Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q: How do I buy dictionaries?

A: The Dictionary Project does not sell dictionaries. The way the project works is that you as the sponsor make a monetary donation to our organization and volunteer to distribute the books to students. By taking delivery of the books you agree that you will give them to students in the schools or programs you specify, not sell or keep them. Because we are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, books obtained through us must be given to students as gifts. Dictionaries may be ordered through our website, by newsletter order form, or by phone. If you would like to purchase books to be used as classroom sets and remain with the school, we will gladly put you in touch with the publishers of the books we use so that you may purchase directly from them.

Q: Are there any additional costs, like shipping or tax, beyond the listed costs for the books?

A: No. The requested sponsor costs include shipping within the continental United States. Because you are not purchasing books, but making a donation to sponsor the books, there is no tax involved. Please call the Dictionary Project office for information about shipping outside the continental U. S.

Q: Why do you recommend giving the dictionaries to third graders?

A: We chose third grade as the year to give dictionaries to students for two reasons. The first is practical: third grade is the year in which dictionary skills are taught in most schools. The second is no less practical, but broader in scope: third grade represents a critical juncture in a child’s education. This is the year a student makes the transition from learning to read to reading to learn. All formal education from this point through college is premised upon the student being able to read and to understand what he or she reads. If we as a community want our children to succeed in education, we must ensure that they have the resources and encouragement to become strong readers by third grade. A recent study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows why this is so important.

Q: Do we have to give the books to third graders only?

A: All of the books on our site are appropriate for students in grade 3 and above. We prefer that the local teachers or administrators decide which book best suits the children they serve. The Sample Kits are helpful for this. We encourage our sponsors to show samples of the books to the teachers and administrators of the schools they will be serving and let them choose the book they think is best.

Q: Why books? Doesn't everyone have a computer or a dictionary app on their phone?

A: As of 2009, 93% of children ages 3-17 lived in households with at least one computer, and 77% used a home computer to access the Internet. It is still likely that almost one in ten American children do not have access to a computer at home. Children in minority ethnic groups or low-income households are much less likely to have a computer at home. (see data at

Even for children with computer access, a dictionary provides benefits a computer cannot. Dictionaries are portable and can be used anywhere. A child has a sense of ownership of a book that encourages exploration. And only a dictionary can provide that delightful experience of looking up a word and getting sidetracked by all the other fascinating words on the same page.

Q: I'm a teacher. How can I get dictionaries for my students?

A: Most of our projects are sponsored by local civic organizations. You can contact your local Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, Optimist, or Women’s Club, Elks Lodge, Grange, or other groups to tell them about the project and ask if they would be willing to sponsor your school. Many PTAs and PTOs and even school districts also sponsor the project for their students. If your efforts to find a sponsor have been unfruitful, please contact us; we may be able to help.

Q: What kind of evidence do you have that The Dictionary Project makes a difference in children's education?

A: Several people have asked us this question or a similar one recently, so we decided to take a look at the available educational and scientific research to see if we could find an answer.

Educators in general treat the importance of dictionary usage as a given. Those who create curriculum standards certainly believe it is essential: 46 of the 50 states specifically include dictionary skills in their elementary language arts standards. The standards include the use of dictionaries to understand the meanings and other properties of words (such as part of speech), to build vocabulary, and to edit written work for correct spelling and usage. (The other four states include these skills as well, but without specific reference to dictionaries as a way to achieve them. Links to state standards can be found at .) Many states also permit students to use dictionaries while taking required standardized tests. Since many schools do not have the budget to provide enough dictionaries in the classroom for each student to have one, the Dictionary Project allows more children to benefit from this resource.

Very little research has been done on how owning or using a dictionary impacts a child’s learning. A single study by John R. Beech of the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom found that, “Examining dictionary skills in poor readers showed that they were significantly slower and less accurate in looking up words in a dictionary than their age peers who were average readers” and concluded, “Persuading younger children to use a dictionary more could develop their spelling skills, possibly by encouraging them to be more proactive.” (You can read the full abstract of Dr. Beech’s article “Using a Dictionary: Its Influence on Children’s Reading, Spelling, and Phonology” here: .) We are also pleased to share that the California Dictionary Project, one of our sponsors, conducted a survey of teachers in the San Jose School District whose students received dictionaries. 93% of the teachers agreed or strongly agreed that, “The Dictionary Project is a worthwhile project for my students.”

