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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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The Importance of a Classroom Library

I believe a classroom library is the heartbeat of a teacher's environment. It is the window into an educator's own personality, and it reflects the importance of literacy in the classroom. I believe every teacher -- no matter what subject he or she teaches -- should have one.

We should provide access to books in our classes with the same differentiated approach we bring to any other lesson, assessment, or activity because there are, I believe, four categories of students who pursue books.

The Book Hunter: These are students who will seek out the book they want, regardless of locale. They get a mere whiff of a good book in the air, and they pursue it. They understand how to choose books and seek out advice when they need it.

The Library Literate: These are students who won't or can't go to a store, but who are comfortable enough to go to the local library, perhaps seeking advice from the friendly face on the other side of the desk.

The Lunchtime Lurker: These are the students who may be comfortable only at the school library. This may also be the only place where they feel safe. Perhaps they escape lunchtime trauma by diving into the dark corners of the library's stacks, surrounded by countless books and those "READ" posters.

The Reluctant Phobe: And then there are students who are so frightened of books, of literacy, and of choice that they feel comfortable only in their classroom library, reaching for books they know exactly where to find, and trusting you, who understands their fears and reading insecurities.

And it's up to us -- the classroom teachers -- to attract all these students, like moths to a flame. My stacks have every genre and every level: picture books, chapter books, fiction, and nonfiction.

The shelves are also peppered with realia from my own background, giving life and texture to the look of the library. A Shakespeare action figure with a removable quill sits between a full-text edition of A Midsummer Night's Dream and the manga version of As You Like It. My childhood Clash of the Titans lunch box bookends the fantasy section, and a knight rides among the historical-fiction section. A figurehead of Captain Morgan that hung in my room all through high school glares down at a sign that reads, "Any who dare not use the proper means of checking out a book." They're all there. Each little tchotchke has a purpose. Each helps entrap students in the web of literacy that is my classroom library.

I have set up a checkout system in my room wherein a student fills out a slip with the date and the book's title and name and then drops the slip into a file. When the student returns the book, she shows me that she's filing the book on the correct shelf and then, with permission, tears up the slip.

I have stickers on every book with icons representing each genre to help categorize the books correctly. That way, even a struggling student can select and return books correctly. When I inject new books into the stacks, I select volunteers to decide which stickers to place on them, thus turning a chore into a mini-lesson in one fell swoop.

Ripley's Believe It or Not has a sticker stating that this book is for classroom reading only (too many kids want to read it after finishing their work), and Diary of a Wimpy Kid has a seven-day-limit sticker on its spine.

When interest tapers off, I start classroom-library scavenger hunts with questions on the board such as the following:

  • Which book has a map of Guilder inside its front cover? (The Princess Bride)
  • Which author has written books in each of the genres in our library? (Avi)
  • Which book on Mrs. Wolpert's fantasy shelf inspired the book Wendy? (Peter Pan)
  • What is the title of the biography about that fantasy book's author? (J.M. Barrie and the Lost Boys)

Weave your library into your lessons. Have the students pull golden lines from the books for a homework assignment. Have them design persuasive ads and write reviews to get other students to read a book that they may have loved.

To hold them accountable for how much they read, have them recreate book covers once they are done reading a book. By the end of the year, these art pieces will overwhelm the room and be proof of your students' literacy.

The classroom library should be an interactive part of your classroom. One day, the books may fall apart with use, but remember, there is no better death for a book than it having been read too much and by too many.

What are some of the creative strategies and lessons you use to motivate students and inspire independent reading?

Comments (89)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Jenny Edwards's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thanks for the great article. I am entering my 8th year of teaching and would like to find new ways to get kids interested in our classroom library.

Margaret Lowing's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am going on my second year of teaching this fall as a Pre-Kindergarten teacher. Although a classroom library in my class may not be used as suggested in this blog, I am always looking for ways to foster a love for reading (even if the student is not reading yet). There were ideas in this article that even I could use. I love the scavenger hunt question idea and am thinking of ways I could implement that into my classroom this fall. I can also begin to label genres by using the sticker system mentioned here. My students may not fully appreciate the system now, but early exposure could aid in providing a student's "aha" moment at any time! I am a firm believer that in order for me to become an expert teacher, I need to go beyond my Pre-Kindergarten classroom and keep the big picture in mind. This article helped to encourage me to bolster my own library thus setting the expectation bar for teachers who will have my students after me even higher!

