Everything you place in your classroom contributes to the atmosphere and personality of that space and has some kind of an impact on your students, from the things you choose to put on your walls and bulletin boards to the arrangement of furnishings. When you take the time, trouble and expense to build a classroom library, you are telling your students that books are important and reading time is precious.
The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) has published a position statement on the importance of classroom libraries. "Reading in all its dimensions -- informational, purposeful, and recreational -- promotes students' overall academic success and well-being." Classroom libraries are a critical tool for providing access to books and promoting literacy.
The NCTE recognizes these educational benefits of classroom libraries:
- They motivate students by encouraging voluntary and recreational reading.
- They help young people develop an extensive array of literacy strategies and skills.
- They provide access to a wide range of reading materials that reflect abilities and interests.
- They enhance opportunities for both assigned and casual reading.
- They provide choice in self-selecting reading materials for self-engagement.
- They strengthen and encourage authentic literate exchanges among young people and adolescents.
- They provide access to digitized reading materials that may help to foster the development of technological literacy skills.
- They facilitate opportunities to validate and promote the acceptance and inclusion of diverse students' identities and experiences.
- They create opportunities to cultivate an informed citizenry.
Where to Find Books for Your Classroom Library
Funds for creating a classroom library may be very limited or non-existent, which means finding free or inexpensive sources of books is important. Here are a few ideas for building your classroom library:
- Solicit donations from students, parents, family and friends.
- Some libraries sell or donate duplicate or outdated books. They often receive donated books from the community that they cannot use.
- Yard sales and secondhand book shops are a great source of inexpensive books.
- Thrift shops like the Salvation Army may also offer secondhand books.
- Consider working with your school's PTO/PTA to help with book donations.
- Reading clubs and book clubs often allow students to earn points for purchases which can then be used by the class to order books free of charge.
- Some organizations offer literacy grants to teachers in need of books.
Here are more great tips on how to build your classroom library on a budget.
Making Your Classroom Library Inviting
You have to have reading material in order to have a library, so the first step to creating an inviting library is to make sure you have books, magazines and graphic novels that appeal to and are appropriate for your students.
Some teacher-recommended categories of books to include are poetry, short texts, realistic fiction, historical fiction, letters, diaries, suspense, fantasy, science fiction, graphic novels and comics. For nonfiction, you will want to include picture books, biographies and autobiographies, true adventures, science and nature, travel, and other informational books.
Be sure to get book and author recommendations from your students in order to guarantee you're including some of their favorites. You may want to consider turning your entire classroom into a library by having your bookshelves/displays surround the whole room. If you have the space, creating an inviting nook with comfortable seating and colorful displays will draw your students in. Here are some tips and photos on creating gorgeous classroom libraries.
Tips for Building and Managing Your Classroom Library
There's no right or wrong way to organize a classroom library, and you'll probably have space and resource limitations to consider. Here's a second grade teacher's photo essay on how she built and organized her library.
It's a good idea to decide on a way that you will consistently mark or label the books in your classroom library so they are easy to identify. This is helpful for parents to be able to spot the books that need to be returned to the classroom.
A sorting system may be organized by topic, by author, genres, levels, themes, etc. Even though the books you collect may be at various reading levels, if they are organized by topic and author, students can find the ones that appeal to them.
A simple cataloging system can help you keep track of your books and help ensure that they don't go missing. You'll want to create a way for students to check out reading materials and create a system for collecting returned books and shelving them where they belong.
Other things to consider when planning your classroom library:
- How will you display and store your books?
- How will you handle treatment (and mistreatment) of the books?
- What will your book checkout policy be? (how many, for how long, etc.)
If you're just starting to build a classroom library, keep in mind that it will take time to grow, and the best way to ensure you have help is to ask for it!
Learn more about the LSUS online M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction: Reading & Literacy program.
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