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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

Dominica Linder's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I enjoyed reading about your classroom library and how teh students are able to check out your books. I recently graduated with a B.S. in Early Childhhod Education and am currently working on my Master's through Walden University. I am still searching for a job. No matter what subject I end up teaching, I want a classroom library. I love to read whenever I can. When reading to younger students, I try to come up with voices for the characters of the story- such as Junie B. Jones. I have not substituted for older students yet and I do not know if they would like the voices or not. I want to show my future students that reading is an adventure. Each book can take you somewhere new.

Tonia's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I enjoyed reading this blog about having a classroom library. I myself have a classroom library in my room compiled from my own childhood books, books I have purchased, books parents and kids have donated, and books that were being thrown out by our library. I may try the check out system you detailed. I love the sticker idea. I have my own students read every Friday, but they have only been allowed to read my books in my classroom due to my first year with my library and having many of my books stolen. I also love the idea of the book covers detailing books read. I've toyed with ideas like that as well. Right now my students are doing only one book project a quarter for books they've read.

Joelle Burgess's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I never thought of a classroom library that way. You really opened my eyes as an educator to how a classroom library can be run. I can't wait to try and implement it in my room next year.

Denise's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really enjoyed reading about your classroom library. It sounds like you have put a lot of time and effort into putting it together. I liked some of your ideas about the stickers and clues. Something that I use in my classroom library is the books from Reading A-Z.com. After a membership fee you can run off copies of books at different levels. The kids can take these books home and even color in them. This works great with a lot of my students since so many of them to not have books at home or go to the library.

Nikita Wilcox's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really enjoyed this post as I am currently in a reading and literacy masters program at Walden University. One thing that I have picked up and admired in others classroom is the use of a "bag of books". Basically, the students are able to go shopping for their own books, (2-3 depending on grade), to place in their bag and in their desk. These books are available for them to read at all times of the day and keeps them interested as they are able to choose new books weekly. It is so important to allow students to become comfortable in their reading. This is one idea that has really helped! :)

Nikita Wilcox's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Well I know how sad that is to find out that your students are not taking care of your personal belongings. Personally when introducing my library to my students I make sure to have mini-lessons on how to take care of the books. It sounds time consuming but it really works. I literally have a mini-lesson on how to turn the pages and as the student are reading independently I look for this skill. Another thing is I only allow them access to a certain part of my library and as they do well with keeping up the books I open up new sections. This gives them something to look forward to and kind of a reward as well. I hope this helps :)

Denise's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Heather,

Thank you for your blog on classroom libraries. I agree that they are real important yet I have not found a great way to organize mine. I teach kindergarten so color coding is very good idea. Just getting them to put the book back with the spine out is a miracle sometimes. After reading your blog I am inspired and I will use the time in the afternoon after summer school to get my library organized.

Amber Scalzo's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Heather-

Thank you so much for your great post about classroom library! I can't agree with you more about the importance of a classroom library and keeping the students interested and engaged all year long. I never thought about the idea of a scavenger hunt, how great! However, I couldn't agree more about how vital it is to keep your classroom library closed until you have given mini-lessons about the proper way to check books out and care for them. This also builds the kids ancitipation for the opening of the library! My kids also have "book bags" that they can have 2-3 books out at a time and can switch books during morning work or dismissal time.

One of the jobs in my third grade class is a classroom librarian. These kids make sure that all the baskets of books are organized and no books are falling apart or being abused. As an added bonus, when the students have this job, they can take up to 3 books of their choice home from the library. They LOVE this!

I must recommend to everyone a book I read during a summer school training I attended last year. It is called "Beyond Leveled Books" by Karen Szymusiak. This book talks about the importance of having a leveled classroom library that supports the transitional reader. (You know that reader that is fluent and can sound out any new word, yet they have no idea what they just read. Or the reader who looks like they are reading, but really they are bored out of their mind!) Before I read this book, I had not taken the time to level my library, but now I have it color coded with levels and the kids just seem to read with so much more enjoyment! I have not experienced any negative feelings about which color they are on, but that is also something we talk about when the library opens.

I also have baskets of "free read" books. These are fairytales, picture books, I Spy's, joke/riddles, non-fiction, etc. I usually give the kids time on Fridays to read these books, but if I notice a student who seems to be uninterested in their independent reading book I allow them to have some extra "free read" time. They feel like they are not reading, but really they are so of course I welcome it!

I love reading all these great ideas others the insight into your classroom library!

Amber Scalzo
Third Grade Teacher
Connecticut

Christin Johnson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Heather,

Thank you so much for your information regarding classroom libraries. I have a library in my classroom and the books are divided into boxes based on genre. I have a check out system; however as the year progressed students stopped signing out books and simply took them off of the shelves. Several of my books are in the wrong box and it is frustrating for those readers who like to hunt for specific books. I even have a librarian who is responsible for organizing and returning the books at the end of the day, but it is almost too overwhelming for the students to handle.

In September, I do several mini lessons on finding a "just right" book by using the five finger reading test. When the students are comfortable with finding a right book, they can then enter the classroom library. At the end of the year, I always have the students organize the books before they are put away. I am excited to use your sticker idea to help organize the different genres.

Susan Heimburger's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Heather,

My class devotes the beginning of the year learning about our schema. We make several self to self connections with the books they read in class. After several weeks we dissect the books in the classroom and we locate "just right" books too. I really like the idea about using the stickers too. I would like more information about this. I sort my books and the children read the books by making their own choices but I like the check out system the other teacher used.
I am taking a class at Walden and we have just read about novice teachers and expert teachers. After 22 years of teaching I feel I am still a novice at certain topics. I am always searching for the best answer and trying to keep up with the latest news. Any other thoughts would be helpful.

SusieQ

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