ‘Misspelt’ is more usual in British English and ‘misspelled’ in American English.


A guide to Kwaussie slang

We all know that, at times, Australians speak their own language, ‘Strine. But what about our neighbours in New Zealand?

It turns out that the language of New Zealanders can be just as confusing for outsiders.

So, after Kwaussie was named the Australian Word of the Year in 2017, in the spirit of neighbourly understanding, we thought it was time to learn New Zealand.

Hopefully, our Australian and New Zealand slang guide will  help us bridge the Kwaussie divide.

Kwaussie slang


New Zealand slang


Aussie slang




corner dairy


milk bar


A small grocery shop

jandals thongs Known as flip-flops in the UK, defined in the Australian National Dictionary as: A flat-soled sandal held on the foot by a bifurcated thong passing between the first and second toes.
puku belly/pot A person’s stomach or belly, is from Maori
bach beach shack/bush shack Short for ‘bachelor’, the verb means to live alone and to do one’s own cooking and housekeeping, but the noun denotes a small holiday house
munted stuffed In a state of disastrous disintegration; broken or ruined
kai tucker Kai, meaning food, is from Maori
tramp bushwalk While tramp means ‘to walk heavily’ in many varieties of English, only in New Zealand is someone likely to use the word to mean ‘walk for long distances in rough country for recreation’. The term ‘bushwalk’ is more commonly used in Australia.
wop wops woop woop A remote town or district

Our favourite Aussie books

Our favourite Australian stories take place by the sea, in the outback, in cosmopolitan cities or deep suburbia. Their protagonists range from an Australian of African descent to child learning about her Indigenous heritage; and an elderly German professor to a magic pudding.

Such is the variety of Australian literature that it is difficult to place Australian books in a single category.

In a list of OUP staff members’ favourite Aussie books, many that might be considered Australian classics were missing – while there was no Cloudstreet, a different Tim Winton book was mentioned; there was no Picnic at Hanging Rock, but another Lindsay made an appearance; and My Brilliant Career and The Getting of Wisdom were replaced by more contemporary visions of Australian life from Jennifer Down and Maxine Beneba Clarke.

In fact, such is the breadth of Australian literature that no single book or author appeared twice.

Here are some of our top Aussie books – we’d love to hear about yours.

Jordan Irving

Monkey Grip by Helen Garner – One of my favourite books. A shimmering, stream of consciousness narrative that makes you feel like you’re sitting poolside and riding around the streets of Fitzroy and Carlton – JUST like the characters! Ostensibly a love story about Nora (VERY much based on Garner) and her heroin-addicted sometimes-boyfriend Javo, this book also functions as a depiction of the share house/theatre/artist community culture in Melbourne in the ‘80s. Was originally published without much editing/tweaking to the manuscript which is a pretty impressive feat for a debut novelist!

The Strays by Emily Bitto – Another debut. Set in Melbourne in the 1930s. Centred around two young best friends, Lily and Eva, and told from Lily’s perspective. Eva is the daughter of fictional avant-garde painter Evan Trentham, whose home becomes a refuge for “stray” artists who can’t afford to paint and work and live otherwise. Lily and Eva are inseparable and Lily spends her childhood at the Trentham home, becoming more and more enamoured with the artists’ and their way of life… until something TERRIBLE happens, leaving the characters scattered and causing a decades-long rift between Lily and Eva. Pretty good, quick read!

Our Magic Hour by Jennifer Down – Yet another debut! About a young woman reeling from the suicide of her closest female friend. Really great meditation on friendship, love, relationships and grief. Similar to Monkey Grip in that it’s meandering and without much plot but it’s very evocative and beautifully written.

The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke – Very engaging and hard to read autobiography about Beneba Clarke’s childhood and adolescence growing up in Australia after her parents emigrated from England. Born to British-born, Afro-Caribbean parents Beneba Clarke was one of the few non-white children in her school, and was ruthlessly and relentlessly targeted and bullied by the other kids – and unfortunately a few of the teachers too. A really good insight into the pervasiveness of racism in Australian culture and a really important book to read, especially in our current unfortunate political climate.

Caly James

I’ve loved everything I’ve read by Alex Miller.  Each novel is different to the last and they are stories that stay with you long after you’ve finished the last page. Landscape of Farewell charts the journey of a chance friendship between an unlikely duo:  Max, a visiting elderly professor from Germany and Dougald, an Aboriginal elder from outback Queensland.  Tenderly written this is a story of coming to terms with one’s past but also of forgiveness and reconciliation.

