Category Archives: Lesson Plans

Online Safety and Cyberbullying

Here it is Sunday night and it just occurred to me that I really should be working on the Harambee Library Wiki. I need to make pages for the 5th grade teachers and link the student pages. It’s not hard but takes time and I spent most of the weekend working on grading, lesson plans, and flipcharts. Working on the student wiki is not something I have time to do during school hours.

The students are enjoying the wiki and are getting ready for the next level. A couple of them have accidentally sent brief messages to all the other members of the wiki. I explained to them that if they were working as a group on a project this ability could be important. However, in this case each one of them is working independently on their own page so there should be no need to send messages. They might want to make comments and I needed to prepare them for that step.

To do so I first showed them the short video, Bulletin Board. The quality of this one is not as good as I would like but it gets the message across. We had some discussions earlier about posting pictures and I thought we should talk about the fact that once you’ve posted something online you can’t take it back. Many of them have facebook accounts, whether they’re old enough or not. In some cases it is a legitimate way for them to stay in touch with family in other parts of the world.

In order to make comments safe for everyone I showed them two more videos. The one called Talent Show made them quite uncomfortable and they were eager to comment on what they saw.


I also showed them another short video called Re: Cry of the Dolphins. The original video was a poem that received some scathing comments and this video is the author’s response. We had some issues with the first class that saw this one but they asked to see it again and it ran much better the second time. Once again students were surprised that others were willing to say such cruel things. They were also intrigued by the actions in the film, where the author reaches out of the screen to take the first comment off the board. This video is especially powerful since it was a real-life story.

Each class made a list of questions to ask themselves before posting and tips to remember before making comments. I don’t know how many students will make comments on other wiki pages but I think they will think before they post. Of course, I monitor all activity on the wiki and can take problem students off but I don’t think that will be necessary after these videos and discussions.

Genre Study Made Easy

The 4th and 5th graders have been studying genres. I’ve noticed that no matter how much time I spend on this subject they don’t seem to be able to apply what they learn. Often they can give me a list of genres or define them, but if you ask what genre they are currently reading right now they don’t have a clue.

I started this unit with a power point presentation that I modified for my classes. I found it on this wonderful site called Pete’s Power Point Station. Be prepared to spend some time in this vast array of links to a huge variety of power points. It was easy to import the ones I liked into my Promethean IWB. Some of my students actually gasped when they saw the first page. There was so much on the one that I used that we didn’t even get through everything and will probably come back to it again from time to time.

Next I put students on computers to play games. My objectives were two-fold; they need practice logging into the system and they need to learn more about genres. There are some wonderful genre games that I linked on the 4/5 Links page of my website. I let them choose which ones they want to play, making sure they understood that the objective was to learn more about literary genres and if that objective was not met there was no point in using the computers. According to my observations, the top 3 games were Genre Battleship, Genre Hangman, and Genre Word Search (which unfortunately does not always load correctly).

At the end of the quarter they will take a pencil and paper test. Why pencil and paper? Because sadly, I still have students who are having trouble logging in. This happens for various reasons: they haven’t turned in a signed AUP, they’re relatively new to the school and haven’t been on the computers much yet, they are ESL or SPED students who have other issues. I don’t think it’s fair to give these students less time to take the test because they have trouble accessing it.

However, that doesn’t mean I can’t use the computer to make the test. I think there are a number of sites to help with this but I only looked at a couple. Quizstar is one I think I’ve used before but since I couldn’t remember the account information I started another one. Unfortunately I’ve only seen “Your mailbox is over its size limit” messages in my inbox and no message with the activation link for this new account. Next I tried EasyTestMaker. They didn’t send an activation email so I was able to get started right away and it was kind of fun. I’m not done yet but I won’t mind going back to it. Who knew MAKING a test could be fun?

Having access to the work others have done is an incalculable advantage. As so many others have said, why reinvent the wheel? Making learning fun is something many of us strive for on a daily basis and we have a ready-made fun source right here. If games are going to help students learn, then I’m all for them. Online tools make our jobs much easier and take the drudgery out of some things. Who knew GIVING a test could be so much fun? [Insert evil grin and wicked Halloween laugh here!!]


One of the coolest things I did with my students last year was the Harambee Library Wiki. I learned a lot doing that so I’m not using it this year. That seems counterintuitive so let me explain.

