Dictionaries, Almanacs, Encyclopedias ... Oh My!

Dictionary, almanac, encyclopedia, thesaurus, atlas, guide words

Teaching and reviewing different types of reference materials may seem pointless in the age of Google. However, I still believe that our students need to learn what these books are and how to use them, and not just because they are still tested on them (at least in Virginia).

Some of the benefits of teaching students to use these resources are:

  • Improve vocabulary and writing skills
  • Practice making inferences and using context clues
  • Learn research skills
  • Learn the importance of using keywords when searching for information
  • Practice using nonfiction text features
  • Build higher level thinking skills
  • Determining the best resource to find the information they are seeking

I begin with teaching students how to use the print books first and then work up to using online resources. I start teaching formal lessons on these materials in second grade. Below is a brief overview of what I do with each grade level.


Second grade
  • I begin by explaining what a dictionary is and provide time for them to practice using one. We also do a lot of alphabetizing activities. 
Third grade
  • I begin with dictionary review activities. I also spend a lot of time teaching guide words. For some reason, my third graders always have a very difficult time with guide words. I then move onto using a thesaurus. I will show them a print encyclopedia and almanac and explain what they are. 
Fourth and fifth grade:
  • I will do a brief review of the dictionary and thesaurus. I spend about two weeks on the almanac. And then I move onto using a print encyclopedia and then the online encyclopedia. My school subscribes to World Book Online. 
Since I do spend so much time teaching students how to use these materials I have created many lessons about reference materials. These include different task card sets, PowerPoint review games, and worksheets. 
Online encyclopedia, research, World Book, school library

Online encyclopedia worksheets and task cards

Dictionary, thesaurus, guide words, synonyms, school library

Using a dictionary, thesaurus and reviewing guide words

Google Slides Resources

My school is not a 1:1 school yet, but we are moving in that direction. This year I have created several Google Slides lessons to review different skills. These work really well with 4th and 5th graders because they love being able to complete their work on the Chromebook instead of a paper and pencil. They are more engaged as well. 

Google Slides, guide words, dictionary, reference sources, school library

I also added a set of free reference materials posters to my store as well. These are handy references to help remind your students what the different types of reference materials are. Click the image below to download them.
 Reference Materials Posters - Freebie

Host a Book Tasting in Your Classroom or Library!

Book tasting menus and reading for elementary and middle school

What is a book tasting?

 A book tasting is one of the best reading motivation activities I have ever come across. If you've never done one before then start planning one now! You won't regret it. Why are book tastings so wonderful?
  1. You can do a book tasting with all grade levels from early elementary to high school. 
  2. Students are introduced to books that they would never look at on their own.
  3. It is a way to expose students to different genres.
  4. It is a way to showcase the books that no one checks out but that you know are awesome.
And the best reason of all???

      5.  Students are excited about READING!!!

As librarians and teachers, one of the best feelings in the world is seeing a reluctant reader find that book that really grabs them. The one book that will begin to show them just how much fun reading can be. Hopefully this will lead to them being lifelong readers.

Different ways to use book tastings

You can use a book tasting to do more than just encourage a love of reading with your students.

Genre studies: You can use a book tasting to review one specific genre or many genres. Ideas include:
  • Have students do a book tasting with books from one genre. As they look through the books have them guess what genre the books are from. You could do this with several genres. Put a stack of books out from several different genres. As the students rotate through the tables they can guess what genre the books are from. There is a spot on the book tasting menu for this.
Book clubs, literature circles, small group, independent reading etc.:
  • Hold a book tasting so students can decide what books they will read during these types of activities. 
Dewey Decimal System review:
  • Book tastings can be used for nonficiton books as well. After teaching students about the Dewey Decimal System you can have a book tasting to review what they have learned. Since most of the Dewey categories are so broad you could have a book tasting with just one category at a time. For example the 600's category. On each table put books from 610-619 (medicine), 620-229 (engineering), 630-639 (agriculture) and 690-699 (construction and building). This way students can see the different types of books that are in each category as well as find a book to read that they might otherwise have skipped over.
New books:
  • Introduce students to new books that you have in your classroom or library.
Old books:
  • There are so many books on the shelves that never get read. They may have an unattractive cover or look old. One way to get these books in the hands of students is to include them in a book tasting. 

