Years ago, I spent a good amount of August reorganizing my classroom library. I invested in uniform book containers, and relabeled books and book bins. I replaced books that needed replacing and filled bins that I realized were short in texts. I strategically placed book bins around the room to avoid the traffic in just one area and added the character stuffies that matched the series. My library looked great! I was all set, and was excited about watching my students engage in my library! I waited eagerly for school to start, gave the class an overview of books available, and watched in anticipation as I let my students choose books for our first reading workshop. What surprised me was how my students moved around aimlessly, choosing too few texts or too many texts, showing heavy interest in certain bins (“Fly Guy” and “Animals”) but hardly looking at other bins. Many students just wandered the classroom, either alone or following a friend around. Yikes! I knew right away I had to pull back. Students were overwhelmed and confused. I had given them too much too soon. Slowing down and releasing the library to them in increments, a gradual release, was what I needed to do.
I was introduced to the gradual release of responsibility framework by Pearson and Gallagher, when studying reading instruction in graduate school, but have found that I can use the framework throughout my day. Introducing and teaching my library is no exception. Using the framework to guide my lessons, I teach my class book-choice skills and the logistics of how to use my library with just a portion of my classroom library. I model these expected behaviors, and then open additional sections of my class library, giving the responsibility of book choice and book care to my students.
My main library is the anchor of my classroom and the first that I open to students. This area is centrally located in the back of the classroom. It is a clearly defined area, so students don’t get confused with other mini-libraries throughout my room. When introducing the library at the beginning of the year, I go over how to put books in the bins (some of the shelves are a tight fit), tell them about the labeling system so that they know what books go in what bins, and introduce the topics/genres, making a big deal of all my favorites. This is an exciting day, because students are excited about diving into the books. After I teach this lesson, I give them time to explore the bins and find out about all the great titles. As they are exploring, I’m helping students find what they are interested in, giving pointers for getting into the hard-to-maneuver bins, and giving mini book talks about particular titles (and bins) to add excitement.
This main library is what we use during independent reading as students build reading stamina and take on the responsibility for book choice and library care. I feature book bins from this library during the first months of school in several different ways so that students know what is available to them, particularly in the general fiction bins, as these bins are often overlooked and undervalued.
- Circle Book Pass: In community circle, I give each child a book to look through and then have them pass the books along the circle every minute. After a few minutes of reading and passing, I might have students share what they notice about all of the books and/or share which books they are excited about reading.
- Arrival Reading: I put a bin on each table group in the morning for students to look through when they arrive at school.
- Book Talks: I give lots of book talks about the different books in the bins throughout the first weeks of school.
- Read-Alouds: I read aloud a lot. Read-aloud books are strategically chosen from different bins.
Since I start with just the main library, I’m able to give a lot of assistance to help make book choice and library care part of the culture of my classroom. Spending time building these skills means that when I introduce and open other mini-libraries, I’m able to focus on the content of the library and students are ready to locate texts of interest.
Author Study Bins
In the first week of school I start our first author study. I introduce the author and read a book by him or her each day after lunch recess. As we get further into the month, students are able to predict and expect certain things from this author. At the end of the month, I move the author books from the display cart to a bin at the front of the classroom.
We write up what we have learned about the author and post it above the bin of author books. Each month we add a bin so that by the end of the year there are 10-11 book bins in this mini-library.
Instead of an author study in November, I read series books. Inspired by Katie DiCesare’s series study, we notice and define characteristics of series books, make a big chart, and explore series books during reading workshop. At the end of this study I open the mini-library of series bins. Students have walked by this bookshelf since September and have been introduced to series in these bins throughout the month during our study.
In addition to our series books, I have invested in little leveled readers. I have collected the Danny series (Mary Ruth books), and the Bella & Rosie, Jack & Daisy, and Oliver series (all from Pioneer Valley) as well as other leveled little books. I stress to students that these books are in this library because of their size, not level. I read them aloud just as I do books in every other part of my room so that by the time this library opens, students are clamoring for these books just as they are for all the trade books around the room.
Of course there are many other places where books are displayed, including the window bench, display carts, and book bins scattered around the room, but the main library and these three mini-libraries are the anchors for my students to access books that they love reading. By the end of the first trimester almost my entire library is open, and students are using it with care and intention.