Choosing Just Right Books

five finger rule

Choosing a book for independent reading is a challenge for many students. They struggle to find a book that they can and want to read. Classroom teachers go over this when they teach Reader's Workshop and the Daily 5, but it is also something I teach in the library. I discuss this concept with all grades throughout the school year. However, at the beginning of second grade is when I introduce the concept of using the 5 Finger Rule and teach a more in-depth lesson. 

First I begin by having a discussion with students about what the phrase "just right" means. I provide examples like picking out new clothes to wear. You do not want to pick a pair of pants that are too small and tight. You also don't want to choose a pair that is falling off and so long you step on them. You want a pair that fits just right. I then tell them that this is what we need to do when we are choosing a book to read. It needs to be a book that is the right "size" for them.

Next, I read the book Goldi Socks and the Three Libearians by Jackie Mims Hopkins. I purchased this from Demco but it is also available on Amazon. 

just right books

If you have never read this book before, it is a take-off of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Goldi Socks is walking through the forest when she stumbles upon a house that looks like a book. She goes inside and finds all different kinds of books. She searches until she has a just right book. And when the libearians come home they are happy that she is there reading their books.

After we read the book I show them a few different posters that I use as anchor charts. The first one reviews what a just right book is. Then we talk about how to tell if it is too easy, too hard or just right and how to use the 5 finger rule. I always tell the kids that if they are putting up a finger for every word they do not know and they run out fingers and start using their toes, then the book is definitely too hard for them. Surprisingly they get a kick out of that and always laugh. Thankfully I haven't had a student yet take off their shoes and try it.

five finger rule posters and anchor charts

five finger rule posters and anchor charts

By this point, the students are more than ready to check out their books. I usually tell them to choose one book that is just right and then another book that they think looks interesting. I have bookmarks to hand out to them and a coloring page as well. I will also give these out periodically throughout the year when I think they need a refresher. You can purchase my Just Right Books activities from my TpT store or my website.

five finger rule posters and bookmarks

Upper Elementary Students

With 3rd, 4th and 5th graders I also take the time to review choosing just right books. I have found this to be even more important once my school stopped focusing on Accelerated Reader. I tell them they do not have to do the five finger rule (physically hold up a finger for every word they do not understand). But I do tell them to keep track in their head. 

I also like to show them what the process looks like by having them watch me choose a just right book. I will have three books ready ahead of time. I select one book that has a really interesting cover but is also at a higher reading level. I will select one book that is a simple chapter book and one that is in between. I will pick up the first book and say: "I love the cover on this book. There is a dragon on the cover and I love dragons." Then I will read the book blurb or summary of the book. Sometimes I will choose a random page from the book to read. You do not have to read anything out loud, you just want the students to observe you. Then say "I can't even understand the summary of this book. There are so many words I have never seen before. Even though I think I would like this book, it is too hard for me." Pick up the second book. Repeat the process but this time the book is too easy for you to read. Then go to the third book. This book will not only be interesting to you but is also one you can read. It is not so easy that you don't have to think about what you are reading. But it's not so hard that you struggle to read the words. 

I always make sure to emphasize the fact that in order for a book to be "just right" it has to be something they want to read. Having the ability to read the book is not enough. If they are not interested in the book than it is not right for them. I have very strong feelings on this subject - mostly stemming from the time when Accelerated Reader was used like a punishment and my students learned to hate reading. But that's a subject for another time.

I also like to read the story Miss Malarkey Leaves No Reader Behind by Judy Finchler and Kevin O'Malley. It is about a boy who is unable to find a book that matches his interest and the teacher (Miss Malarkey) who refuses to give up until she finds the perfect book for him. 

Too Many Choices

I believe that many students are overwhelmed when choosing a book to read. Having too many choices is not always a good thing, especially when it comes to reluctant readers. Often I will pull books that I know will be appealing to the students but also readable. Then I put these books in a separate location for the students to choose from. This helps to build their confidence which we all know is vital in developing a love of reading in a child.

