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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

Andrew Pass's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thanks for this wonderful post. It makes me nostalgic for the old days when I used to read books. I certainly think that there is something special about holding the paper in your hands and turning the pages. There's also something fun about simply running your hands along the spines of multiple books.

But, let's not forget that some students love reading online. My girlfriend's two children would tell you that they hate reading. But, in reality they both read all the time. What they do is follow interesting links from one web-page to another. Perhaps these kinds of readers should be called the "Web-Readers" and they should be encouraged too. It would even be possible to set up a special digital collection that has chotchkes. But granted, initially, these chotchkes would not be anywhere near as special as your own.


Heather WolpertGawron's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I totally agree that we mustn't forget online reading. Frankly, I think that it's been so downplayed as its own genre, that student who DO read copious amounts online don't get the credit they deserve for the critical thinking it takes to read online successfully. (it's own post, right?)

My classroom computers are always post-it-ed with websites to suggest during silent reading. My favorite is HowStuffWorks.com. It's in my classroom reader because it updates everyday with awesome new topics that make kids say, "I never even thought about it before!" I also absolutely accept website URLs in the student's reading logs at night as proof of their outside reading.

Thanks for reminding me to mention it. Online's reading is a must to give kids credit for.

Kelly's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thanks for a great post! In my classroom library, books of different levels are all mixed in together. At the Thanks for a great post! In my classroom library, books of different levels are all mixed in together. At the beginning of the year, students are taught how to choose a "just right book" which is a book on their independent reading level. When I first moved into my current classroom, the books were organized into levels. Even though the levels were numbers, I found that the students quickly figured out what was what. Students started to pick on each other and feel uncomfortable about choosing books from certain baskets. (We even had the talk about how everyone is going to be reading a little differently and we are here to help and support each other).
When I moved the books into the same basket,this problem was almost completely eliminated.

In my library, I have the baskets labeled with numbers. Each book that goes in that basket, has the same number on a sticky dot on the cover. For example, all the "Plants" books have the number 3 on it, as well as that basket. This makes it easy for students to put their books back in the correct place.

I LOVE your idea of a classroom library scavenger hunt! What a great way to keep the interest going!

Michael Alderman's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I never really made the connection to online reading and "regular" or traditional reading. However, I know in my classroom students detest picking up a book, but will read something online for hours. They comb and comb to find information that interests them in the computer lab. Obviously, I overlooked the literacy that comes from digital reading. I never thought about using that as an acceptable entry in a reading log! Thanks for the new view on something as old as reading.

Beth's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach seventh grade math and each year my entering students are surprised but excited to see that library that I have acquired over the years. I believe that it is extremely important for all teachers, no matter the subject, help foster a love for reading. Being able to read and decipher is the most important skill a student can acquire. My library has reading levels from approximately third grade through eighth grade. I keep everything from Eye Spy to novels to biographys of famous mathematicians. The students really enjoy going to the book shelves whenever they have a few free minutes.

Mitch Solomon's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Your responses to the class library validate my desire to have one and promote reading. I require an independent reading component as 15% of my students final grade with written responses and activities for accountability. Here is my challenge - my students are reluctant non-readers at risk of failure or dropping out. They have slipped through numerous cracks in many schools and are now with us - three to six grades below in measurable reading levels. I need to get them to read and I need a valid measurement of success and I need them to do it on their own with proof of individual achievement. Suggestions?

Meghan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I had a classroom library in my room for my first three years teaching. This year unfortunately I have not. I thought my system of checking out books was working and that students could handle borrowing a book to read and returning it. Last year I had studnets writing in my books, ripping covers off, losing books, and destroying them in general all by the third quarter. I was torn about closing my library to the class because I require the students to read for Accelerate Reader points as part of my quarter grade but I had purchased all of the books with my own money and my library was starting to dwindle. Any suggestions???

I know most of my students love to read even though they may not admit it and I had wonderful books in my library for all reading levels and interests. I am disheartened to think students could not take care of returning a book or taking care of it.

Tamara Dixon's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Sadly, this year I did not use my classroom library to my advantage. My students that were "readers" were interested in the classroom library but others have not truly developed an interest. Next year I plan to make an effort to vary my material to interest more students especially the boys. There happens to be one book about sharks that the boys fight over, so I know what genre to look at next year.

Kim Fritzius's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have always had a student library in my classroom. This year was no different. However, something that I did notice was that the first month of school I noticed that the students were not using the books appropriately. Due to their lack of "know-how", I was forced to close the library for awhile while I taught the studetns the proper use of books. We spent weeks on how to handle and care for books. After these weeks of training, I then moved on and taught the students how to check out the books. We discussed the importance of keeping track of the books so that we keep our selection large.

I am happy to say that with two weeks of school left, we are only down four books and the students are excited to use the library even now with the end of the year just around the bend.

What I have learned from this year is not to open the library unitl the studetns are completely aware of the importance of taking care of the books and the importance of keeping track of them. Opening the students up to the joy of reading is an unforgettabel experience your students will never forget.

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