Introducing Our Students to the Classroom Library

By Donalyn Miller, sixth-grade teacher at Trinity Meadows Intermediate School in Keller, TX

From the first day of school and for every day after that, I want my students to read. This means selecting books from our classroom library immediately. Each year, I begin our first class with a book frenzy—inviting my students to go into our class library and choose books they may like 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 about 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
My students write their names on index cards, and we store them in a recipe file box, alphabetized by last name. When students check out books, they record the titles and dates on their cards. When returning books, students shelve their books and mark out the entry on their cards.

For hardcover books, a student writes her name and the date on a Post-It note and sticks it on the dust jacket. I keep the dust jackets in a tub—one for each of my three classes. This helps me keep track of our most expensive—and usually newest—books and protects the dust jackets from wear and tear. When students finish their books, they return them to me, we put the jackets back on, and shelve them.

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:
  • Use a bookmark instead of dog-earing pages or resting a book on its spine.
  • Keep your book away from liquids.
  • Keep your book away from babies and pets.
  • Carefully slide your book into your backpack or locker.
  • Do not cram books into the book bins or shelves.
  • Do not pick off the plastic film or stickers.
  • Keep your book away from markers and pens.
  • Report any damaged or lost books immediately to Mrs. Miller.

How the library is organized
I organize our classroom library by genre. For two weeks, I read a different picture book, short story, poem, or article to my students and ask them to determine the genre of the text. We create a class set of notes on the characteristics of each genre 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 have 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 genres. I give each group a genre label for each 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 it reinforces how books are categorized by their commonalities.

During these activities, students have examined and discussed scores of book titles and familiarized themselves with the types of books available to read. Our ultimate goal for building and maintaining a classroom library is to promote and encourage reading by providing our students with access to lots of books. Teaching our 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.

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