How to Make a Make-Up Library Research Assignment Unique

How to Make a Make-Up Library Research Assignment Unique - When a performing arts student came into the School Library to “make up” for a missed performance, this School Librarian turned boring into a unique alternative "performance." Now I always ask 3 key questions and use unconventional resources and tools for make-ups! #NoSweatLibraryWe all get them…students who show up in the School Library with a sheet of paper assigning a research project to “make up” for something they didn’t do, so they don’t fail the class. This can be the worst kind of student library visit—the student regards this as a punishment and because there’s been no collaboration with the teacher, we may not have the resources for the assigned project.

Instead of being annoyed, we need to view these incidental research assignments as wonderful opportunities to step beyond the boundaries of curriculum, to try something different, and to use resources that are rarely used.


My first incidental assignments came from performance arts classes—Band, Choir, and Orchestra—because students missed a scheduled performance. The teachers all used the same make-up assignment—a 3-page biography research paper—differing only in the list of composers or performers. When faced with this situation, I asked myself 3 questions:

  1. How can I motivate this student so they want to do the project?
  2. How can I adapt the assignment for the resources I have?
  3. How can I transform the product and still satisfy the teacher?

How a School Librarian Can Change an Incidental Assignment - What any School Librarian would consider a real inconvenience can become one of our best library research activities! Just ask these 3 questions to change a make-up assignment for the better. #NoSweatLibrary

Often these students miss a performance through no fault of their own, so they’re not keen to write a research paper. To motivate them I suggest using alternate resources to gather information and, replace their missed performance with a unique product:

Produce a short recorded performance as a radio or TV “host” discussing their artist.

None of my performance arts students turned down this suggestion, and after running the idea by teachers, they loved the idea, too, especially since it aligns with 3 National Core Arts Standards for Music:

  • MU.Performing4.1.6: Apply teacher-provided criteria for selecting music to perform for a specific purpose and/or context, and explain why each was chosen.
  • MU.Pr4.1.7: Apply collaboratively-developed criteria for selecting music of contrasting styles for a program with a specific purpose and/or context and, after discussion, identify expressive qualities, technical challenges, and reasons for choices.
  • MU.Pr4.1.8: Apply personally-developed criteria for selecting music of contrasting styles for a program with a specific purpose and/or context and explain expressive qualities, technical challenges, and reasons for choices.

My question technique is so successful that I use the same process when any student walks in with an incidental research assignment that lacks a WOW factor.


Topical non-traditional resources that are rarely used are perfect for an incidental research assignment. The student hasn’t seen them before, and they’re more engaging than an encyclopedia for research. These little-used resources include:

  • videos of people, places, performances, and events like cultural festivals
  • music cassettes and CDs by various composers and performing groups
  • graphics and animation on computer CDs or websites
  • kits of pamphlets, booklets, and brochures
  • primary sources as print copies or online.

Remember those “reference interviews” we practiced in library school? They are valuable for finding out what interests the student about the particular class, so we can determine which of our resources will fit both student and subject. I grab 2 or 3 resources related to the assignment’s theme & the student’s interests, and the student previews them. They pick a person or performance, and we gather additional print and non-print informational sources about their choice. I use the assignment sheet to ascertain the teacher’s content standards and research criteria, so I can give the student a note-taking learning log or graphic organizer that aligns with the requirements.

Turn a Boring Biography Project Into an Exciting Podcast Interview - Biography assignments can be so boring. School Librarians can turn blah into exciting by asking 3 key questions and using some unconventional resources and tools! #NoSweatLibraryMy performing arts students become immersed in this make-up assignment and are excited to produce a unique “alternative” performance. The student writes a script for their talk radio show, giving biographical information, the person’s place in history, and why they chose them.

Once the script is polished and the sample performances are readied, the student records their own “performance” interlaced with examples of the music. Both script and recording are turned in for a grade. (We originally used audio- or video-cassettes but now use digital tools such as Audacity or MovieMaker.)


