Tag Archives: the reading game

My Library Induction Recipe

17 Nov

This is my own tried and tested recipe for school library inductions, which should leave time for borrowing & work for all ability levels. I should point out I am a very kinaesthetic learner and I think you can tell I have a bias towards that kind of task! These sessions are fun and adaptable too, with lots of room for interaction with pupils, which helps it not become too repetitive for the librarian delivering it too. So I am not saying these induction ideas are perfect, but I hope they might inspire a few readers.

Part One – You will need:

1 enthusiastic librarian

20-or-so 11 year-olds

1 Carel Press Reading Game (& folded photocopies of map)

1 (potentially sceptical) teacher


15 minutes prep to layout zone signs and books

1 full lesson time


Introduce yourself first, then I always ask the teacher to shut her/his eyes while I ask the class to put up their hands if they love reading / reading is ok / hate reading. I always say it is OK to not like reading, everyone has different hobbies and interests, I might like swimming but hate rock climbing, for example, however they are all at school to learn and they will need reading skills for that. And then tell them that the good news is that my job is to get them all enjoying reading & to find the right thing for each person, so even if they hate reading just now, it is my job to change that and when you really enjoy reading something it won’t be a chore any more. Then I’ll say something about how many different kinds of books there are in the library & there should be something to suit everyone and we are playing this game so they can get a good look at what the library has. (There might be time here for more discussion e.g. of authors they enjoyed at primary school, play it by ear!)

Then we play the Carel Press Reading Game. I find this works really well when pupils are set by ability already, because all of the books can be selected for reader level & appeal. About 4/5 books per zone is plenty. (P.S. I do the photocopying and folding of worksheets during school vacation, for the whole year in advance). I like to mix up the categories (the game comes with extras and bits you can swap), so that ‘Fact’ becomes a zone and I would definitely include Sport and Graffix too.

I prefer not to give a spiel about genres, just give instructions for the game clearly, but then let discussions evolve over the course of the game. For example, I deliberately wait for someone to ask if they can borrow these books (I’m devious like that!), and then make that announcement to the whole class, “someone asked a good question here, absolutely, you can borrow one of these books, just remember which one and there will be time at the end to go back for it” – somehow generates more excitement that way. Also, it is good to have multiples and/or alternatives to hand in case 2 people want the same thing. Other points for discussion – what do they think of ‘fact’ being a zone? Is ‘fact’ a genre or is it something else? Could a book be put in 2 different zones? Which zone do they like best? Which one are they looking forward to? Teachers can be a bit surprised at first at the slightly chaotic or rowdy nature of the game, but as they start to see their pupils get enthused they start to get it.

Always try to leave 10-15 minutes at the end for borrowing time. It doesn’t matter too much if your class doesn’t get around the whole room; time for converting interest into loans is more valuable. Also, being in groups helps stagger borrowing time at the end of the reading game. Get the teacher to help, once you’re desk-bound, they can tell one group at a time to get the books they want and bring them to the library desk.

(I have ran an adapted version of the game, still using the exact same kit, but where all the books were “classics”, for a specific class project a teacher wanted support with & that was really good fun too)


Part Two – You will need:

1 enthusiastic librarian

20-or-so 11 year-olds

1 Pirate map & question sheets

1 (hopefully less sceptical) teacher


15 minutes prep to shelve the relevant books & print/cut out question sheets

1 full lesson time

Part Two

This is the ‘Pirate treasure hunt’, inspired by Eva Baillie (now Librarian at Glasgow’s Goethe Institut) who ran something very similar in her school library! Preferably wait a couple of weeks after part one before running this session, so the class can return last time’s books at the same time. I would start with asking someone to explain the difference between fiction and non-fiction. Then maybe a bit of practice for how fiction is organised (alphabetically by surname, so Roald Dahl would be under…D…ask a few others). Then I do a really simple explanation of how to find non-fiction books. My preferred description is that it is a bit like a supermarket, so similar things are next to each other, e.g. the vegetables are right by the fruit…etc, (and suggest keep an eye out for any parts of the library they might want to come back to, e.g. the car books, football books, etc) but then sometimes you can’t find something so then you can either ask me or search the catalogue and get a number (Dewey number) and then follow the number order to find the book.

This time you will probably need 2 teams, and within each team a number of pairs or threes. Each pair gets a small question sheet. These will need to be adapted to your library! Here are my most recent ones:


Each pair has to find one book, and answer one question on it. Not all the tasks mean using the catalogue computer (if they do you will have a long queue…). It is very important that you say that running or shouting will disqualify your whole team! Stagger when everyone starts – Task 1s to go first, once they have got underway, Task 2 can start etc., eventually everyone will be looking at once but staggering the start makes everything calmer! Also, choose a spread of books so not everyone is looking on the same exact shelf etc. While they are looking, relax a bit 😉 don’t give in to temptation to help straight away! Have a sit down, let them come to you, and even when you know they have the wrong book, look at it with them, explain where they went wrong, e.g. ‘I see you found a book with the right number, but what is its title? And what is the title you’re looking for?) Once a pair has found its book AND answered the question, you can give them a piece of treasure map to take back for their team. My treasure maps are laminated coloured card, cut into jigsaw type pieces, with an “X marks the spot” map on one side and on the other side, either a silly maritime poem or pirate joke. When all the pieces are put together the group can then read the poem or joke. A few stragglers may need some help at the end! Maybe send one of their teammates back to help them. At the end you can go over any lessons that came up from the game e.g. the pair who brought a book with the right number but wrong title, remember there might be more than one book with the same number & that will mean they are about the same topic.

