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S.O.S. for Information Literacy:
A Tool for Enhancing Information Skills Instruction

Ruth V. Small, Professor
School of Information Studies, Syracuse University
Marilyn P. Arnone, President
Creative Media Solutions, Inc., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Information literacy standards, as described in Information Power: Building Partnerships for Learning (AASL & AECT, 1998), specify the importance of (1) integrating information literacy with the content and objectives of the school’s curriculum and (2) teacher-library media specialist collaborative instructional planning and curriculum development to guarantee the effective teaching of information skills. Many teachers and library media specialists are asking for guidance in the most effective ways to fulfill these goals.

While the standards and the numerous available information literacy models describe in detail what to teach, there are far fewer resources that demonstrate how to teach information literacy skills, how to integrate them with the curriculum, and how to collaborate for planning and delivering effective information skills lessons. In addition, there are no support tools for improving teaching in this area that offer the power of capturing first-hand examples of model teaching and digitally storing specific video examples in a quickly accessible manner.

S.O.S. for Information Literacy is a project funded by a U.S. Department of Education Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant, awarded in the fall of 2000 to Dr. Marilyn P. Arnone, President of Creative Media Solutions, Inc. of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and adjunct assistant professor at the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University. Professor Ruth Small of the School of Information Studies is co-author of the grant proposal and serves as Senior Project Consultant. The goal of this project is to make a significant contribution toward achieving the goals described in Information Power by helping elementary educators design and deliver high quality information literacy skills instruction to their students. The S.O.S. team has presented the project to a variety of audiences, including a recent invitation from Patricia Breivik to present S.O.S. to the National Forum on Information Literacy in Washington, D.C.

Why Is S.O.S. Needed?

Many educators have told us that, despite careful lesson planning, their lessons are often less than successful. We believe that to be successful the content of a lesson must not only be appropriate, timely, accurate, and so on, but it must also be presented in a way that motivates students. Motivation (or the lack thereof) can make or break a teaching episode (Small, 1997). Therefore we incorporate our model, the Motivation Overlay for Information Skills Instruction (Small & Arnone, 2000), into the S.O.S. tool.

The Motivation Overlay is not a new information skills model but rather a systematic framework for designing motivation into information skills instruction in a way that excites students about research and life-long learning. As its name suggests, it serves as an “overlay” to existing information literacy models. The model identifies three general research stages and specifies eight general information skills (synthesized from existing information literacy models) and nine motivational goals related to the three research stages. In addition, each of the motivational goals is linked to several motivational teaching techniques and strategies, forming what Small and Arnone call a Motivation Toolkit. The Motivation Toolkit has been widely used for designing exciting information literacy skills lessons at all levels (Moyer & Small, 2001).

At the beginning of and during the development of the S.O.S. prototype, Small and Arnone conducted a front-end analysis and iterative design research to determine how best to design an information system that meets the needs of K-6 teachers and library media specialists. The primary data collection methods were (1) a survey of college educators and leaders in the field, (2) an online questionnaire, focus groups, and telephone interviews with practitioners, and (3) an in-house technical evaluation with programmers and consultants. Their research provided invaluable information and guidance for development of appropriate content and desired functionality for S.O.S.

What Is S.O.S.?

S.O.S. incorporates the most current thinking on the teaching of information skills (e.g., Kuhlthau, 1993; Vandergrift, 1994) and fosters collaborative partnerships between elementary teachers and library media specialists (who in the past have often worked toward the same goals separately) by promoting the teaching of information skills in the context of classroom assignments and research projects, thereby increasing the relevance of learning such skills. S.O.S. includes video clips and multimedia that illustrate real-life examples of collaborative planning and teaching of information skills lessons that are integrated with the curriculum.

S.O.S. (Situations, Outcomes, and Strategies) is a Web-based tool that combines access to video and multimedia demonstrations with sophisticated search technologies. S.O.S. prescribes potentially successful teaching strategies for achieving desired teaching outcomes under specific situational variables. Once an educator has identified a specific situation (grade level, subject area, national standards) and desired outcome(s) (information skills and sub-skills, motivational goals), then the S.O.S. system generates one or more suggested teaching strategies, many of which are linked to video demonstrations, lesson plans, handouts, and other relevant teaching materials and Internet resources. Furthermore, various types of videos may be found in S.O.S., including the following: "In Action" videos showing real-life practitioners implementing a particular strategy; "Reflections," in which educators reflect on their use of a particular strategy or successful collaborative effort; and "From a Student's Perspective," in which elementary students talk about their learning when taught with a particular strategy.

