Today’s guest post is part two of four about teaching reference skills with Jimmie from Jimmie’s Collage.
In the first part of this series, we looked at the importance of reference skills and how we can incorporate them naturally into our homeschool routine. Did you listen carefully for your children’s questions? If they didn’t ask, did you raise some possible questions? Once you have a question, one of the first places you will likely look for the answer will be in an index or table of contents of a book.
Lots of your homeschool books have an index and a table of contents:
- English usage handbook
- Nature field guides
- Science and history encyclopedias
- Poetry anthologies
- Cookbooks (Okay, maybe this isn’t a homeschool book exactly, but I know you use them with your kids.)
One of the first things to understand is when should you use an index and when should you use the table of contents. An index is generally more detailed while a table of contents is a broad outline of the book’s contents. So if you already know the big category of information where you will find your answer, a table of contents may suffice. If you really have no idea what you’re looking for besides a single term, then the index is your best bet.
A great way to teach this is simply to try it out. First, use the table of contents to find your answer. Then switch to the index. Your children will, with experience, learn which is best suited to each scenario.
Start by teaching your children the layout of a table of contents. For example, the table of contents usually gives only the beginning page of a chapter, not the exact page of what you will need. So you will have to flip through the chapter to find your specific information.
Using an index goes beyond just alphabetizing skills. Teach your children about guide words at the top of the page to make it faster to locate terms. Another tricky part of an index is the primary and secondary entries. Usually in bold print, the primary entry for the term is where it is explained most thoroughly in the book. That is your first choice for research. The secondary entries will give you additional incidences where that term in used but in the context of another main idea. More than likely the secondary entries will not be as helpful. But you can certainly read all of them if the primary entry does not answer your question.
And what term do you look up, anyway? Do your children know that people are listed by last names? Do they know how to consider other options if the term they look up is not in the index?
Work on your table of contents and index skills for several weeks, pulling out the reference books as often as questions come up. If you have to prompt those questions to make the opportunities happen, go ahead. Hopefully, your modeling curiosity will rub off on your children and they will turn to the index on their own.
In the next installment (next Tuesday), we will look at using the atlas for information gathering.
Jimmie is the mother of one creative eleven-year-old daughter. Living in China adds a unique dimension to their Charlotte Mason styled homeschool. Besides reading and writing, Jimmie enjoys photography, traveling, Chinese watercolor painting, and cooking from scratch. Jimmie blogs at Jimmie’s Collage.
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