How to hold a book tasting

Book tastings are fairly easy to set up. You can choose to keep it simple or go all out. My book tasting activity pack has everything you need to get started (minus the books of course). It comes with a variety of posters, bookmarks, and placemats for students to record their thoughts, table signs, place card signs, book tasting menus for both primary and older students and a set of genre posters. Read below to see the basics of doing one with your students.
  • Decide what books you want to include (genres, new books etc.) Pull those books and have them ready.
  • Put a stack of books on each table. The number of books depends on the age of your students, the number of students that will be at each table and what books you are focusing on. 
  • Print and copy all the materials you plan on using. Decide which posters you want to use, where to display them, print and copy the menus and bookmarks. For the younger students, you may want to have the booklet pages pre-cut for them ahead of time. 

Book tasting menus and reading for elementary and middle school

Book tasting menus and reading for elementary and middle school

Book tasting menus and reading for elementary and middle school     Book tasting menus and reading for elementary and middle school
  • When the students arrive tell them that they will be dining at The Reading CafĂ©. Assign a group of students to each table and pass out their menus.
  • Then explain the process to them. Each student will pick up the book on their place mat and begin to “taste” it. They will look through the book, read a couple pages and fill in their menu. Remind students that the goal is not to read the entire book but to get an understanding of what the book is about. They will have to rate the book when they are finished. This helps add a level of accountability.
  • Students can use their placemats to jot down their thoughts as they go.
  • Students will then rotate to the next table and repeat the process.
  • Students can use their bookmarks to write down the titles of the books that they really want to read. If there's time, have students reflect on the activity.
  • If you are using library books, you can allow students to check out one of the books they really liked. This means you will have to pick new books for the next class.
And that's it! If you want to spice it up a little bit you can put tablecloths on the tables, add flowers or candles (fake of course). You can dress up as a chef, waiter or a maitre d. You can even have music and play a fireplace video on your SmartBoard. The possibilities are endless! And the more you have fun with it the more the kids will enjoy it.  

Once you have hosted a book tasting let me know how it went! I would love to hear all your success stories.

Book tasting menus and reading for elementary and middle school



10 Anti-Bullying Picture Books

Books to teach kindness in school

Bullying is a problem that every school faces. It can affect any child at any time, including our youngest students. Bullying can affect a student in many ways. Below are a few statistics from the National Bullying Prevention Center.


Unfortunately there is no simple answer to this problem. However one way that librarians and teachers can help to combat this problem is by reading picture books about bullying and the importance of kindness. By doing this students can begin to learn the warning sings of bullying and understand how their actions have consequences. It will also get them thinking about the importance of kindness and being accepting of other people.

There are so many wonderful books to read that it is difficult to know which ones to choose. I gathered a list of 10 books that I feel do a wonderful job of exploring these concepts to students. I think it is equally impportant to share stories that only talk about bullying but that show the importance of kindness and acceptance.This is by no means a comprehensive list. And even though they are picture books, students of all ages can benefit from reading and listening to them. (Note: this post does contain affiliate links.)

 Llama Llama and the Bully Goat

Llama Llama and the Bully Goat by Anna Dewdney: Like all the Llama Llama books, this is a gentle story that can be read with preschool and early elementary students. Llama Llama is being teased at school. But he remembers a lesson his teacher taught him: walk away and tell an adult. The book teaches students that bullying is wrong. It also touches on fogiveness when Llama Llama forgives Goat for teasing him.


