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November 16, 2016

8 Library Makeover Ideas

By Mary Blow
Grades 6–8

    In 2010 I wrote a blog post, “Creating a Middle School Classroom Library,” mentioning my philosophy behind creating a library that inspires lifelong readers and writers. Over the years, my students have enjoyed spending time in my library. This year, however, I decided that is was time for a library makeover. Below are eight ideas for updating and modernizing your classroom library that motivates your middle school students to read, while creating a personal space where they feel at home.

    We live in a low socioeconomic area. We also live near an Army base where families come and go. For these reasons, it has become increasingly important for me to create a home-away-from-home atmosphere in my classroom, a place where my sixth graders enjoy reading their favorite books, working on homework, and socializing during down time.

     

    #1 Book Shout-Outs

    One way to spark a conversation about books is to create shout-outs. Shout-outs are short, intriguing messages clipped to books. They snag the students’ attention, and before long, they are picking up a book and flipping through the pages. Sometimes it is as simple as announcing the arrival of a new book. Other times, they share your love for a specific book.

    Courtney McCreadie, our eighth grade English teacher, makes shout-outs using store purchased mini chalkboard clips, which she bought at Target. She writes intriguing messages with colorful chalk paint pens. This is a quick and easy way to get middle school students to pick up a book and start turning pages.

    Photo credit: Courtney McCreadie

    In teacher fashion, I “borrowed” Courtney’s idea to make shout-outs from black cardstock and chalk paints. I wrote messages on the cardstock, drew borders, cut them out, and glued mini-clothespins on the back. It is easy and only took about an hour to make 10 messages.

    When reading one of my personal messages, one student exclaimed, “Did you really read this book in one day?” A great conversation transpired, as I admitted that the book was so good nothing else was accomplished that day. Others have commented, “This is like being in a bookstore. I can’t wait to read this book.” Yes, it is a bit of a marketing approach to get students reading, but if it works, why not use it?

    We are constantly sharing what we like about books. Now, when students return books, they have the option of creating a shout-out. At the end of the year, when you are looking for things to keep your students engaged, have them create book shout-outs to share their all-time favorite books. This creates a great summer reading list and you can use the shout-outs to decorate the library in September.

    If you are new to chalk pens and lettering, try the Klutz: Neon Chalk Lettering. The kit contains the most popular chalk paint pens and activities to help you learn how to do the lettering. You can also purchase chalk craft supplies using your bonus points through the Scholastic Reading Club.

     

    #2 Words of Wisdom From Books

    We do a lot of work with parenthetical quotations in sixth grade, so it was only natural to pull our favorite quotes from books. We look for quotes that connect to our lives. I explain that these are “life quotes” or “words of wisdom,” quotes that apply to anybody, not just the characters in a book.

    My library wall space is limited, which is why we used chalk paint to create speech bubbles from black cardstock. These speech bubbles are displayed with pictures of students reading the book being quoted. Nothing screams homey more than sprinklings of family photos, and the display sets the stage for exploring themes later in the year. Download bookmarks that I created to help my students track their words-of-wisdom quotes while reading. We have die-cuts to create the speech bubbles, but if you don't have any, download these speech bubble templates.

    Courtney, my inspiration for our words of wisdom speech bubbles, posts a large sheet of white butcher paper above her bookcases. Her eighth graders write book quotes on the graffiti wall throughout the year.

    Renee Krusper, a sixth grade English teacher, turned one of her bookcases to create a cozy reading corner. She converted the backside of the bookcase into a quote wall by spraying chalk paint on a sheet of plywood and adhering it to the back of the bookcase.

     

    #3 Inspirational Shelf Talkers

    As a lover of inspirational quotes, I was excited find a beautifully designed free Scholastic printable of “Quotes for Each Week of the Year.” I printed them on white cardstock and laminated them for durability. They are sprinkled throughout my bookshelves using photo holders. If you are blessed enough to have someone send you flowers, save the plastic cardholder. You can use them to display quotes in potted plants. These quotes are strategically displayed near books, prompting students to make connections between the quote and the book. You can also just download these ready-made shelf talkers.

