Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Anatomy of a Call Number

Surgically dissecting a call number so that students understand the meaning behind the "mumbo jumbo" of FIC ROW or 521.2 SAU is quite a necessary skill to teach 5th graders (and at least the fiction part to 4th).  I have taught my students to identify call numbers on the spine labels of library books, but never to comprehend the anatomy.  If they start to understand why a call number has certain letters or numbers, they can start to make sense of a library's organization and become more independent and frequent users of library books.

The lesson begins with a visual display on the Promethean board of book spines with spine labels--background knowledge.  The most common way I've seen for teaching call numbers is to refer to them as addresses for books.  While referring to the home addresses, I put up a picture of a shelf of books featuring a book spine where the spine label is "removed" from the book and enlarged so that students can focus on that.  First, fiction call numbers are taught because there is a constant variable of "FIC" or "F" with only one changing variable--the author's last name.  

The explanation continues that "FIC" refers to the fiction section or area of a library.  I point out the school library's fiction area.  Moving on to the second part of the call number, I explain that it is the first three letters of the author's last name.  I write an author's first and last name on the board, for example Richard Peck.  I underline the authors last name to make it easier for them to see where I'm going to pull the second half of the call number from.  *This tip helped many of my students when they were given the task of writing call numbers from titles and authors provided.

After they figured out how to write a call number, I went on to explain how the books were shelved alphabetically by author's last name.

The 4th grade gets this far, but then I take my 5th graders one step further with Dewey Decimal numbers.  Since there are ever changing variables with the two parts of this call number, I start students out with learning that the numbers represent subject areas.  They can usually transfer the knowledge that the three letters are part of the authors last name.  

This works well as a refresher of prior knowledge and a way to add new knowledge to the bank.  

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