Engaging the Big Kids in your School Library

big kid reading library book

Hi, friends! Haley S., a subscriber to the Library Learners Journal, told me that she found fourth, fifth, and sixth grade students to be impossible and a constant discipline issue. Are the “big kids” a struggle for you, too? If so, read on!

Library Centers

I began implementing library centers when I was the librarian at a 4th and 5th grade campus. The combination of movement and choice really engaged students who had to sit still in a classroom for most of the day. I taught a short library lesson, then dismissed students to either check out books or participate in a library center.

Here are several centers that work well for upper elementary students:

Distance Learning

Of course, the 2020-21 school year may involve distance learning and blended learning. If so, here are some ideas to engage those upper grade students as you are connecting online, rather than in person.

  • Kahoot research skills lessons (share your screen with students, and they either join on another device or write their answer on paper or think about it in their head)
  • Quizizz
  • Gimkit
  • Jeopardylabs
  • Brainpop (some content requires a paid subscription, but some content is available free)
  • Factile
  • Have students write 6-word memoirs (biography genre) and create a photo collage on Canva (copyright lesson) to insert in Google Slides presentation
  • Typing Club
  • Dance Mat Typing
  • Dance Mat Typing
  • Have students collaboratively create an ABC google slide show: ABCs of your city, state, school, a research topic
  • Have students write encouraging notes to future readers. You can print them and place them in books.
  • Safe Online Surfing games at sos.fbi.gov
  • Create book reviews on Flipgrid, Padlet, Animoto, or Google Slides to share
  • Watch video of Thank You, Mr. Falker and write a thank you note to a teacher.
  • Read Black? White! Day? Night and have students draw opposite optical illusions in Google Draw
  • Read the first chapter of a book to them, to get them hooked on an author or series or your state award list
  • Hour of Code
  • Code.org
  • Common Sense Media digital citizenship lessons
  • Stop motion animation with Google Slides
  • Interland Game: Be Internet Awesome with GoogleInterland Google

Build Reading Community at your School

If all of our students enjoyed reading as much as we do, all of the behavior issues would disappear, right? I believe that part of our librarian job description is to grow the reading culture at our campus. We want to encourage every adult and student in the building to enjoy reading. How can we do that?

If your students are able to visit the library in person next year, make sure that everyone walks out with a book including the teacher. Make a big deal out of handing the teacher a book every time and having a conversation about how much that teacher will enjoy the library book.

In this guest blog post, Ashley Gordon shared her terrific teacher book club idea. Although we may be gathering in a Google Classroom next year rather than at a restaurant, it is still so important to encourage your teachers to nurture their love of reading.

Consider co-sponsoring a book club (online or in person) with some of your teachers and any students who want to participate. You might read state award books together, and then discuss the books and do activities, like create book trailers, participate in digital escaper rooms, or write an email to the author.

You’ve Got This!

I hope this blog post gives you hope AND strategies for engaging the big kids in your school library. Please let us know with a comment if you’ve got other great ideas that worked for you!

By the way, this blog post does include Amazon affiliate links, which means that I earn a few cents if you purchase, at no extra cost to you. I only recommend products that have been tested and approved in school libraries, with real students.

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    1. Thank you for a great round-up reminder of the choices I can present to my students online. I am a librarian at a 4-6 grade building and most of these ideas I use when we are face to face. I decided to do some research (plan a vacation on a limited budget per person) and STEM challenges (paper airplanes) for our quarantine learning in April and May. As of now, we are headed back to in person for September, but if things change, I have this great post to remind me that there are LOTS of options available for my learners!

    2. Hi Cari! Thank you for all these suggestions. I am currently working at a K-7 school, and hope to be a Teacher-Librarian soon! Engaging older students is something I think about a lot. I have found that students who are 10-12 often have self-identified as being avid readers, or just not really being into books. What strategies do you have for engaging students who don’t gravitate towards books? Thank you!

    3. Thank you, Cari, for a such a wonderful post! I am a new teacher librarian and I have been looking for some ideas to engage the 4th and 5th grade students in the library. I am especially interested in exploring Coding Board games and Origami. I know that students will really enjoy these activities. I also really like how you have ideas in your post for virtual learning, and I am interested in exploring these resources for in person learning as well. I was wondering if you had a similar post for library centers for primary students. Thanks again for a great information rich post. I can’t wait to use some of these ideas in my school library!

    4. Hi Cari,
      Thank you for creating this post. I am currently taking courses online to become a teacher librarian, and I noticed a drop in engagement at the library when comparing my previous Gr. 2 students to the Gr. 4/5 class I taught last year. I think incorporating library centers for the older students during book checkout time would reach many of the older students I noticed resisting traditional library programming. I appreciate your addition of online resources to the list. We are not currently teaching online, but our district teacher-librarians are often Tech experts in the building, and I have discovered some additional resources I can use to develop engaging lessons for students, such as GimKit for class games and Interland for internet safety.

    5. Hi Cari,

      Thank you for sharing so many great ideas to use with intermediate classrooms. I totally agree with how many of our older elementary learners yearn for a bit more time to move. Thanks for providing some practical ideas of how to implement centers into the library routine. Giving options in the library is sure to help with engagement. I would love to know more in more detail about how you set the expectations for these centers with your students!


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