classroom libraryLike any library, our classroom library should be filled with a wide range of texts, both in terms of genre and difficulty. It should also be purposefully arranged and thoughtfully organized so that our students have a permanent, welcoming  space where they can read, check out, trade and order books that will engage them. Early Literacy Education scholars D. Ray Reutzel and Parker C. Fawson take it a step further: They suggest that the classroom library should literally be “the backbone of classroom activity,” a space where “much of what goes on each day draws from or occurs in or around the resources.” We’ve been reading their book, Your Classroom Library: New Ways to Give It More Teaching Power and liked it so much that we thought we’d share 5 of their teacher-tested, research-driven strategies to consider as you design (or redesign) your classroom library:

5 Tips for Creating an Effective Classroom Library

1. Library texts should relate to all areas of your curriculum
The primary function of any classroom library is (obviously) to bolster reading and writing instruction—but reading and writing cannot be taught in isolation. That’s why classroom libraries should include a wide variety of materials related to your entire curriculum. Do you have books related to history, music, art, drama, poetry, math, computers and nature? Try to build a collection that accommodates a wide range of interests and reading levels.

2. Find creative ways to engage reluctant readers
It’s always rewarding to have hungry readers, students who love to read, know how to find the books they want and are blessed enough to have parents who take them to the public library on a regular basis. But these students are, more often than not, a minority of our readers. This is precisely why our classroom libraries need to be so much more than a collection of books.

Reutzel and Fawson suggest that teachers use the library as a space for teaching students not only about literacy, but how to care for books. Try setting up a book repair shop equipped with a work bench, glue, tape and pencil erasers. Have them collaborate to create a display poster with clear directions on how to fix torn pages, broken spines and mangled covers.

3. Make it inviting. Make it fun.
An effective classroom library should be a gathering spot, a haven, a getaway spot that makes reading exciting. It should be a place students can't wait to get to. Here’s a great idea courtesy of middle school teacher and blogger, Heather Wolpert-Gawron:

Her classroom library comes complete with a Shakespeare action figure (detachable quill and all) that sits between a full-text edition of A Midsummer Night's Dream and the manga version of As You Like It. Her childhood Clash of the Titans lunch box bookends the fantasy section, and a knight rides among the historical-fiction section. If her students need a reminder about some of the rules, all they’ve got to do is glance up at the figurehead of Captain Morgan who is glaring down at a sign that reads, "Any who dare not use the proper means of checking out a book." I don’t know about you, but this seems like a place I’d like to hang out in.

4. Just because it’s a library doesn’t mean it can’t have other classroom resources
In addition to housing books, why not use your library as a central storage location for all of your curriculum resources like CDs, MP3 players, DVDs, comic books, computers and a printer with a scanner. How about a couple of typewriters and a few reams of scrap paper so they can mimic their favorite writers?

5. Provide them with daily independent reading time
Many of us grew up surrounded by books; we had parents who read to us and read for pleasure themselves; we were lucky enough to take frequent trips to the public library, maybe even book signings or author meet and greets. It sounds odd now that I think of it, but I even remember attending an all-night lock-in at my public library when I was a kid. Many (most?) of our students do not share these experiences. In fact, many of them grow up in homes without a single book.

That’s why we need to set aside time every day for students to experience the pleasure of reading. Studies repeatedly suggest that the more time students spend reading, the more they want to read and the more skilled they become at it. If your school doesn't honor Sustained Silent Reading (SSR), it might be time to become an activist and bring it back. Studies show that reading just 20-minutes a day not only helps create more enthusiastic readers, but also positively impacts reading test scores.


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