About Barbara Paciotti

Retired IB Middle School Librarian and at-risk alternative High School Science Teacher, still wanting to help teachers and students be successful.

Looking Back @ Customizing Orientations for Each Grade Level

Looking Back @ Customizing Orientations for Each Grade Level - A library orientation sets the tone for the entire school year. Here's how I customize my first visit with returning students at each grade level to rejuvenate their interest in the library. #NoSweatLibrary #libraryorientation #ELA #reading #fiction #middleschool #readingpromotionWe all give a library orientation to our lowest-grade-level, new-to-the-school students so they can learn about their “new” school library, but how many of us have one for our returning students? A library orientation customized for each grade level is a powerful way to connect with students and teachers at the beginning of the school year. I discovered very quickly that the effort I expend on higher-grade-level orientations generates multiple benefits throughout the rest of the school year.

Advantages of Customized Orientations

The first library visit influences a student’s attitude toward subsequent visits during the remainder of the school year, so with our returning students we want to rekindle interest in the library. Since so many schools now have a high level of student transience—mine is 34%—we also need to introduce the school library to a lot of brand new higher-grade-level students.

New grade level = increased maturity + new subject content. Customized orientations can introduce students to new reading choices aligned with their new grade’s curricula and their changed interests, especially topics or formats they may not have noticed before.

At the start of school—before benchmarks, testing, etc.—teachers are more willing to give up a whole class period for an orientation. Customizing allows us to meet the needs of the subject area whose teachers consent to a visit. In my case, ELA teachers want students to check out a fiction book, so my library orientations focus on reading and narrative literature, but I’ve done orientations with Social Studies, with Science, with World Language, and with Careers classes!

Relevant lessons stimulate teachers to consider more library lessons. My ELA teachers so appreciate how my orientations support their curriculum, that when their unit of study changes—first to expository literature (non-fiction), then to persuasion, and finally to poetry—they allow me to give a Library Lesson at the start of each unit, and even some appropriate short lessons at later visits during the unit. I always include a classroom-related activity for students to practice what they learn.

My ELA Reader/Writer Workshop Unit lessons
are available in my No Sweat Library Lessons TPT store.

Finally, because my “returnee” orientations are unique to each grade level, I use the same orientations every school year. With so many demands on a school librarian at the start of school, this time-saver relieves stress about having to develop first-visit lessons.

What To Do; What To Avoid

The key to a successful “returnee” orientation is to give students a stimulating, interactive, hands-on activity that is completely different from their previous grade’s orientation. It should also revive prior knowledge or give a new perspective on the library and/or its resources.

Sample Library Info Bookmark & Brochure

Click to enlarge

Don’t bore returning students with rules and procedures they already know. Summarize information on a Library Bookmark to be picked up at checkout. Give top grade level students a Library Brochure with resources for larger projects and planning their future. These two library info tools save time to allow for longer, more complex activities with higher-grade students, yet guarantee any new students learn our library expectations and can ask us specific questions later on for clarification.

A new school year brings excitement but also apprehension. To relieve new-grade-level uncertainty, provide a familiar structure to returning student orientations. Of the 4 segments for any of my Library Lessons—direct instruction, modeling/guided practice, independent practice, and sharing/reflecting—I keep 3 of them the same as these students have already experienced:

  • Direct instruction for all student orientations is a review of safety procedures for fire drills and code Red—they’re too important to omit—and library expectations, which for returning students is simply holding up the bookmark or brochure they’ll get at checkout.
  • Independent practice during any regular book checkout visit includes students browsing the shelves and choosing a fiction book they can enjoy reading. Since this is the reason the teacher brings them to the library for an orientation, I’m diligent to give students plenty of time to fulfill that purpose.
  • Sharing/reflecting for any regular book checkout visit is our standard checkout procedure where students read quietly while I invite each table to check out their selections. I encourage students to reflect on their book choice as they begin reading their new book so their book choices improve and their sustained reading time increases.

By maintaining consistency, I need only customize the modeling/guided practice segment of each grade’s orientation and allow returning students to fully engage in, and enjoy, this new group activity.

