Most students of English own a dictionary (or they should!) but few are taught how to use it. They are just handed one nd left to get on with it. Here are some activities about ordering the alphabet and using a dictionary which will help the students become familar with it. This is also a useful skill in the real world as we often organise things (books, cds, etc) in alphabetical order.
5. Alphabet ordering.
Split the students up into small groups or pairs and give them cards with the alphabet on it. They have to race to put the alphabet in the correct order. When they are comfortable with this give them cards with double letters, then triple. This will get them used to how words are organised in the dictionary.
4. Guide words.
Dictionaries have guide words at the top of the pages. Give the students A4 papers with guide words on them (aadvark - apple) and small cards with random vocabulary on them. The students must place the cards on the correct "page". If your students all have the same dictionary you can be more specific with guide words and match them to the dictionary. Have the students check themselves if they are correct.
This is a game I saw on Japanese TV and can be used for many other ideas but here it can be used as a warm-up or introduction to a dictionary class/activitiy. Put the students into small groups of about four. You'll need small soft objects like crafting pompoms. Each group gets one less pompom than there are students. For example, a group of four students needs three pompoms. Start reading the alphabet. If you call out the correct order the students should not touch the pompoms, if you say a letter out of order then they should try and grab a pompom. Either play for a few rounds, or make the student with no pompom "out" and play until you have a winner. A good way to play this is to have the students stand up with their hands on their heads. Even third grade JHS students like this game!
2. Open the dictionary.
This is to make the students aware that the dictionary is not neatly divided into 26ths and also to make them faster at opening their dictionaries to the right section. Even though most dictionaries have the alphabet printed on the side this is a useful skill to develop. Have the students go through the dictionary and check how big each section is. I remember doing this much myself at school as a child! Then have the students look only at the top of the dictionary (so they don't cheat and use the index printed on the side). Call out a letter at random and the students have one chance to open the book at that section. You can make this a non-competative excercise or if you wish see how many the students can get out of five. You could even make it a knock-out with all students standing, then sitting down if they lose. (This would mean a lot of students just watching though!)
1. Dictionary race.
Once the students are happy using their dictionaries, have a race! Split the class into teams and have one dictionary for each team. Make sure you use copies of the same dictionary for this. You need lists of words and the corresponding page numbers. Either have one member come up per round to find a set of words, or make it a relay and have them switch members after each word is found. Winning team is the fastest to finish with all correct answers!
Another thing that is important when teaching dictionary skills is to encourage the students to read the guide section. Most students don't bother but it has a lot of useful information that may help them later!