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One World Lessons: Building Community

In our latest blog series, Laura D’Elia (K-3 Library Teacher) and Wendy Garland (1-5 Library Teacher) discuss their experiences with and offer diversity, equity, and inclusion lessons that can be taught in the K-6 classroom or library. Each lesson incorporates the Learning for Justice Social Justice Standards and the AASL Standards Framework for Learning, as well as includes recommended picture books from the Diverse BookFinder collection. 

Wendy Garland (she/her/hers) has been an elementary librarian since 2002. She has a BA in Spanish and a BS in liberal studies from Southern Connecticut State University and a MLIS from Simmons College. Wendy has spoken at library conferences both locally and internationally and was a participant in the AASL Induction Program. She shares all things “library” at @dancelibrarian and

Laura Beals D’Elia (she/her/hers) has been an elementary library teacher since 2002. She has presented at various state, national, and international conferences on such topics as 1:1 iPads in an elementary school library and technology program, digital storytelling, and guided inquiry. She currently co-teaches a professional workshop for educators with her district’s ELL District Coordinator about using inclusive picture books in the classroom for all grade levels. Follow the Armstrong Elementary Library at @aeslibs.

Why Building Community?

Every educator knows that the beginning of school is an important time to lay the foundation for the year; to ensure learning can happen for everyone. Classrooms and libraries should feel welcoming and inclusive and there should be clear expectations for being a positive community member. With this in mind, we think that starting the year with lessons on building the learning community is essential.

Students are greeted with this welcome at the library entrance

The Lesson

We created this lesson to establish a learning environment/community where students feel seen, valued, and safe to learn and grow. Because students are part of the community, they should be a part of the process of building what the community will look like. The lesson we share here provides opportunity for students to be critical contributors to the process and to clearly understand how their actions and behaviors shape their community.

  • Essential Question: How can I be a positive member of our community?
  • AASL Standards: Include/Create II.B.1. Learners adjust their awareness of the global learning community by interacting with learners who reflect a range of perspectives. 
  • Social Justice Standards: Identity 4: Students will express pride, confidence and healthy self-esteem without denying the value and dignity of other people.

Pre-Read Aloud

Before reading, we challenged our younger students to identify something they could see or hear that made them feel good/happy/excited about the space. We asked them to walk around the space and share their observations by exchanging ideas with a partner, writing on paper/sticky notes, drawing pictures, or taking photos. 

Student responses included:

“Signs help people know what choices they have.”
“The bulletin board invites us to read.  Nice words welcome you when you are new.”
“We feel good seeing favorite books standing up on the shelves.”

Students used the hand signal for “me too” when they agreed with something being said.

These responses gave us the opportunity as educators to see the space and each other in different ways.

For older students, we asked them to share their opinions on what they needed from their learning environment.  

We offered the students a few different prompts: 

  • In a positive library community we need the students to… 
  • In a positive library community we need Mrs. Garland (our teacher) to… 
  • Together we will create a library space that feels…

Student responses included:

e.g., “Help each other” / “Be kind to each other” /  “Be a good listener”
e.g., “Be patient with us” / “Help me find books” / “Be positive”
Students offered their ideas of how they want the library space to feel.

We then focused our lesson on the concept of taking care: taking care of yourself, taking care of others, and taking care of the classroom or library. When students are taking care, everyone is safe, healthy, and happy which creates a welcoming and inclusive community.

The bulletin board captured the brainstorming and served as a reminder 
that we created the expectations together.

First, it was important that students understood exactly what taking care looks and sounds like (the language of the Responsive Classroom). We asked for examples of what taking care would look like in their everyday lives using various phrased questions for different age groups:

  • What does it look like when you are taking care of a friend when you are playing together?”
  • What does taking care of yourself look like when you are going somewhere with your family?”
  • What does taking care of yourself look like when you are meeting new friends?”
  • “What does it sound like when you take care of others on the playground?”
  • “What does it look like to take care of your favorite things at home?”

With solid examples of what “taking care” looks and sounds like from their personal lives, we were ready to explore what this looked like in our read aloud.  

Read Aloud

We let students know that as we read, we wanted them to share where they noticed that a character was or wasn’t taking care. There are many titles that could be used for this lesson, but here are the ones that worked best for us:

We chose Rulers of the Playground and Do Not Bring Your Dragon to the Library because they were relatable and had very clear examples of kids making good and bad choices. We chose What Can a Citizen Do for older students when trying to define the broader concept of what it means to be a citizen or member of a community.

Post-Read Aloud

Now that students explored what taking care looks like in their lives and discovered how the characters in the story were (or were not!) taking care , we began to compile ideas from the students of what taking care of yourself, taking care of others, and taking care of the classroom/library looks and sounds like. Students struggled with what “taking care of yourself” looked like so we spent a little extra time prompting students to think about ideas such as asking for help, sitting next to someone that doesn’t distract them, etc. We recorded their responses as a whole class on chart paper and a Google slide.

Once we established what taking care of each other and ourselves looked like in our space, we had common language and developed common expectations. From student responses, we created tap out boards, visual posters with the ideas we collected from students. 

Tap Out Posters

We used the tap out boards by asking them to think about one way they took care today and tap the image on the way out of class. The tap out boards served as an exit ticket; an active assessment that allows the teacher to determine the level of learning from the class lesson. We used them throughout the year, not just this class, as a consistent reminder of the ideas and expectations we agreed were important at the beginning of the year.


We made the choice not to use the word “rules” because rules are something that happen to you instead of a choice you make for yourself and others. This was an important distinction to help create the welcoming and inclusive environment we wanted.

The tap out boards were a great visual but we found that students became desensitized to it pretty quickly. Instead of asking students to choose from the whole tap out board we selected two or three each week to focus on and that change every week kept them positively focused.

Video: I can take care of others in action

Another advantage of the tap out boards was that they were created as a community, for the community. We did not just use these at the beginning of the year to establish expectations. We were able to revisit them in class later in the year when students needed to be reminded of how we take care of our community.

Establishing this language and these expectations of “taking care” was vital to creating an environment for and by our students where they could feel valued as a member of our learning community. Teaching class expectations isn’t always fun but it’s so critical to a successful school year. Creating these expectations in a collaborative way with an inclusive read aloud makes the experience feel more personal and special for each class and student. We look forward to a new year with our students where everyone feels welcome!

Explore other One World Lessons

Many of the cover images on this site are from Google Books.
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