Let’s Get Physical!

Olivia got it right when she encouraged us to get physical back in the 80’s. My assistant and I are taking her advice and applying it to our embedded librarian program and so far, the results are making us smile like this:


We have embedded in our school’s 5 freshman history courses and are utilizing one of their 15 minute grab blocks each week, either before or after their class period, to provide a foundation of research skills.

I don’t know about ya’ll but whether it’s a ‘one and done’ research lesson, a formal research course, or a 15 minute mini-lesson, I refuse to look out and see glassy, dead eyes, staring back at me any longer. True, there are those rainy, 8 a.m. classes and yes, there are the periods before and after lunch, but I think I’ve found the answer: get them moving, get them thinking, get them engaged and they are sure to tune in. It’s not aerobics that we’re asking of them. No, we are employing active learning techniques to get our students moving, engaging in the lessons and hopefully, making a lasting impression.

Some examples of methods we have employed:

Introducing a bird’s eye view research process as a sorting game. We printed out the steps for a very basic research process, cut the strips up, and put them in envelopes. We divided the class into groups of 3-4 and asked them to sort the steps chronologically. Some did a linear version, others a circle or other shape. We then discussed/debated the order. [Note: we repeated this exercise with our Sophomore classes who had been through the research process as freshmen, and the discussion was so much richer. It will be fun to repeat this game with this group next year to see if their perspective has changed.]


The parts of a book. We created a Google form, we rolled a cart full of books (some relevant to the hunt, others as decoys) into their history classroom, and we let them go to town, scavenger hunt style. We reviewed their responses to gauge accuracy/understanding.

Using the Library Catalog. We merged this with Banned Books Week, explaining the significance of the week and why we celebrate our freedom to read, then we asked the girls to search by title to see how many of the 10 most frequently challenged books we own. We showed them how to use subject headings to do lateral searches, how to search by author, how to place a hold, how to use our google form to recommend titles for purchase, etc.

Reading Spine Labels. We use LC and while we don’t expect our students to memorize the classification system, we do want them to be able to locate book on the shelves. We explained the difference between Dewey and LC, then began the activity. We had cut up strips of construction paper, attached spine labels, mixed them up in an envelope, and we asked pairs to put them in order on the table in front of them like they would books on a cart. We then asked them to go to the library catalog to look up various subjects to see if a book on their “shelf” might fall within that subject area.

End notes (CMS)-citing a primary source within a secondary source. This was fun and easy! We asked students to pair up and copy a citation on the board. We then switched partners and asked them to mark up the citation: to underline the primary source title, to set the publication year “ON FIRE!” (note, they don’t think it’s that funny to sing “the roof, the roof, the roof is on fiiire!” in the same way that you or I might), to circle the secondary source title, to draw their favorite emoji under the publication date, etc. Shockingly, we only got two poo emojis. Girls’ school. They had fun while working through the parts of a citation “formula” and lots of relevant conversation emerged.

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Keywords: We typed up a variety of research questions, cut them up, and put them in a box. Girls drew a question. They opened a word doc and spent 2 minutes reading broadly to get some background information on their topic. We asked them to spend 1 minute writing down keywords associated with their topic. We asked them to open Thesaurus.com and to look for synonyms of terms, to think about related groups, phrases, or ideas and add those to the list. They then turned to their neighbor, shared their question and keywords, and brainstormed additional words that they might employ if they were actually researching the topic. They then shared their lists out to the group.

Boolean Logic-in the name of not reinventing the wheel, we found this awesome lesson for teaching Boolean. Rather than dry Venn Diagrams, we taught AND by asking all students to stand up. They were our search terms. We asked them to remain standing if the following AND terms applied to them: AND jeans, AND scarf, AND glasses…until one was standing. We asked them what happens when you add keywords to your search using AND. They totally got that it narrowed, or focused their search.

We did the same for OR. “Or brings more”. Then we asked them volunteer to do an AND and an OR search. There is an outspoken kid in every class who lives for this moment.

They then did individual Venn Diagrams to illustrate NOT, which was interesting too…”murder NOT fiction”, “Apple NOT computer”, “Washington NOT state”. They like writing on the board. Who doesn’t really?

Sometimes, we have to get through certain content that is, by its very nature, dry. We’re finding that by employing a little bit of creativity, we’re able to make some of these lessons playful, which we enjoy as much as, if not more than, the students. This week, they have finally begun coming into the library during their full class periods to begin their first real research experience. From our mini-lessons, they already know how to access our ebooks. They’re here to practice doing catalog keyword searches, broadening and narrowing conceptually, locating call numbers, then going upstairs and using a map to locate their books on the shelves. We’ve reviewed citation, how and when to use a reference source, and how to utilize the table of contents and index to find subjects. We’ve been able to weave the skills that we’ve been teaching in their classroom across campus into a quick refresher, a tour of the stacks, and then they’re ready to work.

