In 2017, I wrote a blog post titled “12 (mostly cheap) Teacher Tricks that Work in an Elementary Library.” What I did not realize when I wrote that post was the positive response it would receive. The goal was to share simple, but effective strategies that I have found helpful when working with students in an elementary library. So in reflecting on what I have added or changed over the last three years here are 12 more tips and tricks that work in the library. Some of these you might already know about and some are really simple, but for me, they are things I can rely on to make my job easier. Many of these are not original ideas, but ones I have borrowed from many other brilliant minds.
Writing on the Windows
Have you ever tried to write neatly on a window with a window marker? It is not an easy task to keep your letters lined up and use a fun font at the same time. Well, I have I trick for you! Just type the phrase you are hoping to post in a Word document and enlarge the letters, then print it. Tape that to the backside of the window. Then go to the front of the window and trace the letters through the glass. Then remove the paper from the backside and you are done. I know that it wastes a bit of paper, but it saves a lot of time and frustration. Here are the window markers I found work well too.
I know most people probably already use a Google Calendar, but if I had to pick a single technology tool that I could not live without it would be this. I am on a hybrid schedule. My schedule changes daily, weekly, and sometimes it feels like by the hour. In order to keep myself organized and efficient, this is how I schedule classes and keep track of the lessons we are working on.
If a class is scheduled I will create an event and then send an invite to the teacher I am working with. This helps them to know what has been planned. Additionally, each grade level is color-coded so I can quickly see who I am working with. Each event starts with the teacher’s initials and grade level. Then the lesson activity is listed next to it. I also create duplicate events for classes that repeat. Part of what makes this tool so useful to me is that I can see it on multiple devices so I can quickly look up where I need to be and when.
Keeping Track of Puzzle Pieces
There are several stations in our library that are open to students after they check out books. These stations involve problem-solving, cooperation, or creativity in some form. Stations include things like LEGOs, drawing, magnetic words and phrases, book recommendations, and more. One of these stations has a puzzle. I have purchased puzzles that are between 300-500 pieces. The kids can work on these puzzles in a small group and each class adds a bit more until it is complete. The problem was that the pieces always got pushed onto the floor. So to fix this I purchased a whiteboard that has an edge. The puzzle is built on top of the whiteboard. This board is velcroed to the table so it does not slide but can be moved if needed. I have also found a librarian who uses the plastic bottom of a dog crate instead. She ordered it as a replacement pan for just $15 or less.
I have written about this before in a post called “5 Ways to Spread Book Love,” but it works so well I had to mention it here. I order a marquee sign that lights up that was less than $30. (The downside is that you have to keep batteries on hand to keep it lite up regularly.) You could also easily make a sign at no cost at all. Basically, I choose two books to have on display that are considered the Books of the Day. When the students check out they are allowed to check out these books. Usually, by the end of the class one or both of these books has been taken. I love to put books out that students do not usually pick. It allows me to easily highlight a book they would have otherwise missed.
In 2016, I took a library design course offered through AASL eAcademy. This course was taught by Diana Rendina, and she shared practical ways for librarians to maximize their spaces. She note that there was always the potential to improve whatever space you have. You just have to take a critical look and think outside the box. In the fall, I moved into a new library space. It is amazing, but this new space has less flat table-type surfaces. I was struggling to find places for the library stations and activities that are available to students for creative play and problem-solving. After looking critically at the space and thinking outside the box, I realized that I needed to use the vertical spaces. These included the sides of bookshelves and file cabinets.
I love this stuff! It sticks on a variety of surfaces, but also comes off cleanly. In addition, it is easy to write on and erase. I purchased this for the side of an ugly file cabinet that is placed right next to where instruction happens. This cabinet is now used as a whiteboard. Additionally, there are magnets that allow something to be hung up when you need to show an example.
Freeze Dance Library Style
I love to get kids moving! Sometimes after reading a book, we will play Freeze Dance Library Style with the preschool, kindergarten, and first graders. When they freeze they have to answer a question about the story or practice the comprehension strategy we are working on. Click here for a version of the song that works well!
This tip is more expensive but totally worth the money! I inherited metal bookshelves. I have never had metal shelves before and did not realize how often the books just slid across them. The traditional metal bookends just slid along with the books. Then I discovered magnetic bookends. They have been a game-changer! They stick well and the books are no longer sliding as often as they were before.
I love a good bookmark, but they can be expensive and I feel like the kids eat them. So a few years back I started having students design bookmarks to give to our visiting author. They each draw a bookmark that has something to do with one of the author’s books. Then we give the author a copy of the bookmarks during the visit. These bookmarks are copied and used in the library throughout the year. I also have cut cardstock to the size of bookmarks and the students can design their own too. Honestly, I have found that the student-created bookmarks are more popular! The kids like that they are using a bookmark that their friends created.
The shelving I have is tall! For students in preschool, kindergarten, and first grade these shelve do not work well because they cannot reach the top shelf. Instead of just leaving these shelves empty I have purchased bins and baskets. These bins and baskets now house our parenting/professional collection, books I need to catalog, and other supplies like scissors and glue that we may need for a lesson but do not have to be out all of the time.
Additionally, to organize lesson materials there is a bin for each grade level. Materials that are needed for that grade level are collected in their bin. That way you can just grab the bin and have all the materials you need there when the lesson starts.
This idea came from Twitter but loved it so much I had to get my own. This is the one I ordered from Amazon. I just stamp it on a sticky note. Then I stick the note in a book I have read. It gives me another opportunity to talk to kids about books.
Hanging a three-dimensional object, like a picture frame, on a bulletin board can be tricky. So if you want to add something three dimensional to a board just hot glue flat push pins to the back. I have done this with picture frames, clothespins, and large wooden letters. Then you can easily hang the item using the pins. Every so often you will need to re-glue, but the simple fix is worth the ease of putting things up.
Do you have any great tips and tricks? I would love to hear about them!
Author: Kelly Hincks
I am the librarian at Detroit Country Day Lower School in Bloomfield Hills, MI. I have worked as a librarian for the past eleven years. I was a classroom teacher for four years prior to that. I have worked in charter, public, and private schools. My favorite thing about being a librarian is the opportunities I have to work both with students and teachers. I love the co-teaching opportunities and connections I have been able to make! I have served on AASL committees as a member and chair. I currently serve as secretary of my state association, MAME.