The Browsing Room: A Library Activity for First Graders

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The Browsing Room: A Library Activity for First Graders at LibraryAdventure.comLast Spring, I worked with a group of first graders who visited my library weekly. I noticed that at the start of each visit the entire class lined up at the children’s desk to ask for specific titles by name. If the book a child wanted was not available, he basically gave up for the day, having no idea how to find something else that might interest him without requiring significant help from an adult. I decided this situation made for a perfect teaching opportunity, and I introduced the kids to The Browsing Room. Here’s how you can create a browsing room to share with your own young library visitors.

The main goal of The Browsing Room is to teach children how to browse for books, and to give them the confidence to find books they will enjoy without appealing to a teacher or librarian for assistance. It also introduces kids to great books written at their level that they might otherwise overlook.

I used my library’s story time room as my browsing room, but it is possible to set up a browsing table, browsing cart, or other browsing area in almost any environment, including the school library or classroom. I laid out the room as I might for a book fair, placing the books on tables face-up so the kids could easily see everything that was available. I made sure to provide titles that matched the range of reading abilities represented in the class, including picture books, easy readers, beginning chapter books, graphic novels geared toward beginning readers, and a handful of longer chapter books for any advanced readers. I also made sure there was a good mix of fiction and non-fiction.

When the class arrived, we talked about what it means to browse, and about ways to tell if a book is interesting or not. (Looking at the cover, flipping through the pages, reading the jacket, etc.) Then I told the kids that for that day, they could choose books only from The Browsing Room and not from the stacks out in the library and that they could not ask a librarian or teacher to find them a specific book.

From the moment the students began to practice browsing, I noticed something happening in the room that had never happened on previous visits. Instead of competing for the one book everyone in the class wanted to read, kids were settling down in different corners of the room with books of their own choosing. A couple of kids did wander over to me to ask me if there were any fairy books, or any Ninjago books, but most of them seemed to forget about me and became engrossed in their new discoveries. At the end of the session, every child – even those who typically did not borrow anything – checked out at least one book, and more than half the class checked out their teacher’s maximum limit of three. In just one thirty-minute visit, the entire first grade had expanded its reading horizons and matured in its information-seeking behaviors.

Public librarians have a wonderful opportunity to teach information literacy and to promote a love of reading when school groups visit the library. The Browsing Room activity teaches an important and oft-overlooked library skill, and helps kids to fall in love with new characters and storylines they might otherwise miss. Betsy Bird of Fuse Eight recently posted about a similar activity, the Browse-O-Rama. This was a month-long browsing festival created by Twig George at The Park School in Baltimore, Maryland, and it involves cat tattoos and a wall of fame. Check it out for more ideas on teaching kids how to browse.

Here is a list of some first-grade friendly books to help you start your own browsing room:

About Katie Fitzgerald

Katie Fitzgerald holds degrees in English and library science, and has worked in small town and big city libraries, serving both children and teens. You can read her book reviews and posts about story time, picture books, and early literacy at Story Time Secrets. Also follow her blog on Facebook for kidlit quotations, story time suggestions, and interesting links.

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