It's worth encouraging students to use and handle dictionaries regularly in class. As well as correcting work and finding new vocabulary in the traditional manner, they can be used to encourage creativity and confidence (whilst improving spelling, too).
Here are some of my favourite - and easy - dictionary activities:
1) Find Me Five Things
Come up with five headings, linked to a topic. For example if I were teaching Romeo & Juliet:
- Something Juliet would have in her room;
- Something a Capulet might describe a Monatugue as;
- An emotion an audience member would experience (or build a simile);
- An adjective to describe Italy;
- Something that existed in Shakespeare's time and still exists today.
Hand out letters of the alphabet. Differentiate by giving 'harder' letters (vowels, x, y, z) to more able students or giving them a harder list.
Students race to find the words from their given letter, using the dictionary, and write them down as definitions or in a sentence. Push students to find unusual, interesting words.
After that, the words may be shared using post-it-notes or swapping partners, creating a large and exciting bank of vocabulary.
2) Make A Crossword
Give students an empty crossword template, with no clues. I just cut one out of an old newspaper or puzzle book and photocopy it - or use an online 'generator' to make one.
Using the dictionary, letter-counting and noting crossover words (numeracy!) they have to create questions and answers for the puzzle. You could give each student a letter to focus on, or perhaps a word type (e.g. 'abstract nouns'). The complexity and length of the empty crossword will decide how hard it is.
The review part, of course, is to swap the crosswords and solve someone else's!
3) Spelling Stories
This activity uses a spelling list. Deliberately make the list non-alphabetical and put in some errors - so the first challenge is to correct the spellings (using a dictionary) and put the words in the right order.
The next part of the challenge is to write a short story (just a paragraph) using the words in the correct order. Of course, depending on the words you choose, the stories may end up being neatly tied into a genre you are teaching, or hilariously random!
I like to split this task over two lessons - their homework being to learn the spellings, and the wacky story being an alternative to a standard spelling test (they underline the words as they write).
4) The Real Meaning?
This game takes a little set-up, so in the interest of simplicity I keep and re-use. I have also found that - in the style of the crossword activity - students enjoy making this quiz themselves. You simply select more challenging words from the dictonary and create a slide or card where they are used in context. I find making the sentence slightly silly, but nevertheless correct, helps. You then provide three word-meanings to choose from. Students use a combination of the dictionary and contextual reading to work out what the new word means. For example:
"My recent trip to Nando's offered me a cornucopia of spicy chicken delights."
Does "cornucopia" mean:
- Something fed on corn, such as a chicken?
- A large supply of something nice, which won't run out?
- A delicious dinner?
Once they understand the word, challenge them to create their own sentences.
5) Unheard-Of Word
This isn't exactly a conventional dictionary game - but it's great for stimulating discussions around the effect of sound, rhythm and tone in words. Use an obscure or archaic word dictionary (some are listed here and a child-friendly one may be found here) to find words no-one in the class has ever heard of.
Hand out the words - one each- without the meanings. Ask students to guess the meaning of the word. At this point, I sometimes show images of far-off or ancient places or play some mood music. Students write a poem, a paragraph or draw what they think the word means. Afterwards, we have a think/pair/share about why they think the word matches the meaning. I find this very useful before working on sound and rhythm in poetry.
Fludgs are little green toads who live in swamps. They are friendly little creatures and will rescue lost travellers, protecting them from wandering into dangerous parts of the swamp where they might drown. Fludgs eat slime and as a result smell rank and vile, however they make excellent pets if kept in a well ventilated tank.
I decided to make fludgs a toad because it sounds squishy and squelchy. It is short and doesn't sound important or scary, so I made the toads friendly.
At the end, of course, the real meanings are revealed (or students given the sites to look them up) - were they they same? Were they different? Any correct guesses or howlers?
The real meaning of "Fludgs" is that it is an verb meaning hurry.
To make this task more challenging, you might choose to confine guesses to the correct word type - or deliberately mislead in the imagination part!
...What are your favourite dictionary games?