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A dictionary is an unexciting but vital piece of equipment for school work. When choosing the right one for your child, reading ability is a more important guide than age. It's also worth thinking about size if it has to be carried in a school bag every day.
(with thanks to Karen, Andrew, Maddie and Jos)

     Readers past the beginner stage
     Confident readers
     Bad Spellers
     Word Origins  

For readers past the beginner stage 
Click for Writing for ChildrenThe Oxford Junior Dictionary
(Oxford University Press)
6,000 words
This good, clear dictionary has the main words printed in red to make them stand out and the alphabet printed along the top edge of each double page spread. The straight forward definitions include related words and, where appropriate, example sentences to show how the word in use. A separate section at the end looks at word origins. Small enough to fit easily into a school bag, this useful dictionary looks sufficiently grown up to enable it to be used by older, weaker readers without loss of face. 
15cm x 22cm 265 pages
Ages 7 upwards including older children with special needs
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Click for Writing for ChildrenThe Oxford Illustrated Junior Dictionary
(Oxford University Press)
6,000 words
With identical text to the Junior Dictionary above, this illustrated version is printed on larger pages and has the alphabet on the outside edges of the pages instead of the top. It also has 1 or 2 small colour drawings on most (but not all) of the pages but these don't add much extra information except in the short picture vocabulary section. These changes give this book a younger feel than the non-illustrated version. 
19cm x 24cm 256 pages
Ages 6 upwards 
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The Oxford Young Readers Dictionary
(Oxford University Press)
6,000 words
This is a large print dictionary designed for children with visual problems or other reasons for needing large print. The book is the same as the Oxford Junior Dictionary except the keywords are in black rather than red and there is no section on word origins at the end. This makes it easy for a child with special needs to use in a group situation while other pupils use the normal version. The title is well designed to allow older children to use it without loss of face.
21cm x 30cm 250 pages
Age 7 upwards especially older children with special needs
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For confident readers
Click for Writing for ChildrenDK School Dictionary
(Dorling Kindersley)
18,000 words
Small pages and a large number of entries combine to make this dictionary 4cm thick. Young readers sufficiently undaunted by this to look inside will find clear definitions, help with pronunciation, related words (here called word families), example sentences and word origins. The alphabet along the outside edge of the pages aids searching and the main words are printed in red to make them stand out. A good choice of dictionary for enthusiastic readers. 
13.8cm x 16.5cm 518 pages
Ages 9 upwards
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Click for Writing for ChildrenThe Usborne Illustrated Dictionary
10,000 words
Although this has fewer entries than the Dorling Kindersley version above, its attractive illustrations make it a better choice for less enthusiastic readers. The clear, colour drawings break up the text well and the labels on many of them provide useful associated vocabulary. The text is printed in three columns instead of the more usual two and includes pronunciation hints, related words and example sentences. The edges of the pages are colour coded for each letter but there is no alphabet guide to help with searching. 
17cm x 24cm 288 pages
Ages 9 upwards
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Click for Writing for ChildrenThe Oxford Children's Dictionary
(Oxford University Press)
20,000 words
A workmanlike dictionary with clear definitions, related words, pronunciation hints and example sentences plus very occasional word origins. The pages have their tops colour coded for each letter but don't have the alphabet visible. Useful for those who would be daunted by the thickness of the Dorling Kindersley dictionary but who need more words than the Usborne one. 
13cm x 21.5cm 390 pages
Ages 8 upwards       
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For bad spellers
Click for Writing for ChildrenACE Spelling Dictionary
by David Moseley and Catherine Nicol
(Learning Development Aids)
The problem with a normal dictionary is you need a fair idea of how to spell a word before you can look it up to see if you are right. This dictionary cleverly solves that difficulty by arranging the words by how they sound instead of by how they are spelt. So alms, answering and architecture are all on the same page and so are frame, phrase and freighter. The index looks strange at first but the book is quick and easy to use once you get the hang of it. However, there are no definitions so you need to be able to read well enough to recognise the word you want when you see it.
Ages 9 to adult
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Word Origins
Oxford School Dictionary of Word Origins
by John Ayto
(Oxford University Press)
The 'school' in this title is misleading as few schools require children to have this type of dictionary and the contents are so interesting that they will appeal to many people not forced to use the book in the classroom. It looks like a standard dictionary but, instead of listing the meanings of words, it explains where they came from. Those explanations are highly readable especially where the origins are not obvious. Great for confident readers who like collecting unusual facts and likely to increase interest in words.

Ages 10-adult
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