Impressed with the alternate performance-based product, Band, Choir, and Orchestra teachers adopted this redesigned project for all performance make-up assignments. They send their students to the library with instructions to “do whatever Ms. P tells you!” I keep track of musical performances on my library calendar so I know when to expect students for a make-up assignment.

So, what are some of the “performance analyses” students have done?

  • Composers ranging from Beethoven to the Beatles.
  • Singers and musicians from Scott Joplin to Janis Joplin, including greats like Billy Holiday and Glenn Miller, and pop icons like Frank Sinatra and hip-hop trendsetters.
  • Music from the medieval period and the Texas Scarborough Faire Renaissance festival to Revolutionary War and Civil War songs to cultural festivals from 4 continents.
  • Old folk instruments to homemade street drumming to electronically produced tunes.

We’ve used so many—what I thought were obsolete—audio/video/digital items that I actually add resources for more variety. I set up an audio station in our existing Video Production Lab so we have a place for producing audio projects, which I now add as podcasts on our library website.

What any school librarian could have considered a real pain has become one of my best library research activities. It turned what was a discouraging prospect into a meaningful learning experience for performing arts students. And as word spread, other teachers began to ask me to modify their make-up assignments for the better.

That’s some mighty powerful PR for the School Library!

line of books laying down - indicates end of blog article

Join my mailing list to get a brief email about new posts on library lessons & management. You'll also gain access to my exclusive e-Group Library of FREE downloadable resources!

3 Ways to Integrate Pop Culture into the School Library

3 Ways to Integrate Pop Culture into the School Library - School Librarians can engage students and build relationships by bringing pop culture into the library: integrate it into the collection, infuse it into lessons and signage, and incorporate it into projects to capture personal preferences. Read on for examples ... #NoSweatLibraryEducators are encouraged to bring popular culture into the classroom in meaningful ways to engage students and build relationships. For many this means chatting with students about popular music, movies or TV shows; to others it means using popular culture to introduce lessons. While both of these efforts can awaken a student’s initial interest in listening to us, we need more to sustain active student learning.

School Librarians must have a keen sense of what appeals to our students in order to bring them into our facility. Here are 3 ways a School Librarian can bring pop culture into the Library:

  • by integrating it into the library collection,
  • by infusing it into library lessons and signage,
  • by incorporating it into student projects.


To integrate is to bring together or incorporate parts into a whole, to combine into one unified system. We do this when we ‘mix, merge, and blend’ popular literature and non-fiction topics into the print and online reading collection. We librarians use print & online vendor catalogs and online librarian blogs about children’s & young adult literature to discover those books and topics that are currently popular with students throughout the global library community. I regularly used Follett’s Titlewave to discover the most popular books to add to the fiction collection, and yearly in-school visits with reps from Davidson Titles and Rainbow Books enabled me to bring entertaining books from more than 2 dozen publishers into the non-fiction collection.

clot & scab book hawk & drool book itch & ooze book rumble & spew book
Images from

Junior Library Guild is another invaluable collection development service for reading materials. With a reasonably priced yearly subscription I received more than a dozen popular fiction & nonfiction books each month on a variety of subjects and reading levels, including graphic novels & Spanish-language titles. According to their website, over 95% of their selections receive awards and/or favorable reviews, and their books circulate more than other books published for children and teens.


To infuse is ‘to introduce, as if by pouring’. We do this when we insert pop icons in library signage and intersperse popular expressions into our lessons. The American Library Association’s Celebrity READ posters are a perfect example of signage that appeals to our students and arouses them to visit the library.

common READ poster derek jeter READ poster beauty & the beast READ poster fantastic beasts poster
Images from ALA Store

fairy tale plot element introduction "long, long ago"We needn’t be experts at popular culture to interject references into our lessons. In my Fairy Tales Library Lesson I use “Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away…” as an introduction every student recognizes as the beginning of all Star Wars movies.

