Middle School Students & School Library Lessons

Middle School Students & School Library Lessons - Middle school students are a challenge. When School Librarians understand this stage of physical and mental development, we can create scaffolded, grade-appropriate lessons that are engaging and content-rich, with activities that provide active practice. #NoSweatLibraryMiddle school—grades 6, 7, 8—is the most changeable time period for children. The student who leaves the building after 8th grade is very different from the 6th grader who entered the building 3 years earlier. And 7th grade? My principal says, “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.


image of 6th graderOur 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.


By 7g the body is now entering puberty, and everything—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!

image of 2 7g girls readingFor 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—albeit shorter—spurts of physical and mental growth when they were babies.


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.
image of 8th grade class

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.


Customize Middle School Library Lesson Activities to the Grade Level - In middle school libraries, we can teach the same lesson to all 3 grade levels, but the presentation and activities must be very different for each grade. Creating such varied lessons opens up a realm of creative possibilities for School Librarians. #NoSweatLibrary

Link to my customized library orientations!

For me, being a Middle School Librarian is the best grade level because teachers are still willing to bring students frequently enough for continuity of lessons and the kids are now old enough to use a wider 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 all subject and grade level curricula isn’t overwhelming.

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

For 6g lessons I still offer 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 6g Dewey lesson 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 7g lessons I regularly partner students, especially to have them “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 8g 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.

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

We also need variation between grade levels when teaching information literacy skills. I’ve written about how I use my Library Lesson Matrix to scaffold Info-Lit lessons throughout subjects within a grade level, and embed subject standards and content vocabulary to support content literacy. My Matrix also helps me bridge the grade levels by using similar processes to introduce new Info-Lit skills and tools, and to develop independent learners.


Middle school content encompasses the transition from simple concrete lessons of elementary to the higher-level critical thinking that students are expected to use in high school. It’s the ideal time to develop independent learners, but we can’t expect our students to become independent learners by themselves—it’s 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 How the Mind of a Middle Schooler WorksStudent 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 like extended anticipation guides, graphic organizers, and self-generated questions teach students how to apply reading and reasoning skills. Self-questioning aids retention, and students need to be led through such metacognitive activities so it becomes automatic.
  • Independence allows students to work on their own, applying what they’ve learned. Discussion models such as think/pair/share, accountable talk moves, and Socratic seminars give students a chance for interaction with peers, yet rely on the teacher’s guidance when needed.

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

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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.

Here are two resources which you may find helpful in developing lessons for middle schoolers:


6 Middle School Teaching Tips - Middle school students can be a challenge, especially in the school librarian. Here are some day-to-day "helpers" I've learned over the years... #NoSweatLibraryMiddle 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 learned 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, but reserve praise for what’s truly special or exceeds expectations (“Thanks for [behavior that meets expectations].”) 
  • 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.”)
  • 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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5 Essential Literacies for Students: Part 4 Digital Literacy

5 Essential Literacies for Students: Part 4 Digital Literacy - Our students need to be proficient in 5 Essential Literacies and School Librarians can integrate a Library Literacy component into any class visit. In Part 4 we look at ways to incorporate Digital Literacy into library visits, so students learn how and when to use personal tools, group tools, and presentation tools. #NoSweatLibraryIn our complex, information-rich, culturally diverse world, literacy is no longer just knowing how to read and write. Students need to understand and be proficient in Five Essential Literacies to be successful in our global society:

  1. Reading and Writing (the original literacy)
  2. Content/Disciplinary Literacy (content & thinking specific to a discipline)
  3. Information Literacy (the traditional library curriculum)
  4. Digital Literacy (how and when to use various technologies)
  5. Media Literacy (published works—encompasses all other literacies)

As School Librarians we need to integrate at least one Library Literacy component into every class visit to the library, so I’m addressing each of these literacies in a separate blog post to offer examples/suggestions about how we might do that. Previous blog posts covered reading literacy, content/disciplinary literacy, and information literacy, so this post looks at Digital Literacy as more than Technology Competency.


