Just Dewey It!

To help students better understand how the books in the library are organized, I compare the shelves to neighborhoods. The call number is like the book’s address; it shows where each book belongs on the shelf. I explain to students that there are usually three kinds of call numbers, or addresses. Pictures books have an “E” on their spines. I tell students the “E” stands for “Everyone” because I want even older students to read picture books from time to time. There are a lot of great picture books with sophisticated levels of text and art that offer intrigue for older students even as they also appeal to a younger audience. Chapter books have an “F” and the other books have numbers on them. The books with numbers are nonfiction; they teach us about real people, places, things, and animals. I tell students that nonfiction books are organized into ten groups called the Dewey Decimal System. Elementary students get a kick out of saying, “Dewey”!

A great book that uses this neighborhood analogy is The Shelf Elf Helps Out by Jackie Mims Hopkins.

I introduce students to the Dewey Decimal System with a quick tour of the library’s nonfiction section. I show students how each classification is labeled with a “neighborhood sign”.

To generate students’ exploration and understanding of Dewey, I designed an exciting activity that challenges students to use critical thinking skills and team work. The class is divided into 8-10 different groups, (essentially into pairs). Each group is assigned a nonfiction book from the website/app, Epic! Epic! is the leading all-you-can-read eBook library for kids 12 and under offering unlimited access to over 10,000 high-quality children’s books. Best of all, Epic! is 100% free for elementary school teachers and librarians in the U.S. and Canada.

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I saved one book from each classification of Dewey in an Epic! collection which I called, "Dewey Decimal System". Students access the collection and read the book assigned to them. While reading, students are challenged to think about which Dewey section their book would be best considered. To assist students, I provide them with a bookmark that gives a brief overview of each Dewey section along with examples. After reading, students circle the Dewey section for their book and explain their reasoning by using evidence from the text. This strategy encourages students to “discover” content for themselves instead of the teaching providing what they need to know.

Even if students do not correctly identify their book’s Dewey section on the first attempt, they are still being exposed to the classification system by studying the reference bookmark in order to make a decision.

Please access my bibliography for this activity so you can assign groups different sections of the Dewey Decimal System. Your students can respond to their book using the activity handouts I created. In just one lesson, your students will be exposed to the entire Dewey Classification System while closely examining one text. Before you know it, students will be checking out books from sections of the library they never had before.
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