Friday, January 20, 2017

Don't Forget the Library!

One thing I love about teaching, and teaching language learners specifically, is the way I'm jolted out of complacency on a very frequent basis. Recently, it was the idea of knowing how to use the library in our school.

You see, elementary students benefit from loads of classes and "practice" using their media centers. They know how to look up books online, find books among the stacks, check out books themselves, re-shelve books, and are aware of the many different genres and categories of books available.  

But what about our older language learners, particularly secondary students, and to some extent, middle schoolers, new to the US? Do we know where the gaps lie in their media center experiences? Many students may never have had access to a library in their country or former school, and many more may never used an online search system. When we expect students to go to the library and check out books, they can be overwhelmed. 

It is difficult to navigate any new library in another language, and it's certainly intimidating to ask a librarian for help. One of the best things we did this year was join forces with our media specialist/ librarian, Rose Pate. She presented our newest language learners with a mission, followed by a scavenger hunt to get them up and moving. Here's how:

1) The Mission: Our librarian posed the following mission: 
There is a small village school in Central America with no library. A wealthy donor gives the school a library! BUT...
When the boxes arrive, there are hundreds of books on all topics. No one can find the books they need! What to do?
You group: Make a plan for how to organize all the books so everyone can find what they need.
Quick! You only have five minutes!

2) As students deciphered the mission and brainstormed plans, we could assess their familiarity with a library, systems of organization, and different book genres. They were given 5 minutes, which, based on their work, extended to more like 9 minutes, since they were using the time.

3) Students then shared their ideas orally with the class.

4) More formal definitions were explained, of terms like library, fiction, nonfiction, and other various genres.

5) Next, Mrs. Pate explained what each number in the "call number" on a book represented. Even though that in-depth information might not be the most accessible for a newcomer, our language learners are on a spectrum of readiness---and it's just such cool information!
 *Note: A Home on the Field is about our very own hometown and soccer team!

6) After some short and visual descriptions, students were introduced to the online system for finding books, information, and resources.

7) Lastly, students were tasked with finding different books of different genres and topics, requiring them to find resources online, then hunt them down in the stacks. Partners and small groups scaffolded the adventure and made it all the more fun.

8) Ultimately, students shared what they learned, along with information about some of the books they found.

In all, this activity took about 60 minutes (plus prep time for our librarian---Mrs. Pate took care of all the details for us--THANK YOU!), and it was more than worth the time. College and career ready also means being able to navigate media centers with books, computers, and other sources of information. What are you doing to make sure this happens with your language learners? 

Other ideas to make your media center more language learner friendly? 
1) Display popular books, or student-reviewed books in different genres so there is more exposure to new ideas.
2) Invest in at least a handful of books in the languages of your students. When possible, ask the students themselves to help you choose. 
3) Clearly label different categories, genres, topics--however your center is arranged, make sure there are signs, preferably with visuals.
4) Encourage your media specialist to hold orientations with students, lead classes on different topics, and provide opportunities for him/ her to partner with your students, even in small ways. The media center should be a place of comfort and inspiration and we want students to feel comfortable asking questions!
5) When possible, seek books for and with your students according to their interests. Dip their proverbial toes in the media center waters and maybe, (just maybe!) that planted seed of curiosity will blossom before you know it!


  1. I love your ideas and plan to share this with our school librarian.

  2. Thanks, Nancy! Please share any ways that you tweak it to help other students!