The definitions of Digital Literacy are numerous. Here are a few:

  • Digital Literacy-the ability to use technology to navigate, evaluate, and create information. Common Craft
  • Digital Literacy is the ability to understand, use and safely interact with technology, media and digital resources in real-world situations. Learning.com
  • Digital literacy…includes knowledge, skills, and behaviors involving the effective use of digital devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop PCs for purposes of communication, expression, collaboration and advocacy. Wikipedia
  • Digital literacy…specifically applies to media from the internet, smartphones, video games, and other nontraditional sources. [It] includes both nuts-and-bolts skills and ethical obligations. Common Sense Media
  • Digital Literacy is the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills. ALA Digital Literacy Task Force
  • AASL National School Library Standards defines Technology Literacy as the “ability to responsibly use appropriate technology to communicate, solve problems, and access, manage, integrate, evaluate, and create information to improve learning in all subject areas and to acquire lifelong knowledge and skills.”

These definitions include Technology Competencyknowing how to USE technology equipment, applications, and online services, but too often we show students how to use a tool within the narrow confines of a particular assignment and fail to teach them why that tool is being used. Consequently, today’s students have and use digital devices, but they don’t really comprehend the digital world. We must, as the definitions clarify, go beyond mere tech competence and build Digital Literacy: a full understanding of the type and purpose of technology tools so as to communicate original multimedia productions through multiple devices and platforms.

With the increase in cloud computing, students can only achieve digital literacy if they understand these broad digital and online concepts:

  • Source: desktop application, personal device app, or cloud computing.
  • Purpose: personal use, presentation, or group collaboration.
  • Audience interaction: 1-to-1, 1-to-many, or many-to-many
  • Delivery method: 1-way broadcast or 2-way exchange
  • Response interval: synchronous (same time) or asynchronous (different times)
  • Scope & Efficacy: all potential uses vs. the best use
    For example, a word-processing tool’s best use is to record information, but it can be a collaboration tool by using comment and track-changes features, it can be a multimedia tool by including charts, images, and hyperlinks, and it can be a presentation tool by publishing to a larger online audience.


Here are some practical tips on creating lessons that help students learn types of tools rather than brands, so they can better choose according to their needs. | No Sweat LibraryCreating lessons that integrate technology and digital literacy in an authentic way can be daunting. I find that models such as SAMR, TPACK, LOTI, and TIM are more theoretical than practical, and as busy school librarians we need practical. So, I ask this fundamental question: How do I create Digital Literacy Library Lessons that:

  • are short & simple and can be scaffolded over time?
  • focus on the objective of the assignment and the purpose of the library visit?
  • have a classroom-related activity so students can practice what they learn?

With such lessons, teachers, who otherwise might not know about or use the tools, can see how to integrate them into their own lessons.

ISTE provides Technology Standards for Students as 7 Outcomes, under which we can organize our in-house and online tools, as shown in this table:

designer /maker
Mind map

Organizing types of tools, rather than brands, prompts me to create lessons that teach students what a tool is and why to use it, regardless of who makes it. Furthermore, when I introduce tools to students, I present them through these 3 Digital Literacy Conceptual Groups:

  • Personal individual tools (1-to-1) for organization, communication, learning, and reflection, like email, digital documents, and digital storage.
  • Presentation tools (1-to-many) to create and publish original multimedia products, like blogs, audio pod-casts, slide shows, animations, videos, and live streaming.
  • Group tools (many-to-many) for collaborating with others, like chats, discussion forums, wikis, social networks, and Web/video conferencing.

This grouping incorporates broad digital concepts that can be turned into short, simple lessons, and makes it easy to introduce a variety of media & technology tools for students to express themselves and add creativity & value to their products.

