Build and Use A Classroom Library
Why have a classroom library?
One of the main tasks of a K-5 teacher is to teach children to read. Reading is a skill that requires a great deal of practice. To practice, you need books. Thus,
every elementary classroom needs its own library.
But where do I get the books?
Unfortunately, the "powers that be" rarely hand out funds for creating a classroom library, or at least one of any size.
So how do you get the books you need. I was in this situation as I taught in a small rural school system. But by the time I
retired, I had over 3000 children's books.
Here are some suggestions for starting or growing your own classroom library.
- Buy them yourself. I know, teachers shouldn't have to buy their own supplies. But, realistically, we all know we do. Buying
books is certainly money well spent. The thing to do is find the best buy.
- Buy paperbacks whenever possible. See Tips for Making Paperbacks Last below.
- Use the book publishers that offer discounts to schools.
Scholastic is one publisher that offers good discounts on paperbacks.(Opens in a new window.)
- Check your local bookstores. Many of them offer discounts to teachers.
- Order through the same paperback bookclub form you use for your students. Even a book or two each month will soon add up.
- Check used bookstores. Some of them carry children's books.
- Check yard sales, flea markets, and Friends of the Library book sales.
- Use paperback bookclubs with your students. They give bonus points for each dollar spent by your students. The points can be used
to get books for your library.
- Talk to your librarian or whomever runs the school bookfair. See if you can leave a list of books that parents can voluntarily purchase as a
donation to your classroom. This could be a school-wide project.
- Convince the parent organization in your school to raise money for classroom libraries.
- Ask relatives and friends with older children if they have books around their houses that their children have outgrown.
- Ask your public library about a loaner program. In my area, the local public libraries allow teachers to check out books for an
extended period of time to use in their classrooms. The downside to this is that the teacher is responsible for any lost or damaged books.
- Supplement your own books by checking out books from the school library.
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What kind of books should I have?
- Fiction and nonfiction: Make at least one-fourth of your library nonfiction books. Many children prefer reading nonfiction. Include some reference books. (What happens to the older set of encyclopedias in your school when the school librarian orders an update?)
- Use a broad range of reading levels. Try to go two grades below and two grades above grade level, but the majority of the selections should be just a little below grade level. Most of the reading from the classroom library should be done at the student's independent reading level.
Note: The reading levels assigned to children's books by publishers are not always accurate. They are often higher than the grade levels marked on the cover. A book with grade 2 or step 2 on the cover may be written on the level of a third grade text and would not be the independent reading level for most second graders.
- At grade two, start to introduce some easy chapter books. But don't make all the books for the higher grades chapter books. Include some picture books, too. You will find the reading level and the subject matter of many picture books to be well above primary levels. Some children may be overwhelmed by the thought of reading a novel or they may just be in the mood for a short story.
- Add some children's magazines to your library. Some I have used successfully are Sports Illustrated for Kids, Ranger Rick, Spider, Zoobooks, and Highlights. I would order one magazine for a year and then the next year choose a different one. The older copies of most magazines work just as well as the new ones. Ask your librarian or friends with children for old magazines that are going to be discarded. Many magazines have an online version where you can order the magazine.
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How do I get the children to read the books?
Once you have your library started, you have to find time for the children to read the books. Of course, this can always be a free time activity to do after other assignments are finished. But some children will never choose this and others will never get to it. So you have to schedule in a special time for reading. I chose to do this in two ways: Sustained Silent Reading and Reader's Choice. Below I have described how I handled these two activities. You have to decide what works best for you, but I suggest you have some rules established with your students from the beginning so that reading actually occurs.
- Sustained Silent Reading
- Some people use cute names, like DEAR TIME (Drop Everything and Read), but I just called it Silent Reading Time. My students were expected to stay at their own desks and read silently for a period of time. They chose their own reading material. If they were reading picture books, they were encouraged to have several so that they did not have to get up to get another.
I found the weaker readers were the ones who had the most difficulty with the sustained part, so I scheduled this activity when the resource teacher took those children for remedial reading. I tried, when possible, to schedule resource pullout/silent reading time the first thing in the morning because it is a good way to settle everyone down to work. (We were always given input into the time our children were taken out for resource, although that may not be true for you.)
The remedial students were out for 30 minutes which is a bit long for younger students to read silently. So this activity period was split.
Some days I did a read-aloud with the students gathered around on the carpet area; then they finished the period by reading silently at their desks until the other children returned. On other days, I might give the students a short review exercise (for example, several sentences to proofread and correct); they then started the silent reading when this exercise was finished. We checked the review exercise together after the resource children returned so that they also benefited from the review.
- Reader's Choice
- During this time (20 to 30 minutes), which was scheduled into most days, the students could buddy read or read alone. "Buddy" meant no more than two students together. I found that more than that often turned into the social hour. The students could read silently or read aloud. I did give special permission for a group to read together if they wanted to read a story in the Readers Theater format.
