Monday, July 8, 2013

The Heartbeat of your Classroom

When students or visitors enter your classroom, what will they notice first? Do they see cute bulletin boards filled with posters from the teacher's store? Do they see lots of space for students to work with minimal space for the teacher? Do they see hundreds of books, some with shabby covers and taped over and over again, waiting to be picked up by a child?

The way we organize our classroom and what we keep in it sends huge messages to all those who come in. In my last classroom, the things that you'd notice right away were a huge carpeted area front and center, and over 1,000 books in the shelves by the windows. My classroom was a literacy room, filled with books and posters about reading and charts to anchor learning on the back wall. There were pillows and bean bags, and plants on the tables. A few lamps kept our classroom just bright enough to feel like home. And home is exactly the feeling I was going for.

If you're a teacher, I'm sure you've got a classroom library. How many books are in it? How have you organized it? How often do you have to reorganize it because the kids are in it? If the answer is not very often, you're not getting the most out of your library.

I've always had a classroom library throughout my ten years of teaching, but it was used differently in the beginning than it is now. Actually, in the beginning, it wasn't all. At that time I probably had about 300 books in it. There were great titles - not many that I have read, but I knew they were good books based on reviews. Kids never went in my library. It was perfectly clean and organized all the time, but never in use.

Studying at Arizona State opened my eyes to so many new topics in literacy, and so many authors I had never read. While I may not have had a class - or even an hour - dedicated to classroom libraries, I picked up lots of information from the books I began studying. Here are some tips for your classroom library!

No matter how many books you have, organize them. They should be organized by genre - not organized by levels. If you want to teach genre in an authentic way, group books how they are in real life. We don't reach for a "Level S" book, we reach for something in realistic fiction or fantasy, or whatever genre we are interested in.

If you have lots of books by the same author - group those together. In my library, I had a basket of James Patterson and then another of Walter Dean Myers. You can also group books by topic - a basket all about vampires or one about sports.

Use two different colors of baskets: One for fiction, one for nonfiction. If you have baskets that are mixed fiction and nonfiction, you could add a third color.

Come up with some kind of coding system so the kids know where to find books and also, how to return them. In my last library, I numbered all my books. They had a dot on them with a number, and then the basket also had that same number. This was the best way I had found, so far, to get kids to keep the library organized on their own. However, going forward, I would probably put a whole label on the book - so kids would be reading the genre each time they took a book from the library.
Now here's the thing - after you put hours into preparing your classroom library, you have to teach kids how to use it. You need to take your group over to where the books are and explain the systems in place - the baskets, how to find a book, how to return a book. You need to teach them about choosing a "Just Right" book (more to come on that, later....) and you need to show them how to be efficient in choosing books so they do not waste all their reading time selecting books. Model, practice, give feedback. Take your time with this in the beginning, and your classroom will be self-sufficient for the rest of the year!

Now....about losing books:
It's going to happen. I've tried using library cards, a check out list, having a student helper to track them - none of it worked. So, what I did was kept the really (really) popular books behind my desk and those had to be signed out by me, but the rest were in my library. The kids took them home every night - it's inevitable that some books are going to get misplaced or end up at a child's home on their bookshelf. (And if I had to lose a book, that would be the best way for it to go!)'s my trick: Twice a year: Once before Christmas break, and once at the end of the year, I buy a bunch of mini-size candy. Now, I know this isn't the healthiest way to get your books back, but it's cheap and effective. For every book the child returns, that's one piece of candy. You'd be amazed at how many books get brought back! Some kids even make donations for candy!

It's still July and I'm happy to be blogging, but have definitely not been to my new classroom or even thought about unpacking and organizing. Just making mental plans. As a literacy coach, I'm sure my space will look a little different, so as I sit here, I wonder about the heartbeat of my new room.... Now, what about you?


  1. This is amazing. I just shared it. I think I'm not going to write a school blog, I'm just gonna keep sharing yours :)

  2. thanks friend! I'd be okay with that : )

  3. The heartbeat of your classroom where all students sit and enjoy time. Some of these also trying to get online research paper writing service knowledge because they are telling something perfect which all of those things where you can easily check all about such classes.


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