• CC-Basics pages 58 - 67



  • Consult reference materials, such as dictionaries and thesauruses

  • Gather information from different media

  • Determine author’s purpose

Key Concept

  • A reference is a source of factual information. Reference texts include dictionaries, encyclopedias, thesauruses, atlases, dictionaries, and handbooks. These references may be print or digital.


Tier 2 Entry
Reference text
Tier 3 Digital
Test Words Evaluate

Writing Practice

  • Analyze Text Structure

  • Compare and Draw Conclusions

Before Lesson

Assess students’ prior knowledge of various reference texts by discussing where they turn for information they need. Ask: What resource would you use to find the meaning of an unfamiliar word? Where would you look to find a dentist near you? How would you research the libraries in your community? Where would you find instructions on motorcycle repair or on changing the oil in an automobile?

Write student responses on the board. Depending on students’ level of response, explain that in addition to using a dictionary to find word meanings, they can find answers to many other questions by consulting reference texts. These include dictionaries, encyclopedias, thesauruses, atlases, and handbooks.


Explain to students that reference texts have very specific purposes. They are written to inform, not to entertain or persuade. The factual information found in reference texts serves as an educational resource not only for students, but for all types of people to use in their studies and in their everyday personal lives and in the workplace.

If available, show students an example of a dictionary, an encyclopedia, a thesaurus, and an atlas or other type of reference text. Briefly explain how each type of resource is used. Ask students to identify one type of reference text they have used recently.

Guided Practice

  • Reference Texts
  • Analyze Text Structure

Core Skill

Analyze Text Structure: Have students scan the encyclopedia article and answer the questions about the First Continental Congress. Then ask them to write one sentence each about the article’s text features (such as headings, subheadings, photos, maps, captions, or bullet points) that describes how they used the features to quickly find the information they needed.

Evaluate Content in Different Formats: After students have compared print and online dictionaries, ask them to explain a feature they found more useful in one format than in the other. How did students prefer learning about pronunciation, from the syllabification and pronunciation symbols in print and online or from the audio pronunciation available online?


Paired Reading: Pair fluent English speakers with English language learners. Provide paired students with a copy of a brief (50-200 word) encyclopedia article to read aloud. If the less-proficient student misreads, the more proficient student points to the word and pronounces it; then the less-proficient student repeats that word. Continue in this fashion until the end of the passage.

Compare and Draw Conclusions: Ask pairs of students to investigate the usefulness of different formats of reference texts. Assign each pair a different state and ask them to look up information about their state’s legislature and its capital. To do their research, one student from each team should use an online encyclopedia and one student should use a print encyclopedia. Have the pairs compare the time spent per format and how up-to-date each format was in order to draw a conclusion about which format is most efficient for this type of research.

Lesson Review

21st Century Skill: Information Literacy: After students compile their lists of reliable reference websites, brainstorm a list of historical events that occurred within the past ten years. Have students choose an event and use websites from the list to find information about the event. Ask them to write two paragraphs about their event, using a thesaurus and a dictionary to broaden their word choices and check their spelling.