     

    #4 Lights, Music, and Relaxation

    Lighting and music were added to the library to create a relaxing ambience. I surveyed my students at the beginning of the year. Most replied that music helped them to focus.

    I have always had plants in my library, but adding lighting was key to creating a homey atmosphere. Many students have commented that they like the lighting much better than the bright lights, especially during homeroom social time and study halls. You can play around with this a little by adding dimmer light bulbs or a colored bulb to dim the lighting.

    My sister generously donated a lamp to my library makeover mission. If you don’t have a lamp around the house, check with friends and family, I bet someone would be willing to eliminate a little clutter while contributing to a great cause.

    I added two mini-speakers to stream instrumental music from Spotify into the library. Unfortunately, there are ads with the free version. If you have Amazon Prime, you can stream ad-free music into your library. Instrumental music softly plays when my sixth graders arrive in the morning and during study halls. Sometimes, when we are quietly working in class or if we have a reading day, I will play instrumental music. If I forget to turn it on, someone is quick to remind me.

    A wireless mini-speaker is available in Scholastic’s Reading Club Bonus Catalog. Wireless is awesome because you can move the speaker anywhere you want, and it is small, so it doesn’t overpower the books. This is definitely on my wish list, because when music is played softly, students on the far side of the room can't hear it as well.

     

    #5 Library Media Center

    Times are changing. A library is not just a library any more, neither is my classroom library. This year, my students became the proud owners of Chromebooks, which theoretically, students are supposed to take home and bring back fully charged. This only happens in a perfect world. I needed a solution for those students who struggle with organization or who sometimes simply forget to charge their computers.

    My wonderful maintenance staff converted a small bookshelf into a media shelf that I position to the top of a bookcase. The mini charging station houses 20 Chromebooks next to a wall outlet, and so far, it works perfect! This addition to the library eliminates disruptions during English class. Students simply go to the back table and plug in to continue working.

     

    #6 Pull Up a Seat

    When my nephew donated his beanbag chair to my library, I gave the rocking chair to my daughter, a pay it forward act of kindness. The rocking chair was nice, but now, two to three students will crash on the beanbag chair to read. Some sit on the carpet using it as a backrest while others crash on top. Now, multiple students can enjoy the library space at the same time.

    I used to have a table in my library where students could work together. As more books were added, I lacked the space to spread out any further, so I had to build upward with my displays. Then I added the library media center, so students who sat at the back table could not see over the book display. Ouch! It blocked the view of the SMART Board. My solution was a café table. If you are lucky enough to find a second-hand café table, snatch it up. They are not easy to come by. I have a 36-inch table where two students can work comfortably. An unplanned benefit is that students who struggle with attention and sitting can stand while working.

     

    #7 Engaging Games Promote Socializing

    In the last few years, with the increase of social networking, I’ve noticed a decline in social skills. Students struggle with face-to-face conversations. I added games and puzzles to engage students in healthy family-like activities. A few of our popular games include: chess, scramble square puzzles, Scrabble, and Boggle. Some are brainteasers. Some are word games. All are educationally appropriate.

    Recently, I added a Book-in-a-Jar competition, which is a popular activity being shared around Pinterest. It is quick and easy to create. You simply feed the pages of a worn out book into a paper shredder and stuffed them in a jar. I used a Mason jar, which I decorated with jute and scraps of the infamous black cardstock. Others have used different types of see-through containers, including a clear glass cookie jars. Repurposed candle jars are perfect! The students are allowed to turn the jar, shake the jar, but they cannot open the jar. They have to write the title and author on a sheet of paper and submit it to me. It is not enough to identify a series. The first person to get it grammatically correct, wins the contest. Can you guess what book is in my jar?

     

    #8 Library Management

    While we were making book quote speech bubbles, I saved scraps of black cardstock and to make chalk paint labels my book shelves.