My favourite Tim Winton is The Turning – a collection of 17 interlinked short stories. I marvel at the frugality of Winton’s writing and his ability to say so much with so little.

The Women in Black by Madeline St John is an absolute treat.  Set in Sydney circa 1950’s, we meet Lisa, Miss Baines, Mrs Williams and Magda, all are shop assistants serving in the  frock department at Goode’s – Sydney’s premier department store (aka David Jones).  There’s a good deal of humour along with  sharp observation of everyday detail making this a delightful read as we traverse the ordinary and the extraordinary witnessing both disappointment as well as hopes and possibilities.

Fleur Morrison

All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld – I just finished reading this book, written by an ex-pat Australian and set between the UK and Australia. It is about a woman whose terrible decision forced her to take flight from her past life – into a harsh and masculine world. Wyld sets the scene beautifully, and portrays a frightened, troubled, but strong character trying to survive.

All that I Am by Anna Funder – while this book isn’t based in Australia, the author is Australian. Based on real events, it follows a group of characters effected by the Nazi regime in Britain and Germany. The story is built around a nonagenarian  in Sydney and a renowned playwright living in New York in 1939.  I love Funder’s way with words and the story is haunting.

My Place by Sally Morgan – When I read this in my teens, and I really loved it. The story is a memoir about family, place and the histories that are unspoken. Many parts of the story were familiar, yet others were completely new to me, introducing me to parts of the experience of Indigenous Australians, in a very accessible way.

Alex Chambers (and his dad)

My favourite is The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay. I loved this one when I was growing up! (Bonus: I asked my dad and he said Voss by Patrick White.)

Marta Malachowski

My fave Aussie author is Bryce Courtenay. I haven’t yet read his whole collection, but one of my favourite titles is The Family Frying Pan. It details the journey through Siberia made by his grandma and includes stories from those that trekked with her, AND it includes recipes that relate to each person’s personal journey/ story.

Another author I’ve recently grown to love is Liane Moriarty. I equally love her books The Husband’s Secret and Big Little Lies – I never knew I could be so drawn to a story!

What are your favourite Aussie books or writers?

The top blog posts of 2017

It has been a big year on the Oxford Australia blog, covering all things education and English language. We’ve seen ‘Kwaussie’ emerge as the Australian Word of the Year, and learnt that Aussie kids are talking about ‘equality’. We’ve explored approaches to maths and literacy, and the continuing relevance of atlases in Australian classrooms.

To mark the end of 2017 and what we’re hoping will be another dynamic year in 2018, we’ve put together a list of our most popular blog posts for the year

1. Finding new Australian words

It’s a year since we celebrated the launch of the new Australian National Dictionary, with its 16,000 Australian words and meanings. Since then we have not been taking it easy and neither has Australian English—we began collecting new words even as we sent off the manuscript to the publisher. We now have more than 300 items worthy of further research.

Our list is deliberately inclusive since we can’t know which terms will prove to be stayers. A number are new or recent coinages that just missed our editorial deadline; others are older terms we rejected as having too little evidence, but now look more established; some are speculative; and some simply flew under our radar. Here is a sample of the terms under consideration as future entries.

2. Moving mathematics learning from “what have I been told?” to “what do I know that can help me?”

There is widespread agreement that student-driven inquiry approaches can help students build understanding, solve problems and reason mathematically. But to ensure that all students are included in learning opportunities, specific teacher actions are needed and lessons can productively be structured in particular ways. These actions include the following:

  • Posing tasks which are mathematically rich, which most students do not already know how to solve, and which require students to make decisions on the solution type and approach.
  • Allowing students time to engage with the task. Perhaps the major difference between students is not their so-called ability but the time they need to engage with the ideas.

3. Australian Word of the Year 2017: Kwaussie

Kwassie has been named Australian Word of the Year 2017!

Kwaussie: ‘a person who is a dual citizen of Australia and New Zealand; a New Zealander living in Australia; a person of Australian and New Zealand descent’.

The Australian National Dictionary Centre, based at The Australian National University, selected Kwaussie, a blend of Kiwi and Aussie, as the most interesting term associated with the dual citizenship crisis engulfing the Australian Parliament in 2017.

