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How to Build a Classroom Library Your Students Will Actually Use

          Students will spend a greater amount of time reading if they have books at an appropriate level which are suitable to their interests. Fellow teachers, this means there are 2 things you must know:
1) the reading levels of your students, and
2) the interests of your students.

          Books will get borrowed from your shelves more often if they are facing outward. I use plain plastic bins with genre labels, and stand all the books facing outward. Think about yourself, browsing at the bookstore. Aren't you more likely to pick up the books that face outward? See. don't make it too much work for the kids to find the books. Face them outward and they can browse the rest of the bin by walking their fingers through it like a filing cabinet.

          Fill your library with quality literature AND some of the fluffy, movie- and merchandise-based books that the children like to read. Sometimes award-winners go over, and sometimes they do not…the lists of Manitoba Young Readers’ Choice Awards (MYRCA), Newbery Medal winners, and Caldecott Medal winners are a good place to start if you’re clueless. Join a club like Scholastic Book Clubs, pay attention to what students are ordering from Scholastic, and use the points you earn to stock new books in the class library. Watch for their great “library in a bag” deals. There are plenty of experts out there: talk to your school librarian, the public librarian, or professionals at a high-quality children’s book store.

          However, I think the greatest experts will be your students. The best way to fill your classroom library with books that students will actually read is to ask them. What are they reading? What’s a good series they couldn’t put down? What other books has their favourite author written?
My students keep a list of “Books to Read” in their Reader’s and Writer’s Notebooks. We check in on the list every few weeks to see if any students have new suggestions for each other.

          If you would like to know more about inspiring students to become lifelong readers, one expert in motivating readers is The Book Whisperer, Donalyn Miller. I have loved her books and seeing her speak live at the 2015 Annual Adolescent Literacy Summit hosted by the Reading Council of Greater Winnipeg. If you read books like hers, (The Book Whisperer, Reading in the Wild), you too will be inspired about engaging students in reading.

          Do book talks, to introduce books from your library shelves to the students. Tell them what you have read and what you have liked that they can find right there in the classroom library. Then teach the students to host a book talk and get them telling each other what to read. Readers talk about books! And readers take recommendations from other readers!

          Also, each month, I talk about a new genre and pull examples of the genre from the shelves. The students and I talk about the characteristics of the genre and then we browse some samples of the genre. Sometimes this sparks an interest in a new book or a whole new genre for a student to try!

These are a few of my ideas about making the classroom library more than just a decoration. What do you do to get students using your classroom library?

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