Get on Board with TRAILS

This week, fourth grade has been strutting their stuff to show what they know in information literacy terms. When planning my first round of lesson plans I decided that I needed a strong assessment of skills for the upper grade students. TRAILS to the rescue!

TRAILS (Tool for Realtime Assessment of Information Literacy Skills) is a wonderful diagnostic tool to begin the year with. At least, I hope so. I’ve never used TRAILS, although I’ve considered it several times.

When planning my lesson for students I had to consider the fact that I have never met these students before and I will quite possibly not see them in class for another 15 school days. I hate to use the “F” word….but if the lesson couldn’t be ‘fun,’ I at least wanted it to not be boring! What and how we teach is an important relationship-building (or breaking) tool.

I made a few deliberate choices. I decided that students should be able to work collaboratively, but that I wanted each student to be able to individually answer the question. I decided that I didn’t need a record of individual student performance, or even class performance. I wanted a general grade-level baseline data set that will allow me to guide instruction through the year. I also want to be able to compare with end-of-year data.

I made posters of each of the 15 questions in the first 3rd grade question set. Next to each question I placed a numbered plastic cup. Yes, the posters have palm trees on them… original idea was to break out the box of leis I have leftover from a luau and to make it a tropical cruise them to go with our school theme of the year. Yeah right. I did manage to get the trees on these, which helped students find the posters hanging on the shelves.

Students received a half page paper with A, B, C, and D letters. They were given directions to cut their paper into ‘fringe’ to eliminate the chance of paper trash.

Each group visited each of the 15 posters around the library. They read the question and discussed each. Each student clipped off the letter tab that matched their answer choice and put it in the cup. I told the groups that each person did not have to agree on the answer. Each person had the freedom to put in their own choice, but I wanted them to have the support of their team. 

This has been a great first activity from a management point of view. I have been able to circulate through the students to greet them, learn names, and make observations. I think that the hardest question is the one about primary and secondary sources.  It’s been good for the students to work in groups. Most of the classes have agreed that it’s not so bad for a first class activity and that “it was easy.”

Tomorrow is the last day for fourth grade. I’ll take all of the answers from the cups to count and create a set of data for fourth grade. I’ll repeat the activity with my fifth grade rotation next week.

Overall, I’m glad I planned an assessment right away. And I’m really glad I approached it in a collaborative casual manner.


  1. I’m entering my second year as a library teacher. Last year I conducted a survey of library knowledge at the beginning and end of the year for 3rd through 5th grades but I am so excited to learn about this tool! I will definitely use TRAILS this time around. After attending your presentation about centers I was able to integrate them near the end of the year. This seems to introduce the concept and get kids circulating in a meaningful way. Thanks for sharing!

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