Another option for older students is to hold a book tasting.  A book tasting is a chance to expose students to different kinds of books. It is a way to expose students to different genres and to get them engaged and excited about reading. Read my book tasting blog post to learn more about how to incorporate one with your students.  

Staying Cool in the Library

Because I thought that my Goldi Locks and the Libearians posters might not appeal to older students, I created a new set of posters and bookmarks. If you would like them you can download them for free from my resource library. If you are already a subscriber, click here and log-in with the secret password. If you are not an email subscriber yet, then click below to sign up. As soon as you confirm your subscription you will receive an email with instructions on how to access the resource library.




Five finger rule




Tips on Using Digital Breakouts in the School Library

Library Orientation Back to School

For the past couple of years, I have heard a lot about escape rooms and breakout activities. I love the concept of students working together to solve puzzles and figuring out the codes to open the locks. But I was not sure how well they would work for my students. I only have about 20 minutes of teaching time with my classes and a true breakout would take much longer. And the breakout kits were out of my budget. So when I heard about digital breakouts I became very excited. This was an activity I could do! I could make the challenges simple enough so my students could complete them in one class period. And I knew the kids would LOVE them. So this summer I made it a goal of mine to create my first digital breakout, and I did: Library Rules and Orientation.

Library Orientation Back to School

Benefits of Digital Breakouts

  • Students must work together as a team and collaborate
  • Helps students develop listening and speaking skills 
  • Engaging and interactive way to teach and review content
  • Incorporates 21st-century learning skills
  • Promotes critical thinking - specifically how to apply, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information
  • Learn problem-solving techniques

Using Digital Breakouts in the Library

Digital breakouts are the perfect activity to use in the library. It teaches students vital critical thinking skills and incorporates technology and digital literacy skills as well. And students love doing them. In my experience, it can be a challenge sometimes to keep and hold students' attention when they come to the library, especially 4th and 5th graders. But that is not the case with these types of activities. The students will want to come to the library and will not want to stop working. They will be engaged and working together as a team to solve problems. 

I definitely recommend students working together in teams of 3-4 if possible. In my library students sit at tables of 4 so this works perfectly for me. And also this is a way for me to control which students work together because all my classes have a seating chart. 

Students should be familiar with using the devices (Chromebooks, laptops, tablets). And they should be familiar with Google Classroom or at least Google Slides. This doesn't mean they have to be proficient, but they should at least know the basics. If they do not, I would take a class period to go over this. This way when you start a breakout you will not spend a lot of time going over how to open the slide and how to insert a line. This is very important when you have limited time with classes.

Creating the Breakout

I will admit that creating my first digital breakout was a challenge. I wanted to make sure that the puzzles were easy enough to be completed in a limited amount of time but still challenging. And I had to decide what types of puzzles to include. In the end, I came up with a breakout with 3 different challenges.
  1. Hidden message word search - unlock a 3 digit number lock
  2. Library rules - unlock a directional lock
  3. Fill in the blank - unlock a 5 letter lock

Using the Breakout

I created the breakout in Google Slides and Forms. If you are a Google school and use Google Classroom then you can very quickly share the activity with your students. I provide directions on how to do this if you are not familiar with the process. There are also directions for using it in Microsoft OneDrive. If you are not very familiar with using Google Slides, make sure you take some time to familiarize yourself with the application and learn the basics. At the end of this post, I have 3 different blogs that will help you with this.

Before you use a digital breakout with your students you MUST do the activities yourself. Read through the student directions, complete the puzzles and enter the codes into the Google Form. This will allow you to be able to assist your students once they begin the activity.

A digital breakout begins with a scenario, a simple story to "set the stage". For the library orientation breakout, the scenario is that someone spilled water on the book "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz". The wicked witch became angry and turned the students into flying monkeys. The only way to break the spell is to complete the puzzles. There is also an alternative version that has cute-looking monsters instead (for any school that is not allowed to have activities with witches in them). The content is exactly the same, just the scenario is different. 