The map & what goes on the back can be adapted or made more elaborate…maybe you can find some maritime riddle for them to solve, or hide a code. You could also give prizes or perhaps instructions for making pirate hats out of newspaper and the winning team get to wear pirate hats for the day! It depends how much time/energy you have! Mostly, I just give the ‘prize’ that the first group goes to borrow more books first!! Again, this allows you to stagger the kids going to look for books.

Yes it means you have to have a tidy up, and you have to shelve the same books over and over, but I like that it is very ‘sneaky learning’, you are covering the catalogue and the Dewey decimal system in a pretty crafty way. Also, again for the reluctant readers, the game is fun, and you really want to build some positive library experiences like this for these youngsters. And it gets them out and browsing the shelves, which I think is very important. Pupils can get a bit fixated on the library catalogue, I want them to feel happy and confident just looking around too. I do tend to keep this pile of books aside and reuse them, rather than lending them as with the reading game, it just means I can do a quicker turnaround for the next class. But if someone is very keen, it is no huge job to slightly adapt the question sheet for the next class.

Teenage fickleness, PVC and Doctor Who

22 Nov

Noisy Librarians

As we all know, trying to be cool is deeply un-cool. Anyone trying to get through to teenagers is basically navigating a minefield of deadly ‘lame’ to reach a tiny patch of solid gold ‘cool’.

You think you are doing so well and then, boom! You get some crucial vocabulary wrong (“Hey kids, I know you’re all on your ‘Spacebook’ and ‘Myface’, but check out this website about studying for exams!”) or something that was cool last week is now incredibly lame. Your credibility is in tatters!

Teenage trends come and go at a rapid pace. Library budget planning tends to work on an annual basis. For libraries in secondary schools this age group is our bread and butter, yet budgets are tight. Is it possible to keep up with the ‘latest thing’?

Last week a pupil came in after school, and headed to the same fiction section as always. When he emerged without a book I asked

“Did you not find a Doctor Who book?”

He shrugged.

“I guess I’m just not interested in reading stories about David Tennant’s Doctor any more.”

Now, I’m known around school as a bit of Doctor Who geek. I tend to find out who the fans are. It’s a show that appeals across generations. But this fickleness took me by surprise. Of course it shouldn’t have done. David Tennant isn’t on our TV screens as the Doctor any more. He’s last year, he’s ancient history! David who?!

And yet my heart sank. I don’t have money for more Doctor Who books right now. I already have quite a few, is it really fair anyway to spend more on something only a few people really enjoy? How quickly are going to go out of fashion?

The same dilemma faces us everyday. High School Musical books are still popular right now, but for how long? Is Hannah Montana still cool? I bought so many copies of the Twilight Saga books the shelves are bursting, yet when another film comes out, interest surges and I can’t keep up with demand.

Popular culture resources might burn out fast but they burn bright – for a short time they are very popular. I try to balance cost against durability. Bargains are out there – discount bookshops, sales: I spotted WHSmiths were selling Twilight for £1 so stocked up; I buy Guinness World Record books in the sales instead of when they first come out. If they are cheaper, I can buy 2 or 3. The kids have to wait slightly longer but there are more to go around.

CILIP’s ‘Start with the Child’ report is one of those resources I go back to repeatedly. It puts into words things librarians instinctively knew, but backs it up with solid research. The report talks about “youth culture” as distinct from “culture” in general. Youth culture emphasizes music, fashion, consumer goods, technology and informality; it is fun, participative, well presented and accessible (cheap!). To meet the needs of this age group, libraries need to emulate these qualities. It recognises that this is challenging, and anticipating trends is difficult

“Libraries find it more difficult to respond with credibility to popular culture but ignoring it runs the risk of alienating young people”. (Page 64, CILIP, ‘Start with the Child’, London, 2002)

So we keep on trying in all areas: library appearance, planning, accessibility (avoiding use of charges, for example).

I don’t mean to say that we should only stock biographies of Justin Bieber – I think I could lend about 200 of those right now! Libraries need be places where people can access a wide range of cultural and literary resources. I also feel that the young people are pretty relentlessly advertised to, and that their choices can sometimes be based on which brands are cool, and wanting to be associated with that brand. Of course librarians don’t judge! But I think it is good to avoid getting too caught up in hype over a ‘brand’. Otherwise are we actually doing the work of the advertising agencies? Is that really offering children and young people a real choice?

Last week I tried a variation on Carel Press’s reading game. I always run this game as part of S1 Inductions where it is great because it works for all ability groups – just swap around the books you use. Last week, I did a version with an S2 class, in which every single book was a “classic”. My condition for including books in this exercise was that they had to have an attractive cover. New editions of Pride and Prejudice, Little Women, the Jungle Book, The Lost World etc, went down pretty well.

Obviously “classic” is a debatable term, and I did include some “modern classics”. But that meant we could have a class discussion about what makes a “classic”. We talked about films or TV adaptations; we looked at the few titles which were in older editions, chatted about what difference the cover makes. Funnily enough, no one borrowed an old edition at the end. So being ‘well-presented’ really works.

Maybe sometimes I try too hard. I was helping a pupil choose a book recently, and as I took one off the shelf to show him, it made that sticky peeling sound from when books in PVC covers have been sat squished together.

“Woah, that’s a really bad sign, no one’s borrowed that book for ages!” he said.

I was indignant! This was a Young Bond book, not some dusty old thing! But I did wonder…so later I spent a spare few minutes separating books to get rid of that ‘sticky’ sound. Of course when I tested them again a few days later the sticky sound was back….so now I know I can honestly say that doesn’t mean a book hasn’t been borrowed in ages. Or does a few days or weeks mean ‘ages’ if you are 11? Perhaps it does! Maybe eventually I should swap to another kind of cover…and so the struggle continues!

Back to the Doctor Who books: I know I shouldn’t, but I donated some of my own (like I said, I’m a fan!). They haven’t been borrowed by anyone yet. Epic fail??