Sample Till Successful

We may need to try several orientation activities before discovering those that work best for our particular students.

  • In-the-middle grades need reminders about what they learned the previous year, presented in a fun new way.
  • Our highest grades need to see the library in a new way, a different perspective. They are the perfect “guinea pigs” to try out big changes in organization, materials, facility arrangement or technology.

Even after settling on the perfect lessons, be open to a new activity that might prove more engaging or relevant for a certain grade level. If you are a middle school librarian, the following ideas, which I’ve tried at various times, might work for you.

Seventh graders enjoy interactive game-like tasks that allow them to talk or move around. Library Bingo, Library Jeopardy, Scavenger Hunts, and Breakouts are all activities that refresh their library knowledge while constructively fulfilling their need for socializing. I do a Scavenger Hunt.

image of 7g Scavenger HuntMy 7g  Scavenger Hunt reviews various library locations, features new formats of reading materials students may have overlooked, and introduces books related to grade-specific subject content, like topical Dewey books for their first two Science units and the Totally Texas Collection of fiction and non-fiction books to support 7g Social Studies. It does get noisy, but students have a fun review, don’t get bored, and the Hunt sheet is handed in for their daily grade.
(Clipboards for students to write on are invaluable for this activity.)

The key to a successful scavenger hunt is to have the same number tasks as library tables. Each group begins with the same numbered task as their table number, which takes students to different library locations and avoids jostling and overcrowding.

Eighth graders prefer sophisticated tasks that entail analysis and application, and provides guidance but not overt supervision. Speed Dating Fiction, Progressive Dinner of Tasty Reads, Breakouts, Playlists/HyperDocs, and Viewing Book Trailers with QR codes are all popular with this age. Using QR codes to view Book Trailers finally captured my 8th graders attention; I give details about it in an earlier post.

image of 8g Book Trailer ActivityI briefly show students how easy it is to make a video book-talk using copyright-free pictures and an online video creation tool, then play my 40-second sample. Since the first ELA project is a video book-talk, teachers appreciate my “sneak peak” to get students excited to do their own. Several book trailers provide an introduction to new reading choices appropriate to 8g maturity and curricula, particularly specially selected high school State Reading List books and the Read America Collections of fiction and non-fiction books to support 8g Social Studies.

Get Teachers on Board!

After my 3rd year success with Customized Library Orientations, I never had to convince teachers to bring their classes to the library at the start of school. In fact, they’d seek me out the week before school began to schedule them.

As teachers realized my Library Lessons would be developed to coordinate with their classroom content activities, others also asked for early-in-the-school-year visits to familiarize students with library resources. For a few years I offered a 4-part Library Orientation with ELA classes for fiction books, then Math classes for Dewey books, followed by Science and Social Studies for topical books and online resources! I even had Spanish and Art classes in for early visits!

To get teachers interested, I simply look at the first few weeks of everyone’s curriculum, find which classes can benefit from a library visit, then create inviting lessons the teachers can’t resist. I know you can do the same…

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Pin image of Middle School (6,7,8) Library OrientationsGet my 7g Library Orientation or 8g Library Orientation through my NoSweat TPT store, or save with the 678 Orientation bundle. You might also like my Reading Promotion for ELA and Social Studies package.

Reading Promotion for ELA and Social Studies


Looking Back @ Creating a Meaningful Library Orientation

Looking Back @ Creating a Meaningful Library Orientation - The purpose of any library lesson is to support what is happening in the classroom, and for a library orientation it's especially important to set the tone for the entire school year. Here's my rationale for what I do...and DON'T do...for my first visit with new-to-the-school students. #NoSweatLibrary #library orientation #ELA #reading fiction #middleschool #studentengagement #readingpromotionMy first 2 years as a new middle school librarian were fraught with mistakes, and my first 2 library orientations with ELA classes were horrible! Thankfully ELA teachers gave me that 3rd chance. I was able to create a lesson that is enjoyable for students and supportive of teachers.
Library Orientations for Location explains some of my orientation decisions, but I offer here more details on the rationale for what I do…and don’t do!

