In this week’s Princh Library Blog post, guest writer Lucas Maxwell shares his advice and experiences with holding library lessons for children. Enjoy!

In the high school library that I manage, ages 11-13 come into the library once every two weeks with their English teacher for a timetabled library lesson. I am very fortunate that Senior Leadership within the school asks me to lead these lessons to help promote literacy and reading for pleasure throughout the school.

I have been running library lessons for the past ten years and in that time have learned some lessons of my own. It was a trial by fire as I had never worked in a school before, ever. I had, however, worked with teenagers in the public library system so I was able to apply some knowledge to working in a school, but it took me quite some time to find a place where I felt I was really having an impact.

I am going to share below some of the things that have stuck with me in the past ten years as being successful approaches to library lessons. Something to consider is that our library lessons are one hour in length, you may need to tweak these approaches to ensure your students are getting the most out of them.

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Read Aloud

There is a stereotype that floats around secondary schools that compels teachers and staff to stop reading aloud to students once they get older. Reading aloud to older students not only engages them in fun and different ways, but it is also beneficial to how they approach literature. I read aloud almost every library lesson. I do voices, create jump scares, stand on chairs, anything to show enthusiasm for the text. If you, the adult in charge of a group of students, are not showing enthusiasm for what you are trying to “sell” them, it should not come as a surprise if they in turn do not approach reading with anything other than apathy and boredom. I read everything from comic books to choose-your-own-adventure where I get the class to vote on which path our character should take. Showing enthusiasm for reading by reading aloud and promoting great books will see a huge uptake in student engagement.

Give Them Choice

At the start of every library lesson, I give the students ten minutes or so to wander through the shelves to find a book they would like to read. I am there to provide help if needed, promoting books as I wander around. Your secondary school library should be filled with manga, comics, magazines, books that are aimed at dyslexic readers, even wordless picture books. The idea (brought forward by some amazing US librarians) that books act as both windows and mirrors has always stuck with me. Students want to see themselves reflected in the material that they are reading. Whether it is a graphic novel about a family with nine children that struggles to cope or a book about an autistic girl who is taking on the system, books need to act as mirrors so students will be able to create a connection that sustains their interest. On the flip side, books should act as a window to the world outside of their own. What better way to step into the shoes of someone who has suffered through the trauma of fleeing their own country to find haven somewhere else than by reading a book? Reading builds empathy, reading creates opportunities for others to understand what it is like to experience grief, loss, pain, whatever it is. You cannot do this without choice.

Read With Them

You might (not) be surprised that older students get very, very little time to simply shut their minds off and read in a quiet space. After everyone has their books, we read in quiet for another fifteen or so minutes. I am sitting down and reading as well, I am not marking books or typing on my computer, I am reading a book in silence alongside them. Otherwise, many students will consider this part of the lesson some sort of punishment in my opinion. Read with them, discuss what they are reading, let them have this quiet time to just be.

If I had to give any final advice on running a library lesson it would be to let them discuss their favourite books to their peers and to give them an opportunity to recommend books to each other. Let them change their books if they do not like it, let them re-read books over and over if they want, let them explore the magic of finding that line of a book that carves its way into their brains forever.

We will be back with another interesting article from the library world soon!

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Lucas Maxwell

Lucas Maxwell

Lucas Maxwell has been working with youth in libraries for fifteen years. For the past ten years he has been the librarian at Glenthorne High School in south London, UK.

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