For one of my MLIS courses, I’ve been researching information literacy instruction methods. I’ve come across a number of activities that I found to be unique, inspiring, or innovative (even thrilling!). Here is a summary of the practical approaches to IL that caught my eye. If you have any “tricks of the trade” that you think are unique or worthy of note, please share in the comments!

Social Tagging as Metaphor for Subject Headings

Both Luo (2010) and Maggio (2010) discuss using social tagging practices to illustrate the concept of subject headings in library catalogs and databases. By illustrating how tagging structures work and how using them can be beneficial to research, instructors can show students how to use subject headings in the library catalog. Even though the formation of a controlled vocabulary for a database differs from the way folksonomies are created, instructors can use this difference to discuss the benefits and drawbacks of each system.

Luo, L. (2010). Web 2.0 integration in information literacy instruction : an overview. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 36(1), 32-40.

Maggio, L. A., Bresnahan, M., Flynn, D. B., & Harzbecker, J. (2009). A case study: using social tagging to engage students in learning Medical Subject Headings. Journal of the Medical Library Association, 97(2), 77-83.

Collaboration and Reflection

Jacobs & Jacobs (2009) discuss a concept that is not new but deeply effective and deserves mentioning. As part of a collaboration between an information literacy librarian and a professor of composition and rhetoric, the Composition Program at University of Windsor developed a writing project that built the research and reflection aspects of writing a paper into the requirements of the assignment. As a result, more emphasis was shifted toward the process of research as opposed to the results. Constant feedback from the writing instructor and the librarian enriched the process.

Jacobs, H., & Jacobs, D. (2009). Transforming  the one-shot library session into pedagogical collaboration: information literacy and the English composition class. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 49(1), 72-82.

Related: Christopher C. & Cmor, D. (2009). Blogging toward information literacy: engaging students and facilitating peer learning. Reference Services Review, 37(4), 395-407.


The University of Michigan developed a game, The Defense of Hidgeon, that tested the information retrieval skills of student players. The game is set in the 14th century and players had to use their knowledge of library resources and searching skills to navigate through a plague-ridden landscape. The object of the game is to become the “Lord Researcher” for Duke Jerome. The overarching storyline kept students engaged and the repetitive nature of some of the tasks reinforced good info seeking habits.

Markey, K., Swanson, F., Jenkins, A., Jennings, B., St. Jean, B., Rosenberg, V., Yao, X., et al. (2008). Engaging undergraduates in research through storytelling and gaming strategy : final report to the Delmas Foundation. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan, School of Information. Retrieved from

Related: Clyde, J. & Thomas, C. (2008). Building an information literacy first-person shooter. Reference Services Review, 36(4), 366-380.

Research Project Survival

Librarians at the University of Purdue worked with Resident Assistants to bring instruction classes into the dormitories in an informal, nonthreatening way. RAs helped to promote the sessions and food was provided. The 45 minutes sessions centered around “5 tips for better research.” The weekend sessions (held when the dining halls were closed) were some the most popular sessions. RAs turned out to be a great resource for marketing the sessions.

Riehle, C. F. (2009). Librarians in the hall: instructional outreach in campus residences. College & Undergraduate Libraries, 16(2/3), 107-21.

One-Off Games

The following ideas come from a book that I was lucky to come across while searching for something else. The Library Instruction Cookbook is published by ACRL and provides a rich source of IL activities. (Be warned, the book is hokey… nonetheless, it’s a resource I wouldn’t want to be without if I’m ever at a loss for ideas.)

Boolean Simon Says

The concept is simple: use participants to physically illustrate concepts of Boolean operators. For example, ask all the students with brown hair to stand. Then ask all students with brown hair AND brown eyes to stand. So and and so forth with OR and NOT. It’s a simple and easy way to “wake people up” early in the morning. (Note: as an instructor, be aware of any students with physical disabilities and adapt accordingly)

Search Engines in a Can

Gather a set of cans of varying sizes and label them with the names of difference databases or search engines according to relative size. For example, the largest one could be Google and the smaller ones could be Proquest, Factiva, etc. Put items in the cans representative of the types of documents/artifacts that you would find by searching those databases. Have fun with the Google can by including a LOT of various items (“porn” is a popular artifact). The idea is to illustrate the concepts of recall and precision in information retrieval.


Just like the board game of the same name, illustrate the technique of keyword mapping by having students locate articles on a particular topic but restrict them from using the words used to describe the topic. For example, if a student is assigned “rates of obesity among adolescents”, they have to use search terms other than those in the description. This can help students understand that the search process is just as organic and iterative as the writing process itself.

Sittler, R. L., & Cook, D. (Eds.). (2009). The Library Instruction Cookbook. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries.

So what are your ideas?

(UPDATE: I just came across the latest post from In the Library with the Lead Pipe which discusses integrating critical thinking into the instruction process. I recommend reading that post as well.)

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