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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

Erica's picture
Anonymous (not verified)


Thank you so much for your blog on classroom libraries. I completly agree that they are essential to every classroom. I teach kindergarten and from day one have given my students unlimmited access to my library. One thing I have realized is that my studnets love to not only read the books in the library, but they love to read books they have written. We write books all the time in class and they love to read thier own work. Loved your blog, and the sticker idea is wonderful....I may have to try it out!

Amber P.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)


I am a first year teacher that had no clue how to set up my classroom library at the beginning of the year. After speaking with several colleagues, buying numerous books with ideas about how to set up your classroom library, and putting much thought into how I wanted my library run, I finally thought I had the perfect idea. However, by the end of the first semester, my books were not being returned into the correct place. Some were not even being returned. I finally decided to have a checkout system that is similar to yours. The only problem I had with this was that a student would check out a book and 15 minutes later want to return it because they didn't like the book. It seemed I was spending all my time making sure they were returning the book. This has been my dilemma this year. I am going to take your ideas with the scavenger hunt because this will probably make them want to read the books they choose. I will turn it into a game. Thank you so much for your ideas. I can't wait to try them next year!

Megan Edwards's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Heather,

I think that a classroom library is essential in any classroom. It does not matter what grade or subect that you teach. It is very important that each student is exposed to a variety of books. I love the idea that you gave about the stickers and clues. I think that my students would love that. I also think that "checking out" books from my own library would be a great idea. I am currently taking my graduate classes through Walden University in Reading and Math. I will definitely have to share some of your thoughts with my classmates.

Michael Fonfara's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is a great idea. As a high school math teacher, I have never thought of myself as a librarian. However, my wife and I do have quite a few books in my house that have been relegated to boxes after our guest rooms were filled with children of our own. I would love to get them out of my garage without getting rid of them. I now have an idea of what I can do with them. This blog has inspired me to do more research on how I can incorporate a library into my own classroom. Thank you!

Amanda Olson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thank you for your wonderful classroom library ideas! I love how adventurous you make reading become for your students. I teach fifth grade and I've been trying to find ways to make it more exciting for students, so I really appreciate these ideas. I'm excited to print my own labels and get organizing my collection!

I also really like the scavenger hunt and persuasive ad ideas. What a great way to get them fully engaged and playing with the books, must be great for the "Reluctant Phobes" to have an enjoyable experience with the text.

Amanda Olson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach Math also, and what a wonderful idea for my classroom! Thank you for sharing that, and I agree that being able to read and decipher is the most important skill a student can acquire, so all of us teachers should be encouraging that by having available texts for all students. A student may not be interested in reading until they are encouraged to try it and realize it can be very enjoyable. The more opportunities they have (even in Math class!) the better and more likely they are to become readers.

Amanda Olson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Saving the art pieces from previous years would serve as examples for current students, and motivation to create something of higher quality to be shown to future students.

Since students love to read things they wrote, how about having each student "donate" one book to your library each year. I think I will try that next year. That will also help fill up my library with different text styles.

Thank you again for posting your motivating and inspiring ideas!

Audra Chadwell's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I also like you do the Reading A to Z program. I print off books for my students to read in the classroom, but never thought about letting them take them home and color them. This would be great for them since most of my students do not have books to read at home. I do use a program called Recipe for Reading and when they get their new books they can take a copy home for them to practice. These books they can keep and do whatever they would like with them. They get excited when they get a new book. I am thinking about using your idea on taking home a book and coloring. I might also take this and do other lessons on it. They will have to bring the book back, but we will do activities that deal with it.

Janae Hannafious's picture
Anonymous (not verified)


I really enjoyed your ideas about your classroom library. As a first year teacher I spent a lot of time at the beginning of the year deciding how to create a classroom cellection that would be good for my fourth grade students.

As the year went on my library slowly got smaller. I didn't have good check out system in place which made it hard to keep track of all the book. I really liked your ideas and hope to use it in my classroom this coming year. Thanks :)

Janae Hannafious's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love your idea about allowing the students to shop for books in your classroom. My students are always so excited around to shop for anything so I can imagine this makes picking out a reading book even better!!!

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