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Reference Materials #7, Encyclopedias #1: Introduction to World Book Online

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Lesson Overview:

In this lesson, students gain an overview to World Book Online Student.  Because most school libraries no longer purchase print encyclopedias, because digital resources are more complicated to navigate, and especially because an encyclopedia is the starting point for more elementary-aged students’ research, it is worthwhile to devote one lesson to navigating, using, and enjoying World Book Online.  (Note: Your school may have a different set of digital tools, but this lesson can serve as an example of what I like to include.)

Lesson Plan:

Suggested Grades:



To become familiar with World Book Online (or equivalent) as a ready reference and research tool.

Suggested Time:

50-55 minutes

Success Criteria:

Each student will learn how to access World Book Online, navigate the site, and will be able to find key features including:

Lesson Outline:

1. Introduction:

Show students a print encyclopedia.  Ask whether they know what it is (most do not!)  Ask the students to look for defining characteristics of the books.  They might need to take a closer look, so be prepared to pass the encyclopedias around and let the kids skim and scan.  Those might include:

  • Many Volumes
  • Numbers or letters for each volume
  • Index at the end
  • Arranged alphabetically
  • Lots of books to make one set
  • Lots of topics covered

Teach that the group of books is called an “encyclopedia.”  Have children clap the number of syllables and repeat the word a few times.  Write it on the flipchart/board so that they can see the word.

Teach the origin of the word “Encyclopedia.”  Usually, I ask if the kids whether they know any words with the root “cycle.”  They will come up with motorcycle, bicycle, etc.  What do all of those items have in common?  (Answer:  Spinning or turning wheels.)  An encyclopedia is best described as a collection of common knowledge that goes all the way around the world.

For example, plants in Japan need sunlight, water, and nutrients in the soil, the same as they do in Argentina or Kenya.  Growing a healthy plant is the SAME no matter where in the world you are.  Big Idea (Function):  An encyclopedia summarizes and delivers common knowledge.

If you want to do a thorough job of teaching the history of the word, use Merriam-Webster online and this link:  https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/encyclopedia

Tell the kids that print encyclopedias are very expensive and very heavy and can become out of date rapidly, so today we use digital encyclopedias, but that these are intended to serve the same purpose, which is to deliver common knowledge.

2. Main:

Show the students how to access your school’s digital encyclopedia.  Make sure that every student has the URL, Username, and Password for convenient access.

You may choose to show one of the training videos available from WorldBook.  However, these move very quickly!  I find that they work best for teachers or parents, but for kids, I prefer to teach them how to use the online encyclopedia myself.

Show them how to navigate the home page and how to search using three options, and some of the main features.  If you work through the student exercise yourself, you will be familiar with what would be best to teach the students.  Generally, I follow this outline:

  1. Homepage navigation
  2. Search functions (3 ways: Search Box, “Find it By . . . “ and “Take me to . . .”)
  3. Features, including
    • Biography Center
    • Compare Places
    • Timelines
    • My Research
    • Citations (where to find them)
    • Atlas
    • Find it by . . . Videos
    • Find it by . . . . Subject
    • Article Contents

Give students time to complete their assignment.  It may take two lessons for them to complete this work if they are sharing devices or if your periods are short.

3. Conclusion:

Remind students that all research starts broad and narrows/focuses as it progresses.  Thus, an encyclopedia is always an excellent place to begin research.  Advise them that they will begin all of their research in World Book Online and that it’s good to be familiar with the resource.

Ask them how the digital encyclopedia is the same as or different from a print encyclopedia.  They should be able to do this “Compare and Contrast” exercise for you after today’s lesson.

  1. Print encyclopedia, for comparison.
  2. Flipchart, whiteboard, or interactive board for making notes
  3. Student devices or computer lab booking for access to computers
  4. Subscription to World Book Online (or equivalent)
  5. Copies of Student Assignment, Digital Reference Suite

My experience is that kids get very excited when they dive into the online encyclopedia.  The content is so rich and varied, and they all want to share what they have found with their friends.  Because they get excited, they get lost and don’t stay on task very well, so I would allow two lessons to cover this material.   Either that or let them work on it during indoor recesses or spare time.

Also, I like to put up the Featured Video every day.  This lets the kids engage with World Book as they are settling in for the day’s work.

Recommended books for this lesson:

None, except a print encyclopedia to serve as a point of contrast.

Key Terms:

Encyclopedia, Reference Works, Reference

Student Assignment, Digital Encyclopedia