Blogger School-Age Programs and Service Committee

Programming on the Fly

This year, I have been trying to boost library programming opportunities.  Planning a program can feel daunting, but it doesn’t have to be such a challenge.  If the goal is to get readers into the library and engaged with library resources, a program can be short, simple, and still fun!  In addition, planning time can be quick and dirty but still deliver a result that gets readers into the library.

I’ve chosen to focus on lunch & learn opportunities.  I work in a middle school and want to catch kids while they are at school, and not outside school hours.  The best time to do this is during lunch, which is 30 minutes for each grade level.  Quick engagement sessions can be modified to work for a public library outside of school hours or for a school library at a different level with a different schedule as well.

For each of these lunch & learn presentations, I spend anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple of hours on planning, but I very rarely exceed two hours in planning.  Each session lasts about 30 minutes and combines 5-10 minutes of instruction with an activity.  I save all of my materials so that I can use them again.

Step 1:  What are you celebrating?

I start with “national days.”  I have a Demco desk calendar that lists lots of different celebrations.  I’ve also used the books Days to Celebrate: A Full Year of Poetry, People, Holidays, History, Fascinating Facts, and More by Lee Bennett Hopkins (2005) and What Do You Celebrate? Holidays and Festivals Around the World by Whitney Stewart (2019). The National Days website ( is also a great resource.

At some point during the month, I take a quick look at the month ahead and identify days that could be fun.  I really like if a day ties in with library resources I can promote, but not having specific resources isn’t a deal breaker!  For January, I identified the following as potential lunch & learn programs:

  • JRR Tolkein Day (January 3)
  • World Braille Day (January 4)
  • Clean Your Desk Day (January 8)
  • International Thank You Day (January 11)
  • Rebecca Stead’s birthday (January 16)
  • Thesaurus Day (January 18)
  • Popcorn Day (January 19)
  • Jerry Craft’s birthday (January 22)
  • Compliment Day/Library Shelfie Day (January 24)
  • Multicultural Children’s Book Day (January 25)
  • Shannon Hale’s birthday (January 26)
  • Puzzle Day (January 29)

Step 2:  When can you celebrate?

My next step is to identify days that are good for lunch & learns and match up days with topics.  Because I had all three grade levels visiting for ELA instruction this month, this limited my ability to host lunch & learn programs on certain days for certain grades.  I settled on January 11, January 18, and January 29.  For the other celebrations, I may do some passive programming and highlight books available in our library on the topic.

Step 3:  Plan and Celebrate!

I am a firm believer in never recreating the wheel!  For lunch & learn programs, I rely heavily on these resources for activities:

  • National Day websites – many National Days have dedicated websites with information on the celebration and suggested activities.
  • Teachers Pay Teachers – I always look for any freebies on TPT.
  • YouTube – whatever the topic, I always look for fun videos appropriate to my age group on YouTube.
  • Google – Librarians may be the original search engine, but Google can still bring you lots of great ideas on any topic!

I may create Google slides or a YouTube playlist to go along with the activity.  I almost always have bookmarks for students who participate.  In addition, I may have a raffle or giveaway that ties in with our theme.

Here’s how we celebrated two of our three programs for January (one is coming up, and I’m planning!):

International Thank You Day

This lunch & learn was just for 6th grade. We began by watching a video from Time Magazine on why writing thank you notes is important.  We shared a fun picture book – Sallie Bee Writes a Thank-You Note – because picture books are for everyone, and then we learned the key elements of a thank you note from Emily Post. While we listened to a playlist of thank-you-themed songs on YouTube, students wrote notes using this cute template from Teachers Pay Teachers.

Thank you notes

Thesaurus Day actually has a great page about how to celebrate Thesaurus Day.  I purchased some cheap ($2.50) paperback thesauruses from my local Office Depot. You could get some donated or use ones in your collection or just use I paired these books with print-outs of song lyrics (including proper attribution, of course) and some books from our poetry collection.

We began by watching two videos offering different reasons to use a thesaurus:  one from a teacher about using words that are more interesting and complex and one featuring novelist Martin Amis discussing using a thesaurus to create more rhythmically pleasing writing.  Students then selected lyrics or a poem and rewrote them using the paperback thesaurus or as a resource. We chilled to a playlist of the songs that were “rewrite the lyrics” options.


Step 4:  How do you promote?

Finally, how do you get the word out?  I love to use Canva to create promos.  Sometimes, others have already created materials for national day celebrations that I can use as a template.  Here are the promos for my three January lunch & learns:

I shared these in our school Learning Management System, Schoology, on social media (Instagram and Facebook), and in my weekly Smore newsletter.  I find it important to share with teachers and parents as well as with students to maximize participation.

Step 5:  Consider the return

I have had a lot of fun putting together these quick sessions. While many have been very popular with students (like Gingerbread House Day and Hanukkah lunch & learns in December), even the ones with only a few students attending have been fun and provided a great opportunity to bring students into the library.  Since I limit planning time to two hours tops and plan to reuse these programs, having even a few students attend is still good bang for my planning time buck.  Students have provided great feedback about the programs and regularly ask what and when our next lunch & learn will be!

Sherry Neal works as a middle school librarian in Atlanta, Georgia.

One comment

  1. Eryn

    Something that has helped my sensitive, perfectionist heart is this: Kids won’t remember the details. They’ll remember how I feel and how they feel. Celebrate the joy of reading and making WITH them.

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