    I used to organize books by authors’ last names. This traditional method, I discovered, was not user-friendly for my sixth graders. Those who shy away from reading are rarely familiar with authors, so finding a book was laborious and often lead to frustration. To motivate my struggling readers, I reorganized books by students’ interests and categories:

    • Action adventure

    • Dystopian

    • Favorite authors

    • Favorite series

    • Graphic novels

    • Historical Fiction

    • Mystery

    • New arrivals

    • Sports

    • Space

    New books are added every year. When books are popular, I buy many copies — usually with Scholastic Reading Club bonus points. Can you imagine housing five sets of Harry Potter? The magical wizard required his own six-foot bookshelf. Now that many students enter middle school already having read the Harry Potter series, I decided to keep one set and donate the others to teachers starting out or to students who love the series. It is painful parting with books, but it is also liberating. Now, there is room for new books to make their debut.

    In an era where repurposing is popular, I am constantly on the lookout for items to use as storage bins. A retiring teacher gave me an old suitcase that I use to display historical books or Holocaust books. A repurposed fruit gift basket houses picture books. If you have any great ideas for storing and displaying book, please feel free to share. I am in desperate need of storage bins.

    You are probably wondering how I manage all these books. You can search Scholastic's Book Wizard for children's books from all publishers and level the books in your classroom library by guided reading, grade level, DRA, or Lexile. There's also the free Book Wizard app that you can use to scan the bar code of a book with your phone and quickly save and manage book lists or create a classroom library list. You can share with students or other teachers through Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. Sharing with students is a great way to motivate reading and allow them to share the books they thought were home runs.

    Last year, I started cataloging new books using the free BookSource Classroom Organizer, which offers books you might like based on what you have selected. With these tools I don’t have to buy book card pockets or book cards any more. Instead of handwriting out all the library cards. I now scan the barcodes of new books with my smartphone app. It takes minutes. The book information automatically fills in, and I write the inventory number on the book. Done! Quick and easy. If you don’t have a smartphone, you can enter the books manually on a computer. Students sign out and return books using an older computer, which I designated to be the library computer. Now, each week, I receive an email report of borrowed and overdue books.

    Everybody’s classroom space and is different and library organization should be based on students’ needs. If you to begin a makeover and want help with ideas for a library makeover, please post below. It will be a fun contributing to a joint venture. If you have any library makeover ideas to share, we’d love to hear them.

    In 2010 I wrote a blog post, “Creating a Middle School Classroom Library,” mentioning my philosophy behind creating a library that inspires lifelong readers and writers. Over the years, my students have enjoyed spending time in my library. This year, however, I decided that is was time for a library makeover. Below are eight ideas for updating and modernizing your classroom library that motivates your middle school students to read, while creating a personal space where they feel at home.

    We live in a low socioeconomic area. We also live near an Army base where families come and go. For these reasons, it has become increasingly important for me to create a home-away-from-home atmosphere in my classroom, a place where my sixth graders enjoy reading their favorite books, working on homework, and socializing during down time.

     

    #1 Book Shout-Outs

    One way to spark a conversation about books is to create shout-outs. Shout-outs are short, intriguing messages clipped to books. They snag the students’ attention, and before long, they are picking up a book and flipping through the pages. Sometimes it is as simple as announcing the arrival of a new book. Other times, they share your love for a specific book.

    Courtney McCreadie, our eighth grade English teacher, makes shout-outs using store purchased mini chalkboard clips, which she bought at Target. She writes intriguing messages with colorful chalk paint pens. This is a quick and easy way to get middle school students to pick up a book and start turning pages.

    Photo credit: Courtney McCreadie

    In teacher fashion, I “borrowed” Courtney’s idea to make shout-outs from black cardstock and chalk paints. I wrote messages on the cardstock, drew borders, cut them out, and glued mini-clothespins on the back. It is easy and only took about an hour to make 10 messages.

    When reading one of my personal messages, one student exclaimed, “Did you really read this book in one day?” A great conversation transpired, as I admitted that the book was so good nothing else was accomplished that day. Others have commented, “This is like being in a bookstore. I can’t wait to read this book.” Yes, it is a bit of a marketing approach to get students reading, but if it works, why not use it?

    We are constantly sharing what we like about books. Now, when students return books, they have the option of creating a shout-out. At the end of the year, when you are looking for things to keep your students engaged, have them create book shout-outs to share their all-time favorite books. This creates a great summer reading list and you can use the shout-outs to decorate the library in September.

