I started out last fall with all my classroom library books organized alphabetically by author. I figured since the libraries do it that way, it would be great practice for students to use the same method in my classroom. It was a great idea, until I was met with swarms of kids looking for good books and not able to find anything they "liked". It occurred to me that the system works in libraries because of electronic card catalogues (duh!). I had no such catalogue for my collection of several hundred novels and picture books. I decided to have a few of my brainier students sort them into genres and voila, my library was suddenly MUCH more useful.
This year I tried something new. I liked how the books were organized by genre – it made it much easier for kids to browse and find something they were likely to read. But I wasn't sure how many of my kids really knew what books were considered for each genre. The first week of the school year I planned a book sort/genre lesson. My plan worked wonders. I not only got my books re-organized into genres baskets my students created, but we now have a comprehensive list of several genres, their characteristics, and examples of each in our readers' notebooks, wall art consisting of posters of several genres, key words that describe each, and examples of texts. And as an added bonus, my students got a truly in-depth look at the books that are available to them in my classroom. Usually they would see several bookcases crammed with baskets and not know what was really in them unless they pulled out a basket to skim through it.
At the start of the period I asked my students to take three minutes and make a list with their groups of any genres they could think of. Then, they wrote for five minutes about their favorite genre (or two) and why they liked that genre. I also encouraged them to write the names of a few books that fall into that category. To aid their brainstorming process, I gave them a sheet with categories to work from.
Coming back together for a whole class discussion, we made a list of all the brainstormed types of books, and I added a few of my own. Using a note sheet that my friend and colleague created, we talked as a whole class about several different genres and completed the notes on each. The students chose which genres we wrote about in our notes. You can access the brainstorming notetaking form by clicking here.
I concentrated on eight genres per class, with the idea that we will keep adding genres as a class throughout the year. I encouraged my kids to use colored pencils in their notes with the hope that they would remember each genre better through color association. Finally, with the eight genres we had listed, I wrote them on paper and put them in a hat. One student went around to each of my eight table groups and had them choose a "genre". The chosen genre was their poster topic. I passed around sheets of 14×17 paper, I had the criteria for the posters magnified on the front screen, and away they went. As they were working, I piled a bunch of random books on their tables. They were to use these books to find examples of their genre to add titles to the posters.
The Next Day
When the posters were completed, each group presented their genre (three minutes maximum for presentations) to the class and ceremoniously taped their respective masterpieces to the wall. In addition, eight students were recruited to create a book basket sign for each of the eight genres. Their peers went to the piles of books on their desks and began sorting! They searched for books that would fit into each of the eight genres. If a book didn't fit in any basket (let's face it, there are more than eight genres) they were to set it aside.
I am fortunate as a middle school teacher to have three classes of 6th graders. In each of my classes the genres chosen varied a bit, so instead of only eight book basket signs, there were really 24. Even though some did repeat, those were the ones where I needed more than one basket for that genre anyway. As for the books which never found a home last week – well, that just means it's another genre lesson for next week. Perhaps it won't be as in depth, but it will be a nice discussion. The lesson was so fun I just know this is what I will do every year. The kids enjoyed it, and there was so much spontaneous talk about good books ("oh I read this! It was sooooo good"; "Woah! Look at the cover of this book. . ."). It was one of those days when you know you're doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing with your teaching and students, and you never want to stop.