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Teachable Moments in Small Group Settings


Library Specialist Nancy Kiefer offers a glimpse into students’ curious minds through small-group conversations in the library. -Ed.

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Working with children ages 3-5 is a mixture of joy, spontaneity, and surprise, and I feel fortunate that all our early elementary students come to library class on a weekly basis. Best of all, they come in small groups, which enables us to gather intimately for class conversations and concentrate on the marvel that good books bring us.

Wondering and savoring take time! There are new words, sentences, and facts to ask about as we enjoy our read-aloud and book-shares. There are book hunts to go on as we wander through the library filled with the seemingly immense shelves of new and yet-to-be-seen books.  There are comments and suggestions, stories to make up and act out, fact-finding for further investigation, jokes to tell, along with time and space for laughing, dancing, and craft projects.

I often start our meeting by asking, “What are you wondering about today?” Sometimes a student wants to know about a quilt or painting hanging on the wall in the story time area, a book displayed on an easel that welcomes inquiry, or the many puppets on their stands and perches. Because of our small groupings, we are able to explore these curious observations in a deeper way, allowing everyone to get a turn to ask something and make a connection or comment. Sometimes our discussions lead us to new books to read, a trip to the encyclopedia, or a special call to the facilities director.

Last week I spent some time writing down a few of these questions that show the depth of curiosity and observations that young children naturally have. I would have never anticipated most of them!  It is challenging to respond to opportunities for true teachable moments—these “on-the-fly” wonderings so common to young learners.

Here are some examples of these questions:

  • “When the boy cried in the story did his friends worry about him? They look they are smiling in the picture.”
  • “Why does your mouth go up when you smile?”
  • “How come the rain doesn’t come through the sky light? Is there a special glue to keep the rain out?”
  • “Where does that electric wire go to?  What if you touch it?”
  • “Can animals talk in real life?”
  • “Is growling talking for animals?”
  • “Why does the tree outside have green leaves and the one next to it have yellow leaves?”
  • “Do fairies live in the library garden?”
  • “Are fairies real?”
  • “Or is it just the tooth fairy that is real?”
  • “What is the difference between real facts and pretend facts?”
  • “How did Trickster Raven carry the heavy moon into the sky?”
  • “Isn’t the moon heavy?”
  • “If the moon is so heavy, how can it stay up there?”