What library centres can do for you

No matter what your role is in your school library, library centres have something to offer everyone. Whether you’re a teacher librarian required to formally teach your students library and research skills, or a library assistant required to run the library while class teachers supervise their students during their visits, library centres can make your school library a fun and exciting place to be. Your students will be kept busy and behaviour problems kept to a minimum.

I work at a school where I currently take students from Kindergarten (4 year olds) to Year 3 (9 year olds) for 60 minutes each week. (That’s right! One whole hour trying to occupy thirty four-year-old darlings!) Despite not being early childhood trained, I quickly discovered that my Kindy students would only last so long in a whole-group situation. Hence, I run my Kindy classes a little differently to my other classes. When the students enter the library, we go straight to the mat and share a story together. After that I split the students into three different groups, using coloured pegs on their clothing to identify which group they are in. I know that many early childhood classrooms allow students to wander freely between different learning centres, however, we all know the books on our shelves are so much fun to pull off and spread around! Having a more structured group rotation for such young students prevents them from wandering into areas of the library that they’re not yet ready for.

Once the class has been split, one group will be taken by the Kindy assistant who accompanies the class when they come to the library. In this group, they will complete an activity that involves them responding to the book we’ve just shared, such as drawing a character from the story or something they learnt from a non-fiction title, or one that focuses on a concept they’ve just learnt, such as identifying authors from a number of other occupations. The second group will be taken by me. I sometimes use this time to teach concepts to the students, such as parts of a book (identifying the cover, title, spine and spine label at this age), or I allow them to chill out and get creative with felt boards or mega blocks. The last group is supervised by the library assistant. In this group, the students browse and select a book to borrow from our junior collection. Each group rotation lasts around 10-12 minutes and the students quickly get the hang of lining up to move to the next activity. After the last rotation, it’s time to line up to go back to class. My Kindy students LOVE coming to the library and I love having them. Our group rotations made life a lot easier.

Onto the library centres I use for the rest of my classes…

I structure my lessons by beginning with around 10-15 minutes of literature promotion, where I share a story with the students or show them books I think they might enjoy. After that, I allow 10-15 minutes for book borrowing and the last 30 minutes of my lesson is spent on library/research skills instruction. Up until recently, if my students borrowed quickly and had time before our formal lesson began or if they finished their work early, they would be expected to read quietly. While there would be some students who would relish this opportunity, the majority of kids just aren’t interested in independent reading when their friends provide a great distraction.

Then I came across some of these great blogs I’ve been yabbering on about and decided to give library centres a go. The centres I found seemed like a lot of fun for the students but at the same time allowed them to practise essential library and research skills. For example, a “Question of the Week” centre which requires students to use library resources to answer a specific question to be in the running for a reward is a great incentive for practising research skills. One of my own centres, loved by my Year 3’s, was “Be an Illustrator”. They had to watch a YouTube clip (available in the learning links as “How to Draw a Bear”) of Andrew Joyner drawing the bear from The Terrible Plop and they were able to draw their own bear as they watched the process unfold on an iPad.

As always, however, when I get motivated by something, I decided to go full throttle, chuck in my formal 30 minute lessons and allow the students free reign of six different library centres. There were rules, of course. There was a limit of six students per centre, they had to visit a minimum of two centres and a maximum of three during the 30 minutes, they weren’t allowed to be wandering aimlessly or stand around watching others complete activities, etc. I used centres in this way for the first four weeks of this term. I found, however, that some of my students are not particularly suited to this style of learning and perhaps I’m just not suited to that style of teaching. I felt that I wasn’t really teaching my students anything. There was no way I was throwing away all my hard work though! So I came up with a compromise.

I went back to my formal 30 minute lessons, but have six permanent centres set up for students to use whenever they have a few spare minutes. They are proving invaluable in this way. My students are always occupied and have the choice of visiting the centres that they like best. They’re also a great incentive for students to finish their work! My six current centres are:

    • Independent reading/book buddies : for those students who grab any chance they can get to bury their noses in a book
    • Question of the Week : for my Year 3s OR Book Returns : for my PPs – Year 2s where they return books to their browser boxes
    • Computer Centre : students can use the computers to explore the OPAC, the Library Blog or Brittanica Online.
    • Create a Bookmark : students can colour in a photocopied bookmark or create their own
    • Boggle : I’ve put up a giant Boggle board on one of my pin-up boards and change the letters each week
    • Where’s Wally : students search for Where’s Wally characters hidden around the library, changed each week, to allow them to become familiar with the different areas of the library

For some great library centre ideas, check out Mrs Lodge’s Library, Library Learners and The Book Bug.

Thanks for reading!

If you’ve got any great ideas for library centres, leave them in a comment below.

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