Fun Games and Activities to Learn How to Use a Dictionary

Fun Games and Activities to Learn How to Use a Dictionary

Adults might think that poring over a dictionary wouldn’t be the most fun way to spend an afternoon, but many kids find dictionaries to be fascinating. Dictionaries contain an abundance of information about words, including:

  • Definitions
  • Origins
  • The part of speech the word is
  • How to make it plural
  • How to use the word properly
  • And more.

Kids can spend many happy hours looking up words they know — or don’t know — and learning about them.

Getting Started

But before they can do that, you need to teach them how to use a dictionary. While it may seem intuitive to us as adults, dictionaries are anything but self-explanatory to a kid.  Start by buying your kids a children’s dictionary. There are several great ones on the market. Here’s what to look for in a children’s dictionary:

  • Large, easy to read print
  • Definitions in simple language
  • Pictures and illustrations
  • Examples of word usage children can relate to.

Mastering Alphabetical Orderanimals surrounding a dictionary

To use the dictionary, your child will need to understand alphabetical order.  So before you begin playing dictionary games, practice putting words in alphabetical order:

  • Give your child a stack of index cards (maybe ten) and have them write the names of objects they find around the house. Then have them put the cards in alphabetical order.

Most kids quickly catch on to putting words in order based on the first letter, but adding additional letters is a bit trickier, so try this activity next:

  • Give your child a stack of index cards and ask them to write down as many words beginning with ‘A’ as they can. Then have them put these words in alphabetical order.  To do so, they will have to consider the second, third and maybe even fourth letters.

Once they understand alphabetical order, show your child how to use the guide words at the top of each page to find a word within the dictionary. Interactive dictionary games can provide useful practice for this.

Fun Dictionary Games to Play

Now you’re ready to play a dictionary game with your child. Here are a few fun dictionary games:

  • Speedy Word Search:  Give the kids a list of words to look up in the dictionary. Then see how many of these they can find in three minutes. Have them write down page numbers to show where they found the words.
  • Mystery Word Hunt: Ahead of time, write a series of clues to help your child zero in on a specific word. For instance, clues for the word ‘parrot ‘might be: 1) Comes between ‘parlor’ and ‘parsnip’, 2) has two syllables, 3) is a colorful animal.
  • Crack the Dictionary Code: Think of a phrase. Assign a number to each letter in the phrase, then write out the phrase in numbers. These will be page numbers in the dictionary. Find a word on each of the pages and write them down in order.


To play, give your child the list of words in order — and the key to the numbers. They are to find the words, and note the page number, then crack the code to spell the phrase you chose. These can also be fun games for a birthday or other holiday party. Customize the words you choose to fit the occasion!