Canned Lesson Plans: Help or Hindrance?

“Checklist Planning Clipboard To Do.” Pixabay,,

Like most aspects of education, standards are never static. Here in New York City, we are in the process of updating our ESIFC (Empire State Information Fluency Continuum) to align with the new AASL Standards and the New York State Next Generation Learning Standards. Bye, bye Common Core! What hasn’t changed is a library curriculum based on skills about how to learn about subject area content, not the content itself. It is much harder to design instruction on finding the cause and effect of immigration trends and public opinion as opposed to what is happening with immigration today. The first lesson requires students to think critically about a topic based on prior knowledge and causal relationships while the second is about absorbing facts. Now the second lesson helps students build the background knowledge on immigration to apply critical thinking skills, but all too often, instruction stops there.

Is it any wonder why many librarian transplants from the classroom find it a challenge to plan lessons based on the skills of the learning process? Over the years, we have had repeated requests for lesson plans based on skills from making inferences to distinguishing between facts and claims. Our office is reluctant to create a database of lessons because each library is unique regarding student makeup, school culture, scheduling, and teacher collaboration. When educators use ready-made lessons, have they reflected on it enough to customize it for their students? Or are they presenting the activities and ideas like a script because they may lack confidence with the content to make it their own?

Hence you can understand why we hesitate to have a bank of lessons based on the priority benchmark skills of our ESIFC. A better approach is to lead school librarians through the process of designing instruction based on skills through teacher collaboration. School librarians cannot work in isolation because single-shot instruction has minimal impact on student learning. They have to know how to approach teachers to collaborate without seeming as if they are adding time and work to their often reluctant counterparts.

New librarians tell us a bank of lesson plans will help them do this task because it shows the “value-add” of our expertise to instruction, but without a conceptual understanding of how the process of information literacy instruction works in practice, any conversation with teachers and administrators will fall flat. Administrators will tell fixed-scheduled librarians to go back to ELA and librarians with flexible periods to resume lunch duty or resource support for departments. So instead of us continually telling others what we can do, we need to show them in real time. And the only way to do this is to become fluent in information literacy instruction and invite others to come in to witness this remarkable practice taking place. One area we hope to increase librarian fluency is by offering an online course this spring grounded in information literacy and inquiry that requires participants to design lesson plans around a particular skill. As a result, we will have model lessons, but more importantly, we will have librarians who can articulate what information literacy is and how it can be seamlessly integrated across the curriculum.  (I will make certain to share the lessons when they are done!)

So instead of students finding the main idea of a single source (like Letter from a Birmingham Jail), lessons on information literacy require them to determine the main ideas and themes of multiple online and in print sources about the Civil Rights Movement to understand how it evolved and its enduring impact on America. So now our instruction has branched out into digital literacy, news literacy, and current events, and isn’t this what learning is? Applying what you learn to what you know to develop new understandings and agency?


Author: Leanne Ellis

I am a School Library Coordinator for the New York City Department of Education’s Department of Library Services. I plan and deliver workshops, provide on-site instructional and program support to school librarians, coordinate programs, administer grants, and am program coordinator for MyLibraryNYC, a program administered with our three public library systems.

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics, Community/Teacher Collaboration

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1 reply

  1. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you for articulating this so well. And…honoring student voice in this process is important as well. I read something recently…can’t remember where, exactly…that says “Are we doing the learning to them? Or with them? : – )

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