One by Kathryn Otoshi: Blue gets picked on by Red. The other colors see this but don't know what to do, even though they know it is wrong. But then someone new comes to town, One. One shows the colors how to stand up for themselves and accept each other for their differences. This is a simple story with a powerful message.


Super Manny Stands Up! by Kelly DiPucchio: This book was published in 2017 so it is one you may not be familiar with. Manny is a raccoon who likes to wear capes and practice being a superhero. When he goes to school he uses an invisible cape to give him the courage to stand up to a bully who is picking on another student in the cafeteria. This prompts the other students to use their imaginary capes to help defefat the bully. This book will not only open up a discussion on bullying but about courage and standing up to help someone else.



Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson: This is one of my favorite books. It is by Jacqueline Woodson, an extraordinary author whose stories touch on many topics that are difficult to teach and discuss with children. There is another one of her books further down on this list. The book is about two girls, Chloe and Maya. Maya is new to the school and wants to make friends. But Chloe is not very kind to Maya. Then one day Maya stops coming to school. Chloe's teacher gives a lesson on kindness and how one simple kind act can make a huge impact on a person's life. This is a book that many students will be able to identify with. They will know what it is like to be treated meanly by a classmate and understand the feelings invovled. There are so many opportunities for discussion in this book and it can be read to students in all grade levels.


The Juice Box Bully: Empowering Kids to Stand Up for Others by Bob Sornson: This book would appeal more to older elementary students (grades 2-5). This is a story about Pete, a new boy who is having trouble fitting in. Pete is a bully. He quickly learns though that his new classmates have made a promise to their teacher. They promised to always be kind and to stick up for each other, to not be a bystander. What I like most about this book is the message it teaches about the importance of speaking up when you see something that you know isn't right. And it also shows students a way to handle bullying behaivor. Personal  note: while I love the message in this book, I am not a fan of the illustrations.


Enemy Pie by Derek Munson: This story is about a boy who does not like the the new kid in the neighborhood. His dad tells him that the secret of getting rid of enemies is to bake enemy pie. But he must spend one day with his enemy in order for the pie to work. And after a day spent playing together the two boys become friends, not enemies. It teaches an important lesson about not judging people before you get to know them.


Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell: Molly Lou looks different than the other kids. She is short and has big teeth and fa unny voice. But her grandmother has taught her to be proud of who she is. When Molly Lou goes to a new school there is one boy who constantly teases her. But Molly Lou ignores him and shows everyone how special she is. This book is about acceptance: acceptance of other people despite their differences and acceptance of yourself as well.


Ordinary Mary's Extraordinary Deed by Emily Pearson: Mary is an ordinary little girl whose random act of kindness sets off a chain reaction. This is a simple book with an inspiring message. It shows students how powerful one act of kindness can be. This book encourages conversation about the importance of being kind. It will also get students thinking about ways they can be kind in their own lives.


The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi: Unhei just moved to America from Korea and is worried about starting school. She tells the other students that she does not have a name yet, she will choose a name for herself the following week. The class wants to help her select a new name. By the end of the story Unhei proudly chooses to keep her Korean name. This book is about acceptance and friendship and embracing other cultures.


The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson: This book is about two little girls, who live on different sides of a fecne. Annie is white and Clover is black. The girls become curious about each other and wonder why they are not allowed to play together. Slowly the girls become friends. This is a beautiful story that introduces the concepts of racism and discrimination in a way that even your youngest students will understand. Students will see how friendship can overcome fear and prejudice. One of my favorite things about this book is how it can be shared with all grade levels.

In my TpT store I have a Kindness Flip Book set that can be used with Each Kindness and also The Crayon Box That Tallked. I also have a free Friendship Mini Book as well. Click on the images below to take a look.


Shaaring books like these provides so many opportunities to discuss these issues with your students. Chidlren will be able to relate to many of the situations in the books which will help them to understand these complex issues. What books would you add to this list? Leave a comment and let us know.

Books to promote kindness in the school classroom or library