Category Archives: Elementary library tips & tricks

New year? New ideas! Kindergarten

After teaching elementary school library for over a decade, one would think there is a set lesson or format I use to map out each school year. It’s often assumed that I do the same thing, year in and year out. After all, why recreate the wheel?


Well, I do. New classes mean new personalities. What worked with one group of children may not work with another. Our annual school learning goals need to be taken into account, as well as curricular, technological, and logistical changes. In short: I never do the same thing exactly the same way each year.WP_20141002_006

Our K’s traditionally take part in unit studies, but the books, activities, and technologies used change a bit each year. With so many new titles, apps, and websites, there will always be new ways to foster learning.  The questions used in lessons change, too, since I work to get better at incorporating critical-thinking, claim-evidence-reasoning questions. Adding strategies and ideas from the Maker movement into our lessons (when reasonable) is also a goal.      


Protecting their garden from invading bunnies. Inspired by Candy Fleming’s Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!

The first six weeks tend to follow a pretty set format regarding skills introduced and overall expectations. Most of my first six weeks is explained here.  Note: for the lessons listed, students visit library 1x week for 40 minutes.

  • Week 1: Play I-Spy in the Library game, learn where to sit (assigned spot) and how to sit (hands/feet to self), get to know one another with the Squishy Ball, listen to one story (first author study), show where to sit at the end of the lesson (the line near the door…no chairs/table spots), learning goal: what does an author do?
  • Week 2: Review where/how to sit, play make-believe games with Mr. Tiger (large stuffed animal mascot who I “talk” to), listen to story, barcodes & passes, self check-out (books on top of shelves only), learn whose responsibility it is to bring back book (students, not moms!)
    • Before week 3 – remind students to bring back books. No tears is the goal…
  • Week 3: review where/how to sit, play make-believe with a stuffed animal Tiger (he holds our stories…I model kindness by asking to borrow it politely, then giving it back at the end), listen to one story, begin questioning, learn E=Everybody, review what happens if you forgot your book (browsing basket), review self check-out
  • Week 4: continue week 3. No new additions.
  • Week 5: Add Rhyme Time. Continue with previous skills/expectations.
  • Week 6: Introduce book care. Continue with previous skills/expectations.

By this point, routines are usually down pat. If they’re not…it’s reteach, reteach, reteach. It’s impossible to add in how to find books if children can’t remember where to sit so that they have their own safe space.

Most of our lessons will have a focus question and includes stories and rhymes. I’ll often include movement games and make-believe to maintain interest and focus. Technology (in the form of beginning database research and project creations) is usually added in the second half of the year. Some tech I like: PebbleGo (for outer space/animal research), Flipgrid (for video responses to any literature), iPads (is perfect for K to extend learning, Daisy the Dinosaur & Lightbot Jr are great for coding). Major units outside of Author Studies may include the Geisel Award, a Wool/Fabric science collaboration, and Folklore Around the World (which includes map skills). However…

I’ve been known to extend units into first grade. To leave units out. To add new learning. Because life happens: there are subs, no school days, new classroom units.  Because each group of children is different…so my teaching should embrace and reflect their differences. And while there are certain authors I read year in and year out (Ezra Jack Keats), each group has stories shared and questions asked that best meet their needs.

Curious as to which author/illustrator units were kid-friendly AND whose stories had great questioning / conversation potential from the past few years? See below! And please note: the K’s will usually study 5-7 per year at a minimum of 3 weeks per individual.

  • Ezra Jack Keats ♥♥
  • the Mo you don’t know (lesser-known Mo Willems titles)
  • Kieko Kasza
  • Jon Klassen
  • Mac Barnett
  • Candace Fleming
  • Lauren Castillo
  • Jon Agee
  • Sergio Ruzzier
  • Deborah Freedman
  • Cynthia Rylant (usually with Arthur Howard)
  • Christian Robinson

Happy reading & teaching, y’all! ~arika

If you celebrate CBW, they will come

It’s no secret: I love children’s books, and I love the library. So when I started as a school librarian, I expected the library to buzz with energy and excitement of students debating and discussing books.