Before Orientation

The first day of school I show Introducing Your School Library through our whole-school TV channel. In this 3-minute video, I introduce myself, give a quick overview of  library locations, and give the times that the library opens and closes each day. This brief intro means new students are already aware of who I am so I can fully focus my Library Orientation on purposeful content. I also show the video to parents at PTA Open House and post it on our library Website—it’s a nice library advocacy tool!

I believe it’s important to establish a procedure for entering the library because it sets the tone for the rest of the visit. At our first staff development before school begins, I remind teachers that, when they bring their classes to the library, students enter, sit down, and wait quietly for me to begin. I tell them—and students—that this procedure applies to any library visit with any teacher for any purpose. Even if there’s no lesson and I return to my desk, like during testing, I still want students seated to settle them down so I can welcome them into the space.

I do this because I want teachers to respect that the library is my classroom and I need to direct activities. My teachers also appreciate the importance of having this procedure for hormonal middle schoolers! (If a class comes in a bit unruly, I stop them at the door, have them line up in the hallway and, once quiet, invite them to re-enter the library in the proper way.  I only need to do this once or twice before they get the picture!)

Purpose Determines Content

English Language Arts classes begin the year studying narrative literature, and teachers want to visit the library within the first two weeks of school so students can check out their first Fiction book. That establishes the purpose of the visit, so I eliminate everything from orientation that doesn’t serve this purpose. My content must be about reading Fiction and giving students plenty of time to find a book they’ll enjoy.

It’s a given that our lowest-grade-level students are new to the school and our building is an alien environment. They have new teachers, new peers, maybe a bus ride, a new schedule, new textbooks, and lockers. The library isn’t important (sorry friends, but it’s true), and it won’t become so if students are overwhelmed at their first visit. Whether 1st grade or 6th grade or 9th grade, newbie students only need to know 3 things about their “new” library:

  1. Where the Fiction area is and how it’s arranged
  2. How to choose a good book
  3. How to check out their book
We DON’T need to:

  • talk about returning books, since they haven’t checked any out yet.
  • talk about Dewey or any other area of the library because they’re only choosing a Fiction book.
  • discuss our website or online services, since they’ll only be browsing for a print book.
  • dictate rules that will only discourage them.
    (My ELA teachers want to return 2 weeks later for book return, so then I do Library Expectations—not “rules”—and policies, such as checkout period and overdues.)

Fiction Subject Bookmark (2-sided)I begin by having students tour the Fiction area to see how it’s arranged, recall how to identify a Fiction spine label, and put a simulated Fiction “book” on the shelf. They ‘win’ a customized Fiction Subject bookmark that builds anticipation for getting their first book. This activity only takes 6 or 7 minutes…lots of time left for discussing how to choose the perfect book.

tiny version of IT IS FOR ME appMany of my middle school students don’t actually know how to choose a book. I created IT IS FOR ME!, a mnemonic checklist on ¼ sheet of paper that looks like a phone app, and students watch a 4-minute video to learn how to use it:

I do limit students to one Fiction book for their first checkout and here’s why:

  • Newbies need time to practice using the app to narrow their choice.
  • For a variety of reasons, the first check-out takes more time, so a single choice allows it to begin sooner and go faster.
  • With so much new, these kids just can’t keep track of more than one book right now.
  • What I tell students is that everyone in the school will be checking out a Fiction book during the first couple weeks, and by limiting everyone to one Fiction book we maximize the selection for all.

Students have plenty of time to look for a book and fill out the app. I tell them they can pick a book and keep looking around; if they find a better one, leave the first one lying sideways on the shelf for me to re-shelve—an easy procedure, no questions. When they’ve found a book that fills the checklist, they give their app to the teacher for their daily grade, then return to their seat and begin reading to be sure they’ve chosen the “perfect” book.

I’ve mentioned before that my teachers like to give a daily grade for a library visit, and I don’t want the criterion to be behavior. Thus I always have a worksheet or exit ticket so teachers have a relevant document for a grade. 