PRACTICES TO PROMOTE DIGITAL LITERACY6 Ways to Integrate Digital Literacy in Library Lessons - NoSweat Library ideas for School Librarians to introduce a variety of media & technology tools so students can express themselves and add creativity & value to their products. #NoSweatLibrary

  1. Convince teachers to introduce technology early in the school year & integrate it throughout the year so we can gradually build skills in students. So often big technology projects happen after State testing, but a school only has so many computers and kids can only learn so much new stuff at a time!
  2. I use my Library Lesson Curriculum Matrix to decide which Subject will most benefit from a new technology tool, and I prepare a Library Lesson Plan to convince the teacher to visit the library with their class. For example, when the 6g Spanish teacher asked how students could give online written responses to practice vocabulary, I introduced my “Cloud Computing” lesson with a district-provided online service that fulfilled that need.
  3. Introduce a new technology tool to students by using it as an alternative for a non-tech task; later it’s easy to interest them in new ways to use the familiar tool. I often try new tools with ELL and SpEd students—these teachers are very flexible with curriculum and eager to give their students new experiences. Lessons must be short, simple, and specific so these students grasp what I’m showing them, and classes are small so I can work with each student individually. Because technology is visual, interactive, and adaptable for every learner, they learn quickly and use the tools for other classroom activities. I can later introduce the tool to larger groups of students, having ironed out any problems.
  4. When technology is the end product of an Info-Lit project, I introduce the technology tool during the Create phase of the problem solving model. I show students the tool while the teacher distributes a checklist of end product requirements and an assessment rubric, both of which include my input for the technology tool.
  5. When integrating technology into a project that allows students to work outside the classroom or library, we need to be cognizant of the digital divide in our schools. Always offer alternatives to a technology product that meet the assessment evidence, but are completely different in nature. (When offering options to middle school students, we find that 3 choices gives variety without being overwhelming for students—or for teachers to create guidelines and rubrics.)
  6. Think about how to scaffold lessons in small chunks across subjects within a grade level or across different grade levels. For example:
    • 6g Social Studies students learn that landmarks & monuments reflect the culture of a country. I show students how to search for copyright-free images online, and they use an in-house tool to create a picture calendar of landmarks from 12 countries. This project is repeated the following year with 7g State History monuments as a tech refresher for students.
    • A 7g ELA project offers students the option to create a song about a novel they’ve read. Students learn to find copyright-free soundtracks online then use an in-house audio tool to create and sing the song. (7th graders like singing, even into a computer!) Students also create a cover for a CD container, using prior knowledge to find copyright-free images.
    • When 8g ELA students create a video book-talk, I just need to review how to find copyright-free images and sounds online. I show them how to upload files to an online video-creation service then copy the URL into an online QR-code generator so others can view their book-talk.


In spite of the abundance of technology tools, educators still have obstacles to overcome: availability and reliability of tools, wide variation in teacher comfort, and the digital divide among students having home access to the Internet. And while we educators use digital tools every day for professional and administrative needs, what students need for their work is quite different. Thus, our challenge is to equip students with the digital literacy that will help them achieve success in school and in their future.

For further reading, try these 6 Books on Digital Literacy.

This is the fourth entry in my series of blog posts on the 5 Essential Literacies for Students. I invite readers to offer comments and suggestions about any or all of these literacies.

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Short, Simple, and Relevant School Library Lessons

Short, Simple, and Relevant School Library Lessons - Students need and deserve short, simple School Library Lessons that support classroom learning. School Librarians need to focus on a single objective and offer a meaningful activity so students can practice what they learn. Here are some tips on how to create a good Library Lesson. #NoSweatLibraryPutting student needs first means we don’t throw everything at them, all at once. It means we teach only the information or skill students need for the short time they are in front of us—and that is a very different perspective. What students deserve from School Librarians are short, simple lessons that support classroom learning and inculcate the multiple literacies important in our global society.

I regard library materials as accessories for Library Lessons. If books and electronic devices were the most important part of the library, they wouldn’t need us at all. Yes, there are those in school districts, in the business community, and in the political arena who think just that, but School Librarians know that even if the library and everything in it burns down, we can still teach kids what they need for their future success, better than any physical materials ever can. So let’s focus on creating meaningful Library Lessons that students need.


Our biggest adjustment from classroom to library is that we won’t see students day after day for lessons; most of the time we have a single class period to influence and inspire their learning. The key to a quality Library Lesson is to support what students are studying in the classroom and avoid anything that does not achieve the purpose of the library visit. Our Library Lessons need to build on classroom experiences, otherwise, it’s all meaningless to the student and quickly forgotten.

