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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

Shayamme Jones's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Heather

This article was very enlightning. I've wanted to know how to make my classroom library a more useful part of my daily instruction. I have been so limited in my thinking, and as a result, my students have suffered. I have discovered that read-alouds and repetitive book reports are not enough to sustain students' interest in reading. In your blog, you shared some uses for your classroom libraries that made me light up. I can only imagine the excitement that students, exposed to these activities, must experience.

I can already see my students recreating book covers and doing book reviews to persuade someone else to read a book they have enjoyed. Do you allow them to present their reviews to the class? I picture students learning new terms like critics and debate. This can become a fun, and healthy way to have students think critically, and voice their thoughts. Heather, you have allowed me to see how I can improve upon some teaching weaknesses of my own.

Thank You,

Shayamme Jones
3rd Grade Teacher
Birmingham, AL
Walden University Student

April Bentler's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Many of the teachers in my school make their library more homey by putting lamps around and comfortable seats. I just love the idea of having students draw the new cover for the books the read. This would be great to get students motivated to read more books if they really enjoy drawing. During March is reading month we have a door decorating contest and some of the classrooms recreated book covers to put on their door. This made it possible for other students in the school to see recommended books as well. I believe the more books available to students the more interest they will have. We may offer genres of books they didn't even know existed.

Kerri's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really enjoyed this article. I think it's imperative to have a classroom library filled with different genres, different types, different levels of books for all types of learners. I love the scavenger hunt idea..it's a great way for them to get familiar with the library and to look at books that they maybe otherwise would not think of looking at. I like having the students write reviews of the books that they read. This way, they can recommend books to one another and each student can see what his/her classmates thought about a particular book.
Thanks for the great tips!

Becky B's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have really enjoyed reading all of the suggestions on how to implement a library into my classroom. I will be starting my second year of teaching in September, and I am always looking for new ideas on how to get my students interested and excited to read new books. The school that I teach in has an Accelerated Reader program, so I was lucky enough to acquire a lot of books when I entered my new classroom. I had all of these books and they were leveled already for me, but I was struggling on how to fully incorporate them into my classroom. I really like the scavenger hunt idea.

Many of the teachers in my building do encourage the AR program. After each book, the students take a quiz and they can get points and move up to higher level books when they pass a certain number of quizzes. I had a hard time accepting this way of reading. My students became obsessed with taking quizzes and moving up to higher levels, and it became a competition. While I do think for somethings competitions are good, for reading I could not accept this method. They were not reading for the right reasons, and they were really not getting the most out of the books that they could. I was really happy to read all of your suggestions to get more ideas of how I can overcome this AR craze in my building.

I have found that setting up my library in little bins on the bookshelf is effective to help students sort through the books. The books are placed in bins accoring to genre. Inside the bin is a variety of leveled books. The best part about putting my books in the bins is that they are facing forward, and all the students have to do is flip through the bins instead of taking each book off the shelf in order to see what the book is.

Kristen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have several books and magazines in my classroom, but have done little with them to really help my students. Our last class of the day is DEAR (Drop Everything And Read). It becomes a struggle at times to keep students interested in reading, especially when the spring rolls around. I like the idea of having students write reviews of the books they read. I think this would benefit many of my students who are reluctant to read find something of interest. I also like the idea of a scavenger hunt. This would be a fun way to encourage my 8th graders and show them that literacy can be fun. I often hear comments like "this is boring" or "why do we have to read?" from many of my students. Thank you for giving me some new ideas to use to hopefully help my students begin to enjoy reading and not look at it as a chore.

I teach science and have found that many students are very interested in reading nonfiction books that deal with science. They also love books like the Guinness Book of World Records and Ripley's Believe it or Not. For the past few years, I've had a subscription to Science World magazine which covers all different areas of science and has some really interesting articles. Many of the articles involve children and teenagers that my students can relate to. They also have a section entitled "Gross Out" which was a favorite of my students. I recommend adding something like this to any classroom library.

Thank you again for all the great suggestions!

Liz 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach kindergarten at Rosemont Elementary in MD. I also use a classroom library. I have a standing bookshelf which is where I like to my books for the theme we are working on, or the books that we have read, so that my students have easy access to them. At the beginning of the year I put ABC books, Eye Spy, color and shapes. Books that are not to challenging, but will be comforting to them.
We are starting a new curriculum this year so I hope to get into author studies and featuring a new author every month. I think this will be a good way to get my students excited about reading. I really liked the idea about the scavenger hunt but I would need to think of a way to use it with Kindergarten. I also like the drawing a new cover, but I like to have my students draw about their favorite part of the story. Maybe I will add that as a new option this year to think of a different cover picture and see how it works out. Thanks for the great ideas!


sarah's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a special education teacher, I teach a study lab where the students come to work on IEP goals and catch up on general education work. I have found that when there is downtime, reading is a great time filler. I try and keep a variety of books and magazines of their interest at all different grade levels. I totally agree with you about the phobes sometimes only feel comfortable reading in a environment where they feel safe. My high school students don't want to read books at their reading level in front of their general education peers so it is important that I offer this in their own classroom. Thanks for your insight.

Keilah's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that this was a great article. All the different ideas for book use. I love books but am not sure how to incorporate them and push them in the mathematics classroom yet. I try to always have books available for students when they finish tests, but I want books to be a bigger part of their life than just after tests. If anyone has good math book suggestions please let me know.

Aubrey 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have found that having a classroom library can be a great resource in the classroom but also a problem. As the year goes along student lose interest or refuse to use the library when they need a book. However, there is no better way to help a student learn to love reading then having opitions for them. Many of the ideas I have read are fantastic. Having students search for specific books through a scavanger hunt is a fantatic idea. It also allows for students preview and attempt a book, and then put it back if they don't like it. They don't always have to rely on a parent to take them to the public library or a trip to the bookstore.

Linda 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thank you for this article! I am a high school English teacher. In September of 2008, my school implemented a school-wide 20 minutes Silent Sustained Reading (SSR) program. Aside from SSR, independent reading is a large component of my class. One of my priorities last year was to create a well-stocked classroom library. This article inspired me to keep working on my library to make it as attractive and functional as possible.

One project I assigned my students was to create a movie poster for a book they read. They had to include the title, author, pictures to symbolize the book, a phrase to attract attention to the book, and a rating. Another project was to make a "WANTED" poster for characters in the books. The poster had to include a a picture of the character, a written physical description of the character, a description of the character's misdeeds and the reward. I hung these projects in the library area. These projects often inspired other students to read the book.

This year, I plan to add book reviews to the list of projects.
I may also try to use stickers to better organize the books.

I understand the feelings of the poster who worried classroom libraries would replace school libraries. Up until a few years ago, I never made it a priority to have a library in my room. I believed it should be up to the student to be responsible for getting his/her own books. However, many of my students would rather not participate than be seen checking out a book from the library. Should I be enabling this behavior by having a a library in my room? My choice at this time is, "yes". My first priority is to create a "reader". Getting him/her to the library can be next.

Linda R.

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