How Much Does a Dictionary Weigh?


How Much Does a Dictionary Weigh?

Fun with estimation .


Old Weighing scale (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How much do you think a dictionary weighs? Compared to your grandchild?

After years of cooking, I can usually tell which plastic container will hold a given amount of leftovers. I can tell how much lettuce will serve four people. This is estimating, backed up by experience with volumes. If I’d learned to cook by weighing instead of measuring volume, I could more closely estimate weight.

Your grandchildren can quickly learn to estimate weight and then compare it to the actual weight with a few items around the house.


  • Bathoom scale
  • 4 items to weigh
  • Paper and pencil
  • Graph paper (optional)
  • Prizes (optional)


  • Have your grandchild pick four items to weigh, including one that is heavier than or close in weight to them. I picked: a small dictionary, an unabridged dictionary, an electric toothbrush with its base, a hand truck
  • Have your grandchild estimate the weights by putting the items in order, the lightest to the heaviest, including your grandchild.
  • Have your grandchild write down the items in the order they picked and how much they think each weighs, including their own weight
  • Using a bathroom scale, let your grandchild weigh themselves
  • Have them weigh each item in order and write down its weight next to their estimate
  • If an item does not fit on the scale, they can step on the scale holding the item, then subtract their weight from the total.
  • Compare their estimates with the actual weights.
  • Optional: Rearrange the items according to their actual weights, if necessary.
  • Optional: Decide in advance on prizes for getting the items in the right order by weight and coming within one pound of the actual weight on all four items.
  • Optional: Draw a bar code on the graph paper, with the left side of the graph representing number of pounds and the height of the bars representing the weight of each item.
  • Optional: Pick out four items very close in weight and see if your grandchild can still put them in order them by weight

Sometime during this activity, your scale may come out of alignment. Show your grandchild how to bring it back to zero when there is nothing on the scale.

Be prepared to be surprised at your weight the next time you step on the scale!

Carol Covin, Granny-Guru: Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers”

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Comments (8 )

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  1. Leora says:

    I was going to make a wise crack about how my kids don't use dictionaries – they use Sir Google, so the dictionary to them weighs as much as a computer does.

    However, if your kids/grandkids are still young, this would a great project to teach them that book dictionaries still exist.

    • Geek Girl says:

      That's a very good point. Although I love tech, I also love books. Easy principle to apply. 🙂

  2. JeriWB says:

    I was thinking the same things as Leora when it comes to Sir Google. I mostly had students use online dictionaries in the classroom, but every now and then, I would have them use the gigantic dictionaries of yesteryear. You'd think they are having a heart attack when it came to the patience needed to look-up words the old fashioned way. This is a great activity, dictionaries aside 😉

    • Geek Girl says:

      Hey, I think it's good practice for them to see how it used to be done in case they might have to actually do it manually. 🙂

  3. carolcovin says:

    Until this discussion, I forgot that dictionaries are ancient:) The one I weighed is an unabridged that I've used so much it's almost falling apart. I wonder if my grandchildren, at 7, even know how to use one. One will be here next week.

  4. Isn't it sad that paper dictionaries are going the way of the encyclopedia? I have some cooking dictionaries in my office and the closest thing to an ecyclopedia is my Marvel and DC comics encyclopedias. Granted they get quite a bit of use when we watch the modern super hero movies (helps the women in my life get up to speed … they are so much cooler than I am)

  5. Susan Cooper says:

    What a fun thing to do with a young child. They would have a blast and learn something fun at the same time. 🙂