Category Archives: Library tips & tricks

Learning names in the elementary library

This has to be, hands-down, one of the largest hurdles for any elementary specialist: learning all of the names of the students.  If you’re new to a building, it’s especially daunting when looking at 300-700+ names to learn IN ONE YEAR.

These are some tricks that might help in learning names.


This works best with young learners: preK / K / 1.  I learned this from Stephanie, the best music teacher ever.  Start by making sure each child has an assigned seat.  Using index cards for each child pre-placed on the floor works, as does taking a photo of where students sit Week 1 and projecting it on a white board/screen for students to see as they walk in (see below). Having assigned seats alleviates drama in locating a space, gives a set way to begin class as the children walk in, and helps me (and them!) to learn names.  Sitting in the same spot each week trains my brain to remember their names much faster.

Then, the song.  It’s pretty simple: a call-and-response.  I sing: “Hello, ____”.  They respond: “Hello, Mrs. Arika”.  Some weeks, I toss a squishy ball to the student I’m singing to.  Some weeks, I hand out/collect name cards to help train my brain.  And some weeks, we simply sing the song, no props involved.  Here’s a peek of how it looks with a K class:


In library, students have use individual library passes to check out.  The pass has their full name and barcode.  Handing them out one by one is a way to learn names.  See the student’s name, say the name, see the student, hand student the pass.  Repeat, repeat, repeat.  I do this for all grades for at least the first 10 weeks of the year.

Some tips:

  • this works best if you check with teachers regarding nicknames before the first library class.  Jot any nicknames on the appropriate pass.  Students will appreciate this!
  • library passes can double as shelf-markers!
  • sorting passes by color/grade level is ideal.  Here, brown = grade 4.
  • store passes by day of the week they come to library, if possible.
  • a veteran tip: if students have names that are difficult for you to pronounce – do not write your hint to pronunciation on their library pass!  Write it on a sticky note that you remove, put it on your lesson notes, jot it on a class list that only you see…but try to keep your guide to pronunciation to yourself.  As someone with a name that is atypical, seeing my name written ‘Erica’ made me feel different and less than myself.
  • and when a name gets mispronounced – it will happen – I do this: quickly apologize and say that I’m learning, then pronounce the name correctly.  The only person allowed to correct me is the person whose name I’ve messed up – not the entire class.


Want to learn names AND make your students responsible for remembering where they sit each week? Take a name photo!  Week 1, lay out cards with each student’s name in the approximate area where they’ll sit each week in library (yes, assigned seats – this really helps them have a set “spot” and helps your brain learn names).  When they sit down, have them hold up their name card and take a photo.  Print all photos and put them into a notebook for weekly reference / sub plans.  In Week 2/3/4, project the seating chart photos on the whiteboard/TV for students to reference when they come in and state that they forget where they sit or insist they sit in a different spot.  There’s little argument to be had with photo evidence. 🙂

Do students move or change seating spots throughout the year? Yes, of course.  Kids move in and out, relationships change, learning accommodations must be met – so seating plans must be flexible.  This photo of library spots is about 85% accurate from Aug 2018 – Feb 2019.

If you’ve got other ways to learn names in the elementary library, please share them in the comments.  We learn best when we share and learn with one another!

Cheers, y’all!  –arika

Using Symbaloo in the elementary library

First things first: I did not create this brilliant idea.  Shannon McClintock Miller was the one who showed it to me, and it’s changed my library teaching for the better.

Symbaloo. A funky word, a brilliant product.  And when paired with your Destiny library catalog: a game-changer in regard to students and teachers utilizing library resources and accessing information.

Today, a few questions about Symbaloo in the library get answered.

What is Symbaloo?

Symbaloo helps to organize online resources in an intuitive, app-style format.  According to the company, Symbaloo is “a cloud-based application that allows users to organize and categorize web links in the form of buttons”.  It looks like this:

Why should I use Symbaloo in the library?

