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A Fun, Practical Way to Teach Sources

By Angela Bunyi on March 11, 2011
  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

If you ask your students how they find answers to questions they wonder about, it's a sure bet that the phrase "Google it" will be mentioned first and foremost. In many ways, technology has made life easier — we're always just a key word and a click away from the answer. On the other hand, many students lack the skills necessary to use resources such as an atlas, thesaurus, world almanac, dictionary, and library catalog. To help your students REALLY understand how and when to use these resources, consider this incredibly fun and engaging game my students played with our school librarian.

Photo: Students race to find an answer to a question using the most effective source.


Going Beyond Identification of Proper Sources
Many review materials focus on identifying which source would be best for finding information. The question would most likely sound like this:
  • Where can you find countries that border Libya? Answer: World Book Atlas

Unfortunately, this type of review misses the mark. The real question isn't which resource you can use to find the answer, but how to find the answer within the source. If our goal goes beyond state tests, we want students to be able to use, not just identify, the most effective sources.

Make Identifying and Using Sources Fun


Our talented librarian offered to teach a lesson on identifying and using various sources. I think you will find this lesson easy to incorporate into your schedule or your library time.


  • 5–6 sets of almanacs, dictionaries, thesauruses, and atlases, and access to an online library catalog and encyclopedia. 
  • A clear, over-the-door shoe hanger or access to a projector to show the Jeopardy version of this activity.
  • Access to an online encyclopedia, such as World Book Online

First, our class broke up into groups of four, which assembled at the circular library tables. Our lesson started with a brief review of each source and its purpose. The one source that always needs more clarification is the almanac. Our librarian stressed the key words "numbers" and "stats," while I reinforced that by calling it our "world yearbook." A review under our belt, the real challenge was presented: Can you find information without relying on an Internet search? 

The guidelines for the game are simple. Groups take turns calling out for questions (as with a Jeopardy board) and race under a clock to agree on the resource and find the answer to the question. According to our librarian, 3rd and 4th graders needed two minutes, 30 seconds to answer each question, while 5th graders were faster. To keep track of time, we simply used an online stopwatch. A question such as how many countries border Libya would be correctly answered with "atlas" and the names of the countries. It was amazing to see things like an index actually get used for once (I know I'm not the only one that finds that impressive)! Working under a time limit, with points on the line, kept every student engaged and focused. 

Photo: There are many online timers available, including an interactive one, if you have a SmartBoard. 

And speaking of a SmartBoard, you don't have to have a SmartBoard to use the Jeopardy version of this game (pictured below), but it does make it just a little more fun. I opted not to follow the Jeopardy format fully: the answer is not phrased as a question. You can select up to 12 teams and keep up with points using the tally at the bottom of the screen. 

If you are interested in creating Jeopardy games of your own, go to the site JeopardyLabs. Or download my Jeopardy template.

Picture 1

Photo: Correct sources were awarded the full points, while finding the answer in that source doubled the score. 

Learning From Each Other

It was really helpful to hear other students explain the thought process they used to locate and find the answers. For example, one of our questions asked what the tallest building in Nashville is, and one student talked about his attempts at finding the answer. To start, he thought about how this kind of information can potentially change from year to year and how an almanac included stats and records such as this. However, after looking in the index for "Nashville," he realized that the term was too broad. He looked at "tallest" next before realizing that was too broad as well. When he settled on the key term "buildings," he found success. This talk really helps other students minimize lost time searching. 

One hour later, I was feeling much better about my students' ability to find information without relying on an Internet search. Working in groups also helped significantly because it fostered a lot of talk and some trial and error that ultimately led to learning. 

Feel free to try this lesson out and report here on how it worked (or didn't) in your classroom. I'd love to hear your modifications as well. 


To learn more about our class, visit us anytime. 




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