Making pop culture a reason for doing something during a lesson makes an even bigger impact on student engagement. My 6g Library Orientation Guided Activity introduces Christopher Paolini, who wrote the book Eragon when he was only 15, as inspiration for each student to discover where we’d place their own Fiction book (a sticky note w/ their personal call #) on our library shelves.

We can infuse pop culture into lessons in other similar ways, such as the recent trend toward gamification, speed dating or “dining” with various fiction story subjects/genres, and using social media or emojis for activities.


Add Pop Culture For Meaningful Student Projects - School librarians gain the most buy-in from students when they can express their personal pop culture preferences. But, we may need to rethink the entire lesson so the end product incorporates pop culture with a true assessment of lesson objectives. Read on for 3 examples... #NoSweatLibraryTo incorporate is to unite or combine so as to form one body. This is where we gain the most buy-in from students, as we amalgamate, embody, and fuse pop culture with projects so students can express their personal preferences. It’s also the most challenging: we may need to rethink the entire lesson so the end product incorporates pop culture as a true assessment of lesson objectives. Here are 3 examples of how teachers and I adjusted lessons to provide authentic, real world pop culture products:

  • A 7th grade research project had students choose a Greek or Roman god/goddess, record their attributes from books or websites, and create a written paper or slide presentation of the information. Ho hum…I’m yawning and so were they. My suggestion: compare a Greek or Roman god/goddess with a current popular star from TV, film, music, or sports, explain the key attributes they share, and why you think these two were/are idolized.
    Every kid has a favorite star, someone they seek to emulate, and this assignment helps them examine the qualities they admire in this person and whether they really do want to be like them. They must also examine several Greek/Roman deities to decide who to compare, which demands a more skillful analysis than the original assignment, and juxtaposing ancient mythology with ‘modern mythology’ helps students realize the continued need we humans have to look outside ourselves for help in understanding and coping with life.
  • Music teachers—band, choir, and orchestra—used the same assignment for missed performances: a 3-page biography research paper differing only in the list of composers/musicians. I suggested that students have a performance-based make-up assignment using the library’s varied audio/video collection.
    For the revised lesson, a student listens to or views 2 or 3 composer/musician performances and picks a favorite. They still do the biography research, but rather than a research paper, they write a script as if they’re a music radio host, playing musical excerpts while discussing the person: biographical information, their place in history, and how the music influenced or compares to a current performer that they like.
    The student records their “performance,” interlaced with music examples (originally on an audio-cassette but later through a digital format) and both the written script and audio recording are turned in for the grade. It’s fascinating for students to discover how “old” music relates to their current favorites!
  • 8g Spanish and Science classes study weather during the first semester. The teachers expanded concepts and vocabulary, I taught students the fundamentals of scriptwriting & storyboarding, and I provided video examples so student teams could produce live broadcasts of weather reports from our library’s TV broadcast studio.
    Spanish students did a daily weather report en Español for a city in a Spanish-speaking country and Science students reported historical weather disasters around the world, ranging from Vesuvius to Fukushima.  Students in the classroom watched through our closed-circuit TV system.
    The Spanish teacher liked the TV project so much, she designed her end-of-year Spanish project, for students to show their language prowess, by having teams produce a live-TV reality, talk, or game show. Students love it, and it is so hilarious to hear their renditions of Oprah and Survivor “en Español!”


Implementing these 3 ways to bring pop culture into the library requires an awareness of what appeals to each grade level of our students. While a classroom teacher typically has a single grade level of students, the School Librarians must appeal to anywhere from 3 to 6 grade levels, more if their library serves a combined campus! It’s important to circulate among students before and after school, in the hallways, in the cafeteria, and during their library visits so we can listen to their conversations about what’s important to them.

line of books laying down - indicates end of blog article

Join my mailing list to get a brief email about new posts on library lessons & management . You'll also gain access to my exclusive e-List Library of FREE resources!