Misty's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am so excited to find this blog. I teach kindergarten and bought a bookshelf today to use just for my classroom library. I have always sent home a "bag of books" with my children every night and gave away awards (the Pizza Hut Book-it Program) for reading. However, I have always chosen the books. I wanted to give my students choices, but they had a hard time finding books on the shelves that are in my classroom. This new book shelf will be easier for them to use. I have so many books that they will not all fit. I think I will only put so many books out at a time and change them every 3 to 4 weeks so the interest is renewed. As a kindergarten teacher, I feel it is my job to make reading something that is fun and exciting. I have to set the foundation and I am more excited about it this year than any before.
Also, having the children fill out the slip will incorporate writing as well as responsibility into the act of checking out a book. Yea!!! Thanks for the great idea!

Tommi Ryan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I completely enjoyed your thoughts on Classroom Libraries! I could visualize your four types of readers. I have seen some of those students in my classroom. I agree that classroom libraries are essential. I have tried to implement a check-out system, but I have found that after a few weeks, the students "forget" to use it. I have lost several books by not keeping track. Ugh! You have encouraged me to keep trying! Thanks for the insights!

Lara Olsen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thank you for your wonderful insights on the classroom library. I too feel that my favorite books should be in the hands of students. I hear too often from colleagues that they don't want their favorite books out for the kids use, because they might get ruined. My advice for teachers out there with this belief is to buy some contact paper and cover each book. I had a parent in my class that took a bag full of books each week and covered them with contact paper. The kids see that if you take care of the books, and make them last, that they must be very special. My other suggestion is to buy books from garage sales. Most of my favorite books were purchased at garage sales, and since I didn't pay a whole lot for them, I don't feel bad when they get ruined. I also love to allow children to take the books home to read with their parents. The kids are excited each week to fill their "book bags".

Marisa's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with the importance of a classroom library. I just finished my first year teaching Kindergarten. My students loved the freedom of reading books from the library. They felt a sense of ownership being able to choose books themselves. Although this is true, I love the idea of creating a checkout system. Beings that I teach Kindergarten, in the beginning of the year I would have to tweak the system a little bit, but then update the system as they are able to write on their own. I also think the stickers on the books are a great idea. This will help students choose books with a purpose and also create organization in the classroom library. Thanks for such great ideas!

N.Joiner's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It is amazingly clear that you are in love with literature yourself and are able to pass that love over to your students in creative ways. I have struggled with creating a classroom library over the years for many reasons. The first being that I am unable to purchase enough books to "draw" students into the library. Looking at the 3/4 empty shelves that is my library is anything but inspiring or inviting. a second reason is that many of the books I love are much to advanced for my students so most of them just sit there. I am working on reading more of their age and ability-appropriate books to bring in but this is a process that is taking a lot of time with everything else on my plate.

I did really like your idea of putting your personal items into your library to connect your background and culture with the literature. I think thats a great way to connect with students and as you said "draw them in like a moth to a flame."

i thank you for your insights and am inspired to bring my library up to par!

Summer's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have to say, Heather, that I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog on the importance of our classroom libraries. I completely agree that having a classroom library is beneficial to every class, no matter the subject or age level taught. As others have already suggested, it was so easy for me to visualize the students who fit into the four categories you laid out for us. Your ideas have encouraged me to work harder to bring my classroom library to life for my students, and integrate it into my daily lessons, rather than just having it as an available center.

The only teaching experience I have involves students in the lower elementary grades, so the majority of ideas I have tend to cater to PreK-3rd grades.

My favorite literacy project requires the teacher to read a story to the students, and then the entire class works together to create a big book of the story read. The students use playdough, craft balls, pipecleaners, and other materials to create the pictures on giant pieces of poster board. Once our pictures are finished, we take turns writing the words at the bottom of our pages. This activity allows the students to participate in cooperative learning, complete an art project, and develop a literacy tool that can be enjoyed in our reading center all year long. (We did Cat in the Hat, and that one was fun!)

Another thing I love to do with the lower grades is have a reading buddy in my reading corner. I purchase a cuddly stuffed animal, we name it as a class, and the students are encouraged to read to their new friend throughout the day. This is a great way for them to become independent readers!

Thank you again for your blog! I am anxious to try everyone's ideas! :)

Whitney's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I loved reading your blog about classroom libraries and I feel exactly the same way about their importance! Although I am a new teacher (will begin my 3rd year this fall), I have already built up quite an extensive classroom library for my 2nd graders. I have included all types and genres of books and even magazines! My students love coming in the classroom each day and going straight to the reading center to pick books for their book baskets to enjoy throughout the day. They especially love that I brought in books from my childhood that are worn out (with love) and have my name in them from when I was a child. Classroom libraries are so important and beneficial! Thanks for your inspiring and encouraging blog!

Gwendolyn Worrell's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that classroom libraries are very useful. The students enjoy having assess to books at their fingertips. Maintaining the organization is a challenge, and I assigned jobs to some of the organized students to help keep it in order. The easiest system I could think of was listing the books in alphabetical order. I teach second grade, and it was easy for the students to manage that system.

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