In short, this did not happen.

Being hired late, in mid-October, meant I had little relationship with students or staff.  Add to that the logistical nightmare of a library in it’s own building, away from the hustle and bustle, and I knew I had to take drastic action to learn about my students and get people in the doors. But how?

Enter Children’s Book Week (CBW). This was in 2004, when CBW was celebrated in November. Halloween was over, and shops were clearing out old costumes and props. Out of nowhere, I had an idea: what if I dressed as a character from a children’s book? What if I wrote “Guess Who?” clues and had kids try to figure out who I was? And what if I did this Every Single Day during CBW?

I wanted kids to come to the library. I wanted them talking about titles, debating over characters, buzzing over books. So I went for it. And I didn’t ask permission.

On the Monday of CBW, I walked into school dressed in a black pointed hat and black gown, with a wand in hand and gray hair.  It was the first day of CBW. No one else knew this but me. To them, it was random Monday.

Until they saw me. In costume. And they wondered, “What on Earth is she doing?”

Teachers and students came to the library. All week long, they came. They read the clues, debated over characters, and made guesses. As the week continued, we had opportunities to talk.  Students suggested costume ideas and made predictions on upcoming characters.  This was the dream. This was the goal realized. We were talking, connecting, buzzing over books.

And it was all thanks to Children’s Book Week.

It’s been 8 years since I last celebrated CBW in costume – entirely too long.  So today – May 4, 2016 (CBW is now celebrated in May) – I’m renewing this tradition. The costume is dusted off. The clue is printed. No one knows this is happening.  And I am ready.

I can’t wait to hear the buzz.

PS: In keeping with #ThankORama, I am indebted to my former principal Betsy Hill, who thought showing up for work in book character costume was the Best Thing Ever. Prior to her passing, I thanked her for believing in my ability and encouraging me to always dream big.

WLMA 2015!



What a treat it was to attend and present at WLMA 2015 in Yakima! Connecting with librarian friends near and far, collaborating on ideas to best serve students in WA and beyond, and creating learning moments at the drop of a hat…what could be better?!

Donalyn Miller – AKA The Book Whisperer – kicked off the weekend Friday morning with her keynote speech Choice and Voice: Fostering Reading Ownership. Some of the best Donalyn quotes:

  • “The best thing we can do when a child wants to talk about a book is to listen.”
  • “Learners who lose their choices become dis-empowered.”
  • “You want to see higher level thinking? Read a wordless book with a child.”

Some of the standout sessions this year focused on Makerspaces, Genrefying, New in 2015, Grant-writing, Collaboration, and WA state book awards.

I was honored to present this year, too.  My session – Operation: Motivation! A year of enthusiasm in the elementary library – was to wrap up the conference. To be honest, I feared no one would stick around for the last session (um…guilty).  But they did. And I was relieved. And the audience was FANTASTIC.

The handout for my session is on the WLMA site.  If you want the procedural links referenced at the end of the session, see below.

Folks who came to WLMA15, I hope you connected, collaborated and created all weekend long and are ready to utilize new knowledge and ideas within your library program.  I know I am. Looking forward to next fall in South Seattle!


End of Year Book Swap

The idea has been percolating for years: host a book swap at the end of the school year.  Students bring in unread books from home and get to take new-to-them books to read over summer break.  In June, a teacher and I collaborated to bring this to life. How hard could it be?