Most kids, of any age, remember something they do better than something they’re told, so our Library Lessons need to focus on a single objective and have a meaningful activity so students can practice what they learn. We need to know every teacher’s curriculum—not the depth, but the breadth of all subject curricula through all grade levels—so we can determine when teachers are likely to bring classes to the library, what students are studying that brings them to the library, and what they need to know about the library to do what the teacher expects them to do.

Library Lesson Curriculum Matrix example

click to enlarge

To keep track of lessons, I created a visual guide: my “Library Curriculum Matrix.” I examined subject area curriculum guides for classroom assignments that would need library visits or materials, then entered the name and time span for those units on my Matrix. Once complete I can plan short lessons to progressively build Information Literacy skills for each grade level throughout the school year. My matrix changes as standards and course curricula change, and I can maintain a broad view of Info-Lit visits to (and collection needs for) my middle school library. It’s also pretty impressive to teachers when I pull it up for scheduling their library visit—they really see what a School Librarian’s job is all about!

Create Short, Simple, & Relevant School Library Lessons with this Planner! - My School Library Lesson Planner template is designed to integrate subject Standards with National School Library Standards. It's easy for School Librarians to create lessons for single visits or entire units, and follow best practices for teaching and learning. #NoSweatLibraryI learned pretty quickly that if I want the principal and teachers to regard me as a teaching professional, I need to have a formal lesson plan for my Library Lessons. I combined the best parts of other lesson planners into my own Library Lesson Planner. By starting with subject area content standards, I can integrate library standards and keep the purpose of the library visit clearly in mind throughout the planning process.

Download my Library Lesson Planner as a .docx or a .PDF from my Free Librarian Resources page.


I’ve always tried to see the big picture, and my Library Curriculum Matrix and my Library Lesson Planner allow me to do that. At the same time, they allow me to take a complex concept or process and simplify it. These two planning documents have helped me create successful and meaningful lessons for students as a School Librarian for grades 6-8.

Here are some of my tips to create a good Library Lesson:

  1. Customize lessons for the age of your students; what works for 6g may not work with 7g and definitely won’t work with 8g.
  2. Teach only what students need to perform the task at hand; if they won’t need it, don’t mention it. Less is better!
  3. Limit slide presentations to 10-12 slides with only one bit of content per slide. Use illustrative graphics, whether images, charts, or examples, to provide anticipation for what you’ll say.
  4. Use lots of infographics and graphic organizers rather than textual worksheets. Save the reading for the books!
  5. Model with students what you want them to do. Seeing is not only believing, it is learning!
  6. Always give students a chance to move around sometime during the class period.

3 Succinct Explanations of Short, Simple, & Relevant School Library Lessons - Read about 3 examples of how I simplify to keep a School Library Lesson short, yet also relevant by fully integrating it with subject-area classroom activity. #NoSweatLibraryOne example of how I keep a lesson simple and relevant is teaching students the different type of stories in the Fiction section. The first time I tried teaching adventure, mystery, etc. as “genres“, the kids were completely confused because they’d been learning in their ELA class that genres are types of literature: narrative, expository, drama, poetry. I quickly changed the term to Fiction “Subjects” and they readily understood—they already associated Subject with Dewey books and with an OPAC Book Search for the kind of story they want to read.

An example of a short and relevant lesson is introducing Dewey books with 6g & 7g Math classes so they can practice decimals at the start of their unit. Since all students really need to know is how to locate a number on a shelf, that’s what my lessons do. The teachers love it because it’s more fun than a review test, yet they can fully interact with students during the lesson to see who might need extra help.

I also keep it short, simple, and relevant by using a WebQuest to introduce online subscription services. I pick one of our online encyclopedias and 1 or 2 other services that support the classroom activity, and students learn to use 1 or 2 different features from each one to complete their assignment. Teachers love my WebQuests—they are customized for their unit and give students quality online information sources without time-wasting Internet searches.


I discovered that by keeping students and Library Lessons as the priority, and treating the school library as just a bigger classroom with a lot more stuff, everything else about the library falls into place: collection development, facility organization, library scheduling, library advocacy, and even professional development. Simplifying my Library Lessons helped me simplify managing my School Library, and I’m sure it will help you do the same.

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