  1. It’s intuitive.  Students know how to use apps. This looks just like many of their home devices – click on the “app”, and it takes you to the appropriate website.
  2. It’s visual.  Many students in an elementary school are pre-readers.  The standard list of weblinks many libraries provide does not meet their information need.

    The original home screen in Destiny. No visual appeal, too much text, and no student input.

  3. English language learners are able to successfully access and utilize this format of information.

    A grade 2 student uses Symbaloo to access links in the library.

  4. Icons = color.  Humans like colorful things.  This is fun to look at.
  5. It’s relatively easy to set up an initial Symbaloo.  Once it’s done, updating it is simple.
  6. Teachers will actually use it.

How do I make something like that picture up above?

  1. Create a FREE Symbaloo account.
  2. Decide how large you want your Symbaloo grid to be.  Changing the size is easy – under Options, Edit webmix – Resize webmix – then click the arrows to make the grid larger or smaller.
  3. Download images to use as the icon pictures (if you care about such things – I do).
  4. Have links to websites / databases handy.  If you’ve got them, embedding direct links to databases allows students to access resources at school without typing in pesky usernames/passwords!  And if you don’t have direct links: email the company and explain what you need.  So long as you subscribe to the resource, they’ll send the direct link (I’ve done this a few times, and it works).
  5. Bonus: searching Symbaloo for other webmixes can give ideas on links to use within your own grid!

How to I embed Symbaloo into my Destiny catalog?

  1. Read this post from the aforementioned Shannon McClintock Miller at Van Meter Schools.
  2. Do what she says.

So, do I have to update the Symbaloo link in Destiny every time I change the original Symbaloo?

  1. Nope!  That’s the brilliance of Symbaloo.  Because it is web-based, so long as your click the “share” button at the center top of the screen, then “republish webmix”, your Symbaloo will update on any platform that uses the original embed code.  The ‘republish webmix’ button is the small gray circular arrow to the left of the ‘Share this webmix’.  

This seems like a lot of work. Is Symbaloo really that great?

  1. Yes. It is. Don’t believe me?  Believe my students.  In two schools, in two countries.  I gave my grade 4 students the task of redesigning the Destiny library catalog home screen when teaching in London.  Their biggest wants?  More color and pictures.  When given 3 choices of how the redesign could look, students overwhelmingly selected the Symbaloo home screen.  And they used it.

But teachers/students rarely use the library catalog, so why does something like this matter?

  1. Remember this scene from FIELD OF DREAMS?
  2. The baseball slogan was: if you build it, they will come.  The library version with Symbaloo: if you build it, they will use it. Believe in it, and the users will come.
  3. This is a just-in-time resource.  When teachers come scrambling to the library, looking for books about red pandas and narwhals and emperor penguins (my life this year) and the library doesn’t have the exact book they need , pull up the eye-catching Symbaloo on Destiny’s home screen and search within the linked resources.  Having PebbleGo and an encyclopedia database really helps.  Quick, easy, just-in-time.
  4. PRO TIP: When sharing a library Symbaloo for the first time, allow teachers & students to suggest links to incorporate.  Then take their suggestions, add the links to the webmix (don’t forget to share the webmix!), and share it out to the whole school.  My Symbaloo has Google Earth,, Newslea, Prodigy math, and Khan Academy based on the recommendation of teachers and students.

I want to learn more.  Any additional resources?

  1. Yes! Again, I direct you to Shannon’s blog: author Symbaloo pages & an intro tutorial.

That’s it. Know that Symbaloo doesn’t give me anything to share this – no badges, no money, no freebies.  I write this because the product has been that good since I started using it in 2016. Questions? Please ask!

Cheers, y’all! –arika

Go to the Library with Anna & Elsa

Welcome to a new blog series: GO TO THE LIBRARY WITH _____.  Today’s guest library visitors: ANNA & ELSA of FROZEN fame.

