School is back in session and the class visit requests are rolling in. School librarians are pros at managing class visits. But for many public librarians, class visits may feel a little less comfortable than our regular storytime jams and STEAM programs that happen in our own, well-known program rooms. If you’re new to class visits or if it’s simply been a little while, join me for Class Visits 101: how to prepare, books to share, and the magic of brain breaks.
Preparing for a Class Visit
If you’re new to your school district, do a little research to learn about the demographics of your area. You want to be sure the books and programs you’re sharing represent the diverse communities you’ll find in the school. This includes different languages that might be spoken at home, disability populations, and diverse family structures.
Touch base with the teacher to get a good sense of their class and expectations. A presentation in the gym with 400 students is going to be very different from a visit in a classroom with a group of 30. Some teachers may have a certain subject request or a resource they’d like you to present on. Others may just like you to give a short storytime.
Any time I connect with a school in my area, I also make sure to reach out to the special education classrooms at that school. Children who are in contained classrooms often miss out on things like class visits, and I always try to make a connection with the special education teachers to make sure they know I would love to visit their students as well.
Great Read-Alouds for Elementary Schoolers
I always bring at least one book I can read all the way through. Many adults start to feel that as kids get older, picture books might become to babyish, but I find that kids of all ages (even up through college students!) love a good picture book. Picture book biographies and other nonfiction choices can also be really engaging reads with opportunities for discussion.
Some of my recent favorites include:
- Mr. S, by Monica Arnaldo. When a class arrives on their first day of school, they don’t see their teacher, but they do see a sandwich on the teacher’s desk, with the name “Mr. S.” written up on the chalkboard. They decide that the sandwich must be their teacher! A heap of goofiness ensues. (K-3).
- Snake’s Big Mistake, by Sarah Kurpiel. Snake makes a pottery project in art class, but it comes out all wrong. When the teacher mistakenly puts Snake’s name on the beautiful, amazing art made by Turtle, Snake decides to go along with it, and takes Turtle’s art home as their own. But that night, they start to worry they made a mistake. What can they do to make it right? (K-3).
- The Truth About Dragons, by Julie Leung. In this lavishly illustrated book, a parent is telling their biracial child a bedtime story envisioning the child going out on a fantasy quest to learn about dragons. The child encounters two wise old women – one who tells him about dragons as Western fantasy portrays them, and one who tells him about dragons as Eastern mythology portrays them – and the book gives a nod to the way this fantasy story reflects the child’s own background. (K-3).
- A Sky Blue Bench, by Bahram Rahman. This picture book, based on elements of the author’s childhood, depicts Aria, who loses her leg in an accident and returns to school with a prothesis. With no desks or chairs, however, the students all sit on the classroom floor – something that is too painful for Aria to do now. With determination, Aria resolves to build her own bench and support her education. (1-5).
- Hidden Creature Features, by Jane Park. This nonfiction title shares animals with truly surprising adaptations, from fish with human-looking teeth to tigers with webbed paws. (1-5).
- Whose Bones Are These? by Chihiro Takeuchi. This deceptively simple nonfiction book makes a great guessing game for readers, who are first presented with an animal skeleton, and must guess what animal is being shown before the reveal on the next page. (1-4).
Brain Breaks and Engagement
I use the same formula for every class visit, regardless of the grade level. It is not the only way to do things, but it helps me stay organized to keep the same order and simply swap in new books or brain breaks:
- Open with a banger. I read my funniest, wackiest book first. This is to trick the kids into thinking I am an enjoyable person.
- Make space for kids to settle down after our funny book. For younger grades this might mean singing a group song with gestures. “Tony Chestnut” and “Hi, My Name Is Joe (Button Factory Song)” are two of my common go-tos. For older grades this might mean getting out a surprising visual aid that represents my next topic and ask them to guess what we’ll be talking about next. For example, if I’m going to be talking about my job as a librarian, I might bring a collection of the weird and wacky things we’ve found in the book drop.
- Stop to give a little information about myself and the library. This is the place where I might explain what a librarian does for younger kids, or get older kids talking about the differences between fiction and non-fiction. I might also present on a library resource the teacher has requested.
- Present a surprising nonfiction book next. Books with unusual animals or engaging biographies are my favorites to hold kids interest.
- Give kids the opportunity to share something related to what we’ve read, either with me or with their neighbors. I might conduct a poll related to one of the books and ask the kids to answer in silly ways. I might ask a discussion question and have them share with their neighbor and then chose two or three volunteers to share with the group. If the teacher and setting make it appropriate, I might get kids up on their feet by asking them to vote on questions related to what we’ve read by walking to either side of the room.
- One more opportunity to talk books before I say goodbye. For older grades, I’ll give very quick book talks (two minutes or less) on three different titles (time allowing). For younger grades, I’ll pick one more book and read about half of it, ending on a cliffhanger (the better to bring you to the library!).
Take a Quick Note on How it Went
I keep a document that has a quick note for every class visit I do. Where I went, which teacher, how many students. I note what I shared, and how it went over. This helps me make sure I’m not bringing the same books to the same teacher every year. If I distributed anything – library card applications, program flyers, Summer Reading game sign ups – I make note of that too so that I can follow up and see if they mostly got crumpled in backpacks or actually used.
Of course, there’s so much more you can do with a class visit! You can add Mad Libs, STEAM activities, and more! The more you get to know a school, the better you’ll be able to tailor your visits.
Today’s blogger is Chelsey Roos. Chelsey is a Children’s Librarian for Santa Clara County Library. They have served on ALSC’s Advocacy and Legislation committee and the Library Service to Underserved Children and Their Caregivers committee. Book cover images used in this post belong to their publishers.
This blog relates to ALSC Core Competencies III. Programming Skills, IV. Collection Knowledge and Management, and V. Outreach and Advocacy.