How to Use a Phone Book


How many adults have the life skill of using a phone book? Don't we all randomly search at times?

We received a new phone book on our front porch yesterday, so that reminded me of another important “real world” skill that all kids should learn—how to utilize a phone book effectively. Although the internet is increasingly being used for locating phone numbers for persons and businesses, the phone book is still a very important and useful tool.

Suggested Activities. Grab a phone book that has both white and yellow pages and sit down with your kids. Then do some of the activities below:

  • Look over the table of contents to see how the book is organized. Use this “What Does Your Phone Book Include” worksheet from ReadWriteThink for a more directed introduction to the phone book.
  • Discuss each of the major sections of the phone book and explain their purposes. Note that the sections listed below are not necessarily included in every phone book, and some may even be called something different; but in general, this is the major information included in most phone books that kids should be familiar with.
    • white pages: lists both residential and business phone numbers, sometimes in one section, but often in two separate sections.
    • yellow pages: point out that the people listed in this section have to pay to have their ad/phone number listed here. There are many business that choose not to be listed in the yellow pages.
    • map section: usually has a detailed street map of the local area.
    • government section: lists addresses and phone numbers of government offices (sometimes separated into state, county, and city offices.)
  • Discuss the meaning of the digits in the phone number, such as the area code, the prefix, and the line number. How Stuff Works offers a good article on this subject.
  • Talk about the difference between local, long distance, collect, and toll-free calls. I have listed the commonly accepted definition of each term, although that is often not the exact technical definition.
    • local: a telephone call made within a local calling area for which the caller is not charged.
    • long distance: in general, this refers to a call made outside a local calling area for which the caller is charged.
    • collect: a long-distance call placed to a “regular” (non-1-800) number, but the call is charged to the recipient of the call.
    • toll-free; 1-800 numbers: a call to a special phone number (1-800, 1-877, etc.) for which the recipient is charged for the call. Toll-free companies are often used by companies for taking sales orders, customer service, etc.
  • Direct your child to find all the possible phone numbers for “Jim Smith.” This would include the listing for J Smith, James Smith, and Jim Smith. You may also practice with other diminutives (shortened names) such as:
    • Bill for William
    • Bob for Robert
    • Hank for Henry
    • Tom for Thomas
    • Drew for Andrew
    • Dick/Rich for Richard
    • Beth for Elizabeth
  • Use the white pages to practice alphabetical order. Do phone book drills like dictionary drills by having each child try to be the first one to find a specific surname.
  • Look through the yellow pages section and talk about the how it is organized by type of business.
  • Have your child find the phone number for a pet store, a mechanic shop, a hospital, a church, etc. in the yellow pages.
  • Explain how cross referencing is used in the yellow pages.
  • Discuss the various kinds of ads that can be purchased in the yellow pages, from a name and phone number to a large advertisement.

Learning the life skill of how to use a phone book may seem outdated but even in todays world you might find yourself away from a computer and without that treasured smart phone. These can be more lessons in the futute for the WIFI world.

This article was originally published on my former blog, Homeschooling for the Real World, in March 2008.

image by merfam

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  1. says

    It's also worth pointing out that toll free numbers are free, but some companies use that for lead generation, so when you dial their number they have your phone number and can often get your name and address from the phone number so you could get more follow up solicitations (aka junk mail).

    Bill Quimby

    Bill Quimby’s last blog is history


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