Students were allowed to sit on the floor or move chairs around to different parts of the room. But they had to find one place to settle and stay there. Children who were not actively engaged in reading had to return to their seats to read alone or read alone near where I was working.
Mostly I used this time to work with individuals or a small group on remedial activities, but occasionally I did other chores around the room and eavesdropped on the students who were reading aloud. Sometimes a student would ask to read to me.
Each student kept a reading log of the books read. Each week the student had to complete a story map form on one of the books read. This included title, author, setting, listing the main characters, problem and solution.
Students were allowed to choose their reading material. However, if a student was constantly reading below their ability, we had a little conference on choosing a book. Students were encouraged to help each other, but could come to me if they got stuck.
For these types of reading activities to be really successful, you have to get the children interested in books so that they really read during these times instead of looking at the pictures or daydreaming. Here are some other tips that may help.
- Read aloud to your class frequently. Choose nonfiction as well as fiction titles that work into your content curriculum. Or just choose a good story.
- Display the books you read aloud. I had a special shelf for this. You will find that these books are some of the most popular choices. Children love to reread books they are familiar with.
I liked to bring in the books of an author which I displayed in a special place. I read one aloud each day. (Okay, if they begged hard enough, I might read a second one - grin.) I also shared the author's biographical information with the children during the week. Then those books would be placed in the regular fiction section for the rest of the school year.
For more on reading aloud, see
Reading Aloud to Children.
- Put out supplementary books on content being studied to grab the children while the interest is high. For instance, if you are studying insects, bring in library books about insects. Include fiction selections that relate to the content area. For example, you could read Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett during a unit on weather. Always be on the lookout for books that fit into your core curriculum as you add to your classroom library.
- Don't put out all your books at the beginning. Add "new" books throughout the school year. I had a core library of about 600 books that started out on the shelf at the beginning of the school year. By the end of the first month, I could count on a few students complaining that they had already read everything.
Try to add some additional books at least once a month. I know this is hard if you are just starting to collect books. This is where your school or public library can be of assistance.
As I mentioned above, I brought in groups of books by author, or by content. I used some of these "new" books for read-alouds to create the interest and to make the children aware that "new" books were in. After a week or so, the fiction books were moved from the display area and added to the main classroom collection for the remainder of the year. Most nonfiction books were stored away or returned to the library a week or so after the unit was completed; I found that the children didn't read them after the unit was over. Holiday books came out a week or two before the holiday, but after the holiday were collected and stored away for the next year.
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Tips for Making Paperbacks Last
Since you are trying to collect a large number of books for your library, you want the ones you do have to last a long time. Below are some things I learned along the way to make the paperback books last longer.
- Use book tape on the spine of new paperback books as well as your older ones. This is where paperbacks tend to wear out first. The tape will make them last much longer. You can purchase book tape from many school suppliers. (Clear packing tape does NOT work.) Your school librarian should be able to help you find a source.
Note: I found a tape at Lowe's, a building supply store, that worked even better than the book tape because it was a little heavier and more flexible, not to mention cheaper. It is called All-weather Clear Poly-tape made by Manco. I found it in the same area where the duck tape was located. I have also found it in some stores with the winterizing materials that come out in the fall.
- Get your students involved in identifying books to be repaired. They should know to bring to you any book that has a torn or loose page or cover.
- Use a craft glue for gluing in loose pages. Regular white glue does not work as it just soaks into the paper. A craft glue, such as Aleene's Original Tacky Glue, is thick and very flexible when it dries. You can stick a page down into a thin line of glue. It also works if the pages of a novel are coming unglued from the cover.
- Talk to your students about the correct way to put a paperback on the bookshelf. This is a little different than with a hardback since shoving the book in will bend the cover.
- Watch out for the book hoarder. Some children will end up with many of the books in their desks which causes them to get all bent up. My students were allowed to keep one book in their desks if they didn't finish it during the reading period, but I could always count on having a couple who would end up with 10 or 12 books. I kept watch on their desks and had the students clean them out frequently.
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Keeping Track of Your Books
Once you have a large collection of books, you will wish you had some idea of exactly what you have, especially if you want to pull books for certain units. So start off right. Keep some sort of record of your books.
A computer database is an excellent way to keep a record. I had fields for title, author, number of copies, illustrator, theme, and genre. It made it very easy to remind myself what I had and to select the books I needed.
I already had a LARGE number of books before I started my database. Entering the data on all the books was quite a chore, but worth it. Then I added new books as I acquired them. Books were taped, marked with my name, and added to the database before I put them out for children to use.
Enjoy collecting and using children's books. I will warn you that collecting books can be addictive!
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