Numerical Data in Library Resources

I had the best thing happen recently. A teacher requested that I collaborate with her on a math project. I admit that I haven’t integrated much math into library as there are probably possibilities, so I was super excited. We wanted students to dig into resources to collect numerical data. In math class they are organizing data from least to greatest, finding the range, median, mode, etc. Then they will be graphing the data.

There is a lot of numerical data available in library resources so I brainstormed a few choices. In the end we went in two directions.

I pulled two series of animal books from the shelves and set them in large stacks at our library tables. Students came into the library and we got started with a whole-group introduction. I displayed the cover of one of the books and asked, “what kind of numerical information do you think we’ll find in this text about the zebra?”

Students brainstormed several possibilities and they all stunned me just a little bit. “How many of them there are in the United States.” “How many of them in the world.” “How many are endangered.” “How tall they are.” “How many stripes they have.” “How old they are.”

Then we used the table of contents to see if there was an easy way to find numerical data. In the series I started with there really wasn’t. The chapter titles were all very creatively phrased and less formulaic. We started going page by page skimming for numbers. We found them very quickly! “500” appeared in the context of “500 million years ago, zebras…” And then we found “two” in the context of the number of zebra species (I think.) We located the weight of the male zebra in a caption and then a few other pieces of numerical data.

We asked students to think about what kind of data they wanted to collect: size, life span, speed, etc. I demonstrated how to keep track of their data on a chart. Students went to tables and started browsing through the books. Some students did have to revise their research focus because they weren’t able to find enough similar pieces of data in multiple books. Other students had great success! One student started looking for the number of species and found a lot of great examples. One student started looking at wingspan of birds and insects. Another searched for what he labeled “perimeter” but was really the square mileage of their habitat range.

We passed stacks of books from table to table and it was about 30 minutes of chatter. Really productive chatter–I loved it!

I can’t wait to see what the final result is!

The other piece of the project is for a small group to use a pathfinder (I’m planning to create) to research the height of famous buildings and landmarks. This was one of our original ideas, but we just don’t have the resources to tackle it as a whole class. Instead, the animal books with the formulaic layout worked best for the whole class.

I recommend this project to anyone–it was a fantastic opportunity of collaboration outside the traditional science and social studies or author study realms of library research. And a wonderful opportunity to use library resources, but (honestly), not to monopolize a huge chuck of library time with the entire research process.

Lunch Bunch Read Aloud

I know this is probably the strangest book to love when there are so many quality novels being published every week.


Yes, Weird Wolf.

When I taught in the classroom I read it aloud each year. When my dad was going to be a camp counselor for a summer session and was faced with a small group of young boys in a tent (a challenge as he raised a pair of girls) I said, “Weird Wolf is your answer.”

It’s like chicken soup.

Weird Wolf is the story of Harry Walpole, third grader, who is suddenly faced with the fact that he is a werewolf at the full moon. He has a sudden urge for McDonald’s hamburgers and my students love it when he wakes up in the dumpster.

It’s short and fantastic. I have wanted to read it aloud since becoming a librarian, but sadly, reading aloud chapter books is one of the two things I miss from the classroom. I just don’t get the opportunity to read aloud something that is longer.

When my wonderful new friends @booksandbytes and @classicsixbooks mentioned their Lunch Bunch Book Clubs I was really curious. I have wanted to try this for two years, but because I was running intervention reading groups twice a day, I didn’t have the flexibility to be available during students’ lunch times.

This year I don’t have the responsibility of reading groups so I am suddenly more available for the flexibly scheduled projects I’ve always wanted to do! Time for Lunch Bunches!

I sent teachers a PowerPoint slide to display for their class with a cover of the book, brief description, and the two rules I have for students during this time: Don’t Spill! and Listen to the Story! I told them I would kick them out of the club if they *interrupted me. I was invited into classroooms to book talk the story. I scheduled two classes for Mon/Wed and two for Tues/Thurs for 3 weeks. All of the students wanted to participate! In 6 sessions I should be able to read the entire 14-chapter book.

The first classes came in last week. I admit I was a little nervous. What if someone walked in and said, “what are you doing?!” The students were allowed to talk and eat for the first ten minutes. Then I started reading. A teacher walked in. I looked over and walked toward her with my camera. I didn’t want to stop reading the story to take pictures of the event, but I wanted a record!

Five minutes before the end of lunch for the first class I stopped reading and directed them to clean up and head back to the cafeteria. The second class gets table-wiping privileges.

After all 51 students had left the teacher came back out of her office. “Wow! They were so engaged!”

