One of the standards for our third grade students is that they have practice accessing reference resources. In third grade the encyclopedia gets added to the list along with dictionary from second grade. Students have to know what content is included in each source, how it is organized, and what tools are embedded in the resource that allow users to access information.
I put together a simple chart that has a fancy name that I don’t remember. Which I think is funny because it looks just like a simple chart, no?
I set up stations with a pile of like resources at each: two dictionary tables, two encyclopedia, two atlas, two nonfiction books. I considered adding the encyclopedia online, thesaurus, and almanac to the rotation, but kept it simple. Atlases aren’t really on the required list, but we use them a lot and they have a slightly different organizational structure to compare to the others. Almanacs and thesauruses are a bit much for my students at this point in time.
We used two weeks for this lesson. It’s not as speedy as it looks at first glance (at least to me). As we gathered, I told students what our task was. Then we discussed what kind of content some of the resources has. I basically made a word bank for them: a little bit of information about a lot of topics, definitions, a lot of information about one topic, maps, articles, and words. For organizational content it was: alphabetical, in order by the author, chronological (I mentioned this one, but they didn’t know it and I didn’t expected them to use it. I just wanted to add the exposure to the term). For embedded tools: guide words, table of contents, glossary (not really an access feature), index, color-coding, colored tabs, and headings.
Then I sent students to their first station. At their station they recorded the characteristics for the resource where they were sitting.
During the second week we re-gathered and reviewed our word bank. I explained that when students finished with their second resource they would come to me to get their paper checked and turned in. I would select students to write on our class chart.
Students went back to the tables to complete their work. I stood next to a blank poster-sized copy of their chart. (We have a poster machine and this is the first time I have used it. It saved a lot of time, but it wasn’t necessary. I wouldn’t mind hand-writing these.) I had with me the marker for the chart and a highlighter. As students gave me their paper, I checked it for accuracy. Sometimes I sent students back to their seat to work on something and sometimes I highlighted one box on their chart. Those that had highlighting got the marker to fill in one box on the class chart.
Students were then sent to do book checkout and library centers as they finished their work. We gathered at the end after everything was wrapped up to review our work. Students had only gone to two stations so reviewing the content for all of the stations was necessary. We discussed how the dictionary and encyclopedia are both organized in similar ways but have different content. Nonfiction books are organized completely differently based on their content which is determined by the author. Atlases have some similar features that are sometimes harder to notice because the colorful maps can distract students from the fact that there is color coding, alphabetizing, guide words and an index. Most students noticed the table of contents successfully.