Thursday, June 12, 2014

Building a Classroom Library

By Wendy Sheets, Intermediate/Middle School Trainer

The classroom library should be a well-organized, welcoming area for students to easily access, and it plays a significant role in supporting readers and writers. A classroom library that has been intentionally created is central to a literate classroom community. The photographs included in this blog were taken in classrooms in Cedarburg, Wisconsin, Newark, Ohio, and Bellville, Ohio, where the teachers have been extremely purposeful in creating these powerful spaces for learning. 

With that said, there are some important things to keep in mind when establishing a classroom library:

·         Creating a Varied Collection
o        Including a large number of texts in various genres will support students in expanding their reading and writing processes. A quality classroom library will include texts from various fiction genres (such as realistic fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, and traditional literature - fairy tales, fables, myths, legends, folktales), and nonfiction genres (such as biography, autobiography, memoir, narrative nonfiction, expository nonfiction, procedural texts, and persuasive texts). A varied collection contains texts from every genre, including picture books, easy chapter books, and novels, along with poetry, books for reference (such as dictionaries, atlases, and thesauruses), collections of short stories, graphic texts, and magazines, newspapers, and journals. Texts should vary in terms of format, content, and diversity. Also consider including various media for accessibility (such as audio-taped books or books on CD, computer resources, and books that have been read aloud). Be sure to include enough variety to meet the interests and needs of students.

·         Organizing and Displaying Texts
o   Organize texts in ways that motivate, appeal to, and make sense to readers. At times, we search for favorite authors; and at other times by our interests. Creating baskets of texts that are grouped by genres, authors, topics, themes, and series creates accessibility for students.  Books that are displayed in baskets with covers facing outward are inviting. Publishers pay a hefty price to have their books displayed in this way at Barnes & Noble because these books are more likely to be chosen. Libraries with spines displayed are just not very appealing, and we want our readers to be motivated to read. Labels on baskets show how books are organized and help students think about texts in particular ways. Notice that we don’t organize classroom library texts by levels. Because we want our readers to engage in choosing books in authentic ways, we teach them to choose books that are “just right,” but allow for their interests to lead their choices. As a reader, I don’t look for Level Z texts at the bookstore – I search based on my interests, and I sometimes choose texts because they’ve caught my eye. The levels of texts are specifically for teachers, and guide our decisions when choosing texts for instructional purposes in planning for guided reading. The levels are not for our readers and restrict choices that should be made in authentic ways during independent reading.

A well-organized classroom library requires time and attention, but when teachers establish routines for using and maintaining organization within the library, it becomes a living, breathing system that is foundational to a literate environment. 

As you organize your classroom library, please share your tips for making the process smooth and productive. We love to hear from teachers and coaches who are making a difference!


Fountas, I.C. & Pinnell, G.S. (2001). Guiding Readers and Writers Grades 3-6: Teaching
        Comprehension, Genre, and Content Literacy. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Fountas, I.C. & Pinnell, G.S. (2006). Teaching for Comprehending and Fluency: Thinking,
       Talking, and Writing About Reading, K-8. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

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