Library Center Debrief

Today I presented at the Potomac VaASL Spring Regional Conference. Like the rest of us before Spring Break, my week was crazy. Although, I admit it started with a lazy weekend and an unexpected snow day. I wish I could say I used my time wisely rather than watching two seasons of addicting tv. As a good friend put it in a mathematical way: “That’s 16.9 hours of TV!” Umm….yes, yes it was.

I tell you all of this to explain why I have no excuse for the fact that I didn’t print my email or blog address on my lone handout. Not even my name. I forgot. Instead, everyone had to write it down.

If you did that, and you’re here–hello! Glad you made it! Sorry I’m a bit of a forgetful sloth mixed with a good dose of Energizer Bunny. 

Here is the mad rundown of the ideas presented during my presentation today about library centers. I am not including the PowerPoint, because it is picture laden and while I cited (most) of my sources, I did not get permission to distribute. This will have to do!

Why I do Centers

I do centers because I dislike saying “ssssshhhhhh, sit there and read quietly.” I know it’s the library. I know students check out books. And I know they should read them. But for me to enforce silent reading when students are mentally prepared to be more socially engaged simply because of the schedule and environment is impossible. I don’t have it in me. Instead, I set up centers to give students an opportunity for self choice of a variety of activities. About 50% of my centers ARE literacy related and some give students a reason to read quietly. Don’t tell them. It’s a trick.

Two types of Centers

From what I’ve seen and noticed in library social media world is that there are two types of library centers. There are library centers that librarians teach with. These are often more carefully planned and structured with tracking as to which students are in which groups and how they rotate. The other type is free choice activities set up around the library that students participate in during book checkout time. While I am excellent at schedules and love (for fun) to work on school master schedules (not kidding), I can’t manage the flow of student work groups for this type of structure. My brain doesn’t do that. Instead, my brain does free choice centers.

Scheduling Centers

Free choice centers can work with a fixed or flexible schedule. They work in the same way. You set them up. Teach your lesson or whatnot. And then when students are checking out books they can visit a center after getting their book. I have a combination schedule with open checkout the entire day. I see 80% of 1st and 2nd graders at least 3 times a week in the library for checkout time, if not more. Teachers send them as part of their reading rotation with a timer set to the amount of time that works in their classroom. The max time for those groups is usually 15 minutes. When you start to do the math, you realize that this could mean students are in the library for 45 minutes a week doing checkout. They don’t really need this amount of time. Centers are a great alternative. 

Getting Started

You want to start with a center or centers that hold broad appeal and can accommodate several students at once. Starting with a chess table is not a good idea because there is only room for 2. Try beginning with a box of whisperphones, or a bucket of popup or 3d books. Students can easily use these items and return them to the correct location.

Types of Centers

Reading Spaces: cardboard box ‘caves’ or ‘houses,’ maybe a special reading corner with a rug, an igloo made with milk jugs is on my “I have to do that!” list.

Reading Strategies: whisperphones, box of popup or 3d glasses books, special funky glasses, book buddies (read snuggling a stuffed animal), listening station

Storytelling: puppets, campfire stories

Contests: I love this Oreo one set up by a librarian after the Super Bowl, vote for your favorite book character

Science/Social Studies: bring in an artifact to pair with books and a magnifying glass, add a seasonal animal like monarchs or a hatching thing, or a permanent animal perhaps with a grant through

Writing: Mad Libs (Elephant & Piggie), magnetic poetry

Computer & Tech: access to TumbleBooks, PebbleGo, a search challenge (try or, resource trivia challenge to acquaint students to resources (must cite sources!), ShelveIt! online game, iPad apps, digital camera photo station

I think students should be allowed to practice using low-tech tech. Camera skills are essential. Yes, after a week of this station I have 200 or more photos to sort through. How awesome is that!!

Trivia: Post a question on an end shelf or window and have students leave post-its, drop an answer in a large fish bowl or box, ask questions requiring use of library resources (Did You Know from TpT) 

Library Skills:
Dewey “find it” challenge, create book spine bookmark, book spine sorting

Analytical: chess (consider No Stress Chess for beginners), checkers, color sudoko, puzzles paired with literature.

I did not pose this shot. Students actually read the books with the puzzles! I was kind of shocked, to be honest!. Fairy Tale puzzles are from Dollar Tree (March 2013).

Math: animal measuring station (free iguana), an estimation station


Your Turn!

Share your favorite library center! What do you want to try next? Questions? 

March 24, 2013
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  • Reply Sandi Ellis

    Thanks for the link to my Oreo post and the Elephant & Piggie mad lib! I hope your presentation was a success!

    March 24, 2013 at 12:46 am
    • Reply Carolyn

      The presentation was great! My kids were SO excited about Elephant & Piggie. I had to pull out the copies I had planned to give away during my presentation for more kids to use this week. They couldn’t get enough and it was good practice for them.

      1st student: “Tell me a noun.”
      2nd student: “Person.”
      Me: “Sweetie, you can tell the name of a person or type of person, like ‘doctor’ if you want.”

      March 24, 2013 at 8:12 pm
  • Reply Cari Young

    Well said! Thanks for the mention!

    March 25, 2013 at 2:09 am
  • Reply Heather Wehmeyer

    I loved your presentation at VAASL! I was the lucky librarian who nabbed the color soduku center. I did more research and integrated centers shortly after your presentation. I started with a poetry picnic theme- all poetry related centers…checkered tablecloths and tasting poetry forms was the tie-in. I then changed over to Spring Centers, the first cycle was roughly tree themed, the second cycle was roughly “being green” themed. It went remarkably well as far as classroom management concerns, my butterflies got shaken up a couple times and a few book buddies took flying lessons but overall it felt like a huge success. Students happily engaged in activities of their choosing!

    One of the biggest hits was Our Giving Tree center…I brought in a HUGE pot and lots of heavy rocks and a really, really big branch- maybe 8 feet tall or so. I read The Giving Tree to older grades and A Tree is Nice to younger grades. We talked about the stories, we talked about ways we can help the Earth and then I invited them all to go to the tree center and write a way they will help the Earth on one side of the die-cut leaf and their name on the other. The tree in the center of our library looked beautiful when it was done, covered in leaves of many shades of green and students often stopped in to show their leaves to their parents. I may repeat this in the fall with one “new school year resolution” and autumnal die-cut leaves. It was worth the crazy looks I got dragging in a huge branch and buckets of stones. :-)

    I actually volunteered to lead a PD on using centers in elementary libraries for my school district this fall so I just wanted to say thank you for sharing your ideas and enthusiasm!

    August 8, 2013 at 3:27 am
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