Even without statistical evidence, the logic behind giving dictionaries to children is clear. Using a dictionary helps a child develop skills in two areas that will improve both reading and writing ability. First, independently looking up words in a dictionary requires a student to think critically, cultivating problem-solving skills. Second, by learning the meanings, part of speech, and other properties of a word, a student acquires knowledge, building vocabulary. Learning new words expands a child’s frame of reference and ability to form associations. A student who has a dictionary of his or her own is more likely to use it, and use it often, than a student who only has access to a classroom dictionary.

The power of the gift resides in the giving. Our sponsors who donate money to the Dictionary Project typically implement the program where they live by visiting schools to present the dictionaries to the children. While there, they stress the importance of reading and learning. They encourage the children to do their best at school because education will help them to reach their goals as adults. At the same time, they give the children a powerful tool to help with their school work when they give them their dictionaries. These presentations also provide an unspoken message: ‘We support your education and we want to see you succeed.’

Residents in all fifty states have volunteered their time and raised money to provide dictionaries to the children where they live. This comment from a sponsor explains why they do it: “The Rotary Club of Brooklyn Park provides dictionaries to the 3rd graders in public and private schools in the City of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. This is our third year of participation. School administrators and teachers as well as the parents and third graders really appreciate the project. The dictionary provided may be the only book in the student’s home. Our Rotarians enjoy their presentations to the children. We feel that it is a great project and we get lots of positive feedback from our community.” Duane Jones, Rotary Club of Brooklyn Park, Brooklyn Park, MN

We choose to use our limited funds to buy dictionaries for children rather than to conduct studies. If you are or know an education researcher who would like to undertake a research project on how owning dictionaries affects academic performance, please let us know! We are confident that the dictionaries do have a positive impact on the children who receive them. Besides being useful gifts, the dictionaries are a powerful statement of support from the community. We know this because of the thousands of responses we have received from students, teachers, administrators, and sponsors.

Q: What difference do the dictionaries make, and how do you know?

A: The Literacy Alliance of Columbus, GA, surveyed teachers and students in the Spring of 2011 to try to answer this exact question, and the responses were very encouraging. Read the results of their survey here. To answer this question from an academic standpoint, how the dictionaries impact test scores or student achievement in the classroom, is difficult. The evidence we have to support the effectiveness of the project is primarily anecdotal. But what anecdotes; we hear terrific stories!

Just this small collection of excerpts from letters we’ve received from children shows that the dictionaries absolutely make a difference:

Thank you for the dictionary. I am greatful for the gift. I appreciate it. It is a useful book. Thank you for beliving in me. -Rosie, Louisiana

Thank you for the awesome dictionary. I have had so much fun reading it. I like it so much I took it home but I brought it back to school. Thank you for realizing how much I needed my own dictionary. -Elena, California

Thank you for the dictionary. I never had my own dictionary before. I keep it with me all the time. Just in case I need it. -Logan, Virginia

Thank you for the dictionary. I really enjoy it. I really like it and I alredy used it. It makes me feel like I am special. I learn a lot from it. -Carrie, Vermont

Thank you so much for the dictionary. I really like it! This dictionary had so many things I wanted to learn and now I learned it because of you! I appreciate kindness and generosity you gave to me. I will always use the dictionary you gave me! -Ariana, California

Thank you for the dictionary. I used it a lot for home work. I like it because it helps me in a lot of ways. The book makes me feel like I can do everything. -Steven, Vermont

Sometimes a dictionary makes a difference for a whole family:

I would like to thank you for the presentation and the dictionaries. I’ve used it a lot at home. So has my brother. When he can’t find a word. It is very helpful when I need to find a word. My mom and dad even use it sometimes. -Riley, New York

In addition to the impact the project has on the children who receive the books, we hear constantly that the project has a tremendous impact on the sponsors giving out the books.