Learning how to research at the library is a skill. A skill we don’t always remember to teach, but an important homeschooling tool nonetheless, and one I’m slowly teaching in our homeschool writing.
Are you ready for the first step in how to research at the library? This is the hardest step of all
Pick a topic.
This is often the most overwhelming step for any student. They’re staring at a blank page and have just been told “write a research paper,” and they’re wondering “What should I write on?” If that’s what your student is struggling with, here’s some suggestions to get you started:
- Offer choices. Sometimes just narrowing down what they can write, opens up their creative juices. I usually try to give several different options, so write a biography on a famous historical figure and then I list 10 different people. Sometimes they choose from the list, and sometimes the list gives them other ideas.
- Give examples. When we did the fable writing lesson I read them several examples as they worked on their projects. This got them thinking of all the great projects they could work on.
- Assign a topic. This is the traditional school method. Everyone is given the same topic, and they are allowed to specialize within their topic. This has positive and negative aspects. Some kids will relish making a topic their own, and others will freeze when they are confronted with a specific topic.
- Assign a writing prompt. Sometimes you just need to assign the prompt and tell them, “This is what you’re writing on.” This will suffer from the same problems as the assigned topic, but in both cases it can strengthen the writing process.
I’ve got a research topic, now what?
Now you head to the library and start researching. Here’s where the skill of how to research at the library comes into play. Before you turn the kids lose, they need to brainstorm different parts of their topic. Some topics will not have as many books as the other topics.
Brainstorming can be as simple as making a web diagram, or as complex as writing a bulleted outline. My kids tend towards a confusing mash of words written all over the page. I’ve included a research printable to help you (it’s on the subscriber page, JOIN MY NEWSLETTER), but you can just as easily use a scrap of paper.
Next, have your students write a list of questions they want to answer in their paper. This will be very important in a few minutes.
Remember when we had to look books up using the card catalogue? Wasn’t that horrendous? Though I did find the flipping through the cards somewhat calming, using a computer is much faster.
This information may be specific to my library, but I’m assuming most libraries have a system similar to this.
Once you’re in their online catalog, take the time to click on ADVANCED Search. It will make everyone’s life easier. Then look at what types of resources are expected to be used in the research paper. Books? Magazines? Movies? Encyclopedia?
I’ve taught my kids to click on: BOOKS, CHILDREN ALL, ENGLISH for specializing our searches.
Next type in the subject of your research, for my example we’ll say, Colorado. Our library has 62 books on Colorado using those criteria. Obviously, all of those aren’t useful.
Now you have to teach what to look for. If this is a research paper, you want nonfiction. So, that eliminates a large section of books (and that is a criteria I could have picked, Nonfiction, but I did not for the example).
Next eliminate all of the books that are checked out, no point in writing down a book that isn’t there to get.
Now, you’re looking at a fairly large number of books still. As you look at them you’ll notice they tend to be in certain areas. I taught my kids to write down the call number of the books, and not bother with writing the name. If there’s a specific book that looks really promising, then we’ll write down that specific title, but usually, we’ll just write down a few of the numbers and browse the area.
Should you grab all the books you can find as you’re learning how to research?
Are you ready for our secret research weapon?
It’s called the shelf marker.
At the first school, I taught at we had an older librarian who had her library skills lessons down to a science, and from kindergarten, she taught the kids before they pulled a book out to put the shelf marker in where the book goes. Then if they decide they don’t want the book, they can put it back in its’ proper place with no real muss or fuss.
That’s our secret weapon because before we even get home we’ve evaluated if the book is useful. Some questions to ask as you look at the book you’ve pulled out:
- Can I read this book on my own? Check the 5 finger rule.
- Does this book answer some of the questions I have? Look at the table of contents or the index to see if you see some ideas generation.
- Does this book provide useful diagrams or maps?
- Can I check it out? Some books or magazines are to be used in the library only, you will need to take your notes while at the library.
How do I find stuff at the library?
This is a hard skill for kids to master. Actually, let me revise that statement. This is a skill that requires lots of practice, it isn’t hard, just tedious. But, thankfully there are a lot of great resources out there, and every library will have at least one shelf with a poster explaining it all.
Here’s my Dewey Decimal breakdown that I use in my head:
00s- All the stuff I have to look at while at the library, encyclopedias, magazines, dictionaries
100s- All the touchy-feely stuff I don’t want to read
200s- Religions, all those –isms (not all of them, because some will get into the next category)
300s- Governments, society, and all that stuff (the rest of the –isms), this includes my favorite 398.2 fairy tales
400s- Languages, all the things I mispronounce on a regular basis
500s- Science and Math (where 2nd graders spend all their time as they read about all of the animals and how the world works)
600s- Using Science (technology, and all of those exciting practical skills)
700s- Art and Play (all of those drawing books your kids check out over and over again, and the various hobby and crafting books)
800s- Literature (poetry, plays, joke books, comic books)
900s- History and Geography (where most of the books I check out for the kids come from)
Want a DEWEY decimal chart printable? Here’s a plain Jane printable Dewey decimal system chart.
Now that you have all of your information, head over and find out how to write a research paper.