Teaching Kids About Fiction Genres in the School Library: Activity Ideas

Teaching About Genres

Library lesson plans don’t have to be boring. After all, the school library should be an exciting place for kids to visit. Teaching students about fiction genres through engaging, hands-on activities is an excellent way to support the curriculum and foster literature appreciation at the same time. Elementary students who visit your library will learn about the different types of fiction through book talks, participating in reader’s theater, playing games, and visiting a “genre museum” in the library media center. By the end of the unit, students will be experts on fiction genres, knowing the difference between mysteries, historical fiction, realistic fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

Teaching the First Lesson

At the beginning of the unit, students learn the definition of genre. The school librarian discusses the characteristics of the primary types of fiction and provides examples through book talks. Before teaching the lesson, the librarian gathers novels from each of the fiction genres he or she plans to discuss in the lesson. Next, the librarian creates short book talks in order to pique students’ interest in checking out the books. Using props, dramatic delivery, and enthusiasm, the librarian delivers a brief book talk, or book commercial, for each book selected.

Reader’s Theater

After the initial lesson, the librarian uses reader’s theater to introduce more books from a variety of fiction genres. Reader’s theater, used by many school teachers and librarians, is a dramatic performance of a book in the form of a script. Since it does not require the use of scenery, costumes, or props, students can easily perform the play. In reader’s theater, students never need to memorize lines. They only need to read the words with expression. Before teaching this second part of the unit, the librarian chooses books that represent each fiction genre. Next, the librarian selects an interesting passage from each book. He or she then transforms the passage into a script. This is achieved by eliminating tag lines in dialog and changing exposition to lines read by a narrator. He or she ends the script at a climactic part of the story.

When students come to the library to receive this part of the lesson, the librarian gives each student a part in the reader’s theater script. The class then performs the script together, striving to read the dialog with fluency and feeling. Since the prepared script ends as a cliffhanger, students will be eager to check out the book to find out what happens next. By employing reader’s theater, the librarian can encourage students to read books from different genres in the library. Students also continue to learn the characteristics of different fiction genres. Several days are required to introduce a book from each genre students must learn to recognize.

Library Games That Reinforce Genre Lessons

After students possess a deeper understanding of fiction genres, the librarian can introduce the "Name That Genre" game to test their knowledge of the concept. In advance, the librarian prepares question cards that provide synopses of novels from specific genres. When the class comes to the library, he or she divides the group into two teams. The librarian then reads a question card to the first team. The first team must decide which fiction genre the synopsis represents. If the team guesses correctly, they earn one point. If the team guesses incorrectly, the second team has the chance to answer the question. The team with the most points at the end of the game can receive a small prize such as a bookmark or pencil.

Another game that students can play in the school library is a dramatic game similar to charades. First the librarian divides the class into groups of four or five students. Next, the librarian asks each team to pull a slip of paper out of a box. The slips of paper include the names of fiction genres. Teams are asked to act out their genres by creating a skit or pantomime. The rest of the teams must guess which genre the performing team is attempting to act out.

Creating a Genre Museum

At the conclusion of your fiction genres unit, the school librarian can create a genre museum that highlights all the fiction genres students have learned in the library. This requires the librarian to demonstrate imagination in addition to advance preparation. First, the teacher gathers props that symbolize each fiction genre. For example, the mystery genre might consist of props such as a magnifying glass, a construction paper cutout of a footprint, and a detective badge. The librarian can illustrate historical fiction by gathering props that include a picture of a horse-drawn carriage, a lady’s bonnet, or a picture of an old-fashioned dress. After gathering the props, the librarian places the props on tables in the library. Each genre exhibit should be placed on its own table, but the librarian should not post any signs that state the genre represented. Instead, each table is assigned a number which is prominently displayed in front of the exhibits.

When students arrive in the library, the librarian divides them into teams of four or five students. The librarian then asks the groups to explore the "genre museum." Using a handout prepared in advance by the librarian, students work with their groups to decide the genre that each table represents. For example, table 1 might represent the horror genre, while table two may be a collection of artifacts that that represent realistic fiction.

Making Genre Lessons Fun and Interactive

No matter your plan, it’s important to incorporate interactive, hands-on activities that keep students engaged. Plan creative lessons that allow students to become active learners in the school library. Book talks, reader’s theater, games, creating genre lists and other interactive activities allow students to deepen their appreciation of literature and view the school library as an exciting place where learning is an adventure.