In a word: VERY.  In two words: Worth goals:

  • to give our students new-to-them books – including those who didn’t bring any to the swap
  • to practice the art of “to give is to get” by donating books to less fortunate readers

How it worked:

  • Early May 2015: Design a flyer and logo
    • This was emailed to all families, available as  paper handout in library, and sent electronically via the Principal Newsletter and the PTA Newsletter in late May.
  • Late May 2015: Book Swap announced to students
    • Lots of signage in the front office and on entry doors for families.
  • Late May: Volunteer sign-up designed and sent via Google Docs
    • Should have been before Memorial Day – give volunteers 3 weeks notice
  • June 1-8: Book donations accepted
    • Parents stood in the hall in the morning, tallying books brought in by students, then placed the books into bins by grade. The parents helped sort the books by genre after school started.
  • June 5: Set up
    • Yes, this was early.  I had time in the day and hadn’t secured parents to help.  Because most of the books had been sorted by parents and 5th grade student helpers into categories – Chapter Books, Series, Picture Books, Holiday, I Can Read, Famous Friends, Other Languages, Nonfiction, Infant – this wasn’t too difficult.  It took about 3 hours total.
  • June 10: Book Swap!
    • Each grade level had 20 minutes to browse and swap. Volunteers picked up students who were participating from their classroom and brought them to the library.
    • If a child didn’t bring any books to swap, they could still participate. Lunch recess was open for those students to visit and choose 2 books.

All students were aware of our 2 for 1 policy – bring 2 books, take 1, with the other item being donated to a reader in need.  Our Kindness Club helped inform students around the school with posters and in-class visits.

What happened:

  • Over 3,000 books were donated, which included 1,000 from a teacher moving overseas.
  • Over 1,000 books were gifted to three schools and 2 local non-profits.
    • Two teachers and I delivered these after school and on weekends.
  • Parents were overjoyed at the limited items students could take, as it lightened their bookshelves at home. Imparting a bring 2, take 1 rule worked well, as did capping the maximum books taken at 5 regardless of the number donated.
  • Three boxes of books were donated that could not be regifted (board books, workbooks, adult books, religious books, etc.). The board books were donated to a non-profit, while the others were gifted to teachers or donated to the local non-profit store.
  • Over 20 books in Mandarin were donated, prompting a new section in the library.
  • Smiles were had all around!

Management tips:

  • Have a method to track donations.  We used a book-swap-ticket with the student’s name, teacher, number of books donated, and number of books to take.  These were filled out when the donations were dropped off then returned to the student on the day of the swap.
  • Run the book swap when library books are not circulating.
  • Stamp hands of students who visit the swap to have an easy way to see which students visited (so they don’t revisit during recess).
  • Encourage upper grades to bring in books their classmates will like.  There will be TONS of lower level books donated and not enough upper level books.
  • Visit used bookstores throughout the year to stock up on upper-level books for the swap at bargain prices. I bought 16 high-quality chapter books at Half Price Books for less than $16 before the swap.
  • Start gathering boxes for organization and display a month in advance. Costco flats were some of my favorites for holding chapter books.
  • Have a good group of volunteers to manage, then sort, the onslaught of donations in the mornings. We didn’t have enough most days…
  • Display books with as many covers visible as possible.
  • Group like items together.

A great event, but one that required much more planning, organization, time, and energy than I’d anticipated.  Will we Book Swap in 2016?  With a little more organization and volunteers, you bet.

Booktalking: low prep, high results

As much as my students love book trailers – evidenced by the number of holds placed after viewing – not all titles have trailers.  And, frankly, I love talking about books – it’s one of the reasons I started working in the library.  Booktalking to motivate student readers is truly a joy.

I think this method of booktalking is also the easiest.  It requires little to no prep, depending on your knowledge of the titles, and has always produced results…especially with reluctant readers.  Here’s what to do:

  1. Choose titles you know & love and/or have kid appeal.  I’ll choose 5 books for a 5 minute talk, and up to 10 books for a 15 minute talk.  Be thoughtful of genres and diversity.
  2. When kids sit down, have all covers facing them (mine lay flat on the ground, as students sit on stairs).  Explain that they will get to vote for the books you’re going to talk about.
  3. Share each title and genre.  While sharing titles, give each book a number (doesn’t have to be labeled).
  4. At the end of sharing titles, have students make a fist when they know which book’s number they want to hear more about.  When all fists are ready, have them vote by showing the number. Keeping numbers inside of their fist encourages honest responses versus mimicking the BFF.
  5. Notice which number gets the most votes.  Also monitor those reluctant readers and note their number choice.  This should be a quick process – 5 seconds, tops.
  6. Booktalk the titles that garner the most votes.  Often, I’ll also booktalk the choice of a struggling or frustrated reader.  Depending on the day, I may talk 3 or 5 books or 10 of 10 books.  The talk may be reading the summary on the back or my own memory of the books.
  7. Have all books available for check out at the end!

