Tuesday Tips: The Classroom Library

One of the most important practices in my classroom is independent reading.  For about 30-40 minutes every week, I ask my students to read silently; and as the teacher, one goal of mine is to reduce or remove as many barriers to reading as possible.  The classes where I generally use this method are populated by several reluctant readers, student readers who tell me, “Miss, I haven’t finished a book since the 4th grade,” or even, “Miss, I’ve never finished a book.”  These are students who have never seen reading as something that can be enjoyable, and my mission is to correct that. 

The Requirements:

  1. Students must read a book, not a magazine.
  2. The book must be something of the student’s own choosing.
  3. The book must not be a textbook or required reading for my class or another class.
  4. Each student must read approximately 500 pages within a designated time frame (usually several weeks).

Now, there are some teachers who take their students to our school library once a week or every other week to choose books. This is a perfectly acceptable option, but it’s not my preferred option.  I find that I don’t like giving up class time to take a trip to the library, and I don’t like dealing with the issues that arise from this scenario.

The Library Issues:

  1. Students who don’t want to read in the first place take as long as possible in the library, pretending to examine books while really chatting with their friends or checking their phones.
  2. Students who aren’t strong readers choose books that are inappropriate for their reading level or that they just won’t like.
  3. Students who choose books they don’t like won’t return them and get new books on their own iniative, so they wait for me to take them back and “fake read” in the meantime.
  4. Students who are strong readers read their books really quickly and need to return to the library sooner than the class is scheduled to go. 
  5. Students start depending on me to take them to the library to check/recheck out books, and it becomes my fault when their books are overdue.

Okay, so you may have discerned from my blog so far that I like to keep things simple and as drama-free as possible.  And taking kids to the library all the time to check out their books was too time-consuming and complicated for me. 

Enter the classroom library.

Classroom Library Full

I have collected many books over the few years I’ve been making a conscious effort to do so. I purchase some with department funds; I receive ARCs from publishers; I pick up books at thrift shops and garage sales; I accept donations.  I now have quite a collection, as you can see below.

I arranged the books into genres for students, and I tried to make these genres student-friendly (since many the lexicon of most teenagers doesn’t even contain the word “genre”). I divided the books into traditional categories like “Fantasy,” “Science Fiction,” “Mystery”; but I also created some genres that were more descriptive of what students tend to ask for:  “Stories about Teens Dealing with Serious Issues,” “Teen Romance,” “Stories about Sports,” “Stories That Don’t Take Themselves Too Seriously.”

Classroom Library Tall Shelf

Since I only have one class that uses the library on a regular basis, I allow students to check out the books from me.  When I have multiple classes using the books, I can’t always do this. Sometimes students from different class periods are using the same books.  In these cases, if the student wants to take a book home, I then send them to the school library.

Classroom Library Return

This removes many of the headaches of going to the library to find books. 

Other Benefits of the Classroom Library:

  1. I only have to help the students who are looking for a new book. Everyone else can just get started reading.
  2. When a student doesn’t like a book or has finished a book, I can quickly hand him a new one to try.  Or I can hand him two or three books to look through.
  3. I can quickly do book talks on new books that I acquire or have recently finished.
  4. I have a huge stack of books that I can read too! And I do.

How many of you use independent reading in the classroom? Do you have your own classroom library? What are the barriers to getting one if you don’t have one?

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4 responses to “Tuesday Tips: The Classroom Library

  1. I remember finding in classroom libraries books like Holes and Where the Red Fern Grows, books I never would have picked out from a wider selection at the public library.
    Great thinking on plot-descriptive categories. There’s so much cross-genre fiction these days that the traditional divisions no longer seem sufficient. For reluctant readers, they must suggest as many genre cliches as points of interest.

    • Yes, reluctant readers don’t really understand traditional genre names. I found what you mentioned to be true–the crossover gave me some headaches when trying to arrange books into groups.

  2. Not sure if your wall space allows but one of the best things I ever did in a classroom with wall space was to install rain gutters so that all the books in my classroom library faced OUT! Saved a lot of mess on the shelves since every book didn’t need to be taken out, looked at and then haphazardly returned. I also found that a lot of my reluctant readers were more enticed to grab books that weren’t just the skinniest book on the shelf!

    • Thanks for that tip, Kris! I have seen that idea on Pinterest I think 🙂 The one I really wanted was a similar idea–wooden pallets made into shelves so the books could face outward. I probably have so many books that that would only house a few, but I still want to do that. I am trying to get my husband on that project!

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