Can five- to seven-year olds do real research? Absolutely! In my library sessions with kindergarten and first-grade students in Denver, Colorado, we tackle lots of research-readiness activities. My advice: Be patient with the process and think of "research" as any of the ways children can investigate information. Here are my most effective and easy-to-implement tips and techniques for classroom teachers and library specialists alike.
Give younger students plenty of time to adjust to the school before introducing them to library procedures and systems. For example, don't schedule a regular library time slot for kindergartners until January. Of course, before then the children will have visited the facility to listen to stories or borrow books with their parents and teachers. But not until mid-year are they ready to begin learning about how the library set-up really works.
Load Up on Volunteers
Children just beginning to use the library benefit greatly from parent volunteers who can spend the time needed to help kids locate and select books to look through and borrow. In our library, parent volunteers also operate the computer (loaded with library management software) and set up the publishing center.
Schedule a Walk Through
When it´s time to formally introduce young children to the library, begin at the beginning. Take kids on a tour, pointing out the features and organization of the library as you go. I always use this opportunity to begin acquainting children with simple terms they will need when attempting to navigate the stacks alone—words like title, author, illustrator, nonfiction, biography, encyclopedia, and so on.
Make Special Bookmarks
In our library, I provide each kindergartner with a library bookmark printed with his or her name and a number. (The number is also entered into our computer next to that child's name for easy tracking of borrowed books.) I then laminate the bookmarks and keep them in the library for the children to pick up and use each time they visit. As the year progresses and our library staff gets to know the children's interests, we jot call numbers of titles reflecting these interests directly on the bookmarks so children will have a guide to books we know they will enjoy. We also show children how to use these bookmarks as shelf-markers: each time they pull a book, children place their marker in that space so they can correctly reshelve the book if they decide not to keep it.
Set Up Book Nooks
Make it a habit to pull books and audio-visual materials that relate to a theme suggested by class curriculum, celebrations, or children's interests, and then display these together in a special corner of the library. Round out the display with coordinating artifacts, toys, student-designed projects and artwork, posters, mobiles, and a related bulletin board. Each time you change the display, call children's attention to the updated offerings. Try to include some of the same resources in different displays so children can begin to understand how one resource can be used to explore many themes.
Create a Publishing Center
Writing their own books is a great way to make even the youngest children in the library feel connected. Children can dictate and write their ideas on the computer. Once they add illustrations, parent volunteers can bind the pages into books. In our library, we reserve one corner for parent volunteers to meet individually with students to help them create books to add to the library collection.
Play "Title Search"
After children have a grasp on the alphabet and the library´s layout, have them search for parcticular books. Use index cards to record titles, authors and corresponding call numbers of books you´ve read together (one book per card). Then hand each child one card. When a child successfully places his or her library bookmark next to the target title (or in its space), offer a new card and that child´s search continues. The goal for this game is to have each child successfully locate one book, and—so that the game does not turn into a competitive race— announce at the outset how many titles you hope children will locate as a whole class (at least one per child is a good goal). At the end, celebrate the total number of books uncovered by the whole group.
Try a Trivia Contest
When the children are familiar with the library shelving arrangement, conduct a trivia contest to help them get started learning how to search resources for information. Begin by preparing index cards with individual questions and then challenge the children to look through books for the answers. For example, ask children to find two books written by the same author, to locate a parcticular illustration, or to search the shelves to find a book satisfying a certain set of criteria (such as a nonfiction book about horses). For beginning researchers, you might limit the hunt to a select group of titles rather than expecting them to comb through the whole library to locate what they need.
Investigate Real Lives
Biographies are always popular with children, who enjoy listening to true stories about famous (and not-so-famous) people. Some biographies are fictionalized accounts complete with illustrations, while others are actually photo essays chock-full of facts. Introduce children to a brief biography with the Meet a Mentor Reproducible (PDF). Then acquaint your beginning researchers with your full class or school biography collection, so they know where to go to learn more about influential people who have helped (and are helping) to shape our world.
Introduce Multiple Sources
One of the most important research concepts students must learn is that information comes from a variety of sources —and that complete and accurate research of a topic must involve multiple sources. Introduce this concept to students with the Go On a Fact Hunt Reproducible (PDF), below. Then try these other natural ways to get kids comfortable with the idea of multiple sources.
- One Artist, Many Pictures: Young children are fascinated by the art that appears in favorite picture books. Capitalize on this fascination by having children study different books illustrated by the same artist. Have them notice, for example, how the artist uses parcticular colors, shapes, lines, and textures to convey a mood or help tell a story. Assemble books demonstrating different artistic treatments of a similar theme, concept, or character. For example, look to see the techniques used to bring friends like Corduroy, Paddington Bear, and Winnie-the-Pooh to life.
- Same Story, Different Story: To help broaden children´s awareness of how the same story can receive different treatments, assemble multiple versions of the same story (folktales and fairy tales lend themselves well to this approach). You might also share with children examples of the same stories written from different perspectives. For example, I might follow a reading of the traditional Three Little Pigs with a reading of Jon Scieszka´s The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, which offers a fresh spin on this timeless tale.
Involve the Family
Keep the learning and inquisitiveness going at home by inviting family members to participate in your young researchers' efforts. Distribute the Our Family's Research Checklist Reproducible (PDF), below, for children to take home. Then have your students and their families work together to research one topic to share with the rest of the class.