That’s it.  A simple booktalking process that can be geared toward reluctant readers.

Setting reading goals and monitoring progress in the elementary library

Goal-setting.  Follow-through.  Progress.  Growth.

As we rang in a new year, I’ve been thinking of these words and how they relate to my life as a teacher-librarian.  Thanks to our new TPEP evaluation model, which requires teachers to show student growth related to measurable goals, ideas have been swirling.  With hundreds of students, how could I make goal-setting work without a huge increase in workload / paper management?

The two-part answer: Readolutions and stickers.

Let me explain.

Last week, my 2nd and 4th students were presented a mini-lesson on Readolutions.  We talked about how a Readolution should be specific and measurable as well as attainable but challenging (phew!).  I explained that this wasn’t a one-month project, either – they’d be monitoring progress from Jan – June (see below).  Many samples were given – both good and bad – and students were sent off to create their own Readolution before this week’s library class.  Emails were sent to all families, describing the year-long Readolution concept.


As each student brings back his/her Readolution this week, it will be typed on an address label.  Yes, it’s work – but one-time work with zero papers.  Win!  Individual Readolution stickers will be placed on pre-existing barcode passes that students use to check-out.  Also going on the pass: a sticker printed with a checklist of dates.  Each week, students can quickly monitor progress toward the stated reading goal with a quick circle of YES / Working on it / NO.  Again, no papers to keep track of and minimal, weekly work for each student – both big wins!

Classroom teachers are THRILLED that students will have a self-selected goal to monitor as the year progresses.  Monitoring how students are doing is simple: check the library passes every few weeks.  If/when dishonesty occurs, both the classroom teacher and I will address the situation.  If needed, students can always rewrite the Readolution to make it more appropriate / achievable.  Here’s to a year full of reading growth!

Research skills using the Guinness Book of World Records


Here is an exciting way to introduce / refresh researching skills with 4th graders in the library: use the Guinness Book of World Records!

There are a slew of skills can be taught with this one resource: identifying key words, working with ABC order, using an index (including hanging indexes), reading headlines and captions, skimming text for keywords, paraphrasing, and citing a source.

All that’s needed is a great question that works with the content of the book.  In our building, Spirit Week provides the springboard.  Each fall, when our school celebrates Crazy Hair Day during Spirit Week, the 4th graders research a Crazy Hair Fact using the GBoWR.

This is the note-taking template students use.  Download the PDF!


I model how to use Guinness  as a source of information.  As a whole group, we:

  • come up with the key word to research (Crazy? Hair?  what should we look up?)
  • use the index and, if needed, the hanging index (a concept that boggles most of them) to find the necessary page
  • read bold headlines and / or captions
  • skim lots of text for a key word (in this case, hair)
  • paraphrase information
  • cite our source

After the lesson, students choose to either work individually or with a partner to research a fact of their own.  Choosing partners can be dramatic at best, so I’ll call students in a not-so-random way to either (A) choose a partner or (B) choose to work independently (because we know exactly who needs to choose first, who needs extra support, who needs to have an option to work alone, etc).

A few notes:

  1. Before the lesson, check each index to be sure the keyword HAIR appears!
  2. Inform students that the fact must be appropriate for school!
  3. Make sure there are copies for each pair of students.  Our library has built up quite a collection of the Guinness Book – enough so students can choose to either work with a partner or independently.  Before that, copies were borrowed from the public library.