I was happy-dancing. Seriously!


  • I bought a carpet sweeper at Home Depot. There are going to be crumbs and the students should be able to clean up for themselves. I know I’ll be glad to have one as I do this more often. It’s just a great tool to have around.
  • I am assembling and “I forgot my…” bucket with napkins, spoons, straws, and ketchup to keep on hand. 
  • If you have a reading area, but a larger area for seating, encourage the first-arrivers to sit around the outside edge. When it’s time to read the story they’ll be done lunch and can come closer to sit on the floor
  • Have a lot of fun! 

I can’t tell you how excited I am to do this! The kids are stopping me in the hallways, “Is today our day?” “I’m so excited tomorrow is Book Club!”

Which brings me back to my opening. It’s not the best book ever written. But I’m helping my students build a relationship with literacy and with the library. It’s my number one purpose. Their smiles make me smile.

I love my job!

*Exceptions: Bleeding, Death, Fire or Vomit

ABC Orientation

At this time last year I was feeling a bit behind. Not just because I AM (always) behind, but because we start school later than a lot of librarians on the blogs I read. It was weird to share ideas for back-to-school when they wouldn’t really be useful to anyone because everyone else was already 3 weeks into the swing of things. I had written several blog posts that never got published. I decided to wait a year and send them out when they felt more timely.

In these pictures you can see my orientation for 3rd grade from last year. I printed a 24 square grid with each alphabet letter available. Each letter stood for something in our library. Matching the description in the box was a card placed at a station somewhere in the library. Each station had a matching letter stamper.

Students moved with their partner to an available station until they had all their squares filled. Two of the stations were taped to our Library Assistant and me because our names were on the grid.

It was a little bit of chaos. I don’t usually mind. But here’s where I admit the flaws.

Did it work? As I think back a year, was this really the best orientation? Did it meet my goals? I wanted students to feel welcomed back into the library and to have a chance to explore resources and opportunities that might be new to them in 3rd grade.

Did they stay focused enough to learn the new things like the checkout limit, the location of our library cards, and find the sections of the library? Or was it too busy and too much like a race? How would I do it differently…..

I think I would decrease the number of stations. Maybe have 20, but color code them with 10 blue and 10 green and give students either blue or green paper. The words on their paper could be a clue and the words on the station card could be an answer or information. Perhaps their paper could include something they would have to fill in the blank.

If I decreased the amount of moving time it would still give them some movement, but it would also give us time for a class debrief of more significance.

I don’t think I’m going in this direction this year for my first 3rd grade lesson. I’m going in a very reading focused direction for their first class next week and less of a ‘library overview’ direction. My goal for my first class is to practice students’ names, read aloud to them, do a Visual Thinking Strategy, show a video tutorial of how to fill out a hold slip, and then let them browse the books for checkout and fill out their 4 slips for the reserved books. I’m keeping many of the popular series from circulation the first week so students can see what we have and each 3rd, 4th and 5th grader can fill out four hold slips.

Unit Plans in Review, 3-5

I’ve been reflecting on my units taught so far this year. Here’s K-2 if you want to read about more lesson plan angst. As I start the reflection process I say, “what was I thinking!”

Third Grade: Library ResourcesI need to work on this one some for next year, but there are some good parts. I got into Dewey with students by using The Library Gingerbread Man and a Sliderocket presentation I made to go with it. The SlideRocket is REALLY simple. Don’t expect anything fabulous.  I also spent a lesson with students showing them how to use the OPAC. Finally, our third lesson is about all of the other resources available to students online. They have time to explore our website subscriptions and resources. 

Third Grade: Ready References
The first lesson in this round introduced students to print vs. online resources. In second grade my students have already had a lot of practice with dictionaries and maps. We did a very fast smackdown of dictionary, atlas, encyclopedia and almanacs in print and online. I made a symbaloo to house these for quick access on our website. The second two lessons were more exciting (I’ll have to go back and blog about them–I meant to!). I put together ‘research stations’ for students to float around to during library class. They had two weeks to complete 11 stations.  Nine were content related and the last two were book checkout each week. They had a great time and got to practice accessing resources and I love a more open class structure where I can talk one-on-one with students. I will definitely do this one again with some refinement.

Fourth Grade: Online Searching
I wanted to start the year off getting fourth graders into online searching. I am careful about not monopolizing the computer lab for my lessons because it does block off a good chunk of time when I use it for an entire grade level. Frankly, I think it’s almost too late. They probably need these lessons in 2nd grade before are (hopefully) allowed to search Google at home. This unit was successful and I would teach it again. 

