Teen Librarian Toolbox
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Cindy Crushes Programming with a Live Action Donner Dinner Party Game

Today, Cindy Shutts discusses how she played a live action Donner Dinner Party game with her teens.


My teens, like most teens, are very interested in true crime and mysteries.  Last year I made a life size board game version of the old classic video game of the Oregon Trail. It was very popular with the teens that had learned about the tabletop game version now available. This year I decided to do something different and a bit darker.  So I decided to do a program about the Donner Dinner Party.

First, I realized it had to be much harder than the Oregon Trail. I did some research in The Best Land Under Heaven by Michael Wallis and I had previously read the Donner Dinner Party by Nathan Hale about the actual events. I learned there were a lot more members of the Donner party than I had thought there were.  These sources gave me a lot of ideas.

Getting Started:

  • Set up a square game board on your floor with 40 spaces. Spaces are described below. You will want to use a large meeting room for this.
  • See resources at the end of this post for additional supplies discussed in the post.
  • Dice

Divide your teens into groups of 4. I made supply cards that included water, food, medicine, and spare parts (below in resources). Every team gets two of each supply cards to begin with.

The game board that is located on the floor includes forty spaces. The corner spaces of the board are tasks they have to accomplish and the General Store. Corner spaces are: General Store, Pick a Fish, Pick a Berry, Knot Tying

Players begin the game on the corner with the General Store. Teams will roll a dice to move from space to space on the board.

Every space on the board had a different card on them. Here are a few examples “Grandma died! Lose a turn as you bury her!” “Find an Empty Wagon, Take Parts card!” “Oops— Snake! Your oldest player has died! “The spaces get progressively worse for the player as the game continues much as the real Donner Dinner Party continued to go downhill. (See resources)

The teams’ first corner task is to pick a fish. I had a bunch of fish cut out and turned over. All they had to do was pick a fish and not a skeleton fish. If they picked a skeleton fish, they would lose a food card.

Another corner games space was pick a berry and see if it is it edible. I did research on different berries and had a picture of the berry on one side and the other side had the name of the plant and if it was edible or poisonous. If they picked a poison plant, one of the people in wagon passes away.

The final corner is knot tying. This gives teens a chance to learn a valuable skill.

After this game, we played one more Donner game. There is a game version of the Donner Dinner Party called Donner Dinner Party a Rowdy Gamer of Frontier Cannibalism. This is a fun mafia style game where you can either be a cannibal or a pioneer.  If you are a pioneer you try to successfully make it through a game round and get enough food to eat. If you are a cannibal, you try to ruin the pioneers’ attempts to gather food.

Thoughts: This program super fun and the teens loved it. They may have not survived, but they loved having an adventure and also learned about history.

Support Materials:

Donner Party Supply Cards

donner party fish

Donner Cards

Donner berry game


Cindy Crushes Programming: Light the Night with Fandom Themed Fairy Jars


I love making crafts with the library teens and get ideas from a lot of sources. I recently saw a video about making lighted fairy jars on YouTube and recreated it with my library teens. It was very popular, but I had some issues. First, it was very expensive because I had to special order woodcut fairies. Second, the directions said to use superglue to glue the fairy in the jar, which meant many people glued their figures together. So I made some adjustments and found a program that works! The twist here is that we’re going to create “fairy light” jars that celebrate our favorite fandoms, so we’ve personalized this craft and taken it to the next level.

I realized while I liked the outcome, but I did not like the process. I have found my own process for making lighted jars.


Supplies Needed:

  • Clear jars, clean and dry
  • Cardstock
  • A Silhouette Cameo is helpful though not necessary
  • Glue or glue dots
  • Glitter glue or Mod Podge
  • Small paint brush
  • Tissue paper
  • Scissors
  • Embellishments such as string/yarn/ribbon, buttons, etc
  • LED lights or candles to place inside the jar (battery operated works best). Glow sticks also work.

Here are some instructions from another source for an overview

Step 1: Cut your shape to place inside the jar

I wanted to do this craft again but not with fairies. I was lucky my library had just purchased a cameo silhouette machine which allowed me to use cardstock and cut out different shapes I have found online. If you don’t have access to a Silhouette machine, you can cut out silhouettes using scissors or exacto knives.