Just as I have a standard procedure for entering the library, I also have a standard checkout procedure. At this first library visit students learn it and we follow it for every visit at every grade level for the entire school year.

  • After choosing books, students sit down and begin reading quietly for DEAR time (Drop Everything And Read). I discovered this early free reading allows students to become immersed in the story so they are more likely to continue reading the book to its finish. It’s true even for reluctant readers. (It also gives students a chance to change out their book if they realize it isn’t what they really want.)
  • To establish the orderly checkout process, I go to the library seating area and quietly invite 8-10 students—usually 2 tables—to come to the circulation desk for check out.
  • Students line up single file, continuing to read as the line moves up; when I’ve checked out their book, they return to their seat.
  • When each group is done, I go over and quietly invite another 8-10 students for checkout.
     (If students in line get chatty, I send them back to their tables and check them out after everyone else; they rarely do it again.)

My ELA teachers really love this checkout procedure, especially free reading, and they began to have DEAR time in their classrooms for half the period on the same day of the week between library visits. I’ve related in other posts how extended free reading improved our State Reading Test scores each year. When other middle schools in our district saw the dramatic increase, our principal shared that one of the factors was library DEAR time every other week. As a result, library visits every 2-3 weeks and free reading time were written into the middle school ELA curriculum.

Once I’ve finished the checkout procedure I allow students to continue reading until about 2 minutes before the class period ends. At that time I ask students for their attention, thank them for visiting, and tell them they’ll be returning in 2 weeks for another short lesson, when they can return their book and check out new ones.

A Second Library Visit

Sixth grade students return to the library two weeks later, following the procedure for entering the library. Middle schoolers are better at getting seated if I have the learning target displayed on either a screen (if I have a presentation) or an easel (if I don’t) so they know what to expect.

Again the purpose of the visit determines the content of the lesson, and this time students only need to know 2 things:

  • how to return books
  • library expectations (policies, procedures, behavior)

First we address returning books. Students who have finished their book are asked to place it in the return slot at the circulation desk. I lead students through deciding whether to return an unfinished book using a short animation called The 20-page Guide, then I state the checkout period—ours is 3 weeks—and how they can recheck/renew their book. Next I tell them “If you haven’t finished a book after 6 weeks, you aren’t enjoying it and you really need to get a different book.

Kids are always surprised about this opening. Somehow they’ve gotten the idea that they have to finish a book, even if they don’t like it. Absurd. With thousands of books in our fiction area, why shouldn’t a kid be able to sample until they find one they like enough to finish. Frankly, I think it’s they only way we can really learn what will spark our reluctant readers!

After a quick demonstration of where to go for a Fire Drill and a Code Red, students do a Concept Attainment activity at their tables to learn Library Expectations. The YES/NO organization of pictorial cards allows some discussion and cements the information much better than any explanation I could give. I know it’s successful because weeks later I’ll hear a student remind another one about the “picture” for something they’re doing or a question they have!

Before releasing students to the Fiction area to look for books—1 if they didn’t return their 1st book and 2 if they did—I present some additional reading choices that will interest them:

  1. our State’s Middle School Reading List book section
  2. Multicultural choices
  3. a Special Collection to support reading for their Social Studies curriculum.

Students again use the IT IS FOR ME app for 1 book choice as their daily grade, returning to their seat for DEAR time and the checkout process. Shortly before the end of the period I display the date of their next library visit and have them write it in their planner as a reminder to bring their books back. This action curbs a lot of overdue books!

Don’t Change Something That Works

This 6th grade library orientation was a success, year after year, for 10+years. ELA teachers love it because it gets kids reading right away and we don’t waste time on unnecessary minutiae. In fact, they come to me the week before school to be sure they’re scheduled for their orientation and successive visits. I do each 6g class separately for the first visit to have more time for the book checkout process; newly enrolled students needed to be entered into our automation system manually. After that the 2 classes come together, meeting directly in the library instead of the classroom to avoid disruption and to have more time.

A benefit of this lesson is I don’t need a lot of differentiation for Special Education students, for Reading Recovery students, or for Level 1 ESL students. I simply bring the classes in separately so I can work with them on the activities. I do feature additional reading choices that are adapted to their needs—especially picture books, graphic novels, and QuickReads (lower-level, easy reader chapter books).