4. Bogans are not what they used to be, according to the latest dictionary update

If you thought you knew the definition of a bogan, think again.

Language is a continuously changing landscape, in which new words appear, others fade out of general usage and some evolve and take on different meanings.

Bogan is one of the evolving terms that attracted the attention of the team at the Australian National Dictionary Centre, which is responsible for editing the 6th edition of the Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary (ACOD), released this week.

5. OUP staff select their top 5 books of all time

To mark the Australian Reading Hour on September 14, we asked some Oxford University Press Australia and New Zealand staff to list their top five reads of all time.

Do you agree with their selections? What books are in your top five?

6. Phonics is not a dirty word

Phonics is a word that is often misused, misunderstood and abused. Despite what some might argue, it is a method of learning that has much to offer Australian children.

I am often asked why it is so important to teach children phonics, as opposed to learning words through prediction or as a whole word.

Sound is critical in the process of learning to read. Children need to hear, distinguish, isolate, rhyme and articulate sounds and words. Once they are aware of these sounds, they can ready the neural pathways in their brain for learning the connection between letters and sounds. This is the single most critical factor in learning to read.

7. “Donoghue Day” wins Oxford Connecting with Law Short Film Competition

The Connecting with Law Short Film Competition is an annual event run by Oxford University Press Australia & New Zealand. It is open to all students enrolled in an Australian law degree and has proven itself to be unique way of encouraging law students to connect with their field of study and contribute to legal education.

For the Tenth Anniversary of the competition, students were invited to make a two-to-five-minute film exploring the theme, ‘Groundbreakers: people, cases or judgements that have changed the shape of Australian law.’ The winning entry was judged to be the most imaginative, instructive and original, with the team demonstrating an ability to reflect creatively on the theme.

8. “Equality” named Oxford Children’s Word of the Year

After countless hours reviewing hundreds of entries, Oxford University Press Australia and New Zealand has announced its 2017 Children’s Word of the Year: equality.

The word is a result of an Australia-wide writing competition in which students from Grade Prep to Grade 6 submitted a piece of free writing up to 500 words based on a chosen word. The writing could be creative or factual, funny or serious.

A judging panel, consisting of academics and experts in children’s English language, evaluated competition entries based on a word’s popularity, use of the word in context, and frequency, to determine the Australian Children’s Word of the Year.

9. Help us find the Australian Children’s Word of the Year

Do your students talk Trump or Turnbull, fidget spinners or footy cards? Oxford University Press want to learn more about the way children communicate, and to help us do this we are launching the Children’s Word of the Year free writing competition.

Primary school-aged children are invited to nominate their ‘Word of the Year’ and submit a 500 piece of free writing based on that word. The piece can be creative or factual, funny or serious – it’s up to the student.

10. Consistency and community key to Indigenous literacy: Q&A with Shirley Davey

Literacy is a community affair in the Top End, according to Literacy and Numeracy Trainer Shirley Davey.  In the remote areas where Shirley works, students, families, teachers and trainers are working together to bring the benefits of literacy and numeracy.

We asked Shirley about her experience working in Indigenous literacy.



Kwaussie in conversation

The Australian Word of the Year 2017 has attracted plenty of attention, from those who are celebrating the merging of the Kiwi and the Aussie, to those who are surprised by its selection.

Kwaussie, defined as a person who is a dual citizen of Australia and New Zealand; a New Zealander living in Australia; a person of Australian and New Zealand descent, was selected by the Australian National Dictionary Centre at the Australian National University from a shortlist of words that reflect the  significant events of 2017 that shaped the Australian political, cultural and social landscape this year.

However, if you want to know more about the word and its origins, here is Australian National Dictionary Centre Director Amanda Laugesen speaking on the ABC today.

ABC Hobart (Mornings with Leon Compton)

ABC Radio National (with Fran Kelly)

ABC Radio Canberra (with Dan  Bourchier)

Have your say on whether Kwaussie is the best choice for Australia’s Word of the Year.


Finding the classic gift this Christmas

It is that time of year again and everyone is scurrying around, wondering what Christmas gifts to buy everyone from distant relatives to the children’s school teachers.

At OUP, we  have come up with a handy guide to the Oxford World’s Classics that might help make the search for gifts a little easier.

