NJLA: Tools for Engagement in Library Instruction

Eleonora Dubicki and Jacqui DaCosta talked to us about how to keep students engaged while teaching about libraries. That said, I went because I wanted to learn teaching techniques that can be used in any instruction – and I did!!

Active Learning

We started with the rules for library bingo. This is the first way to keep students engaged. Basically, we listen which the instructor speaks everytime one of the words on our cards was spoken we marked our cards. Once the card had everything marked we called out Bingo – well not “we” – I didn’t win 🙁

This is part of active learning. This technique is about using techniques that shift library instruction from lecturing to guiding or coaching students.

Active learning:

  • engages students in the learning process
  • elicits student discovery
  • captures their attention (in a 45 minute class students would get bored – now takes 75 minutes and it’s hard to get the students out)
  • addresses multiple learning styles (oral, visual, exercises – so they can practice as well)
  • creates an experience they can relate to and replicate (rather than going step by step and having them follow along, now because students are doing their own searching and keywords it’s an experience they can replicate later)
  • provides immediate feedback to the instructor

Confucius says “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand” – I love it!!

The goal is to reach the bottom of the learning pyramid and try to get students to be able to teach each other:

Learning Pyramid

  • lecture
  • reading
  • audiovisual
  • demonstration
  • discussion
  • practice doing
  • teach others

To participate in active learning you have to be comfortable giving up the control of the classroom to the students. This requires more prep time. For bingo you have to know what words will be used in the lectures so that someone can win – you have to print out the cards and get the bingo markers and prizes.

When teaching a class powerpoint slides work really well with visual learners – they hear her say something and then they see it – I am like this – I hate reading slides, but I do like having them there so that I can reference them if I missed hearing something while taking notes. Handouts are always handy because students can take them with you.

Asking for feedback

They also create a one minute evaluation sheet with four open ended questions that allow the students to provide feedback about the class:

  • what did you learn
  • what are you still confused about
  • general comments
  • rate the session (ratings are all on the high side – they like the interaction with it)

Another way to get feedback is to give a library session questionnaire at the beginning of the session – or before people arrive. This means that participants have questions prepared if things aren’t covered – so at the end when you ask “do you have any questions” at least one person will have on prepared. You can collect the papers at the end of the session and this gives the instructor a chance to reply to students after session (“we didn’t cover this in class and I wanted to address your question”). Lastly, this helps you prepare for future sessions by showing you what people are expecting based on your description and title.

Cephalonian Method

Another method of active learning that we were introduced to is called the Cephalonia method (yes, I created a page for this on Wikipedia – please feel free to edit and add more info if you’re an expert). The Cephalonian method uses a fusion of color, image, humor and music to keep students engaged in the learning process. This method was started at the Cardiff University by Linda Davies and Nigel Morgan and was introduced to the British Library Public in 2004.

Some quick points about the Cephalonian method:

  • been used for large groups (200+)
  • been used for small groups
  • a variety of institutions around the world
  • graduates and undergraduates
  • used very much for orientation
  • used initially for large group orientation and to replace tours

How does it work? In our small group the instructor passed out 8 colored cards (they were hidden in our packets) with a question or statement on them. There were 2 of each color and each color was associated with a specific category – for your library orientation you might have one for the catalog, one for services, one for rules, etc. For the instructor this means being prepared to answer any questions asked and having the technology to match. Our instructor had a cheat sheet that told her the slide number for each card so that she could easily show that slide in answer to the question (this is because you have no control over what order the questions are asked. For the students this means having questions given to them – it starts discussion and acts as a great icebreaker. The instructor can say “does anyone have a pink card?” and then the students can read the card out for the whole class.


  • students seem to like it
  • they laugh with you and want to see what’s next
  • faculty thought it was wonderful


  • good icebreaker
  • adaptable for different audiences
  • as well as being fun it does meet the learning objectives of being interactive

What can go wrong:

  • technology can fail
  • students shy
  • invite a bit of chaos into your classroom
  • colorblindness (you could put the word for the color on the handout)

Mix it up

Another way to keep students engaged is to “mix it up.” You can do this with games like Guess-the-google. This is a great way to introduce library students to keyword searching. It shows a montage of images that all match a specific keyword. At first students don’t participate, but then when see that they have a score of zero they start to compete and have fun with it.

Another way is simply to have a virtual tour of the library playing as students enter the room. There may not be enough time to do this during the class and it gets students engaged right as they enter the door.

Other tools you can try in library instruction:


  • keyword exercise
  • pick a topic and guess the keywords
  • brainstorming
  • think pair and share – collaborative learning – pick a topic and pair up with a student near them and discuss – then share with the rest of the class

Use creative research topics

  • new marketing strategies for video games
  • consumers are concerned about identity theft and privacy
  • hip hop lyrics draw outrage


  • have students demo a database search (as the student goes through the instructor can then point out things and ask questions)

What did the students have to say about all of this?

  • “I think more discussion is good”
  • “Letting the students follow along makes remembering the steps easy”
  • “the exercises were helpful, fun and informative”


Some of these methods may not be for everybody, these are just some fun ideas that you can mix and match to make your classes more interesting and engaging.

I’m not sure I’d be able to pull off the Cephalonian method – but I’m thinking of creating some open source bingo cards!! 🙂

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  1. I am inquiring if anyone has ever used a Wheel of Fortune adapted game in their library instruction sessions?

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