As fun as this newbie orientation is, I don’t use it for returning students who already have some experience with the library. And I do have a library orientation for my higher grade level students! Read my next blog post about how I customize lessons for them.

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Orientation6gPinYou can get my 6g Library Orientation through my NoSweat TPT store, or get the 678 Orientation bundle!

Pin image of Middle School (6,7,8) Library Orientation


Looking Back @ Middle School Students & the School Library

Looking Back @ Middle School Students & the School Library - Middle school students can be a challenge. As Middle School Librarians we need to create scaffolded, grade-appropriate lessons that are engaging and content-rich, with activities that provide active practice. #schoollibrary #middleschool #librarylessons #engagementMiddle school—6th, 7th, and 8th grade—is the most changeable time period for children. The student who leaves the building after 8g is very different from the 6th grader who entered the building 3 years earlier. And 7g? My principal said, “There’s a special place in heaven for 7th grade teachers.” I think it probably has padded walls.

I believe understanding this stage of physical & mental development helps us adjust our expectations for the behavior of these 11-14-year-olds and create lessons that are appealing and engaging.

6th grade

Our newbies, the 6th graders, are just beginning the transition from the concrete childhood mind to the abstract adult mind. They are still accepting of adult guidance, but because they are now more capable of reasoning, they want to know why they are being asked to do something. They’ve not yet grown out of their ‘elementary’ self and are still a bit fidgety, so lessons for these students need to be short, visual presentations broken up with small segments of physical activity.

If you want to understand a 6th grader, visit a classroom during a testing session. It’s non-stop motion, hands, bodies, legs, fidgeting constantly. With all this movement, you’re sure the room must be infested with bugs.

7th grade

By 7g the body has settled down a bit, but everything—and I mean every single cell—in a 7th grader’s body is connected to their mouth. They can’t do anything without talking—not walking, sitting, listening, watching, reading, writing, keyboarding, looking for a book, eating, or even breathing. If they are awake, they are talking.

For a real treat, stand outside a restroom when a single 7th grader is in there.
I guarantee they will be talking, even though they are the only one there!

For a 7th grader peers are everything so they want to do everything in pairs (bathroom, lunch, locker, nurse, office), but 7th graders are also “orphans”: parents are to be avoided at all costs—they’ll insist on Mom dropping them off a block from school in the pouring rain, just so no one sees them with a parent…which means telling them you’ll call a parent about behavior is met with disdain.

And 7th graders are intellectually brain dead. With coordinating all the physical changes to their bodies, their brains can’t handle complex mental exertion, just like those alternating spurts of physical and mental growth when they were babies.

8th grade

The most startling change in middle school happens during the summer between 7g and 8g. When 8th graders appear in the fall, they’ve grown a foot and have become young adults. Their maturity is evident—they are less self-involved and more future-oriented—so are capable of complex critical thinking with global outcomes.

Most importantly, 8th graders expect us to treat them with dignity, but they bore easily and quickly, reverting to childhood shenanigans, so they need creative, independent activity.

Middle School  Library Lessons

I love being a Middle School Librarian because teachers are still willing to bring students frequently enough for continuity of lessons and the kids are old enough to use a variety of resources and technology tools. Also, these 3 years are a long enough period to scaffold lessons from novice to proficient, but a short enough period that integrating lessons into everyone’s curriculum isn’t overwhelming.

We can teach the same lesson to all 3 grade levels, but we must make the presentation and activities very different. We can plan a similar type of project, but offering different tools for the products opens up a realm of creative possibilities for librarians.

Sixth grade lessons still need lots of structure and step-by-step instruction. I establish a process or procedure, then use a similar structure for every lesson, gradually adding variety as the year progresses. For example, my 6g orientation and Dewey lessons use the same activity, and my ELA literary text units all begin with the same “book buffet,” so the focus is on the different materials, not on explaining a new procedure.

