Are you feeling trapped in the house? Looking for a solution for the homeschooling blahs? Break up the boredom by opening up a few reference books and playing a few games.

Reference books can be as dry as toast made in the Sahara and as boring as watching paint dry on a rock, but with gentle competition, your family can practice using reference materials and still have fun!

Here are several games to play as individuals, teams, or a family using a dictionary, a set of encyclopedias (the old-fashioned kind, not the computer kind), an atlas, and a phone book (like the Yellow Pages). These games will not only break up the long days but also reinforce skills that might have been overlooked during the course of the year. Most of these games are suited for fourth graders and older, but younger readers can still benefit with assistance from a parent or older sibling.


Dictionary skills include alphabetizing, using guide words, and recognizing parts of speech. These games reinforce those concepts while adding a bit of fun. Nearly any dictionary will work for these games, but the more complete the dictionary, the more fun the game and the more the student will learn. Picture dictionaries are not recommended.

Guide Word Trap
2+ players

Guide words are the words at the top inside and outside corners of each page in the dictionary. One player opens to any place in the dictionary and reads the two guide words aloud. The other players must say or write a word that they think should come between the two guide words. For example, the guide words might be “candle” and “carry.” Players who say words like “carpenter” or “cantaloupe” are correct and get a point because those words are alphabetically correct. Points can be acquired with each correct word. Players should take turns finding the guide words, looking through the dictionary for hard words to try to stump the other player.

Word Drills
3+ players

Each player needs his own dictionary. One player says a word (either from another dictionary or off the top of his head). Players wait with their dictionaries closed until given the signal to go. When the signal is given, players try to find the word as fast as possible. Points are given to the fastest finders, and players take turns coming up with the word to look up.

The Biggest Entry
1+ players

Ordinary words like walk, play, or read have multiple definitions. As a group, or even individually, brainstorm for simple words that have many meanings. With a ruler, measure from the top of the first line of the definition to the bottom of the last line to find out which of these words has the longest entry, using centimeters, not inches. Record which words have the longest entries, or even estimate their length before measuring. Words to consider: plane, house, bear, set, rock, run, stand, cup, pitch, sink.

Syllable Score
2+ players

Students take turns rolling three dice to come up with a three-digit number, which becomes a page number. For example, player 1 rolls a 1, a 3, and a 5—135. He turns to page 135 in the dictionary and finds the word on that page with the most syllables. The number of syllables in the word is the number of points he receives for that turn. In my dictionary, the longest word on page 135 is bouleversement, which has 5 syllables. I would get 5 points. The next player rolls the dice, turns to that page (1, 3, and 5 could be page 531, 351, or 153), and finds another long word, hopefully one longer than five syllables. As the students take turns, they collect points. Whoever gets to 25 points first is the winner.