A Scenario

Here's a hypothetical example of how S.O.S. might work.

Juanita Sanchez is a fifth grade teacher in a small rural school district in Massachusetts. Her district's elementary social studies curriculum (and state standards) specifies that students learn about the history of their state. Juanita is beginning her unit on history with a lesson and assignment that requires students to explore what life was like in colonial Massachusetts. Although her students learned some facts about their state's history in earlier grades, they had never done formal research on the topic. When Juanita informed them that they would be doing research on the topic of family life in colonial Massachusetts, many of the students reacted with expressions of anxiety, uncertainty, and boredom.

While Juanita knows the curriculum and content-related goals for her lesson, she is unsure about what information literacy learning outcomes she should stress and how to teach her lesson in a way that not only makes this initial research experience engaging and relevant for her students but also builds their confidence as budding researchers. So Juanita goes to her classroom computer to access S.O.S.

She inputs the Situation variables (e.g. fourth grade, social studies), selects a desired information literacy skill Outcome (Definition: Determining the amount and type of information needed to complete the task or assignment) from the list provided, and clicks on the Strategies button to retrieve all related teaching ideas for her lesson. Immediately, the system displays eighteen hits of appropriate instructional Strategies that target the specific information literacy skill she plans on teaching. Juanita sees that several strategies are linked to video segments, one of which demonstrates the strategy "in action" implemented by an elementary educator and the other presents a student describing what it was like to learn when his teacher used that strategy. Some of the strategies also link to other relevant resources including photographs, text descriptions, Web links, and complete lesson plans that allow Juanita to see the strategy in context.

Juanita quickly peruses the list and begins to select the strategies she would like to include with her lesson. One strategy links to a video segment of a 5th grade classroom teacher/library media specialist team from New York teaching a lesson with a similar theme: Life in Colonial New York. As the library media specialist teaches students how to determine the amount and type of information needed, the classroom teacher reiterates the parameters of the research assignment to students. Another strategy links to a video segment showing a student describing his perspective on a lesson taught by the library media specialist in which his school’s library media specialists helped his class locate and use a database containing state historical information.

Juanita bookmarks the strategies she likes, prints out a copy of a great lesson plan and downloads a linked set of original pictures of students reenacting an event that took place in colonial Jamestown. When she shows the team teaching video to Dan Curtis, her school's library media specialist, they both decide to schedule a meeting to collaboratively plan and teach the lesson and agree to use S.O.S.'s online lesson planner to facilitate the design of their lesson.

While this example illustrates one way in which Juanita might use S.O.S to fulfill her instructional need, she could use a number of other search strategies to find ideas for her lesson. For example, she could search each S.O.S. database directly, i.e., searching by teaching strategies, lesson plans, videos, information literacy standards, or topics. The flexibility and broad scope of S.O.S. provides a wide range of choices for instructional design.


S.O.S. for Information Literacy promises to be a unique, state-of-the art information system for teaching information literacy skills that integrates interactive multimedia, the Internet, cutting-edge information technologies, and innovative instructional techniques. As a tool, S.O.S. will provide much-needed help to educators for meeting the national information literacy standards described in Information Power and for preparing our children to be successful citizens of the 21st century.


American Association of School Librarians (AASL) and Association for Educational Communications & Technology (AECT). (1998). Information Power: Building Partnerships for Learning. Chicago: American Library Association/AECT.

Kuhlthau, C. (1993). Implementing a process approach to information skills: A study identifying indicators of success in library media programs. School Library Media Quarterly, 22 (1), 75-99. (EJ 473 063)

Moyer, S. and Small, R.V. (2001, Jan-Feb). Building a "Motivation Toolkit" for Teaching Information Literacy. Knowledge Quest, 29 (3). (EJ 625 224)

Small, R.V. (1997, Dec.). Designing motivation into library and information skills instruction. School Library Media Quarterly Online, v. 1, http://www.ala.org/aasl/SLMQ/small.html

Small, R.V. and Arnone, M.P. (2000). Turning Kids On to Research: The Power of Motivation. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 2000. (ED 439 689)

Vandergrift, K.E. (1994). Power Teaching: A Primary Role of the School Library Media Specialist. Chicago: American Library Association. (ED 369 419)

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