Do you know how many books your students or their families own or even have access to? The start of school is a great time to introduce (or reintroduce) children (and their families) to the public library.
In the home visits many of us make at the beginning of each school year, they are powerful opportunities to see not only where our students live, but also where they study and keep their books. I learned that many of my students had only a few books in their homes and our classroom libraries would be vital to enabling student discovery of new interests and topics, as well as access to texts at and above their levels.
Families may not be able to afford books or find few books for sale. For example, one study of low-income neighborhoods in Philadelphia found one book for sale for every 300 children.
As we set out to create literacy-rich environments in our classrooms this school year, let us remember a powerful ally in the community: public libraries.
September is also Library Card Sign-Up Month so many public libraries have programs and resources available to students of all grades. Check with your nearest branch to see field trip availability, possible funding, and to download and distribute the library card application.
Below are just 8 ways to get students thinking about public libraries and how these spaces can help them this school year.
Before You Go
1. Read Aloud Book Recommendations
- Lee & Low Teacher’s Guide for The Storyteller’s Candle
- Lee & Low Teacher’s Guide for Richard Wright and the Library Card
- Comparing The Storyteller’s Candle and Richard Wright and the Library Card
- Lee & Low Teacher’s Guide for Destiny’s Gift
Questions during reading
- Why does this character/historical figure believe in the power of books?
- What obstacles does this person have to overcome to achieve his/her goal?
- How do reading books change the main characters/historical figures?
- How does this person demonstrate respect or show appreciation for books and the library space?
- Why are libraries an important part of a community?
- Should having a library in a community be a right or is it a privilege?
2. Shared Reading Activity—The following articles, which can be downloaded as a PDF file, contain information at just the right level for readers. Comprehension questions also included:
*note: must sign-up to read, but free for teachers
“A Helper at the School Library” by ReadWorks.org
“A New Kind of Library” by ReadWorks.org
“A Chicago library’s books hit the road on two wheels” by Newsela
3. Bring in a library book for students to observe—Compare the library book to a classroom book. Note the spine label on the side, the barcode label on the back, the plastic covering, the library pocket, and so on.
Finally, before your class visits the library, print off library card applications for students to fill out in class or at home with their families. This will streamline the process at the library and students will have the necessary information like their home addresses to obtain the cards. With cards in the hand, students can borrow some books!
If Doing a Visit or Field Trip, Here Are Some Activities at the Library:
4. Interview a librarian—Have students brainstorm a list of questions before they visit to ask, including:
- What motivated him/her to become a librarian?
- What is his/her favorite part of being a librarian?
- What are some of the challenges of a library?
- Why is it important for communities to have libraries?
- How have libraries changed? How has this library changed since it first opened?
- What can someone do at a library in addition to reading books?
- What if someone does not speak English (or very well)? What resources can he/she use to get the most out of the library? How does the library make an inclusive space for multiple languages?
5. Library scavenger hunt—Premade lists for grade bands are available from ALA. Ideas include:
- Get the signature of two librarians.
- What is the name of the Children’s Librarian?
- How much does it cost to make a copy in the library?
- List two magazine titles the library has available to read.
- Find a chapter book with an author whose last name begins with “D.” What is the title of the book?
- What newspaper does the library have for reading?
- How many computer stations does the library have for visitors to use?
- Have students try to find a couple of the read alouds you have already read in class this year, such as The Storyteller’s Candle / La velita de los cuentos or Richard Wright and the Library Card.
Activities After the Visit to the Library
6. Create a poster to advertise the local library—With words and pictures, explain the benefits of visiting a library and highlight the perks of the space. How is the library rewarding to one’s education? How can a library help with homework? Depending on the class size and the amount of posters, encourage students to donate their poster to each classroom in the school as well as the main office to post on the bulletin board.
7. Write a thank you letter to the children’s or teen’s librarian or community volunteers. Encourage students to include what book title they would like to borrow first with their new library cards.
8. As a class, brainstorm a list of ideas on how to responsibly treat a borrowed library book. What does being responsible with a library book look like? Record student ideas on a chart. Look up the behavior rules on the library website. Post this list in the classroom library as a reminder for all borrowed books throughout the year.
How to make a trip to the library affordable and achievable:
- Most important: TALK to the librarians! Many public libraries have back-to-school programs available (or preferred times for such visits) and schedules that work with the school calendar. The children’s or teen librarian may also know of funding or grants available specifically for school visits to the library.
- Make it a family affair. While optional, encourage students’ families to join you on a Saturday at the library. This will save you having to pay for bussing or coordinate chaperones as students will attend with their families.
- Absolutely can’t get off campus? Make sure to prioritize a program at your school library or see if the public library has school-visit programs.
- Virtual field trips: (elementary school age) KidVision VPK Library Field Trip and (middle school age) Tour the Library by Harper College Library or Check It Out by Topeka Library
For further reading on educators engaging librarians for student achievement:
Dear librarians—What other ideas do you suggest or have you seen work well for encouraging students to discover all that the library has to offer them (and their families) this school year? Share with us!
Jill Eisenberg, our Senior Literacy Specialist, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. In her column at The Open Book, she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators.