How is a library like a grocery store?

When my older kiddos (grades 3-5) came into the library this week, the first thing they saw was this photo:

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And then we thought about the question: how is a library like a grocery store?

Here are some of the ideas they came up with:

  • Libraries and grocery stores are both full of stuff.
  • Items are on shelves.
  • People “shop” for what they need.
  • There are signs labeling the aisles/shelves.
  • Items are organized.
  • Sometimes there are displays of new, featured, or seasonal items.
  • People who work there can help you find what you’re looking for.

What a great list! And two of those bullet points–the ones about organization and signage–were the ones we discussed in more detail for the rest of the lesson.

First, we talked about the four main sections of the library that students browse when they’re checking out books:

fiction (picture books, fiction chapter books)
nonfiction (nonfiction books, biographies)

Everyone was pretty familiar with what kinds of books they would find in each section of the library, which meant we were ready to talk about how a book gets its call number and how that call number helps us find the book on the shelf.

Since we were surrounded by books, it was easy to find some examples of call numbers–all we had to do was look around! Students noticed that a call number tells us what section of the library the book lives in plus where in that section to find it.

We wrapped up this part of the lesson by playing an interactive game on the SMARTBoard where students had to match a book to its call number.

Now, we were ready to move on to the part everyone was ready for–searching for books in Destiny, our school’s online catalog.

This part was a review for many students, but important for them to be self-sufficient book-finders in the library.

(Of course, I love helping students find what they want to read–that’s one of my favorite parts of being a librarian! But, more than that, I want them to have the knowledge and skills they need to find books independently–in the Chase library, and beyond. :))

We practiced several searches together, paying attention to which books were available and which were checked out, reading summaries to choose books relevant to what we were looking for, and using call numbers to locate books on the shelf.

5th grade had a little bit of extra time, so they finished this week’s lesson by dividing into pairs and heading to the shelves for a quick hands-on call number scavenger hunt.

By the end of this lesson, students understood how to search for a book on Destiny and how to use the search results to find a book on the shelves. How do I know what the students learned? Because many of them successfully demonstrated this skill just a few minutes later when it was time to check out!

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Since my 1st and 2nd graders still need a little more practice with typing and spelling on the computer and navigating alphabetical order to the second or third letter, they will learn how to search through the catalog later.

For now, students in 1st and 2nd grade spend a lot of their checkout time browsing the shelves for a good-fit book, so this week, our library lesson focused on how you can tell whether a book is just right for you.

Our classroom teachers use a strategy called I-PICK with students to help them choose books for independent reading, and this strategy transfers perfectly from teachers’ classroom libraries to our school library.

Here’s what the acronym stands for:

  • I choose a book.
  • Purpose: Why do I want to read today? (for entertainment? to learn something new?)
  • Interest: Does the book match my interests?
  • Comprehend: Do I understand what I am reading?
  • Know: Do I know most of the words?

Many of the students were familiar with this from their classroom discussions, and they all had a clear understanding of what this means: find a book you’re interested in that you can read on your own or with just a little help.

To practice, I had the students use I-PICK to help me choose a read-aloud for their class from a stack of three books I had pre-selected:

1. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

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I gave a quick book-talk for Little Women before showing the book to students. They thought the premise of the story–four sisters growing up at home while their father has gone off to fight in a war–was fascinating!

Students were even more eager to read the book when they learned that it was one of my personal favorites. Some of their teachers had read it, too, and agreed that it was a great story.

When I showed classes my copy of the book, though, they thought it looked kind of hard. I read part of the book out loud to them, and as they listened, they used the five-finger rule to track how many words they didn’t know:

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We figured out that although this book might entertain us, and even though we were interested in the story, we had trouble understanding the story because there were so many words we didn’t know!

So, we decided to look for something a little bit easier.

2. Olivia’s Opposites by Ian Falconer

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A lot of my students are HUGE fans of Olivia, and many of the picture books in Ian Falconer’s Olivia series are a perfect fit for 1st- and 2nd-grade readers.

But, despite our excitement about Olivia, we realized quickly that this little board book didn’t fit our purpose, either. It was very short–only about 10 or 12 pages–with just a word or two on each page. We read the whole book together in less than a minute!

3. Fancy Nancy: The Dazzling Book Report by Jane O’Connor

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“I sure hope my third choice is a better fit than the first two!” I told the kids.

We looked at this book together, and students noticed that Nancy looked like she was probably in 1st or 2nd grade, just like they were. This definitely sparked some interest, even in students who weren’t already familiar with the Fancy Nancy series.

The book also looked like it would fit our purpose–an entertaining read-aloud together–because it was long enough to tell a story but not so long we couldn’t finish it in one reading.

And when we went through a page together, we knew most of the words and understood what we were reading.

Using I-PICK, we had worked together to find a good-fit book for our class read-aloud–so now, it was time to read!

As they listened to the story, students made many connections to Nancy’s experiences–and several students enjoyed Fancy Nancy: The Dazzling Book Report so much that they decided to check out a Fancy Nancy book from the library afterwards!

Interested in learning more about I-PICK?

Mr. Plemmons, the librarian at Barrow Elementary, worked with students on this strategy last week, too, and a group of his 3rd graders made this video:

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In PreK and kindergarten this week, we also talked about what we think about when we choose a book for independent reading.

But, since many students in PreK and kindergarten are just learning letters and words, we focused on how we can look at the cover of a book and the words and pictures inside to help us choose a book we’ll be excited to read.

I selected three high-interest picture books to show students and told them their job would be to help me choose one to read to them. Of course they were eager to be of assistance. 🙂

The first book was What’s Your Sound, Hound the Hound? by Mo Willems:

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Since we had just read Mo Willems’ We Are in a Book! last week, the kids were pretty excited about this one. They noticed that this book looked like a silly story because the cat on the cover was standing on two legs, talking, and wearing a shirt.

(I took this opportunity to tell students a quick cautionary tale about clothing on cats: when I tried to dress my cat, Cheesepuff, in a Christmas sweater, I got scratched. “So, do real cats like to wear clothes?” I asked. “No!” the kids replied. :))

A look inside the book revealed more animals doing silly things, so we knew this would be perfect story if we were in the mood for a laugh.

The next book we looked at was A Dark, Dark Tale by Ruth Brown:

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“That looks scary!” the kids told me.

“What makes it look scary?” I asked.

Students pointed out the black cat and its glowing yellow eyes, the spooky castle, the full moon, the clouds, the tattered-looking edges of the cover, and the dark, gloomy colors on the cover and inside the book.

The last book we looked at together was Forever Friends by Carin Berger:

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“Does this book look scary, too?” I asked.


“Does it look silly like the first one?”

Students thought about this for a moment but agreed this didn’t look like a funny story, either. We looked at the picture on the cover and the illustrations inside the book, which showed a bird and a bunny being friends and sharing with each other.

The kids agreed that this looked like a happy story about friendship, and they thought it was nice of the bird to share his strawberry with the bunny on the cover.

Now that we had talked about all three books, looked at their covers and illustrations, and talked about what kinds of stories they might tell, it was time to vote!

The not-so-surprising result?

Every single class (two PreK groups and four kindergarten classes) voted to read A Dark, Dark Tale by Ruth Brown.

(We’ve got a lot of kids who LOVE scary stories–and they loved this one, too!)

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After our week discussing book-finding strategies, I am excited to see what kinds of choices students make in the library and watch their growth as independent readers and lifelong learners.

And now, a question: how do YOU choose a just-right book?