My first lighted Fandom Jar was Beauty and the Beast. I use Pinterest and Google image search to find silhouettes that worked for my program.  I printed them off the cameo machine and that made life easier and you do not have to order silhouettes.

I believe in either using tape or glue dots to place the image in the jar as it makes things easier to fix for teens and teen librarians who make mistakes. I do not recommend using superglue; I lost a layer of skin that first time I tried it to fix the teens projects, plus it is just messy.

Karen’s Note: You can use the free software GIMP to turn a teen photo into a silhouette, which would be fun for this craft. There is also a free silhouette app that you can download for a mobile device.

Step 2: Cover the outside of the jar

I used tissue paper to cover the jar. I like to paint a layer of Elmer’s glue on the jar and the gently place the tissue paper around the jar. Trim off any extra. I am very careful about making sure the silhouette in the jar is not covered by the over fold of the tissue paper. I like to use as light a color of tissue paper as possible. Dark tissue paper will not work. I learned this when I tried to use golden tissue paper for my Hamilton lighted jars.  I then have the teens wait and add another layer of glue on top of the tissue paper. This helps smooth it out and makes it easier to see.

WikiHow: 4 Way to Make Faeries in a Jar

Step 3: Embellish your jar


I let them pick out what the want to do next, whether they want toput a layer of glitter glue over it. Add accents. I enjoy tying a ribbon around the jars. I have a button box that I let them look through. I try to find objects that work with the theme such as I found rose buttons for Beauty and the beast or stars for Hamilton Jars.  I make it clear this is their jar they get the final say in what it looks like.

Things to Consider

I am very careful when getting the jars. I saved up coupons and also asked for jars as donations from staff and patrons. Spaghetti sauce jars work out very well as do some pickle jars. Couponing makes this craft affordable since I can use all the supplies the next time if I have leftovers.

Karen’s Note: To up the “making” quotient of this craft, you can make your own LED rope lights in a variety of ways. One set of instructions can be found here. This will significantly increase the cost of this activity.

Thoughts: This craft is always a winner and can be adjusted to different fandoms. As long as the jars are cheap this program works out nicely.

Cindy Shutts, MLIS


Cindy is passionate about teen services. She loves dogs, pro-wrestling, Fairy tales, mythology, and of course reading. Her favorite books are The Hate U Give, Catching FIre, The Royals, and everything by Cindy Pon. She loves spending times with her dog Harry Winston and her niece and nephew. Cindy Shutts is the Teen Services Librarian at the White Oak Library District in IL and she’ll be joining us to talk about teen programming. You can follow her on Twitter at @cindysku.

Cindy Crushes Programming: Hosting a Teen Improv Night


I am going to be very honest. I have very little acting experience, so when one of my teens asked for an improv night I was nervous.  Improv stands for improvisational theater. I decided to a lot of research. I wanted the teens to know it is okay to make mistakes and they do not have to be perfect.

I began to look for beginning acting exercises that the group could perform. One game I found was counting to twenty. The group gathers in a circle and they all count to 20 as a team, but no one knows who is going to count next and if two people say the same number they have to start over.

The next activity I found was called Unfortunate/Fortunate.  It is an activity where one person gives the unfortunate news and another give the fortunate news.

Example: Unfortunately you ran out of candy, but fortunately you have snacks. Unfortunately they are expired, fortunately you did not like them anyway.

The next exercise I planned to do is Headlines. In Headlines someone gives another person a headline and the next person makes their own headline using the last word of the previous headline.

Example:  Headline 1: Cocker Spaniel starts his own rock band.  Headline 2: Band candy sale starts today. Teachers beware!


Flock Dance: This activity is a dance exercise that I hoped would be popular since I have noticed Fortnight has led to teens being more excited about dancing.

The activity starts with a leader who the group follows in a 10-15 second dance. The teens have to do everything the leader is doing. This seems like a fun and easy game.


We did an activity from the show Whose Line Is It Anyway?  The activity is called Scene from a Hat. They have to act out various scenes that are in the hat such as—“Snapchat Gone Wrong.”

