Friday, February 13, 2009

"The Important Book" and Research

I was reading Brian Crosby's blog, Learning is Messy, the other day and came across an idea that sparked a project in my computer lab. He was using a book by Margaret Wise Brown called The Important Book. She is a favorite author of mine since my now eighth grader was a few months old. We went through two board book editions of Good Night Moon within a couple of years.

My Research Focus
I was just writing about my intended focus on helping students with their research skills. I am looking for more ways to help students understand how to read to find information. Brian outlined how the book helped him to help his students take some first steps in their process by following the pattern used in The Important Book. You should read his post. I li
ked the idea so much, I ran out to Barnes and Noble last weekend to purchase a copy.

When I get a new idea, I'll often introduce it to several grades at the same time. In the following years, I try to keep coming back to the same general idea with a different focus. I am going to use The Important Book and the following lesson in the fourth, fifth, and perhaps sixth grade this year.

My Introduction to the Students
I started with the fourth and fifth grade this week. I scanned three pages from the book and placed them in my Activstudio software. My document camera is not working, or I would have used that instead. It could just have easily been imported into PowerPoint.

The first screen was just an image of spoons. I read the description to the class. We talked about the pattern in the wording. It tells the important fact about the spoon, several supporting facts, and repeats the important fact.

I brought the next screen up at 10% of actual size and told the class the next description was about daisies. I asked them to predict what the important fact would be. I changed the screen to show the page at 100% and then read the description. Next, we counted up the number of facts she listed.

I wanted the students to realize that they had equally good ideas about what the important thing was about daisies. I also wanted them to realize that they could have written an entirely different entry with just the ideas they generated as a group.

I finished up by reading one more entry about grass.

Next Steps
I had the fifth grade students focus on amphibians and the fourth grade studen
ts focus on birds. There isn't a particular reason that I chose those categories. Generally, I felt I wanted the younger students to have a very easy topic. I want to give them practice with reading a web page for information.

I have baskets with yellow pads and pencils next to the computers this year. I wanted the students to use the pad to list those the facts as they found them. I didn't want them to worry about switching between Word and the Internet. They could have, but I wanted their focus on the facts, not the technology.

I bookmarked a Yahoo Kids page about birds and amphibians. The students access those links from our school delicious account.

I did a quick survey of the room. Most students had not heard of or used Yahoo Kids. I believe every student had used Google. I took a few minutes to explain that Yahoo Kids was written in a way that students in the third through sixth grade could more easily understand. One student said they use I asked if they typed and they said yes. I told them to just type kids instead of www and they would be able to get to the website at home very easily.

Off to the Computer
They had very little time to work on the computer independently. They quickly got onto Firefox, accessed their class link though delicious, and started finding facts. I explained to them that they just needed to find seven facts. After they found those facts, they should put a star next to the fact that they thought was most important.

Class Two
The next part of the project was to continue today with more research. Unfortunately, the Internet was down all day. With any luck, it will be back on Tuesday.

My plan is to have the fifth grade type the information into Word and find an image to support the words. I want to start showing them how to use Pics4Learning to find images that are free to use for school work. They have an extensive set of amphibian images. Their classroom teacher had asked me to review placing and moving images in Word, so I have a dual purpose.

The fourth grade has just finished their first PowerPoint presentation. In our first lesson, we learn to use the drawing tools to draw a page of rectangles, circles, triangles, a test of all shapes, and a face they make with the shape parts. The lesson is intended to get them over potential stage fright. They enjoy learning how to create drawn objects, change their color, and play with the fill tool.

I will have the fourth grade students use PowerPoint. They will have one slide for each fact. They will choose one image for each slide. They will write their sentence in the notes section. This will become the basis for all PowerPoint presentations. I want their notes to become the bedrock of their presentation with the images as support for their words in all grades through the eighth grade.

Further Research
Once we complete these preliminary steps, I will want to have the fifth grade students do another research project. In the next project, I will expect them to build on the idea of gather seven facts to creating a more substantial and less formulaic paragraph in Word.

Thanks for the idea Brian!

Image Citation:
Levers, Andreas. "Spoons." 96dpi's photostream. 13 Feb 2009. 12 Mar 2008.

Mac with baskets - my image.


  1. Great! I had had to borrow a copy of the book when I taught the lesson ... couldn't find my copy. Bought a new one today!!! : ) Let me know how it goes!

  2. I was so happy it was a $6.99 book (paperback). Your post was so perfectly timed with what I'm trying to do more of this year. I'll let you know more as we continue down this path.

  3. Thanks Ann and Brian for the wonderful idea! I am going to use a version of your ideas with one of my third grade classes first to create a book for the "The Important Thing about their winter holiday" so they can learn some PowerPoint skills, and then with president research! Went and bought my copy of the "the Important Book" yesterday. Both the classroom teacher and I are very excited!

  4. I'm glad you found this useful. I've been using the idea in a number of different ways over the last couple of years. Best wishes on your work with your students!