Ever wonder what would happen if Anna & Elsa came to your school library?  No, they wouldn’t make it a frozen tundra of ice and desolation.  But they would come in singing their most famous song: Let it go! Let it go!  And in the library, those lyrics refer to one thing: weeding the collection.

Let. It. Go.

Let go of the old, tired books – especially those with outdated information.

Let go of the old award-winner that hasn’t circulated in too many years.

Let go of the books that may have been acceptable at one time but aren’t now that we know better.

Let go of the books that perpetrate stereotypes of Native people.

Let go of titles that are beloved by you but not your students (this is, after all, their library).

Let go of the practically brand-new but hasn’t been read since purchased over 10 years ago.

Let go of duplicates that were super-popular in a previous year but aren’t today.

Let.  It.  Go.

Why?  Here we go:

Duplicates are easy to weed.  An idea: gather up extras from other libraries in your district to create a set for a literature circle or book club.  The fine librarians in my former district have done this with state book award nominees, and their classroom teachers now have an extensive set of books to utilize when creating book groups/lit circles.

Check to see the stats. If not all 4 are consistently being used: weed 2. Why? Shelf space is at a premium!

It’s also easy to weed outdated books.  Check the copyright date.  Check the historical/scientific accuracy.  Be willing to do research if needed.  When uncertain of outdated material – and if I’m in a weeding groove – I like to put these books on my cart to look at on a later date.

Map of the USSR? Weed!

Books that perpetrate stereotypes?  We know better.  And we should – and can – do better.  Take them off the shelf.  Not sure if the book is okay?  Check with the experts.  Debbie Reese does a fabulous job on her blog recommending (or not) books that feature Native Americans. Think about it: if WE don’t do better in this regard in the library, how can we ever expect classroom teachers to do better?

In the elementary years, most students are ages 5-11.  Consistently keeping titles in our libraries that haven’t circulated in as many years as our students have been alive is crazy.

Past award winners, while typically worthy of purchase and shelf space, are not immune to weeding.  Shiny stickers do not always equate to children who want to read them…especially if the sticker was awarded over a lifetime ago and the book hasn’t circulated during their lifetime.

And those beloved books of your heart– the ones that you cannot bear to weed?  Advertise them, use them in lessons, booktalk them.  If the beloved books don’t find an audience, let them go (and try not to feel guilty).  But you might find that a beloved book of your heart does find a reader – and the joy you’ll feel by connecting a child with a book you love will far surpass simply keeping the book on the shelf because you loved it.

Channel your inner Anna & Elsa: weed the collection, and let it go.  When you’re finished, you’ll be left with something far better than a weeded library collection.  You’ll have space for new books.  You’ll have tidier shelves with the best, most relevant, most engaging titles ready to be easily found by students.  And you, the librarian, will be armed with hands-on knowledge of your collection, what books need readers, and what books need to be purchased.

Cheers, y’all! –arika

PS: Want to know my process for weeding?  Having run every report under then sun, I now forego them in favor of one method: I scan EVERY SINGLE BOOK by hand.  I want to see its circ stats, who checks it out (students? One teacher every year?, Someone from another building?), the condition of the book, the cover image (hey, we all judge books by covers).  After taking all of this into consideration – and many times, in under 10 seconds – I then make a call on if it stays or goes.  Sometimes I offer up duplicates or really nice books to other libraries.  Sometimes I offer them to classroom teachers.  Mostly, though, I delete them, box them up, and send them off to the appropriate people (in US schools: the district usually has a used-book sale; in international schools, Better World Books).  The best idea, though, came from my dear mentor Sandy Koehn: weed on 3 or 4 year cycle (FIC, Nonfic, E; FIC, 000-599, 600-999, E).  This prevents frustration and burnout while promoting organization and methodical work.

PPS: And yes: only Elsa sings that song.  But Elsa wouldn’t want to go to the library without Anna 🙂