Lesson Plans for the Literacy Lab

Using Databases in the Classroom

by Diane McCargar


Lesson Plans:
Lesson Plan 1 Adobe PDF Format PDF

Database programs are not only useful for storing and organizing student information, but they can also be useful tools in the classroom. The structure of a database can help students organize information. Teachers can also use the records and fields in a database to present activities that use a repetitive structure. I have found a database program called FileMaker Pro especially useful because it allows you to easily include sound in your database. FileMaker Pro is licensed for use in Ontario Schools by the Ontario Ministry of Education. It is also cross- platform, which means is it possible to use the same FileMaker Pro database on both Macintosh and Windows computers.


  • In this lesson students will learn to read and spell a list of words.


  • Students will also learn to enter data in a database.


Here are the instructions for creating a simple FileMaker Pro database where students can store a list of spelling or vocabulary words. Once the words are stored, students can use the database to practise reading and spelling these words.

  1. Run FileMaker Pro.
  2. Click on Create a new empty file.
    Click on OK.
  3. Save the Database.

    1. Type a name.
    2. Choose a disk and/or folder.
    3. Click on Save.
  4. Create the following fields:

    1. Type a name.
    2. Choose a field Type. (Container is used for pictures and sounds.)
    3. Click on Create.
    4. Repeat these steps for all of the fields.
    5. Click on Done.
    6. Create a layout for the students to enter information.

      1. Go to Layout in the Mode menu.
      2. Go to Layout Setup in the Mode menu.
      3. Type a layout name: Entry Form.
      4. Click on OK.
      5. Move the fields and adjust their sizes to be similar to the picture below. Delete the fields you're not using in this layout.

        The first field in each row is the Status field. Here students will mark each word "Practice" or "Mastered". The second field is the Speech field. When students double-click in this field they can record themselves saying the word. Next they type the word, a sentence containing the word and the part of speech.
      6. Create lines at the bottom of each field.

        1. Hold down the Shift key.
        2. Click on each field.
        3. Go to Field Borders in the Format menu.
        4. Click on Bottom.
        5. Click on OK.
      7. Type a title in the Header at the top.
      8. Go to Browse in the Mode menu.
      9. Go to View as List in the Select menu.


    Students can use this database on an ongoing basis to record spelling or vocabulary words. The only trick to this is that they must add a new record for each new word they want to enter. To do this they must choose New Record in the Mode menu or use the keyboard shortcut found beside the words "New Record". Alternatively, the teacher could add several new blank records when they create the database.


    If you are adventurous, you could go farther and create other layouts to help students practice reading and spelling these words. A Spelling Quiz layout could include the Speech field and the Spelling Answer field. The students could ask the database to "Find" the words with Status = Practise and then go to the Spelling Quiz layout. Here they would listen to the Speech field and type the word they hear in the Spelling Answer field. To help them check their work you could create a Spelling Quiz Answer layout that would contain the Speech field, the Spelling Answer field, the Word field (where the word is spelled correctly) and the Status field. If they spelled the word correctly they could then change the Status to "Mastered". Similarly, a Reading Test layout could include the Speech field and the Reading Answer field. The trick here is that the Reading Answer field would be formatted to display a pop-up list of all of the words in the Word field. The student would have to listen to the Speech field and choose the matching word from the pop-up list.

    Here are some other examples of activities created in Filemaker Pro: