A dictionary is a fabulous literacy learning tool — and not just for checking your spelling! Here are five dictionary games for families that can be played with little more than a dictionary, pen, and paper. These games are a good way to develop language-boosting skills, including building vocabulary, revising spelling, and improving knowledge of common parts of speech.
1. Word Race: Each family member will need paper and a pencil for this game. Family members take turns to choose a word for play by randomly choosing a page of the dictionary and then finding the longest word on the page. The chooser writes the word on a piece of paper and places it in center of table. Each family member then writes as many words as they can, using only the letters of the chosen word, in a two-minute time limit. The winner of each round is the person who finds the most words. You can increase the difficulty of the game by making a rule that words must have at least four letters.
2. Silly Sentences: Each family member will need paper and a pencil for this game. Three family members each choose a word from the dictionary. The words are written on a piece of paper and placed in center of the table. Each family member must then write one sentence that includes all three of words. Take turns reading the sentences aloud. The winner is the person that everyone agrees has created the silliest sentence.
3. Define It!: One family member is in charge of the dictionary for each round. This person chooses another family member to be his challenger. The other family members take turns calling out (at random) a page number, then left or right for the columns on the page, and then a number between one and ten (or one and 20 if the dictionary being used has a greater number of words in each column). The person with the dictionary finds the word in that position and reads it aloud. The challenger must then give a definition of the word. Compare the challenger’s definition with the dictionary definition to decide if the challenger wins a point for the round for an accurate definition.
4. Noun, Verb, Adjective: Write each of these three words for common parts of speech on a small square of paper — noun, verb, and adjective. Nouns are words for objects, places, people, or ideas (e.g. cup, house, sister); verbs are words for actions (e.g. sing, write, go); and adjectives are describing words (e.g. blue, old, ugly). Shuffle the three paper squares and place them facedown on the table. The first player selects a page from the dictionary at random and then turns over one of the paper squares. She must then find a word on the open dictionary page that fits the given part of speech.
5. Family Word Challenge: For fun with middle school students, check out the instructions for hosting a Family Word Challenge with obscure or unusual words — this activity is particularly great at boosting vocabulary knowledge.
For even more dictionary inspired learning ideas, check out this collection of five dictionary apps for kids.