Fourth Grade: Word Reference Sources
Ah. It’s a dud. I did a lesson on the dictionary and glossary and one with the thesaurus. When I taught the thesaurus lesson last year with nursery rhymes it was better. This year it just did not work. They need work. And frankly, these lessons don’t fit as well into the library realm as I would like. Instead, I may offer them as a classroom lesson when teachers reach these objectives in language arts. 

Fourth Grade: Memoir
I looooove my memoir unit. I explored memoir with students for the first time last year. It’s one I was ready to repeat this year with a few minor tweaks. Overall, a big success. Can’t get over my love of this unit.

Fifth Grade: Research Paper
Ocean Animal Research project including a basic “how to use this book to answer questions” mini-lesson. Students also learned how to cite sources. My feel-good accomplishments were creating a SlideRocket to walk students through finding the locations for the copyright info needed in a text and templates for citing sources
Fifth Grade: Notetaking and Fairy Tales
Ah, this one is a dud. I booktalked a few older fairy tales that have been twisted by using other animals. Petite Rouge, Three Little Dassies, Armadilly Chili. Last year these students participated in an extensive Notetaking unit. I wanted to revisit 2-column notes with them. We used the Nature’s Children series to review the notetaking structure as we made notes on the animal’s habitat, diet, and relationships. Students used their notes to do a comic strip draft of their new version of a classic fairy tale. This is one of those units that I *think* sounds exciting and combines several interesting elements, but needed more time. I did try to squish it into two lessons instead of three, so maybe it will work with a bit more time.

The Verdict…
It took me a few weeks to get this post written. Everytime I sat down to add a unit I kept thinking “What did I teach third grade? Was it really so bad that I don’t remember?” After (finally) remembering and jotting down these notes, it doesn’t feel so worthless. I think I just struggle with feeling like I make an impact on my fixed schedule. I see students for three weeks out of every quarter.

One good lesson at a time. I think the good ones outweigh the duds. The duds just seem worse because the number of lessons I teach in these units is so few.

What are your favorite lessons or units for upper elementary? 

Library Gingerbread Man

I’m not as familiar with books written specifically to teach library skills as perhaps I should be. I kind of think that only librarians like those stories. I have a collection of them in my office, but have rarely glanced at them.

In a meeting recently the Library Gingerbread Man title was brought up. I remembered glancing at it on my shelf, but never reading it. When I took the time to do so I decided that it was a decent retelling of the traditional tale and worth reading to my third graders.

I am teaching a unit on library organization for their library rotation this month. We’re starting with Library Gingerbread Man and next week we will go to the computer lab to learn how to search the catalog.

To go with the Gingerbread Man, I created a sliderocket presentation. I wanted to add additional illustration to the sections of Dewey to enhance the story. Then I looped the slides a second time and added book covers that represent the sections of Dewey.

During my lesson I read the story first and used the first half of the presentation. Pairs of students were sent to each Dewey section to record what kind of books were there. I used the second half of the presentation to illustrate their results as they reported back to the class.

Book Tasting

I recently read a post about book tasting at Andy Plemmon’s blog for Barrow Media Center. I was intrigued by the idea, just as he must have been when he read about it at Buffy Hamilton’s Unquiet Librarian blog.

I used information from both posts to create my own version of Book Tasting for 2nd and 3rd graders. I targeted these grades for several reasons. They are more transitional readers. I wanted to find some chapter books that have potential, but are often overlooked and picture books with depth for students to browse. It also worked best in my schedule to target these two grades.

Each class that signed up spent 30 minutes in the library. Students sat a simply decorated table with a stack of books and a workpage. I quickly reviewed how to preview a book using the back and inside flaps, browsing the pages, looking at pictures, etc. Students were given the job of browsing through their stack for new books, preview them, and rate them.

When I let them loose students jumped right into their stack of books! It was exciting to see how quickly they found books on the tables that are often overlooked on the shelves.

At the end, each student was able to check out a 5-star book from their table. I waived checkout limits for the event. Many students wanted to check out the same books so I had hold slips ready. Many students filled them out to leave with me so that they could have the book ‘next.’

I did decorate for this event. I thought I kept it simple, but it turned out looking really fancy! I got my flowers and vases at Dollar Tree and spent all of $12. I bought a roll of checkered table cloth from a party store, but when I brought it to school our library assistant let me know that there was a stack of cloth ones in our kitchen. We used those instead. If we didn’t have the cloth ones I think I would have skipped the table clothes. There is no way that it would have worked (for me) to cut and put out plastic cloths for each of 8 classes! I would have been driven crazy with the setup. But the flowers were a great touch and so easy to do. If the classes had been scheduled back to back, it might have worked.