VERY IMPORTANT: You will have to add a link to the Google Form onto YOUR copy of the breakout. There are directions on how to do this. Before you share this activity with your students you must complete this step. If you don't then there will be no way for students to access the form to enter the lock codes.You will have to do this for every digital breakout that I create. 

Puzzle #1: 

This is a word search with 10 different library vocabulary words. Students will need to use the editing tools and insert a line. They will put the line through the words as they find them. Hidden in the word search are 3 number words. This is the answer to the lock. There are 2 hints to help students figure out the answer. The first hint shows students how many letters are in each word and the second hint lets them know to look for the number words in the word search. Once students figure out the code they will type it into the pink boxes. Any place where students need to type I did insert a text box. If a student deletes the text box a new one can quickly be inserted. 

Library Orientation Back to School
The entire slide is not shown

Puzzle #2: 

This puzzle is a 4 x 4 table. Each box has a library rule in it (as well as a start and end box). Students will go to the start box. They will "move" the key to the box that has a correct library rule. They will do this until they reach the end box. This is a directional lock so the answer will be either R (right), L (left), U (up) or D (down). The hint says that the lock is made up of doubled letters and one letter is not used. The code is: DDRRUU. Students will type in the answer in the green boxes and go to the next puzzle.

Library Orientation Back to School
The entire slide is not shown

Puzzle #3: 

The last puzzle is made up of 4 questions. The questions are about types of library books and call numbers. Students will type in the answer to each question. One of the letters in each answer has a circle around it. The letter that goes in the circle is the code. The lock answer is READ. The hint says that this is a librarian's favorite thing to do. 

Library Orientation Back to School
The entire slide is not shown

Entering their answers

When all 3 puzzles are completed, students will enter the lock codes into the form. In order for the form to be submitted all 3 codes must be entered and they must be correct. Once the form is submitted successfully a confirmation message will come up. In the message, there is a link to an online jigsaw puzzle. The puzzle is just a picture that I created that says the students were successful in completing the breakout. You can delete the link to the puzzle from the form if you do not want students to complete it.

Library Orientation Back to School

Final Thoughts

I am still learning how to use Google Classroom in the library with my students as well as how to use each of the individual apps. In my school, there also has not been much training provided so I am having to look up and find information on my own. If you are in a similar situation I thought I would share with you some resources that I have found to be a tremendous help. 

Teacher Tech with Alice Keeler - This blog has a wealth of information on it. Whatever question you have chances are the answer can be found here.

Create, Dream, Explore - This blog has many informative posts on using different Google apps in the classroom.

Ditch That Textbook - This blog is similar to Alice Keeler's. There are a lot of lesson ideas and suggestions on how to incorporate Google apps in your lessons.

In addition to the library orientation, I also have a Dewey Decimal Review Breakout. The formats are very similar. In the Dewey Decimal Breakout, students will complete a word search, do the directional map activity and take a quiz. In order to complete the breakout though they must also decipher an emoji cipher message.

You can purchase both of these breakouts from my TpT store or on my website.

What types of breakouts would you like to see? What questions do you have? Please leave a comment or drop me an email and let me know. 





6 Tips for Teacher/Librarian Collaboration

Collaborating With Teachers

Teacher collaboration can be difficult in the best of situations, but if you are on a fixed schedule this can be even more challenging. When I was working on my Master's degree I took an entire class on collaboration one summer. When I went back to school I was so excited to implement what I learned. I scheduled a meeting with my principal to discuss strategies to increase collaboration with teachers. My principal's solution? To make it mandatory that every teacher collaborated with me at least one time during the school year and to provide documentation to show what we did. Well, I'm sure you can imagine that went over like a lead balloon. One of the biggest issues was that I had no time to meet with teachers. Their planning time was during specials so it was hard to sit down and plan together. And I was not as prepared as I should have been. I should have been armed with a list of specific services I could provide and concrete examples of how we could work together. Luckily my principal forgot about this project and it just fizzled out. But I took what I learned and adapted my approach and thinking. Below are some tips and ideas that I have used and that have worked well for me. 

