5 Ways to Use The School Library With Your Students

An article by Richard James Rogers (Award-Winning Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

Accompanying podcast episode (audio version of this blog post, read by Richard):

One often overlooked part of the school is the library – a place where so much deep learning, joy and enrichment can take place when visits are planned properly.

I, like so many of us born before the widespread introduction of the internet, can personally recall experiences of going to local libraries, or school libraries, to do the necessary studying and research needed to succeed in our exams. Back then, we kind of had to find the information we needed in books – we didn’t have many alternatives, unlike today’s digital natives.

My local library in Flint, North Wales, was (thankfully) well stocked with great books. My Easter strategy in 1999, when revising for my GCSE exams, was simple: Spend every day at the library using every textbook I could find to revise every topic I could.

Flint Library: The place where I made my dreams come true

In today’s connected world, libraries can still fulfill a number of important purposes and there are still many, many ways in which teachers can utilise library space and time with their students.

Tip #1: Individual or group reading time

This might sound like a old-fashioned activity, but it’s actually never been more important to be mindful of students’ screen time:

  • Dutch study involving 10,000 participants in Rotterdam concluded that smartphones are causing nearsightedness in children. This has also been backed up by studies and observations in CanadaAmerica and Ireland.
  • The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health caused shockwaves in 2016 with the conclusion of its study: that smartphone and tablet use correlates strongly with obesity in teens. Similar findings have come from a number of respectable sources, including a massive, global joint study between Stanford University and the American National Institutes of Health which was concluded in 2015.
  • Sleep-deprivation is a common side-effect of smartphone and tablet addiction. Research from the Division of Cardiology at the University of California (San Francisco), for example, has found that the use of mobile devices near bedtime is connected with low-quality sleep. 

Of course, it’s unrealistic to think that some time spent in the library each week doing some reading (of physical books) will solve these problems. However, if reading time is planned properly, then students can develop a love and passion for reading as time goes byand this is important because reading physical books is associated with many, many benefits:

  • A 2010 study by the University of Liverpool found that reading can alleviate the symptoms of depression and improve overall wellbeing.
  • A 2015 research summary by Professor Alice Sullivan presented strong evidence to suggest that “encouraging a love of reading has an important role to play in promoting learning both in childhood and in adult life.”
  • A fact that teachers have known for a long time: that extensive reading improves language acquisition and confidence in the use of technical/key terminology. This is supported by lots of research, including this excellent and thorough 1997 paper by Paul Nation of the Victoria University of Wellington.

Tip #2: Collaborate and create!

Set up times, or clubs, in the library, where students can read to each other and perhaps generate some kind of creative output – perhaps building a model of what they’ve read (e.g. for Design Technology), calculating and mapping the frequency of different words (Mathematics) or even creating the costumes the characters might be wearing (Textiles). When reading becomes an active process, students realize that there’s actually a lot of ‘juice’ one can squeeze from a book, or even a short segment of text.

“An AMAZING book!”

The possibilities for collaboration in reading, coupled with creative outputs, really are limited only by one’s imagination. In fact, you may wish to ‘crowdsource’ ideas from the children themselves, perhaps by using a worksheet/prompt like the one below:

If you like the above tool, then you can download it as a pdf here.

#3: Use the library as a base to host reading and reading-related competitions and events

Some ideas to consider are:

  • Celebrate World Book Day by allowing students to come into school dressed as their favourite book characters. Perhaps offer special prizes for the best costumes, or even run a fashion show on the day. Award plus points/merits/whatever your school’s ‘reward tokens’ are for students who bring in their favourite books on the day.
  • Invite a local author to come into school to talk about their work. As an author myself, I know for a fact that the author will love the opportunity to gain some exposure, and if you ask politely you may even get some free, signed books for school out of it.
  • Run book clubs or events by genre – specialization can generate more interest in reading. Have a day for self-help books, one for non-fiction, one for animals – anything that the students are interested in.
  • Take the students to a reading-related place, such as a local library or actual location from a book. Students will often be unaware that these places exist in the first place, and their discovery may set in-motion some profound changes that result in a love of reading. My primary school took me to my local library as child, for example, and that place became my study-hangout in my teens. I just loved being surrounded by all of those books. It’s a feeling that’s very unique.

#4: Do a library scavenger hunt

Do you know what a library scavenger hunt is? If you do, then great! To my shame and embarrassment, however, I only recently learned what such an activity involves.

The idea is pretty simple: Draw up a list of different types of book for your students to find – for example, information books, picture books, books authors with the same initials as them, books that cover certain topics – and award points for each one they track down.

You can also create a scavenger hunt for really young children who can’t yet read by giving them pictures of things to find: like a book, a desktop computer, a magazine, a bean bag, and so on.

#5: Do a book-related quiz

This is a simple, yet effective, idea. Divide your students into groups and provide them with the textbooks needed to answer questions in a quiz/worksheet you give to them. Different groups could cover different topics, and report back to each other (e.g. as in a market-place activity), or all groups could cover the same topic but with different books as resource material. This will teach students how to look up information in books, whilst providing a fun, competitive environment at the same time. The fastest team to complete the worksheet could win the competition, or perhaps points could be assigned to each question.

Further reading (no pun intended):

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