National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version



Honors in Practice, 2022, Vol. 18: 158–60


© Copyright 2022 by the National Collegiate Honors Council


A literary dictionary assignment provides honors students with an understanding of the ways knowledge shifts and changes over time as well as an opportunity to create knowledge rather than just recall correct answers.

For honors students, reciting the correct definitions of key terms—regardless of discipline—is generally simple. Where they struggle is understanding the ways such definitions may shift over time, shedding or accruing meanings with changes in usage, context, and critical perspective. To allow students to engage with such changes and to continue a tradition of “teaching the conflicts,” I have students create a dictionary of literary terms over the course of the semester. Though Gerald Graff argued for more complex issues, his larger point is worth recalling, namely that knowledge is not a fixed, immutable thing transferred from professor to student and then recited by the student to the professor in an endless loop. Honors students, many of whom struggle under the weight of perfectionism, need especially to understand language as fluid and malleable rather than as fixed and invariable.