Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Using the Encyclopedia

Flickr Creative Commons photo by Rishabh Mishra,
and no, the ones we're using aren't this old!

On our whirlwind tour of the 50 Nifty, my students are using the encyclopedia to do some quick research on states as we travel region by region.

Encyclopedia the BOOK, not Encyclopedia dot com.

It was quite funny the day I launched them. They had chosen their state and they ran to the cart and grabbed a volume.

"How do you turn this on?"
"Hey, this book only has words that start with G!"

I had to hold my tongue carefully in reply to the first (I wanted to use the punchline from It's a Book), and I was incredulous when I heard the second. Their lack of knowledge about the way the encyclopedia works started with the fact that each volume contains a letter or few letters-worth of information!

Needless to say, we had an unplanned minilesson right there and then on the layout of the set, and then another on the structure of the articles on the states.

As we travel region by region and students repeat the research (landforms, economy, native people, settlers), every single day I have conversations with students reminding them to read the graphics, read the captions of pictures, use the bold headings as clues about what information is being presented, skim and scan for key words.

This is good stuff.

The thing I like the very most about the encyclopedia is that you can't just ask it the question and wait for it to give you what it thinks you'll want for an answer.

The thing I like second most about the encyclopedia relates to the first: you have to turn actual pages. The text sits still.

Also, when you use the encyclopedia, you don't have to wait for it to turn on, you don't have to log in, and slow Internet never concerns you.

And whether they believe it or not, everything they are learning about reading a book-encyclopedia article will make them a better reader of online articles.

Three cheers for the unsung hero -- the ENCYCLOPEDIA!


  1. Totally awesome! I have that set of encyclopedias in my basement and yes they are that old and yes I occasionally have used them in the last few years. Short research coupled along with learning about regions is perfect.

  2. I just took a student on Monday to 'visit' the encyclopedias, and we explored the index, something he didn't know about, and how he could find "all" the possible entries there in his particular topic. Other than the reading (skimming) practice you mentioned, I think students are missing the browsing that used to happen, reading also those articles nearby! Glad you had a chance to show what is possible, Mary Lee.

  3. Sounds like a great class! I'll bet you had to hold your tongue. My husband and I both grew up reading the encyclopedia, for fun.

  4. I thought of It's a Book, too, when reading your opening. I enjoyed using Encyclopedias in my early years--Wanting to know something more about a subject/place, and going to the correct volume to find out. I'm sure it seems archaic compared to using Google!

    As an Amy Krouse Rosenthal fan, I'm happy she is releasing an "Encyclopedia of Me" journal/diary this year. Imagine what we would write in a journal like that, starting from an early age...I think it's a clever way to organize our lives! Maybe that could be a good extension activity to offer to your students--having them create an encyclopedia about themselves?? Or at least to offer the idea--good Summer project : )

  5. I love It's a Book, especially that last line! Also, this reminds me of that great video of the Medieval Tech Support from a many years ago. If you haven't seen it for awhile, it's worth a re-look. :)

  6. I think we should always build in some good old fashioned encyclopedia reading into the school year. I can even remember the smell. Nothing else like it.

  7. I loved the encyclopedia! It makes me sad that kids don't know the joy of those plastic pages about the human body!


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