For 7th grade I regularly partner students, especially when they can “discuss.” We have to find interesting ways for them to recall prior knowledge and blend that into new material.  For example, my 7g orientation has students partner up for a scavenger hunt to activate prior knowledge of the library and to spotlight some materials they weren’t likely to use before.

Since 8th grade students are 13 they are able to use more online tools. For example, my 8g orientation has students use smartphones to view video book trailers to interest them in topical books they may not have considered. I can also introduce them to a wider range of subscription database services than I could in previous grades.

You can find my 6, 7, 8 Library Orientations in No Sweat Library Lessons, my TeachersPayTeachers store.

My Library Lesson Curriculum Matrix - Composite example of an older version for the 1st grading period.

Sample Library Lesson Matrix

Variation between grade levels is also needed when teaching information literacy skills. I’ve written about how I use my Library Lesson Matrix to scaffold these lessons throughout subjects within a grade level and bridge the grade levels by using similar processes to introduce new skills and tools. These lessons must also be embedded with subject standards and content vocabulary, to support content literacy and the development of independent learners.

Developing Independent Learners

Middle school content encompasses the transition from simple concrete lessons of elementary to the higher-level critical thinking students are expected to use in high school, and it’s the ideal time to develop independent learners. We can’t expect our students to become independent learners by themselves; it is a logical extension of having learned and practiced. We need to develop independence by design, not by chance, through scaffolded instruction and activities that allow students to practice in a gradually more independent manner.

Middle school students will not fully attain independence, but showing them how to become independent learners is part of our responsibility.

Infographic of the mind of a middle schoolerStudent independence is relative to concepts studied, resources used, and maturity of the learner. One mistake teachers often make is to think that just because students can read, they can read and learn subject-area content with minimal further instruction. Actually, we need to provide instruction to specifically support content-intensive reading materials:

  • teach reading and reasoning processes as a natural part of the curriculum
  • bring in concepts from multiple curriculum areas
  • guide independence relative to abstraction and complexity of materials.

We can do this if we organize instruction into 3 transitional types of activities: preparation, guidance, independence:

  • Preparation gets the student ready for reading through predictions, curiosity arousal, Conceptual Conflict (what if or how did that happen?), and anticipation guides.
  • Guidance activities teach how to apply reading and reasoning skills through extended anticipation guides and self-generated questions. Self-questioning aids retention, and students need to be led through such activities so it becomes automatic.
  • Independence allows students to work on their own, applying what they’ve learned, yet relying on the teacher’s guidance when needed. Discussion models such as think/pair/share, accountable talk moves, and Socratic seminars give students a chance for interaction with peers.

Independence does not mean isolation; it has to do with who is in charge. We cannot be impatient for our students to be independent, nor limit the time they need for becoming independent.

Library Lesson Planner template, Part 3

click to enlarge

Our middle school library lessons can incorporate these activities into each and every library visit. My Library Lesson Planner does that with Direct Instruction, Modeling/Guided Practice, and Independent Practice. When I show my completed Library Lesson Plan to a teacher, with their subject standards, content vocabulary, and these activities, they regard me as a teaching professional and are more willing to collaborate then and in the future.

Some Final “Helpers”

Middle school students can be a challenge. There are days when they aggravate us so much we’d like to ship them off to an island somewhere. Then there are joyful days when we can’t imagine teaching anywhere else! To help handle the day-to-day stresses—both ours and theirs—here are some general reminders I’ve accumulated over the years:

  • Stand still when you’re giving directions (don’t do 2 things at once)
  • Be specific about what to do (what to have on desk, what not to have; thank them as they complete task)
  • Control should be for purpose, not power. Correct misbehavior with the positive expectation, not the negative wrong. (“We don’t do that in this classroom because it keeps us from making the most of our learning time.” and “Thanks for [behavior that meets expectations].”  Reserve praise for what’s truly special or exceeds expectations.
  • Go from student who gets it wrong to students who get it right, then back to student who gets it wrong by asking a follow-up question to make sure they understand why they got it wrong and understand why the right answer is right.
  • Reaffirm expectations: I am respectful; I am responsible; I am ready to learn.

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