Collaboration: 6 Tips

1. Choose one teacher who you have a positive relationship with. Approach that teacher with an idea of a collaborative project. Be ready to provide details on why she should work with you and how it will benefit her and her students. You want to make sure this is a successful collaboration. Once you do this a few times other teachers will see this and be more inclined to work with you as well.

2. Clear and effective communication is key to ensure a successful experience. Make sure both you and the teacher understand the goal of the lesson and know what the expectations are for each of you. Who is responsible for what aspect of the lesson? What materials are needed? Where will the lesson take place (the library or the classroom?) Feedback after the lesson is completed is also important. 

Finding time to meet and plan out a lesson with teachers is also a huge challenge. There is never enough time in the day to accomplish all the tasks educators have to do. And since you will likely have a different planning time then the teachers this can become even more of an issue. Clear and concise communication will help to make the whole process run smoother.


3. Keep in mind that collaboration comes in many different forms. It is not always a complicated research project that will take weeks to complete. It can be simply providing a list of books or digital resources on a topic. Helping a teacher choose a read-aloud or a book set to use in small groups. Or showing students how to search for and find mystery books to complete a genre activity. All of these things are collaboration and they are all important.

4. Eat lunch in the teacher's lounge and attend curriculum and grade level meetings if possible. Don't hide at the back of the room during meetings. The more you interact with teachers (both in a formal and informal setting) the more likely collaboration will take place. If your school uses Google Classroom you can ask to be added to grade level team drives. This way you can see what classroom teachers are working on, share lessons and ideas and plan together.

5. Read the curriculum maps and pacing guides for your school. Know what resources you have in the library that will meet the needs of your teachers and students. Be ready to provide quick answers to questions like "do you have any fiction books on Ancient Greece" or "do you have biographies that my first graders can read?" Now I'm not saying you have to memorize every book in the library and know what every grade level is teaching every minute of every day. But being knowledgeable will show your committment to your students, teachers and the school.

elementary library media specialist
6. You will want to keep track of not only of the collaboration lessons but also all your ideas, resources and notes. I suggest making a dedicated Google folder to keep everything in. Not only will you be able to access it from anywhere but you can also easily share a document with teachers. Another idea is to use Google Keep. Google Keep is an organizational and note-taking platform where you can create lists, take notes and save websites and images. Here is a blog post from Elementary Engagement on using Google Keep if you are unfamiliar with it.

Keep Teachers Informed

Menu of Library Services and Resources

I wanted to find a way to show teachers ways that I could support them and assist them with their instruction. So I created a "menu" to hand out at the beginning of the year. I'll be honest and say that I did not come up with this idea on my own, I read about it on social  media. But since I started using it I have found it to be a very successful tool. You can include anything you would like in there and you can update it periodically throughout the year. Below is a sample of one I made using Canva. If you haven't used Canva before you have to check it out. It is a free tool that allows you to create thousands of digital and print designs.

elementary media specialist

And you can't just send something out only at the beginning of the year. Remind teachers periodically about what is going on in the library, the different services you offer and what types of projects and lessons you are working on. Creating a monthly newsletter is one of the best ways to achieve this. There are many different online tools you can use so you can send it electronically. Smore is a great option. It is free but only for a limited number of newsletters. Piktochart and Lucid Press are some other options. You can also create it in Publisher and save it as a .pdf. 

How about a freebie?

I created a sample collaboration form for you to download and use. It includes some basic questions a teacher can fill out when they wish to schedule a lesson or project with you. You can edit the question however you need to. I added to the files section of the resource library. You can download it from there.

Reminder, the resource library is only available to newsletter subscribers. If you haven't signed up yet, click the link at the top of the page. 

What questions do you have about collaboration? Do you have any advice or suggestions to contribute? Let's continue the conversation. Drop a comment or head over to the Staying Cool in the Library private Facebook group. This is a safe place to share and discuss all things library. 

elementary media specialist