    If you are new to chalk pens and lettering, try the Klutz: Neon Chalk Lettering. The kit contains the most popular chalk paint pens and activities to help you learn how to do the lettering. You can also purchase chalk craft supplies using your bonus points through the Scholastic Reading Club.

     

    #2 Words of Wisdom From Books

    We do a lot of work with parenthetical quotations in sixth grade, so it was only natural to pull our favorite quotes from books. We look for quotes that connect to our lives. I explain that these are “life quotes” or “words of wisdom,” quotes that apply to anybody, not just the characters in a book.

    My library wall space is limited, which is why we used chalk paint to create speech bubbles from black cardstock. These speech bubbles are displayed with pictures of students reading the book being quoted. Nothing screams homey more than sprinklings of family photos, and the display sets the stage for exploring themes later in the year. Download bookmarks that I created to help my students track their words-of-wisdom quotes while reading. We have die-cuts to create the speech bubbles, but if you don't have any, download these speech bubble templates.

    Courtney, my inspiration for our words of wisdom speech bubbles, posts a large sheet of white butcher paper above her bookcases. Her eighth graders write book quotes on the graffiti wall throughout the year.

    Renee Krusper, a sixth grade English teacher, turned one of her bookcases to create a cozy reading corner. She converted the backside of the bookcase into a quote wall by spraying chalk paint on a sheet of plywood and adhering it to the back of the bookcase.

     

    #3 Inspirational Shelf Talkers

    As a lover of inspirational quotes, I was excited find a beautifully designed free Scholastic printable of “Quotes for Each Week of the Year.” I printed them on white cardstock and laminated them for durability. They are sprinkled throughout my bookshelves using photo holders. If you are blessed enough to have someone send you flowers, save the plastic cardholder. You can use them to display quotes in potted plants. These quotes are strategically displayed near books, prompting students to make connections between the quote and the book. You can also just download these ready-made shelf talkers.

     

    #4 Lights, Music, and Relaxation

    Lighting and music were added to the library to create a relaxing ambience. I surveyed my students at the beginning of the year. Most replied that music helped them to focus.

    I have always had plants in my library, but adding lighting was key to creating a homey atmosphere. Many students have commented that they like the lighting much better than the bright lights, especially during homeroom social time and study halls. You can play around with this a little by adding dimmer light bulbs or a colored bulb to dim the lighting.

    My sister generously donated a lamp to my library makeover mission. If you don’t have a lamp around the house, check with friends and family, I bet someone would be willing to eliminate a little clutter while contributing to a great cause.

    I added two mini-speakers to stream instrumental music from Spotify into the library. Unfortunately, there are ads with the free version. If you have Amazon Prime, you can stream ad-free music into your library. Instrumental music softly plays when my sixth graders arrive in the morning and during study halls. Sometimes, when we are quietly working in class or if we have a reading day, I will play instrumental music. If I forget to turn it on, someone is quick to remind me.

    A wireless mini-speaker is available in Scholastic’s Reading Club Bonus Catalog. Wireless is awesome because you can move the speaker anywhere you want, and it is small, so it doesn’t overpower the books. This is definitely on my wish list, because when music is played softly, students on the far side of the room can't hear it as well.

     

    #5 Library Media Center

    Times are changing. A library is not just a library any more, neither is my classroom library. This year, my students became the proud owners of Chromebooks, which theoretically, students are supposed to take home and bring back fully charged. This only happens in a perfect world. I needed a solution for those students who struggle with organization or who sometimes simply forget to charge their computers.

    My wonderful maintenance staff converted a small bookshelf into a media shelf that I position to the top of a bookcase. The mini charging station houses 20 Chromebooks next to a wall outlet, and so far, it works perfect! This addition to the library eliminates disruptions during English class. Students simply go to the back table and plug in to continue working.

     

    #6 Pull Up a Seat

    When my nephew donated his beanbag chair to my library, I gave the rocking chair to my daughter, a pay it forward act of kindness. The rocking chair was nice, but now, two to three students will crash on the beanbag chair to read. Some sit on the carpet using it as a backrest while others crash on top. Now, multiple students can enjoy the library space at the same time.

