Welcome Back Lessons for School Librarians Struggling Through a Pandemic

School librarians around the country are closely following reopening plans as districts grapple with how to safely educate students. There is no end to the local and national debate about who is failing who and which format of delivering instruction is the most harmful to students and the community. It is exhausting. And none of it changes the fact that “back to school” is looking very different regardless of the route your area is taking. 

No matter what happens, our responsibility is to the students who are dealing with all of the stress of this time and feeling even less control than their adults. Whether masked and distanced in person or tuning in from devices, school librarians need to provide stability and engagement. Tall order, but we are magical, adaptable book jockeys. We’ve got this. Below I’ve gathered some “Welcome Back” lessons and ideas to adapt them no matter how you’re interacting with your students. Hopefully these can be springboards to help you move past the tension of the “what ifs” and propel you to the relative peace of having a plan.

Scavenger Hunts

When welcoming students to the library in person, school librarians often use scavenger hunts to get students up and moving. This is an excellent way to get students to identify different sections of the stacks, the book return, work tables, makerspace materials, computers, and more. Even things like the sign out sheet for going to the bathroom or the all important HAND SANITIZER can be highlighted with this method. When developing scavenger hunts, I usually think of the questions I get asked the most during the year and then go from there. There are also many wonderful editable products on sites like Teachers Pay Teachers.

In Person: For a no-touch option, you could project the images of things to find and send groups out to find specific things (the fiction section, the book return, the Who Was series bucket, etc). Once all the students have found their item, have them share out what they found and when they would need to use it (when looking for a book with a fiction story, when returning a book, when they wanted to read a biography).

Virtual: Introduce students to their virtual classroom or your library website (this article has great tips!) in a similar way. Students could search for a website that would help them research an animal, the section of the classroom where they would find their assignments, or the area where contact info is listed if they need to ask a question. Students could use screenshots or make screencasts to show what they discover. 

Read-Alouds

As a elementary school librarian, this is really my bread and butter. I make a very big deal at the beginning of the year stressing how much I love to read books and assuring even my 5th graders that they will be hearing me read aloud a lot. No one ever complains! No matter how you’re interacting with students, reading books aloud is a callback to a calmer, quieter time. It’s worth taking the time to work these in and center everybody. I love using some back to school favorites like King of Kindergarten, School’s First Day of School, and Library Lion. One of my favorites for older kids involves sharing Miss Brooks Loves Books (And I Don’t) and then having kids tell me what kinds of books they HATE reading. The kids get a kick out of the surprise question and you learn as much about them as you would asking what they like. 

In Person: Distancing, masks, and other precautions mean that reading aloud will probably look different than the typical gather-on-the-rug set up. Plan where your students will sit and how you’ll ensure everyone can see. Practice walking the perimeter of the seating area so everyone can look at the pictures. The pace will be different but the pay-off will be the same.

Virtual: Check your angles! Practice holding the book and moving it to best show pictures. Tape yourself and watch it back. Get over the squicky feeling of seeing your own face RIGHT NOW because this is what your students see and they don’t have time for self consciousness. Cheap ring lights and adjustable tripods are worth the investment! Your students are going to love to see you read to them.

Reading Resolutions

This is a lesson that I typically save for January, but in the strange times where connection is key, this is an excellent way to get students to open up about themselves as readers. I typically share some of my past resolutions and talk about the power of a DNF (did not finish) when reading for pleasure, the enjoyment of reading books that are written for people younger than I am, and in general reading what you love despite what other people might say. Take time to firmly remind students that graphic novels are books. Audiobooks, too! Really establish all the formats that “count” as reading and the fact that dropping a book can be as important as finishing one. Next, have students share one reading resolution they have for the year.

In Person: If students are comfortable with their resolutions being public, you can have them write them out on a half sheet of paper, or even a cute cutout shape, and make a really fun and inspiring bulletin board.

Virtual: Platforms like Padlet or Flipgrid allow students to use text or short video clips to share their thoughts and responses. Use of emojis and filters let students add even more personalization.

Jeopardy

I’ve used DIY Jeopardy for years to welcome students in grades 3–5 back to the library. Categories typically include some physical library stuff, some questions about genres, and some questions about what resources you would use to answer different questions. This is fun because there is score keeping, teamwork, and non-threatening suspense, all while reviewing norms for using the library. Again, some talented school librarians have already put in the legwork to create Jeopardy templates. 

In Person: Super easy to adapt and do no-touch. Use the projector to put the board on the screen, and remove the option for the opposite team to try and answer a missed question. This removes the need to whisper and put heads together when collaborating on an answer. 

Virtual: Another way to gamify any info is Kahoot, a website and app that lets students answer questions from a distance using devices they already have. The format may look a little different but will be just as engaging!


I sincerely hope something here will help you feel more prepared to engage with your students during one of the most confusing times we’ve ever lived through. When in doubt, read a book!

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