No Flashing Clipart Here

Each year I try to do at least one intensely tech unit with each grade level. Some units over the past few years have been more successful than others. Currently, I’m doing PowerPoint with 3rd graders related to two science topics: soil and the skeleton. I realize there are many controversies about PowerPoint. Students get trapped in the world of bullets and tacky flashing clipart and can’t get out. I admit to adding to that habit with this project.

Unit Recipe
Students use the template I provide. The template has 5 slides. All the slides are completely white and only have directions in the Notes section. I enlarge the Notes section at the bottom. On slides 2, 3 and 4 I type in the slide Title I want students to use, a few sentences from a text relating to the topic, and the citation for the source I used.
Slide 1: Title and Name
Slide 2: Defining the Topic (what is soil?)
Slide 3: Subtopic (how soil helps us)
Slide 4: Subtopic (keeping dirt healthy)
Slide 5: Bibliography

Week 1: I show students how to rename their file to include a project keyword and their name. They learn about the ‘Undo’ button (THE most important icon to know when working with a class of kids). I show them the structure of PowerPoint and how to navigate between slides. Students then add the title of the project and their name. Getting them to capitalize correctly is one of my goals. If there’s time during the first lesson (we have about 25 minutes) then they add slide titles for the other four slides of the project. They learn three ways to save (File–>Save, Ctrl S, or the Save icon) and we go on our merry way.

Week 2: Students practice opening their file from their shared folder on our network. We review the work they’ve done the previous week. We get into the meat of the text during this lesson. On slide two students learn how to enter text. I explain about presenting information in a simple way for their audience; they are not allowed to use complete sentences. If I allow them to use sentences, they’ll start to copy and stop thinking about the content. Choosing keywords and phrases makes them practice differentiating between important concepts and trash words. I read the quotes in the Notes section and then model how to add the text in a bullet list (I’m so guilty!). I erase the work I do so that when they are typing on their slide, they can’t copy what I just wrote off the projector image showing. I explain that each of them might pick out different key words from the quotes and there is no right answer. They proceed to follow the same strategy for the next two slides.

Week 3: Students finish their text and then midway through our class time I model how to change colors, font styles, and backgrounds. The fun begins! They tend to gravitate to the black background with the orange fireworks. You know it I’m sure–very popular. But it doesn’t have anything to do with our science topics which are soil and the skeleton. I encourage them to choose colors that go well with their topic.

Week 4: Picture time! I show students how to import pictures from a file. They use clipart in other projects through the year with their teachers. I also can’t stand cheesy clipart (one bad habit I don’t start!). I do choose the pictures ahead of time to go with our themes and put them into a folder for them. I admit that I’m not the best copyright model in this case. I’ll do better….I need some ideas…

Week 5: We finish the project with slide 5, the Bibliography. I demonstrate how to go back to slides 2, 3 and 4 to copy and paste. Students put the title and author from each of the three main slides onto their bibliography. Then they have time to finish anything else in the project before it gets printed in handout style for their teacher to view. I use a simple scoring guide of tech skills and content coherence so teachers can use this project as a grade.

What I like about this project…
…is that it gives me an opportunity to teach the basic tech skills in a kind-of authentic framework. I have 40 minutes of classtime and students need at least 10 minutes to checkout books. Time is limited. I work on the same topic students are learning for their monthly science theme. Currently, one class is learning the skeletal system and two are doing soil. If I did the research with students, the unit would be more than 2 months long. 5 weeks is the maximum time the students and I can go without losing interest and having the whole project fizzle. Using the quotes in the Notes section allows students to focus on learning PowerPoint. They’re on a level field as far as content. If we relied on their research then some students would be behind on the tech part because they would probably be lacking content. A freak-out would ensue. Using quotes from books on our library shelves works for me. I like having the accountability piece for the sources I used included.

I would like to do a better job organizing photos for this project. I want to use real photographs and not clipart, but my students at this point in 3rd grade are not proficient at searching. It would be too time consuming considering all I want to do for their lesson. Maybe I can find a common source for the photos I am using so they would all have a similar citation? I could link to them from a wiki or livebinder so students could copy and paste or save them from the web directly. I know the way I do it now is not ideal.

Overall it’s a good project and bridges the gap between students using a more structured template in 2nd grade and creating a presentation from scratch in 4th grade. I’ve made a few changes to the unit over time to better help my students and there are still some things I can work on! Let me know if you have any ideas….