Dictionary Day

A unique literacy project focusing on Oakland’s third graders, attending primarily under-resourced schools.

Since early 2012, Volunteering For Oakland has made Dictionary Day one of its signature projects.

VFO has received generous grants from local non-profit organizations such as the Bernard E. & Alba Witkin Charitable Foundation, the Oakland Berkeley Association of REALTORS Community Foundation Grant Program, the Rogers Foundation, as well as donations from individuals. With these funds, we purchase up-to-date Dictionary/Gazetteers from the National Dictionary Project in South Carolina to give to third grade students in Oakland Unified School District (OUSD). The students themselves become the proud owners of these reference books. VFO Dictionary Day volunteers spend thirty-five minutes with each class, exploring the new dictionaries.

Each academic year, VFO volunteers typically distribute more than 2,000 dictionaries to at least 30 OUSD schools.  Here are recent totals before the pandemic, during the pandemic, and after transitioning back to classrooms:

2017-2018 academic year:  36 schools; 2,328 dictionaries to third graders
2018-2019 academic year:  31 schools; 2,106 dictionaries to third graders
2019-2020 academic year:  28 schools; 1720 dictionaries to third graders
2020-2021 academic year:  OUSD distribution hubs provided 1,470 dictionaries to third graders
2021-2022 academic year:  11 schools; 700 dictionaries to third graders
2022-2023 academic year:  29 schools; 1,711 dictionaries to third graders

The last four years were impacted by COVID-19 restrictions and transitioning back to in-person learning.  VFO is confident and determined to return to previous distribution totals.  Our goal is to provide a dictionary to every third grader in the Oakland Unified School District.

Please consider donating or volunteering for Dictionary Day. It just takes 2 hours to change your community, whether that’s each week, each month, or just periodically. Volunteering with Dictionary Day is a wonderful opportunity for those who might have just a few hours to spend and who want to share in the education of third-graders in an exciting and fulfilling way.

Make a donation

Make this the year you commit to a cause that truly helps your community and that adds value to your life, too!


Contact Adele Grunberg at AdeleG@VolForOak.org


I wish to thank you and the other volunteers very, very much for your time and generosity. My students learned so much from your visit and learned a lot from your interactive lesson. They were thrilled by the dictionaries, and I know the dictionaries will be treasured resources for them.
Amy Padilla

Third Grade Teacher, Manzanita SEED School

Thank you very much for your time and willingness to enrich the lives of our students. What a wonderful gift you are giving our school community.
Anne Perrone

Third Grade Teacher, Manzanita SEED School

Thank you for the dictionaries. We will use them until the end of the year. At the end of the year, we will
keep them until we go to college.

Sequoia School Third Grade Student

Here is a little poem to tell you how I feel.

Thank you for the dictionary. I love it a lot.
I look for presidents and the American flag and other stuff to plot.
Thank you really very much. I will use it for vocabulary and such.
I will bring it home and read it to my parents. They will love it very much!


Sequoia School Third Grade Student

These dictionaries have changed our lives! Many of our classroom’s academic discussions are regularly punctuated with exclamations of: “I read THAT in my dictionary!” In Room 14, we begin each school day with 15 minutes of “free reading” time. It is not uncommon to find students reading their dictionaries. Few things bring me greater pleasure than observing–usually from the corner of my eye–a student quickly extract a dictionary from her desk to look up a word. By June, my students’ dictionaries have the universal and timeless appearance of beloved books. They are worn, dog-eared, and their pages are slightly splayed-out. I have no doubt that, next, these fonts of information become loyal summer companions. Each year on Dictionary Day, as my students excitedly browse and then quietly and intently hone in on their new dictionaries, I feel a rush of hopefulness for their futures as learners.
Richard Cuthrell

Long-time Third Grade Teacher, Franklin Elementary School

Dictionary Day is an outstanding school program for a number of reasons. Dictionary Day promotes literacy; the dictionaries are given freely to the children for them to keep, truly as gifts, without anything expected in return; the dictionaries are utilized immediately in the classroom and the children get to keep them; and, the Volunteering for Oakland volunteers are in the classrooms giving dictionaries because they love doing that as they understand the importance of literacy for success in life.
Ken Kuchman

Executive Director, Bernard E. & Alba Witkin Charitable Foundation, whose mission is to fund literacy programs that help children in Alameda and Contra Costa counties

It was very kind of you to give us dictionaries. We will use them throughout the year. Thank you for taking
your time to get them. We will use them with respect and kindness.

Sequoia School Third Grade Student

Oh, this is just thrilling!!
Thanks again. You are going to make our third graders very happy!!
Lisa Rasler

Third Grade Teacher, Sequoia School

Make a donation

Make this the year you commit to a cause that truly helps your community and that adds value to your life, too!