Oxford World’s Classic: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Summary: Tolstoy’s epic masterpiece intertwines the lives of private and public individuals during the time of the Napoleonic wars and the French invasion of Russia. The fortunes of the Rostovs and the Bolkonskys, of Pierre, Natasha, and Andrei, are intimately connected with the national history that is played out in parallel with their lives. Balls and soirées alternate with councils of war and the machinations of statesmen and generals, scenes of violent battles with everyday human passions in a work whose extraordinary imaginative power has never been surpassed. The prodigious cast of characters, both great and small, seem to act and move as if connected by threads of destiny as the novel relentlessly questions ideas of free will, fate, and providence. Yet Tolstoy’s portrayal of marital relations and scenes of domesticity is as truthful and poignant as the grand themes that underlie them.

Perfect as: a literary status symbol for anyone with an ornamental bookcase full of books they plan to read, one day… War and Peace is  an ideal addition to anyone’s aspirational bookcase.

Oxford World’s Classic: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Summary: At its simplest, Anna Karenina is a love story. It is a portrait of a beautiful and intelligent woman whose passionate love for a handsome officer sweeps aside all other ties – to her marriage and to the network of relationships and moral values that bind the society around her. The love affair of Anna and Vronsky is played out alongside the developing romance of Kitty and Levin, and in the character of Levin, closely based on Tolstoy himself, the search for happiness takes on a deeper philosophical significance.

Perfect as: a gift for the happily single. Or, if you dare, for young couples as a warning to avoid the pitfalls of Anna and Alexei’s disastrous marriage. If the story of deceit, despair and destruction seems a little grim for the happy couple, consider Sense and Sensibility.

Oxford World’s Classic: Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Summary: For Elinor Dashwood, sensible and sensitive, and her romantic, impetuous younger sister Marianne, the prospect of marrying the men they love appears remote. In a world ruled by money and self-interest, the Dashwood sisters have neither fortune nor connections. Concerned for others and for social proprieties, Elinor is ill-equipped to compete with self-centred fortune-hunters like Lucy Steele, whilst Marianne’s unswerving belief in the truth of her own feelings makes her more dangerously susceptible to the designs of unscrupulous men.

Through her heroines’ parallel experiences of love, loss, and hope, Jane Austen offers a powerful analysis of the ways in which women’s lives were shaped by the claustrophobic society in which they had to survive.

Perfect as: a gift for the young and starry-eyed who are trying to find their way in the social and romantic world, weighing up the merits of ‘sense’ and ‘sensibility’.

Oxford World’s Classic: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Summary: Crime and Punishment is the story of a murder committed on principle, of a killer who wishes to set himself outside and above society. The perpetrator, Raskolnikov, is confesses the crime and goes to prison, where he realises that happiness and redemption can only be achieved through suffering. The book is marked by Dostoevsky’s own harrowing experience of his prison days, and yet there are moments of wild humour.

Perfect as: a gift for anyone who has an interest in human psychology, including guilt, suffering and redemption. It is also recommended for those interested in modern politics, as it is considered to be a critique of political ideology that is still relevant today. To be avoided as an end-of-year gift for the primary school teacher who is a little overzealous in their approach to discipline.

Oxford World’s Classic: The Great The Great God Pan & Other Horror Stories by Arthur Machen

Summary: Perhaps no figure better embodies the transition from the Gothic tradition to modern horror than Arthur Machen. In the final decade of the nineteenth century, the Welsh writer produced a seminal body of tales of occult horror, spiritual and physical corruption, and malignant survivals from the primeval past which horrified and scandalised late-Victorian readers. Machen’s ‘weird fiction’ has influenced generations of storytellers, from H. P. Lovecraft to Guillermo Del Toro-and it remains no less unsettling today.

This new collection, which includes the complete novel The Three Impostors as well as such celebrated tales as The Great God Pan and The White People, constitutes the most comprehensive critical edition of Machen yet to appear. In addition to the core late-Victorian horror classics, a selection of lesser-known prose poems and later tales helps to present a fuller picture of the development of Machen’s weird vision.

Perfect as: a gift for anyone who grew up reading RL Stines’ Goosebumps books, and is ready to get their adrenaline flowing with this classic collection of horror stories and poems. To be avoided as a gift for the easily spooked or those susceptible to nightmares.


Visit the OUP website for more on the Oxford World’s Classics

Seven fun ways to use dictionaries in the classroom to promote literacy

Dictionary games can be a fun and interactive way of improving students’ literacy and fostering creativity.

