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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

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

Amber Cook's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I fully agree with your opinion concerning the importance of a diverse and colorful classroom library. As a Language Arts teacher perhaps I am a bit biased concerning this matter, but I think classroom libraries help promote literacy and pleasure reading in a safe environment. As you mentioned concerning The Reluctant Phobe, some students, despite exposure and encouragement, are still intimated by going to the school or local library; however, by establishing a class library where the student already feels comfortable enables them to explore and pick up a book they might not have otherwise found.

I am currently earning my Master's in Literacy and Learning in the Content Area and am seeing the great importance of literacy in all subject areas. I fully agree that all subject matter teachers, not just English and Language Arts, should have a classroom library. I know my own library was rather small at first, but over time I was able to obtain extra copies of books from the school library, from other teachers, and was able to purchase some with school funds. I even have had some students donate books from home they no longer wanted or were willing to share. I can see how it might be intimidating for a non-English teacher to create their own classroom library, but am sure they will gain support from others and will see the benefit of promoting literacy.

Claire's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have had a classroom library for 10 years and it has gotten so big and used that I've replaced some books multiple times just because of normal wear and tear on the books. Everyday in my first grade classroom I have DEAR time, and I teach the kids on the 2nd day of school that there are 3 ways to read. I do this because there will always be children in the first quarter of school that say, "I can't read, so what do I do during DEAR time?" The three ways to read are picture reading(when words are too big or there's lots, like in an encyclopedia), reading the words (when the words are at level), and pretend reading (when the story has been read before or when it's a familiar story and can be recited/remembered in one's head). After day 2 of school, no child can tell me he can't read, because there should always be one way that works for every book.
In my classroom library, I have books sorted by genre and then I also label the lexile number on them with a color system that we created for our entire school. The lexile numbers are more for me when I'm trying to find books that are on, above, or below level for children. I do teach them though how to use the numbers and colors, and some use it, some don't.
Reading is SO important, and I know we all do it, but it should definitely be done daily, multiple times, so that children see examples of good books and how to read fluently, with expression, and with excitement for learning.

Erika's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I incorporate my classroom library into my daily centers routine. I have collected a variety of books that appeal to my Kindergartners. In addition to reading or looking at books (depending on the level), my students can listen to books on individual CD players or retell familiar stories on the felt story boards. My students are held accountable for their use of time by completing a library centers sheet. They must write the title of two books that they read, listened to, or retold and draw a picture of their favorite part of a story. I find that my students enjoy our classroom library more now that I have included more options. Also whenever I add new books to the library, I make a point to show them to my students prior so they'll be excited to look for the new books when it's their turn in the library. It's quite a process to teach my Kindergartners how to effectively use our library, but I find it very beneficial in developing their interest in reading and books in general. Thanks for your ideas!

Chris Jones's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a Kindergarten teacher in Arizona, and actually have several "libraries" in my classroom. I have a science library, a theme library, a board book library, an easy reader bucket, a Clifford library (my class theme), and even a math library (I took out a shelf out of the manipulative shelving and stacked them there!) By fall there will also be a class book bucket of the books students have written and illustrated! Another way to build up your class libraries is to shop Goodwill's 1/2 price sales, 2nd hand shops like Savers, garage sales, library sales, and I have sent home notes to parents asking for donations of gently used books! You would be amazed what you may find!

Lindsey's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Well, I thought that I had a pretty awsome library, but you have given me some great and helpful ideas for the new school year.

I always loved reading as a child, but my brother hated it. I feel one of the reasons he hated it was because he was always told he HAD to read and there was usually an assignment after it. By assignment, I mean book report. I think that the book report is the reading killer for many students.

Because of my love of reading, I like my library to be stress free and also be a place where the students get to chose. I do not tell them what to read and I encourage them to read all types of books. Also, I set the library up with pillows and rugs so that it is both fun and comfertable. It seems to work well in my room. I also do not do book reports. Once or twice a year, we read a book together and do a "wrap up activity."

I have had many students leave my room loving to read in their spare time. Even those that hated it before, tend to be avid readers.

Thanks for the helpful tips. It should help make my library even better.

Ann Billock's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thanks for all the suggestions I am trying to impliment a program that calls for an extensive classroom library to best service the students called The Daily Five. I have been trying to expand my library all summer with some success. I thought it was interesting the way you broke various types of readers into categories. I recognized quite a few of my students in those categories. How did you expand your library over time, grants, administration assistance? The object of this program is to train your students to be independent learners and to read and write voraciously. How do you become a better reader and writer? By doing alot of it. Hopefully this classroom library will create a love of reading for my students. Teaching 3rd grade in Ohio can be challenging, but always rewarding.

Ann Billock

Sue Eason's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Liz -

I teach Kindergarten outside of Atlanta, Georgia. I also loved the scavenger hunt idea. I thought I would try it with my Kindergarteners to check on their concepts of print. I could give the kids post-it notes and tell them to put a post-it note where they should read (picture or words), label the front and back of the book, etc. It's just an idea but it would be another way to practice concepts of print.


Racheal  Kasule's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I hope and dream that one day I will have my own classroom filled with books that my students can read and are willing to read. At the current time I am a freelance teacher and do not have my own classroom. I also am faced with the problem of travel as I teach business ESL and go from company to company. In an ideal situation I would have one classroom that I would use weekly and would be able to use some of my own resources so that my students would benefit from that.
It's difficult because these students have particular goals and need to read outside of the classroom, but I can only point them in the direction of the nearest library which has many of them running for the hills. Are there any suggestions on how to make this an easier experience in this type of environment?

Julie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Wow...thanks for the great suggestions. I have a classroom library but it really has no sense of order or purpose. I love how you have books marked by genres. Last year my students took a "trip through the genres". If only I had books marked in my library to help reinforce their learning, I think my students would have benefited much more with their learning. I do encourage them to get books from our classroom library but never really hold them accountable for what they read. I teach first grade, so I often use the excuse "they are too young". I want to hold them more accountable this coming year. I love the idea of recreating the book cover and can't wait to try this:)

Julie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love this idea! I always stress about getting the books back in the proper places.

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