If you look at some of the book reviews you notice that many of the entries look incomplete. My students had trouble posting very basic bibliographic information. Capitalization was a problem. Correct title and author information was a struggle. This year I knew we had to address those issues.

Our school is participating in choosing the Maud Hart Lovelace Award and in order to vote they must read at least three of the nominated books. I wanted to know how many books they had read and which ones they were. NoodleTools has a fantastic bibliography tool that’s easy for elementary students to use. All my fourth and fifth grade students now have accounts. They can make a Maud Hart Lovelace list, print it out (learning how to change printers in the process) and I’ll know who can vote.

NoodleBib requires the entries be capitalized correctly. Students have to find the place of publication, publisher and date of publication. I had to run around helping many but the more they do it the easier it will get. Hopefully we can get back to the wiki next year with entries that reflect this proficiency.

It Still Uses Technology

The first graders are becoming experts on the Caldecott Award. They had so much fun with the Go Caldecott game we played at the end of the second quarter that I told them we’d read some more books and then play it again. This week we played the game again and they loved it. It’s just a board game that I made following the 57 Games to play in the Library or Classroom instructions. Their scores improved dramatically.

One thing that makes it work so well is the random number generator that we used.

  Random number generator
Random number generator

Part of the fun was getting to find out how many squares ahead they could move by going to the white board and pushing the arrow. This small interactive part of the game added a lot. It just goes to show that the technology we inject into our lessons doesn’t have to be huge to make a difference.


Kindergarten classes are a challenge.  They need to get up and move after about 10 minutes and I haven’t quite figured out what that should look like in the library. This week though, I got it right.

They now know their letters pretty good but I know that alphabetical order will continue to be something they’ll need to work on. The document camera is still a fairly new tool in our school so I hooked it up and put a little story without words called The Alphabet by Monique Felix under it. It’s about a little mouse who digs into a book and pulls out each letter of the alphabet on little squares of paper. The kids were intrigued when they saw my hand turn the pages. We speculated about just what the little mice were doing and we all said the alphabet at the end.

That was good but Bembo’s Zoo was better. Even adults were intrigued by the way the letters formed intricate caricatures of the animals and a fourth grader walking by asked for the URL. Students came up to the white board to touch the first letter of their name and watch as the animal was formed. Of course, it got pretty loud in the library but the kindergartners were engaged, had a good time, and got a little alphabet practice. It’s a step in the right direction.


I used the clickers, or as Promethean calls them, activotes for the first time last week. It was another learning experience for all of us. I’ve seen a couple demonstrations but didn’t really know what I was doing. So often these days it feels like I don’t know what I’m doing! Fortunately, I had no afternoon classes and help from my tech person. Next week I think a Promethean representative will be visiting to answer questions. These things are never hard once you figure them out. In fact, it’s easy to wonder why I ever thought it was difficult.

We just started the second quarter so I had a new seating arrangement ready. Before each student sat down they took one of the clickers and answered the question, “I know a lot about keywords” by clicking A) true or B) false. That way I knew which number each student had. I taught a keyword lesson downloaded from Promethean Planet and changed slightly to better reflect the practices in my library. In the lesson there was a quiz so students had a chance to use the clickers.

Once again, I had students cheering in the library. They made a game out of it by trying to see who would be the first to vote and light up their number. While this doesn’t show deep thought, it does show interest. Since I was able to immediately show them the graphed results I was able to talk about the questions that a majority missed. It was also a way for me to show students graphs, which is a math standard that, along with the other specialists, I am trying to model for students.

This initial trial was a success and I’m sure I’ll be using the clickers again, perhaps as a more precise assessment tool, once I figure out how to attach names to each device. What a good way to make tests more fun.

The Right Technology

There’s no point in abandoning old lessons for new technology if the old ones work.  Today my fifth grade class did one of their favorite activities.  The most advanced technology they used was a post-it note.

I use 3×5 cards with call numbers on them.  I have everybody (picture book) cards, fiction cards, and nonfiction cards.  Sometimes I mix them together.  Today I decided to just do fiction since the everybody picture books are being moved and don’t have new labels yet.  Each student gets a card and finds a book with a matching call number.  They bring the book and card up to a large conference table, write their name on a post-it note and stick it to the card.  After putting the card in the book, they get another card from me.  They have to do this without talking.  I’m the only person they can ask for help.