We asked Australian teachers how they use dictionaries to support learning in their classrooms, and here are their top ideas:

  1. Use dictionaries as a creative writing tool. Get students to pick three words they don’t know and make up their own definitions for two. Other students can guess which is correct.

“As a creative writing starter dictionaries are amazing. Students find three words they don’t know and create their own meanings for two. These are shared and their peers try to identify which is the real definition. It’s always fun and builds their vocabulary.”

  1. Run a competition in which students pick the word with the strangest definition or spelling.

“The current favourite is to find the ‘Weirdest Word’. Students find the word that has the most unusual spelling or the whackiest meaning.  Giggles and hilarity often ensue.”

  1. Play dictionary ‘celebrity heads’, in which a definition is written on a post-it-note and the student on whose head it is stuck has to guess the correct word.

“Great for exploring synonyms and specific vocabulary.”

  1. Run a word origins game, which involves students guessing or revealing (if they already knew) how an everyday word might have originated, and explaining their theory or knowledge to the class, before looking the word up to see if they were correct.

“I remember that the word ‘sandwich’ was a surprise as it came from a person’s name! Students went on to think about the simple, everyday word and give an explanation of why it came about. A simple, imaginative, engaging way to generate interest about known, or possible, origins of a word!”

  1. Arrange a dictionary scavenger hunt, in which students race to find a selected word, or the teacher reads out a clue about the word that students then find.

“It’s great for the younger years and my older students love it for a break.”

  1. Organise a ‘tales from the dictionary’ game in which the teacher waves a ruler over the dictionary like a magic wand and 6 or 7 chosen words are written on the board. The students create an exciting movie or book teaser, which they present to their class.

“Discussion ensues about hooks, catchy/wow words/which one would you rather go and see? Points are awarded for word length, prefix and suffix use, correct usage. If there is time, movie posters are designed on whiteboards.”

  1. Dictionary ‘I spy’ involves the teaching starting with, “I am looking at a word that begins with …”, then when they found the letter in the dictionary, the teacher provides the second letter and reads out the meaning. The students have to find the word and read it out.

What are your favourite dictionary games?

Self-confessed ‘word nerd’ and author of the Gargantuan Book of Words, David Astle,  has added his own suggestions:

  • Hangman with rarer words
  • Pick page-mates of 5 related words as puzzle

Moving mathematics learning from “what have I been told?” to “what do I know that can help me?”


By Peter Sullivan

There is widespread agreement that student-driven inquiry approaches can help students build understanding, solve problems and reason mathematically. But to ensure that all students are included in learning opportunities, specific teacher actions are needed and lessons can productively be structured in particular ways. These actions include the following:

  • Posing tasks which are mathematically rich, which most students do not already know how to solve, and which require students to make decisions on the solution type and approach.
  • Allowing students time to engage with the task. Perhaps the major difference between students is not their so-called ability but the time they need to engage with the ideas.
  • Not only encouraging students to persist in their learning and being willing to take risks but also posing tasks which require those attributes.
  • Introducing tasks carefully to ensure that required language is covered and prerequisite concepts are reviewed.
  • Refraining from telling students how to solve the tasks. This is perhaps that most difficult of these actions in that it is counter to the natural instincts of teachers and requires teachers to trust that students can engage productively with the mathematical ideas.
  • Preparing prompts that can be given after some time, to students experiencing difficulty. Such prompts are intended to allow students access to the task. After completing such a prompt, the intention is that students proceed with the original task.
  • Planning further challenges for any students who finish quickly to extend their thinking and perhaps prompt abstraction or generalisation.
  • Making time to review student work on the tasks, and prioritising students presenting and explaining their solutions and solution strategies.
  • Posing subsequent tasks which are in some ways similar and in some ways different from the original task, with the intention that students see the underlying concepts more clearly and reduce the chance of students over-generalising from solutions to the initial task.

Note that, in this structure, it is not critical that all students solve the first task but engage with the idea sufficiently to be able to listen to the explanations of other students. Of course, tasks need to be appropriately challenging, meaning that most students will experience a sense of challenge but at least some will progress enough to contribute to classroom discussions. The intention, though, is that all students engage productively with subsequent tasks, having learnt from the initial efforts and the class discussions of students’ strategies.

The following newly released publication contains close to 100 suggestions of such learning sequences:

Sullivan, P. (2018). Challenging Mathematics Tasks: Unlocking the potential of all students. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.