Monday, September 29, 2014

Creating a Classroom Library: One Teacher's Process

A huge thank you to today's guest blogger, Abby Aebischer, a young and passionate, eight grade teacher. Abby recently spoke to our Workshop Survival group about how she set about filling her blank shelves with books to create an engaging and inspiring reading environment for her students.

In Abby's words...

My Classroom Library
As an eighth grade language arts teacher, I have always been passionate about reading.However, it wasn't until about four years ago that I decided to start building a classroom library.  Now, I can’t imagine my room without shelves and shelves filled with books!

I knew that in order for my library to be successful it needed to be appealing and user-friendly to my students.  I have found that organizing my books by genre is the most effective way to help them identify what they want to read.  Right now, my library contains realistic fiction, science fiction, fantasy, poetry/novel-in-verse, graphic novels, historical fiction, classics, picture books, informational texts, and finally, grouped together, autobiographies, biographies, and memoirs. This is the first year I have not had a mystery section; I ended up dispersing this subgenre amongst the others.  However, I have already had multiple requests by students to “bring back the mystery section please!”  Needless to say, by popular demand, it will most likely re-emerge.

Even though I have signs labeling each section of my library, once students check out a book they sometimes forget what genre they are reading.  To help them remember the genre of their book and to also ensure books make it back to the correct sections, I use stickers to code my genres.  While initially, it was a time consuming task to put a sticker on the spine of each book, I have found that it has been well worth it.  I keep a “genre sticker key” at the front of my classroom next to the book return basket for students to consult whenever they need a quick reminder of the genre of their book or where a book goes.

Two other “tricks” I use to help keep my classroom library running smoothly and my books in the best possible condition are alphabetizing and keeping a book jacket “drop-off.”  Like coding my genres with stickers, alphabetizing all of my books seemed like a daunting task at first; however, it was something that I felt would benefit my students.  Now, if someone is looking for a particular author or series, they are easy to find and grouped together.   It also helps me keep track of which books are checked out at a quick glance.

While alphabetizing has helped to keep my fictional genres more organized, I decided to organize my nonfiction section of informational texts, autobiographies, biographies, and memoirs a little bit differently.  Because nonfiction can be an unpopular choice for many students, I wanted to do something that would make it seem less intimidating and more student friendly.  So, what I decided to do was organize these books by topic rather than author.  This is a quick and easy way to help point students in the direction to topics they are interested in.  Some popular topics include animals, war, the Holocaust, survival stories, inspirational stories, and sports.

Graphic Novels, Poetry & Realistic Fiction

Science Fiction & Historical Fiction



Organized by Topics

Autobiographies, Biographies, Memoirs & Picture Books

The book jacket “drop-off” is something that I began using last year for my hardcover books.  I started having a lot of students ask if I could hold on to the jackets for them, while also noticing that the book jackets were getting torn and damaged too quickly.  So, I decided to keep a bin  in the front of my classroom, right above the return basket, for students to store the book jackets in.  It’s amazing how many students don’t really want the jacket on the book for one reason or another; I have found using the bin to be an extremely popular option for a lot of my students.
Book Jacket Drop-Off

To help both my students and I remember what they have checked out, I needed some sort of check-out/return system.  I had originally considered using a scanner to check books in and out on my computer.  However, what I found was that this process was too time consuming for me simply because I was always confined to my desk and computer.  While this is a great way to keep track of books, it just didn't work for me. 

Instead, on the very first day of school, I give each of my students a 3x5” colored index card for them to use as their classroom library card.  Since I color-code each of my classes, it was only natural to give each class the corresponding colored card.  I have found that by designating a different color for each class students are better able to locate their library card within the box, which makes the checking in and out process run more efficiently.  At the top of the the index card, students put their first and last name, book title, date in, and date out.  Whenever they wish to check a book in or out, they simply write the book’s title on their card, the date and then bring it to me to initial. 


One question I get asked often is how do you get your books?  To be honest, many of the books in my library I do buy myself, and what I have now has taken me several years to obtain. However, two other resources that I have found to be extremely helpful are Scholastic and If you host a Scholastic Book Fair, part of the profit goes to your school or classrooms to buy books. on the other hand, is an online organization that allows public school teachers to post projects for resources that they need.  I have had many projects for books funded using this charity, which has also really helped me to grow my library over the years.   

If you are thinking about building a classroom library, my advice is don’t be afraid to start small and to be patient.  Creating a community of readers is not something that happens overnight; it takes time.  Just like with our students, our classroom libraries need tended to and nurtured in order to grow and be successful!  

Good luck and happy reading!

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