Top Tips for Running School Library Lessons
4th October 2023
This guest blog post is from Lucas Maxwell, School Librarian. To celebrate #LibrariesWeek he shares some top tips on school library lessons.
At the high school library that I manage, students ages 11-13 come to the library every two weeks for a timetabled library lesson with their English teacher. I am very fortunate to be able to lead these lessons and shape them in a way that I feel will benefit the students in an engaging way. I’d like to share things that I feel have worked well in my library. Most likely, you will have to tweak or alter these ideas to fit your school, your students, and your space. There is no one size fits all answer to library lessons, but I hope these are helpful in getting started!
I read aloud every library lesson to students ages 11 and up. There is an unspoken stereotype that when students get to secondary school, they don’t enjoy being read to, I think this is false. I agree that not every student should have to read aloud if it makes them uncomfortable or if they feel embarrassed, but being read to is a different story. I love reading thrilling or scary starts to stories in order to get students hooked. We spend fifteen to twenty minutes of each hour-long lesson reading, I take five of those minutes to read aloud, it’s not long, but it sets the tone of the lesson and hopefully gets the students engaged. It’s a simple way to bring a book to life and to let the students step into someone else’s shoes for a few minutes.
This probably goes without saying but the fact that I have hundreds of manga and comic books on the shelves in the library is directly related to the number of students who come here to stay. As I write this, I can see that the comic book section has been rifled through in the first hour of opening, and that is a great thing to see. I want to see messy shelves, I want to see the students taking the books out and thumbing through them, thrusting them into the hands of their friends and borrowing the same copies as their classmates so they can read comics at the same time. There is a huge stigma around comic books from parents and educators alike, they are viewed as lesser forms of literacy when the exact opposite is true. Comic books often hold more complex vocabulary than a standard novel and engage readers in unique ways that keep them coming back for more. All libraries should be filled with comic books, and by promoting them to staff, you will slowly turn the tide of popular opinion that they aren’t “real books.” I love talking about comic books and doing library lesson activities like creating a story within five comic book panels. Each panel (or box) represents a different thing:
Box 1: main character
Box 2: something that character wants or needs to achieve
Box 3: someone or something that is trying to stop the main character from getting what is in box 2
Box 4: someone who comes along and helps the main character, a sidekick or it could be a “thing” like a natural phenomenon that propels the story.
Box 5: The outcome, does the main character achieve what they wanted in box 2?
In my experience the students love this little exercise, they get to work in groups drawing and writing, plotting and planning.
In library lessons, I want students to know that they have choice. Students should be able to engage in a concept (not mine) described as mirrors and windows. Students should be able to both see themselves in the books that they read and gain understanding of what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes. I talk about this a lot in library lessons and I ensure that they know the amount of choice that they have out there. Sometimes, students might feel that they have too much choice, this is where you can swoop in and narrow it down with a little interview:
What are you in the mood for, a funny book or do you want a scary one etc?
What are your favourite tv shows / YouTube accounts / movies / video games / music?
This kind of activity helps me a lot when seeking a book for a students. Over time you’ll get to know the tastes of different students and it’s a lot of fun finding them that one book that makes them hug it and run out of the library excited to start reading it.
Break it Up
My last piece of advice is to simply break up the lesson into chunks. Mine are pretty fluid as I have a brain that struggles to keep organised, I will often change things up on the move which I don’t recommend but here’s a rough outline of a recent library lesson, keeping in mind our library lessons are one hour long:
20 minutes of students reading on their own while students in small groups of three or four go out into the shelves to find new books to borrow or to return books. I ensure every student gets a chance to do this.
5 minutes of me promoting a few books and reading from at least one.
5 minutes of me introducing an activity like the comic book drawing story.
10 minutes of students working in groups on their story while I walk around checking in to ensure they are ok with my instructions and focusing on the task.
5 minutes where I stop everything and ask groups (if they want to) to share what they have so far.
5 minutes of letting them finish their stories.
5 minutes of letting any group share their story.
5 minutes of clearing up, me promoting library events and getting ready for the bell.
This is all rough of course, and can change on a whim but this is how I’ve run library lessons for several years, breaking it up into small chunks where we check in with each other, share our work and read.