Last Friday night, I met my new students. Seeing children investigating our classroom for the first time, it finally felt like home. Walking around the room visiting families, I overheard Maggie tell her mother, “Wow. We have a lot of books in here.”
Sidling over to her, I said, “I think we need a lot of books, don’t you?”
Maggie beamed, “Yes! Yes, we do.”
She chatted with me about the Dork Diaries book she is currently reading and we looked in our classroom library for more books in the series. I told Maggie that I shoved more books in our storage closet before she and her classmates arrived, “I am glad you all are here. I know you will be taking some of these books home to read and we will have more room!”
From the first day of school and for every day after that, I want my students to read. This means selecting books from our class library immediately. Each year, I begin our first class with a book frenzy—inviting my students to explore our class library and choose books to read. I help students who need guidance finding a book, and those students who are more confident in selecting books feel free to browse. I learn a lot about my students’ reading experiences and preferences during the book frenzy. In turn, they learn that I am serious about reading and invested in giving them choices in what they read.
Turning children loose to rummage through your carefully-ordered bookshelves before discussing with them how to use the library and care for the books may fill you with anxiety, but it helps me to remember that the books don’t belong solely to me once the children arrive. It is our classroom library—ours to learn from and share and enjoy for the entire year. Building a reading community begins by getting books into my students’ hands.
After the children have selected books to read, we discuss the finer points of using the library. Over the next few days, we work as a class to determine classroom library procedures and explore how our books are organized. Consider the following discussion points when introducing your students to your class library:
How to check out and return books: After years of using a recipe card file box and index card system for library checkout, my students and I will use Booksource’s Classroom Organizer this year. Last spring, my squadron of class librarians helped scan every book’s ISBN number using the free Classroom Organizer app or entered the titles into the computer database. Easy-to-use for even young children, students can check out and return books on the computer. I bought an inexpensive bar code scanner on ebay, but you can use a phone or iPod, too.
How to take care of books: As a class, I ask students to develop rules for taking care of our books. Working in table groups, students brainstorm a list of guidelines for protecting our books and we use their ideas to create an anchor chart displayed in our classroom. I keep a few damaged books from past years as examples and show these to students, so they can see what happens to books when we don’t take care of them. I reinforce to students that readers will not have access to all of our books if we destroy the books we have. Last year, my students developed these rules:
How the library is organized: I organize our classroom library by genre. For the first two weeks of school, I read a different picture book, short story, poem, or article every day and ask students to determine each text’s genre. We create a class set of notes on genre characteristics and determine what types of characters, plot lines, and settings we commonly find in each fiction genre. For poetry and nonfiction texts, we look at the text structure and text features, too.
After students have been exposed to every genre and discussed genre characteristics, I give students several book tubs from our library and ask them to determine the genre of their tubs using their notes and their reading experiences. Previewing the selections in the tubs, students identify the books’ genre. Checking with each group, I give them a genre label for their tubs and students stick the label on the front of the tub. This activity helps students locate books by their individual interests and reading goals, and reinforces how books are categorized by their commonalities.
Through these activities, students examine and discuss scores of books and familiarize themselves with titles they might like to read. Teaching students how to select and care for our classroom library books fosters ownership and confidence and reinforces that these books are an important resource for our reading community.
Donalyn Miller is a fourth grade teacher at Peterson Elementary in Fort Worth, TX. She is the author of The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child. Donalyn co-hosts the monthly Twitter chat, #titletalk (with Nerdy co-founder, Colby Sharp), and facilitates the Twitter reading initiative, #bookaday.