I added my own improv game called it Librarian and Patron. I had them act like a librarian and the patron that needed help. This was super fun because they got to be me. I had them do impressions of me and they really enjoyed that.

The last activity was an easy round of Telephone which most teens know as the game where you tell one person one thing and you keep going around the room to see to see how it ends.


Thoughts:  The program was not highly attended but we had a lot of fun. The teens that came were excited and did all the games and they wanted to try this again. I would have had two more back up games if I were planning to do this again.

Links on improv





Cindy Crushes Programming: Hosting a Stranger Things themed Escape Room

Today we are debuting a new regular column that focuses on teen programming with a new TLT contributor: Cindy Shutts. She’ll be joining us on the first and third Wednesday of each month to talk teen programming. Today Cindy is sharing the basic framework for hosting a Stranger Things themed Escape Room. We’re going to assume you are familiar with the basics of Stranger Things to host this Escape Room, if not you can check it out on Netflix. Please note, there are some Stranger Things based novels coming out soon.


To learn more about the basics of hosting an Escape Room, please check out Breakout Edu as they have basic kits that you can use as a foundation. You can also read a couple of previous posts on Escape Rooms here at TLT:

TPiB: Build an Escape Room by Michelle Biwer – Teen Librarian Toolbox

TPiB: Locked in the Library! Hosting an Escape Room by Heather Booth

Basic program premise . . .

Your teens will be “locked” in the library and in order to escape, they must unravel a mystery, find the secret codes, and “unlock” the boxes to survive or meet your end goal. Most escape rooms give participants an hour to escape.


Plot:  Tonight is the Hawkins Middle School Halloween Dance. The gang must save Dart’s Son and return him to the upside-down before anything bad happens in Hawkins.


Supplies List:

You could use the Breakout Edu kit

4 number lock

3 number lock

Word lock

Key lock

Two lock boxes

Stuffed Demi Gordon or printed picture

Stranger thing Christmas light blanket or picture

Box of 80’s toys

Dungeons and Dragon character sheets and D and D dice

President Reagan picture

Old Halloween records

For any documents I used the courier font since it is similar to a typewriter font.

Instructions: I made sure I read the prompt so everyone knew what was going on. I also let them know they had two hints. I am prepared to always add one more hint later on if they need it.

Red Herrings:  I hung a picture of President Ronald Reagan like many schools would have had hanging up in classrooms in the 1980’s.  I had the Dungeons and Dragons items that mean nothing.



Word Lock: I used the word “Spell” because it is one of the easy words you can use for the lock. I used the color code that went along with the stranger thing Christmas light blanket. Colored pieces of paper will be hidden in the room. This lock was placed on the large box.ccp5

4 Number Lock: I put some old records together and made a playlist and the order of the songs are on the records is the lock code. I ripped the printed copy so it looks like there might be more songs, but I only used these four.  This list was in the small box. The lock was placed on the large box.

Hawkins Middle School Dance Music List

  1. Witches’ Brew
  2. Monster’s Three Wishes
  3. Counting Is Wonderful
  4. The Count’s Weather Report

Code: 1437

3 Number Lock: I made secret memo from the US Department of Energy in Hawkins. I put the memo in the toys box. This lock was placed on the small box.



US Department of Energy: Hawkins Laboratory Memo

October 15, 1985

Top Secret

Subject three is missing. We do not know where it is. It must be eliminated before it can cause damage in the town. We cannot risk any more mistakes. Nine soldiers are hunting it down. We need zero mistakes on this mission.

Code: 390


Key Lock: The key lock was placed on the larger box. The key was placed in the small box.

Results: This was one of my most successful escape rooms. The program completely filled up and I had great feedback from the teens. I ran two sessions of it.

For Stranger Things read-alikes, check out these lists:


Cindy Shutts, MLIS


Cindy is passionate about teen services. She loves dogs, pro-wrestling, Fairy tales, mythology, and of course reading. Her favorite books are The Hate U Give, Catching FIre, The Royals, and everything by Cindy Pon. She loves spending times with her dog Harry Winston and her niece and nephew. Cindy Shutts is the Teen Services Librarian at the White Oak Library District in IL and she’ll be joining us to talk about teen programming. You can follow her on Twitter at @cindysku.