This is an important assessment for me.  I check the books and cards to make sure they match and collect all the post-it notes for each student.  If they don’t match I make a note of it.  For the students, it becomes something of a competition and they strive to find more books than anyone else.  I can quickly tell who is having trouble finding books on the shelves.  Basically it’s a test but they think it’s fun.

Today I told the students that we were going to be doing an activity that I knew they liked.  When I held up the cards they cheered!

Wiki Art Gallery

Art, as I’ve said before, is not one of my better subjects.  It’s not a natural thing for me like it seems to be for many so I approach art related activities with some trepidation.  This means that I haven’t really spent the amount of time I should showing students the wonders of art in the book world.  During the fourth quarter I decided I wanted to change that.

The kindergarten and first grade teachers mentioned that they feel this year has been heavy on academic activities and short on things like art.  Therefore, when I said I wanted to do a study of watercolor in picture books with the ultimate goal of having students paint their own pictures, the teachers were excited about the project.

Students looked at various Everybody picture books first, noticing the differences in styles and how some artists combined styles.  I was gratified to see them pulling other books out and showing me that there were more watercolor books in our collection.  We looked at some “how to watercolor” sites and videos, including Mrs. May’s 2nd Grade Class Caldecott Study.

It was important to me that all grades be represented in the Harambee Library Wiki so I decided to make an Art Gallery, scan the paintings, and feature each class’s work on the wiki. The students were also very interested in the idea of a video like the one they had seen of Mrs. May’s class so I made animoto videos.  The addition of the artwork makes the wiki more interesting for all the students and is giving me ideas for future projects.  Maybe I don’t have to be afraid of art projects anymore.

Battle of the Books

One of my primary goals is to help my students fall in love with reading.  I’m always looking for ways to give them an extra reason to read.  For the last several years, my oldest students have participated in a Battle of the Books competition during the fourth quarter.  A competition can be one way to inspire students to read some books they might not have read otherwise.  They not only get a list of books to read, but also must work together as a team and sometimes that can be difficult.  I still have two more classes that will compete, but so far this year the competition has been much better than in the past.

Unfortunately, I spent all my money before the fourth quarter so I needed to take a look at what titles I could use that were already in my collection.  There should be 5-7 copies so that there are enough books for several students to be reading at the same time.  I tried to find titles that we used in the past that these kids had not seen yet.  Choosing the books is a challenge because I need to take into consideration the make up of each class, the number of books we have for each title, and the reading levels of the participants.

Here’s how the game is played.  Students, who are assigned to teams, read from a list of books and try to remember the stories.  I ask questions that can only be answered by recording the correct title on a small white board.  Students get one point for each correct title and 3 points if the author is also correct.  Each kid is responsible to their team.  They don’t have to read every book on the list because they are relying on their teammates.  I try to have 3 students with different reading levels on each team.

This year I had lightning rounds every week.  I deliberately seated students by their teams so that we could have tiny games for practice.  This was also a way to keep students interested in the books.  We have the winning teams for the South Village 4th and 5th graders and next week those winning teams will compete.  It’s fun and challenging.  Not only are students reading, but they’re also collaborating and competing.

Browsing Sticks

Browsing sticks ready for new paint

Many school libraries use paint sticks donated by friendly neighborhood hardware stores as browsing sticks or shelf markers.  Students can use them to hold a place on the shelf for a book that they are looking at so they know where to return the book if they don’t want to check it out.  These are a real time-saver if used correctly.

In about a half hour we will have kindergarten roundup.  We have activities for students to do while visiting the rooms, including pattern blocks, play doh, coloring with templates, and painting browsing sticks.  Students have fun painting and we usually do it at the beginning of the school year.  We’ll still do that but we thought that it would be advantageous for us if this activity happened while parents and other adults were around to help.  After the sticks are painted at a newspaper covered table, they dry next to the student’s name tag on butcher paper.  When the sticks dry, which happens quickly with tempura paints if the stick isn’t soaked, we write the name on the stick.

The sticks pictured above are ready to be recycled and reused by a new student.  We actually let students take their sticks with them at the end of 5th grade if they want it, but some are left behind.  After the stick is painted and dried we print out the patron barcode and tape it to the stick.  Sticks can then have a dual purpose as library cards as well as browsing sticks.