My takeaway is this: not everything in life (or in library instruction) has to be a game, but it’s preferable to learn by doing. I couldn’t teach another 50 minute lesson without employing at least one or two of these techniques.

Do you have any active learning lessons/techniques that you might share? Please use the comments below!

PD Addendum:  I know, without a doubt, that I have room to grow in my research instruction. I have many more questions than I do certainties. As such, I put out a call to the listserv earlier this week asking for PD referrals. I lamented missing the Research Relevance Colloquium at Castilleja in 2015 and want(ed) something just like it.  Rather than posting a hit, I’ll share what I received here. Thanks guys!

*From the fantastic Castilleja librarians:
1. Here’s the link to all the documents from the Research Relevance Colloquium
2.  The Right Question Institute might be of interest to you — http://rightquestion.org/events/
3. You can also get all the archived sessions from the virtual conference on data literacy we were involved in over the summer here: http://datalit.sites.uofmhosting.net/conference/schedule/

*Other listserv suggestions:

  1. Maybe ACRL/NEC?
  2. Design Thinking Summer Institute
  3. In the last five or six years, I have attended three things that have impacted my thinking on research skills.Extending Guided Inquiry into the Interrogation of Sources –
    AASL Conference in Columbus – Presenters: Randell Schmidt, head librarian, and Emilia Giordano, assistant librarian at Gill St. Bernards School will provide lesson plans and information source analysis strategies to help guide students in writing high school humanities or science research papers. (Half-day)
    Teaching Students to Ask Their Own Questions
    From the Right Question Institute, Boston (I attended a summer program at Wheelock College in Boston a few years ago, but here is a description of an upcoming version of what I took: This is from The Learning Forward Conference in Vancouver, December 2016) Teachers are being evaluated on the quality of student questioning and engagement in their classrooms, yet, many say that getting students to ask their own questions can feel “like pulling teeth.” Develop your ability to teach students how to produce their own questions, improve them, and strategize on how to use them. Transform students into active, engaged learners, who take ownership of their learning. Develop expertise in using the Question Formulation Technique (QFT), a resource embraced by teachers around the world, to design effective lessons and units that help students ask better questions and become more self-directed, independent learners.
    Participants will:
    • Experience a deep immersion into the QFT process.
    • Explore many examples of how the QFT develops divergent, convergent, and metacognitive thinking abilities across all ages, subject levels, and student populations.
    • Prepare to use the QFT immediately in the classroom and to coach more teachers on how to implement a transformative, evidence-based, and easy-to-implement strategy that results in greater student engagement and deeper learning.
    • Consider how the QFT strategies can be used in professional development. • Leave prepared to provide support to integrate the QFT into practice.
    Presenters: Dan Rothstein, The Right Question Institute, Cambridge, MA, dan@rightquestion.org Dan Rothstein is co-director of The Right Question Institute (RQI). He is co-author with Luz Santana of Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions (Harvard Education Press, 2011), which first introduced the Question Formulation Technique to educators.
    OESIS : Online Education Symposium for Independent Schools

    Finally, I just came back from the OESIS conference in Boston; there is another coming up in Los Angeles in the Spring. It’s a small conference, maybe 200 participants. They do lots of smaller presentation on what folks are doing around online education – honestly, though, many of the presenters could just as well have been doing their lesson in “brick and mortar” schools.
    So my latest stream of consciousness is to gravitate toward teaching media literacy rather than information literacy. If we can make our students savvy consumers of blogs, Twitter, television news, movies, etc., we will win the skepticism game, which is, in my view, the most important part of teaching information literacy. At the OESIS conference I went to a session about Citizen Science where the kids were curating their own information feed on a neurological disorder. They created their own web site for their hosen disease, and they created kickstarter campaigns to fund research on their diseases. They got every piece of the research skills we teach now with an added layer of engagement (and creativity) as well as a degree of public purpose.

    That’s where I am headed.

Let’s keep looking and sharing what we find.

So THANKFUL for all of you and the wonderful support and enrichment that AISL provides both my professional and personal life.



2 thoughts on “Let’s Get Physical!

  1. For an intro to citation lesson with 5th grade, in which I focus just on finding the elements that go into a citation and not the formatting (we use NoodleTools anyway), I divide the kids into two teams competing against each other. Each team has twelve forms with “sources” to find information on, and I have the sources ready (printouts of websites and articles, magazines, books) as we only have a short time for the lesson. For each correctly filled out form, the team gets a puzzle piece from a map of an unnamed country. Object is to complete the puzzle and name the country first. The last piece includes the name of the capital city. The kids get into the competition!

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