    I used to have a table in my library where students could work together. As more books were added, I lacked the space to spread out any further, so I had to build upward with my displays. Then I added the library media center, so students who sat at the back table could not see over the book display. Ouch! It blocked the view of the SMART Board. My solution was a café table. If you are lucky enough to find a second-hand café table, snatch it up. They are not easy to come by. I have a 36-inch table where two students can work comfortably. An unplanned benefit is that students who struggle with attention and sitting can stand while working.

     

    #7 Engaging Games Promote Socializing

    In the last few years, with the increase of social networking, I’ve noticed a decline in social skills. Students struggle with face-to-face conversations. I added games and puzzles to engage students in healthy family-like activities. A few of our popular games include: chess, scramble square puzzles, Scrabble, and Boggle. Some are brainteasers. Some are word games. All are educationally appropriate.

    Recently, I added a Book-in-a-Jar competition, which is a popular activity being shared around Pinterest. It is quick and easy to create. You simply feed the pages of a worn out book into a paper shredder and stuffed them in a jar. I used a Mason jar, which I decorated with jute and scraps of the infamous black cardstock. Others have used different types of see-through containers, including a clear glass cookie jars. Repurposed candle jars are perfect! The students are allowed to turn the jar, shake the jar, but they cannot open the jar. They have to write the title and author on a sheet of paper and submit it to me. It is not enough to identify a series. The first person to get it grammatically correct, wins the contest. Can you guess what book is in my jar?

     

    #8 Library Management

    While we were making book quote speech bubbles, I saved scraps of black cardstock and to make chalk paint labels my book shelves.

    I used to organize books by authors’ last names. This traditional method, I discovered, was not user-friendly for my sixth graders. Those who shy away from reading are rarely familiar with authors, so finding a book was laborious and often lead to frustration. To motivate my struggling readers, I reorganized books by students’ interests and categories:

    • Action adventure

    • Dystopian

    • Favorite authors

    • Favorite series

    • Graphic novels

    • Historical Fiction

    • Mystery

    • New arrivals

    • Sports

    • Space

    New books are added every year. When books are popular, I buy many copies — usually with Scholastic Reading Club bonus points. Can you imagine housing five sets of Harry Potter? The magical wizard required his own six-foot bookshelf. Now that many students enter middle school already having read the Harry Potter series, I decided to keep one set and donate the others to teachers starting out or to students who love the series. It is painful parting with books, but it is also liberating. Now, there is room for new books to make their debut.

    In an era where repurposing is popular, I am constantly on the lookout for items to use as storage bins. A retiring teacher gave me an old suitcase that I use to display historical books or Holocaust books. A repurposed fruit gift basket houses picture books. If you have any great ideas for storing and displaying book, please feel free to share. I am in desperate need of storage bins.

    You are probably wondering how I manage all these books. You can search Scholastic's Book Wizard for children's books from all publishers and level the books in your classroom library by guided reading, grade level, DRA, or Lexile. There's also the free Book Wizard app that you can use to scan the bar code of a book with your phone and quickly save and manage book lists or create a classroom library list. You can share with students or other teachers through Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. Sharing with students is a great way to motivate reading and allow them to share the books they thought were home runs.

    Last year, I started cataloging new books using the free BookSource Classroom Organizer, which offers books you might like based on what you have selected. With these tools I don’t have to buy book card pockets or book cards any more. Instead of handwriting out all the library cards. I now scan the barcodes of new books with my smartphone app. It takes minutes. The book information automatically fills in, and I write the inventory number on the book. Done! Quick and easy. If you don’t have a smartphone, you can enter the books manually on a computer. Students sign out and return books using an older computer, which I designated to be the library computer. Now, each week, I receive an email report of borrowed and overdue books.

    Everybody’s classroom space and is different and library organization should be based on students’ needs. If you to begin a makeover and want help with ideas for a library makeover, please post below. It will be a fun contributing to a joint venture. If you have any library makeover ideas to share, we’d love to hear them.

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