Keepin’ ’em Busy

This is year number five for me in the library. When I first started I had to determine many many procedures, including that pesky one: What do students do while others are checking out books?

I let all the students in a class checkout books at the same time. Depending on the class personality and tendencies, the time for checkout does vary. So for 7-20 minutes I have students looking for books, checking out books, reading books, pretending to check out books, pretending to read books, talking to their neighbor about books, or saying “there are no good books.”

I’m mostly a casual kind of girl. Get your book. Sit down somewhere (chair, floor, couch, table) and read or look at a magazine.

And for four years we did okay at this, but not great. The trouble doesn’t come with the reading or the looking at books, but with the sitting. And the “pretending to look at books but really I’m socializing” makes me a little crazy. I don’t mind socializing. But sit down where you’re supposed to be while you do it!

My library is huge and there’s so much room to run, crawl, hide, and move any which way. Not that I expect students to sit silently and read after they find their books, but I do expect to be able to focus on helping students locate books and helping them troubleshoot the checkout program. So year number five comes and it’s time for a change.

I decided to take us back to a central location, but wanted to provide students with some more options other than just reading their library book or a magazine. My solution has been activity cards.

I created four sets of activity cards that include different activities that could be done with an expo marker or nothing.

I went online to find ideas for games and activities that would fit on a half size of construction paper, not take too long to complete, and would interest the kids.

Amazingly, I was right! Mazes are not something the kids are good at. It’s almost like most of them don’t know what to do with a maze. But they like to draw on the pictures. Tic-tac-toe is a favorite with all ages. Hangman is a favorite with the older students. Hidden pictures are also used a lot. I also included the ‘dot game’ (the one with just dots and you connect them to make squares faster than your partner). I thought MadLibs would be a good idea, but no. I’m glad I only did a few of them and didn’t go through the work to cut them apart and get them assembled. I think Battleship would be fun, but there’s not quite enough time for them to complete a game so I haven’t gone there yet. I think Sudoku is great for the brain, but I’m not sure if my students know how to do it. Which is fine–they can learn!

I assembled the cards on 10 colors of construction paper. I am glad I color-coded, but I didn’t need to take it so far. I chose a color for each quarter so I could change out the cards with the season. Great idea! Then, in the ‘red’ quarter I did red for cards harder cards and pink for easier ones so that I could sort for the different levels of students. Completely unnecessary. They’re all in a box together and the kids don’t care. Similarly, I made orange cards that stay out the whole year with tic-tac-toe and the dots game for younger students. Yellow cards have smaller grids for tic-tac-toe and hangman. Again, unnecessary. I should have stuck with one fifth color for the generic games.

Other factors….. the kids put them away as they line up and that’s easy. They push too hard with the markers and we go through markers quickly. This is a problem. I don’t replace markers as we need them. Instead we get down to three and I tell the kids there aren’t any left because they wore out the markers. Too bad, so sad. I’ll get another package in a few weeks as we move into spring and the last set of cards. I thought that I’d be wiping off cards regularly, but the kids do it and that’s great. I just cut up an old towel into little squares. They stay in the buckets with the cards and markers. When they’re too black I throw them out.

Overall, this has been a great option for students who forget their library books or finish quickly. A few usually read magazines, some read their own books, and others do the cards. I think the games I’ve chosen are good for growing brains and build analytical skills.


  1. This is great! I’m a first year librarian, and I’ve been trying to figure out how to handle this time as well. Really enjoy your blog…

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