First of all, I don't just collect any book. I buy books with a purpose. I can tell you almost every single book I have in my collection because I picked it out for a specific child or unit of study.
For example, I have been purchasing these books at the Scholastic Book Fair for the past two years because they relate to social studies content, have amazing visuals, and most importantly, the boys that I teach LOVE them. I got the first one about the Civil War to share with a specific reader, but now they help hook in many different kids. Last week, a 4th grader picked up one of these books and said, "Wow, we have learned this before but this book makes it come alive!" They are engaging and high-interest, while also providing challenges in reading and social studies content. Mrs. Raney, a fifth grade teacher at WCES, used these nonfiction books and paired it with a historical fiction novel so the kids were not only hearing from the perspective of someone during that time, but learning facts to go along with that time period. You can't just put any old book in your library. You have to know what you have and who it might appeal to. Your job as a teacher is to match books to readers. You can only do this if you know what you have to offer.
In addition to specifically choosing books for a purpose, I also make sure I have a wide variety of texts. My first year of teaching, I included my students in the organization of our classroom library. Each day, we would unpack a different box, and categorized books by genre. Not only did this help students gain a better understanding of genre, but they were able to see directly what was going into our library, helping them generate a mental "to read" list. Not to mention, it saved me the trouble of having to organize alone! The third day of organizing, a student said, "Did you notice that we have a whole lot of fiction but almost NO nonfiction! I think it's time to go shopping for more books!" She was absolutely right. I made it a point to begin buying nonfiction books to add to our library. Your classroom library should be a reflection of all genres and types of texts. This even includes magazines, newspapers, and comic strips! Students need to see the library as a place where all texts are represented.
To help promote social learning in my classroom, I also buy multiple copies of texts. I keep these sets together in a different part of my classroom library so students can participate in book clubs around a common text. Sometimes literature circles occur across the classroom, other times students choose to read a book with their friends. It's important for students to have opportunities in the classroom to have conversations around texts.
To vary the type of reading experience, I also include audio books. I personally am a HUGE fan of audio books. You can't get into my car without hearing a book read aloud. Audio books can be beneficial to reluctant readers because they engage them in fluent reading. It's important to provide students with a copy of the text so they can read along with the author. I also made sure that students didn't only listen to books on tape because I knew they needed the experience reading independently to try out the strategies. Audio books provided another way to experience reading.
Three to five copies of a single text work great for book clubs or literature circles. Good Reads has a list of recommended titles for book clubs, but any text that is of high interest to your students can become a novel set.
For my book sets, I put multiple copies into ziplock bags and keep them in a separate section of my library.
Have an organized space in your classroom for audio books. This teacher's classroom is ready to go for four different students to listen to reading.
Audio books don't always have to be novels or chapter books. This was my 4th graders favorite audio text. They listened to poetry like this most frequently.
No matter the grade you teach, you will need to have multiple levels represented in your library. I choose not to level my classroom library because I want to children to choose based on their interest, not level. I also do a mini-lesson in the beginning of the year teaching students how to select a "just right" book. You may choose to have a part of your library leveled, but I encourage you not to level the whole thing. Allow some choice for students in regards to what they read about. I chose to organize my library by genre. I did know the levels of text so that way each reader in my room could find materials they could red independently. Always keep your students in mind in regards to your classroom library. And each year, the needs may change depending on the students in your class.
To connect all subject areas, have books that relate to content areas. Look through your TEKS to determine what big units you could start collecting books for. Since I taught 4th grade, I have a tub specifically on Explorers, Texas History, and Texas Geography.When I got to a particular unit, I could pull out that tub to highlight reading materials that reinforced social studies concepts. If you team teach, get with your partner teacher to decide what books might be helpful to reinforce their units. The kids will love seeing the connections between each classroom.
This is an example of a text set relating to the moon.
There were some books that I did not include in my classroom library. The mentor texts that I used to teach reading and writing strategies stayed in a safe spot away from students. If I included them in my library, I hardly ever found them when I wanted to teach a specific strategy. If a student wanted to borrow the book during independent reading, they could, but I always collected it back after. These books were precious to me and I didn't want to worry about finding a replacement!
Finally, you will need A WHOLE LOT OF BOOKS! Research suggests that classroom teachers need about 20 books per student in your class. With as many books that I expect my students to read over the course of the year, I would say that number is pretty low. Donalyn Miller suggests that students do a 40 book challenge, reading 40 books over the whole year. I think 20-40 books in your classroom library per student is a good goal. While this can become a big expense, it does not need to magically appear over night. Your classroom library will grow with you as you continue teaching. Add to it gradually over time and you can have all the books you need to support reading in your classroom. I would also recommend labeling your books with your name. It's inevitable that books will be damaged or go missing, but a label marking it's belonging can help encourage it's return.
How I've grown my library:
- Scholastic Book Orders (Your kids buy books, you get the reward points!)
- Scholastic Book Fair (I always spend $50 at each Book Fair. Your school gets about 50% of the profit, so it's for a good cause you and you get resources for your classroom. Usually schools offer these tax free)
- Scholastic Warehouse Sale (Twice a year Scholastic offers books up to 80% off!)
- Half Price Books (Check out the clearance section at this amazing store. You can find books around $1 each. This is also how I grew my novel sets)
- Goodwill (You would be surprised at the award winning picture books you can pick up at Goodwill. Tell them you are a teacher and they will discount your books so you are paying less than a quarter per book!)
- Garage Sales (Again, super cheap prices for high quality books!)
- Parents (Send a letter home to parents requesting donations. Many parents are tired of the books piling up with no more kids to read them. They are eager to make donations for a good cause!)
- Donor's Choose (Websites like this allow you to advertise your classroom needs to anonymous donors. I've had many teacher friends get lucky with this site!)
- Gifts (Ask friends to donate books to your classroom library for your birthday or christmas gift. I did this my first couple of years. People thought I was crazy but I got some great books!)
- Friends of the Library Book Sale (A few times a year, they get rid of old library books and over them up for low prices!)
- Public Library (When I couldn't afford new books to purchase, I checked out books related to the topics and allowed students to peruse them during independent reading)
While collecting 400-600 books may seem overwhelming, it's completely possible. Start small, grow gradually, and never pay full price for a book!
I hope this helps you think about your classroom library in a different way.