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

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