I am here to break the stigma that you need to be a English Language Arts teacher to have a classroom library. However, kudos to those ELA teachers who tend to have the most filled, the best set-up, and the utmost passion for getting students to believe that they too can love reading, they just need to find the right book. All I am asking is, LET ME JOIN YOU!
I love, love, love reading. Yet like most students, I really didn’t find this passion until late in high school. I thought reading was only for times teachers forced you to read books that they enjoyed, not about entering a world you find thrilling. I want to be a teacher that gives students the ability to enter as many worlds as they can and embrace reading as a passion, but not as a structured subject.
This starts with the classroom library. I have been in multiple classrooms that had libraries that I fell in love with. I just hope I can recreate these to engage my future students as well.
Libraries Need to Feel “Homey”
All the libraries that I liked in these classrooms had an edge of comfort for students to find their perfect book. There is something about using lamps for accent lighting, rugs, and homey decorations around classroom bookcases to take the edge off of finding a great book. It almost makes it less intimidating to take a book off of a shelf.
Along with decorations and lamps, this teacher also had a whiteboard displayed showing what book(s) she was currently reading. Her favorites were also labeled so students knew exactly which books she would recommend if they asked.
There are multiple ways to organize your books in your classroom, but it must be in a way that makes sense to students. I have seen this done in multiple ways, but many are often organized by genre. In the classroom below, this teacher labeled each section of her shelves in terms of genre and then alphabetically.
If organization of your books by genre is too much work, organizing them alphabetically by author might make more sense to you and your students. How does one do so easily though? The coolest/cheapest way is simply using the free paint stirrers home improvement stores love to hand out. Simply write the letter of the section on the end of the paint stirrer to section off authors’ last names.
You could also use paint stirrers to organize by genre as well if labeling your bookshelf isn’t something that you’re into.
Accelerated Reader (AR) Books
If your school incorporates the AR program, your students may benefit greatly by having AR books at the ready. By clearly labeling the books (stickers work), students can easily grab a book that they know is at the correct reading level or how many points they will receive when later taking the test.
If you are in the elementary grades and working more with picture books, stashing books in plastic milk crates are a great way to organize them. You can clearly label the outside of the AR points the books hold for students to easily find the correct crate. Books should be arranged so students are able to sift through them easily.
Historical Fiction and Non-Fiction
This is where the social studies aspect kicks in. I was excited to enter a classroom where I saw milk crates or bins without lids that had creative labels on the outside that explained what period of time could be found inside. Growing up, I really enjoyed learning about the Civil War and the era of slavery. I would have loved to have a bin at my disposal that I could move on from book to book about a topic I loved – rather than searching on only the days we had library time at the middle school.
When dealing with Non-Fiction, one classroom had the Dewey Decimal system in place and arranged books in bins as such. Each bin had the decimal labeled and the topic it covers. On the books themselves, she had labeled the decimal clearly so students were able to put back the books after they were finished. This is extremely important to also label books where they go so students can easily clean up after checking them out. The teacher shouldn’t have to do everything!
This seems to always be a problem with classroom libraries. Students borrowing books and simply never seeing them again. Either the students are super forgetful or they become misplaced. Either way, when you a put a book in your library, you must be okay with the fact that you may never see it again – especially in the same condition.
One way I have seen of fixing this problem is a classroom check-out system. This teacher had inserted library check out cards in everyone of her books. This shows when the book had been checked out and who has it – simply like a city library.
Though this doesn’t stop students from taking the books off the shelves and not telling you, it does help keep track of which students are borrowing your books and where they are in the world.
Filling your classroom library with age appropriate books is only half of the battle. Creating an area for students to actually enjoy finding a book and opening another world is most important. There are so many ways to organize a classroom library and it fills my heart every time I see a different set-up. It If this does not define me as a proud to be book nerd, then I don’t know what would.