Learn Your Dewey…or Be Asphyxiated

2 Jul

The Dewey Decimal System and I get along just fine.  Granted, it is sometimes an uneasy relationship.  I often wish there was an Einstein-ian cataloger savant who could invent a perfect, elegant formula to clean up the 361’s and 362’s (how many more subjects can they possibly jam in there after all?) as well as cure the 200’s of its acute 19th-century-itis.  But aside from that, old Melvil and I are pals, and I do what I can to make his invention familiar to kids without frightening them or boring them into a stupor.

In 2012 I came up with an idea out of thin air.  “Dewey Decimal Number of the Day!”, I exclaimed to my colleagues, “It needs to become a thing!”  And become a thing it did.  The poster was made with glitter and Melvilian hawt-ness by my MAGNIFICENT– and hilariously foul-mouthed– colleague Ingrid, (who in her spare time is none other than Ms. Love and Libraries herself, the Magpie Librarian!).  She gave DD#otD a fantastic write-up, and I don’t mind bragging that it was the toast of Pinterest for 3 1/2 seconds.

Someday soon I’ll share a few pics of the degradations I put Mr. Dewey under  in the name of bibliographic instruction (think tutus and poodle cuts), but here I want to inaugurate this little blog with a Dewey Decimal game I came up with a couple of summers ago.  It is called:

The Game of Python takes its inspiration from three sources:

1.  The illustration of a python on top of the fireplace mantelpiece in Chris Van Allsburg’s Jumanji.


2.  The “Bingo” flannel board from Judy Sierra’s The Flannel Board Storytelling Book.


I always like to point out, “Wow, our farmer is a LADY farmer!”

3.  The basketball-shooting game H-O-R-S-E.

Watch it, buddy. Dunking is never ok in H-O-R-S-E.

How to Play Python:

  • Take 5 or 6 minutes and summarize each of the ten major Dewey classes with your group (000’s, 100’s, 200’s, etc).  Don’t go into a lot of minutiae, just hit the high notes.  The purpose of Python is to introduce players with the ten classes, nothing further.  I have no expectation the ten classes will be forever etched in their memories after playing.  It is enough for me that kids remember that (1) non-fiction is organized in the library using numbers, and (2) the numbers follow a system that starts with ten broad classes. I made a simple PowerPoint to illustrate this summary, which you can download here.  As a warm-up to the actual game of Python, there is a quiz at the end of the PowerPoint where I show four book covers on the screen and the entire group tries to guess which Dewey classes they fall under.
  • Break up your players into two teams and hand each player the Official Game of Python Cheat Sheet™ (see below) to refer to during the game.

Cheat Sheet Jpg

Click for full-size PDF file

  • My gameboard (see below) is a flannel board, but you can also use a chalkboard, whiteboard, or a big piece of paper taped to the wall if you don’t want to make something out of felt.


  • I also prepared about fifty cards where I printed out non-fiction book covers in color and pasted them onto pieces of oaktag (see below). The Dewey classes are pretty obvious for most of the titles, but I made sure to throw in a handful of tricky ones, too.  I wrote full call numbers and Dewey classes on the back of each card (while the purpose of Python is solely about introducing the ten Dewey classes to my players, I also wanted them to see full call numbers, to set them up for an intuitive leap: “Oh, 973.7 is the Civil War, and it begins with ‘9’, so it’s in ‘History and Geography’.  Boo-ya!”)

Sample Title Card- Front & Back

  • Time to play!  I name one team the orange team and the other the blue team.  The gameboard is set up in the middle of a table, and each team lines up at opposite ends of the table.  Turn over all of your P-Y-T-H-O-N letters to their blank sides.

Python Start

  • Decide on the team that will go first.  Show a card cover-side-out to the first player in line.  He or she has to say which of the Dewey classes the title belongs in.  If the answer is incorrect,  turn over that team’s letter ‘P’.  If you have small teams (say 3 or 4 kids each), you can allow them to come up with the answer together.  My teams often have 10-15 kids each, so to keep things moving, players are individually put into the hot-seat.  I make it clear to all before play begins that shouting out the answer when it is not your turn, or giving hints, will result in one letter being turned over.
  • Move to the first player of the other team and show the player the next card in your deck.  Alternate back-and-forth between your teams.
  • The first team to turn over all of the P, Y, T, H, O, N letters, well, loses.  Sorry, Team Orange.  We have some lovely parting gifts for you.

Python End

Now I realize some of you may be thinking, “Dang, girl.  That’s a lot of prep work for one stinkin’ program”, and normally I would agree.  However, Python was developed specifically for the Brooklyn Cultural Adventures Project, which is a summer camp for ages 7-12 years my library develops activities for.  We typically host 18 BCAP groups every summer, and each group has 20-25 kids (captive audiences, all!).   In addition, I knew Python could be one of those activities that could be pulled off of the shelf countless times in the future, especially when doing library instruction with local school groups. In my judgment, putting in the time, effort, blood, sweat, and tears for this activity was justified.

Thank you for taking the time to read through this incredibly LONG kickoff of Z Before Y!  What games and tricks do you have for teaching kids about Dewey?



4 Responses to “Learn Your Dewey…or Be Asphyxiated”

  1. magpielibrarian July 2, 2013 at 10:27 pm #

    I am honored to be your foul-mouthed coworker.

    • cathmary12 July 3, 2013 at 6:22 am #

      You’re welcome! You’re a master-curser.

  2. Andrea VJ July 2, 2013 at 10:34 pm #

    I’m glad not everyone wants to throw the Dewey out with the bathwater. Congrats on the blog!

    • cathmary12 July 3, 2013 at 6:24 am #

      Thank you! Dewey isn’t going away anytime soon, at least where I work. I try to make DDC easier to digest, and fun.

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