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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

Janae Hannafious's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that the students love to read books they have written. This year my fourth grade students were given the opportunity to become the author of the week in my classroom. They had the chance to come up with their own story and design their own book. On Friday that "Author of the Week" was able to share their story with the whole class.

I had the students keep their books on the bookcase with all of my books. The students all loved reading the books their classmates had written.

Kelly Carcone's picture
Anonymous (not verified)


How right you are!! A classroom library is essential for all grade levels in all classrooms, whether it be math, science, english, or health. I like the comment left above by a high school math teacher that never thought a classroom library was necessary for him. Now, after reading your initial post and the comments of others he wants to pull old books out of his garage and incorporate them into his school classroom, how great!!

Kids need to be surrounded by literature, literature of all genres and levels like you mentioned in your response. As an English/Language Arts teacher I do all I can to foster the importance of reading and the pleasure it can bring, however, I feel that all subject area teachers need to have this belief. It shouldn't matter what you teach, if you teach math you are still encouraged to have a library within your classroom. There are always students who finish early or are looking for something to do after completing a test, why not have books available for them to go to? Reading is essential in every subject area therefore books should be seen, discussed, read, shared, and checked out!

As a new teacher of only 3 years, one problem I have found myself running into is having enough books and enough variety to enhance my library. In our school district, each year you can be moved around and placed in a new position, making it hard to build on a classroom library. My first year teaching I began in 8th grade, purchased as many new and used books as I could, then was moved to elementary the following year to a position where I worked with all elementary grades 1-6. Again, I had to start fresh and gather age appropriate books for these students which can be costly. I have heard some suggest to try getting donations from organizations for used books but does anyone have suggestions on resources that help to promote literacy in school classrooms by donating items?

This year, being back in 8th grade, I am working even harder to encourage my students to read and I think I have reached quite a few! Too many jump the gun and say, "I don't like reading!" before they give it a fair chance. Its all about getting to know your students and finding books of interest that will lure them in! I loved some of the ideas mentioned about incorporating your classroom library into daily lessons, especially the one on the scavenger hunt and student book reviews, many will read if a friend reccommends it to them rather than their teacher!

Loree Wilson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)


Thank you for the great ideas. In my classroom, I have the books sorted by genre. However, when reading time is up, they just toss the book into whatever basket is closest to them. These books are for classroom use only. I really like the idea of adding stickers to "level" the books so that the students know which books are appropriate for them to read.

Also as I was reading your blog, I remembered my daughter's kindergarten teacher. She would send a book home in a ziplock bag. We were to read this book 3 times and then return it. She kept a list of who had what books and also a list of what books we had read. This system seemed to work well to keep track of who had what.

Lastly, thank you for the idea of a "free read" basket. It is good for the students to know that they have more options that just "appropriate leveled" books. What a great way to introduce to students that they can choose a book just because they want to read it!

Loree Wilson
Bozeman, MT
1st grade

Valen Egan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I loved this post about classroom libraries! I have recently been welcomed to the world of "teacher blogs", and I have really enjoyed reading your posts! I couldn't agree with you more about the classroom library being the "heart" of the classroom. I am always searching for books to add to my class library, from yard sales to Scholastic book orders. Sometimes I feel I have too many books, but then I see how excited my students get when I put a brand new book in a bin, and I realize the occasional mess is worth it! I loved your ideas about classroom library scavenger hunts and having students create book covers for the books they read! I think this is a great way to get my reluctant readers using my library more. Thanks for the wonderful ideas, and I look forward to hearing more from you!


A. Lonon's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am constantly trying to get new ideas for my classroom library and this really helped me. I keep a library and my students use it in the mornings before school starts and usually if they finish a test or assignment early. I loved your ideas about incorporating the books into the classroom lessons with a book cover or creating ads. I will try these with my students now. Thanks for the tips.

Laurie Chu's picture
Laurie Chu
Web Production Manager

Staff comment:

As a volunteer at my girls' elementary school library, any time a child wanted to remove a book from the shelf, I gave them a large popsicle stick which they wrote their name on. When they took a book off the shelf, they would put the stick in its place, sticking out horizontally. Most of the time, books were reshelved by the students and kept in the proper order.

Maryellen Young's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I totally agree on how important a classroom library is, regardless of age group. My classroom library is extensive and varied. Due to the fact that the school I work in does not give us any money for books I have spent quite a lot of my own money to build up my libary. My classroom aide says that I have an addiction to buying books for the classroom. Every year I try to buy books that I feel the kids would be interested in. For example, this school year I have a child who is obsessed with whales and other marine life, so if I see a book on those subjects I buy it. The most popular theme this year is animals.
I try to keep my many books organized as best I can using bins from the dollar store and stickers. Each theme has a sticker and the children have to match the sticker on the book to the bin. With the majority of the children it is no problem.
I like the idea of having a library where the kids borrow books for at home reading. I may set up a small "borrow library" next year!

Jessica Diaz's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Heather,

I enjoyed reading your post about the importance of a classroom library. I completely agree with you. I teach 5th grade special education students but the majority of the time most students read on a second or third grade level. Every year, it is difficult to find high interest low leveled books for my students. My students want to read the Harry Potter books that their peers read and not the Magic Tree House books that are on their level.
Since many of them struggle with the mechanics and comprehension of reading, they do not find it enjoyable. I really liked your idea of having them recreate book covers for the books they have already read as well as the scavenger hunt. I will definitely try those ideas for next year to increase their motivation. I loved reading as a child and even now as an adult. I try to instill my love of reading to my students. Yard sales are great places to find childrens books at a great price. Whenever I buy a new book, I usually make a big deal about it the next day and show it to the students. This gets them interested and excited.
This year I tried books on tape. My students loved it because they got the opportunity to read the books that other students were reading. I had them follow along in the book as they listened. It worked really well and they enjoyed discussing the books in their book club discussions.
One teacher in my school had a reading party once a marking period. She had the students bring in pillows and stuffed animals. The students got one hour to read independently. She raved about it and said how beneficial it was as a student motivator.
Thanks for bringing up such a great topic for discussion. It's wonderful to read about how teachers are creating classroom libraries for the students to enjoy.

Jessica Diaz
Walden University

Cathy Wiggins's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Great job Heather!!! You are certainley where I would like to be with my classroom library. Before the school year ended, I was able to grab a huge bookcase from our media center. I like how you said your books were arranged. That for me is the biggest challenge. I don't know where to start. I like how you have included different genres and literacy levels.

I already have my creative juices flowing for my future scavenger hunt.

Thanks a million!

Michael Trentacosti's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Over the past couple years, I have SLOWLY improved my 3rd grade classroom library by purchasing bookshelves and books. At a consignment shop, I bought two hallmark card holders that work very well as bookshelves. They allow the covers to be seen, and I've noticed that more of my students flock to them instead of traditional bookshelves. Another money saver for me has been garage sales. Last year, I found a garage sale that had a whole collection of dragon books. It just so happened that many of boys in class loved dragon books. When I brought these books in and explained that I had purchased them at a garage sale that previous Saturday, it made the books even more special. My class gravitated to these "NEW" books and didn't want to share. I learned something from this particular experience and that is, if you introduce books throughout the year as new or from a garage sale, kids get excited and motivated to check them out.

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