July 31, 2014

"Let's Have Some Fun!" Linky

I'm linking up with Sally from Elementary Matters in her "Let's Have Some Fun!" linky party. As we're all working hard to get ready for the new school year, let's remember to not get too caught up in the rush, and include a little (or a lot!) of fun in the classroom.

http://www.elementarymatters.com/2014/07/lets-have-some-fun.html


Here's how our linky works: first I'll share a FUNNY "school" story, and then I'll share a FUN product of mine. Let's do it.

(Names have been changed to protect the… guilty.)
So I was walking my students to lunch, single file line and all. I notice Jimmy chatting it up with a buddy. From the front of the line I wave him down and give him the Can-we-please-just-get-to-lunch-before-we-begin-our-very-loud-conversations? look. You know the one. Squinty eyebrows. Clenched jaw.

I thought he caught my drift, but wouldn’t you know it, a little further down the hall ol’ Jimmy had found someone else to chat it up with. I waited until we reached the cafeteria and let all the other students pass. When Jimmy walked by, I tugged him out of line, so we could have our own little chat right there in the hallway.

Now Jimmy has a good heart. He looked surprised, dumbfounded, clueless. And scared. “Let’s talk, Jim.” And just as the tears began welling up, I knelt down on one knee and put my hand on his shoulder. I thought I might get through to him a little better if I was on his level. What he did next surprised me. 

Jimmy proceeded to also get down on one knee and put his hand on my shoulder as well. There we were, a two-person huddle in the middle of the hallway, looking like we were having a pre-lunch prayer. He looked up at me and started shaking his head at himself, while patting me on the shoulder. “I’m sorry, Mr. Friermood. I’m real sorry,” he says before I even begin.

And even though I knew he probably had no idea what he was apologizing for, I couldn’t say anything but, “It’s okay, Jimmy. Now get up and go have a good lunch.”

Oh, Jimmy. What a funny memory!

*  *  *

My fun product I thought I'd share is my "BACK TO SCHOOL 'Get to Know You' Activities: Fun & Fresh!" There are seven activities in the pack, and are designed for grades 3 through 5. 


A couple of my favorite activities within the pack are the "Who Am I?" poster with open-the-flap clues about the student, and "A Maze of New Friends" where students must "unlock" the doors in a maze by finding classmates who fit the clues.


Feel free to check it out! You can save 28% on this and ALL my products during the HUGE Teachers Pay Teachers Back-to-School Sale on August 4th and 5th. Just used promo code BTS14 for the extra discount.


http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Michael-Friermood


Thanks for stopping by!

How I STOCK My Classroom Library [Part Three in the Classroom Library Series]

Let's get to the heart of a classroom library... the books. You can have the most inviting arrangement and streamlined organization, but without enough good books, it's all just a pretty facade, isn't it? But we all have to start somewhere, so let me share with you how I've stocked my classroom library and some of my thinking behind it.

When Quantity Comes Before Quality

Whoa, was that a typo? No, but let me explain what I mean. For a beginning teacher, especially one on a tight budget, it can be stressful to know how you want to set up your classroom library but without the sheer number of books needed to stock it. I've been there. And there is no shame in having some "filler books."

Imagine a sliding scale of quality when it comes to a children's book. Let's think of a "1" like a nonfiction book written in 1998 about the world wide web; and we'll think of a "10" like a just-released, last-in-the-trilogy book from a favorite author. Now, a first year teacher probably needs to accept books as low as a 3, maybe a 2 if she/he is really low on books. But after a couple of years, let's raise our standard to a 5, and when we feel like we have an established library, maybe a book needs to be like a 7 for us to buy it, and all of a sudden, quantity has taken a back seat to quality. And all is right with the world again.

So don't be afraid to grab anything and everything you can in order to get your library started.

Weeding and Sowing

There came a point where I shifted my thinking about the books in my library. I started noticing that whenever I found a little treasure of a book somewhere and bought it for my classroom, the thought of, "How will my kids ever even notice this book?" came in my head. That was when I decided to start weeding out some of my books. I'd look for three types of books to weed:
  • books that were extremely low or extremely high in reading level relative to my grade level
  • books that looked outdated or just boring
  • books that were falling apart
And as I add new books and "sow" in new collections of authors and series and topics, my library's standard of quality and relevancy rises.


Stacks vs. Singles

After my inventory grew to a point where it could have gotten the label, "established," I began to realize a couple of patterns I was forming in how I was accumulating books. I wasn't really trying to be all strategic about it, but what I noticed was this:

I build up my series, author, and award winner collections by the STACK. This isn't always easy, but whenever possible, I load up on these books. These are the types of books that I already know we like and I can bank on being of high quality because of past experience with the categories.

I build up my picture book, (noncategorized) chapter book, and nonfiction book collections with SINGLES. This wasn't always the case. If someone set up a table right outside my classroom with a thousand books on it, I used to peek in both directions, and then hoard as much as I could carry. But now-a-days, I try to be a little choosier and pick out just the gems. I really try hard to find high-quality nonfiction books, especially ones with lots of photographs, text features, and engaging text. I now know that these special books are almost never a dime-a-dozen, so I pick one up whenever I can.

My Sources for Books

What follows is a list of my book sources, with some fun (and sometimes informative) notes. Just to put it out there, I'm not getting paid to mention anyone or anything here.

Scholastic Bonus Points and Coupons
Using Scholastic book orders is like extreme couponing. I rack up bonus points from my student purchases, especially during the back-to-school months when the points are doubled or tripled. I look for the "Spend $20, Get $10 free" monthly coupons and the random "100 free bonus points" coupons, too. It takes a little time to get the most bang for your buck (bad choice of expression here because you may not even have to spend a real buck) but it can be worth it for how many books you can get. I've been doing the online parent ordering for a couple of years now, which makes the whole process quite a bit easier for me and for the parents.

Half-Price Books (or other discount book stores)
I love Half-Price Books. The two stores that I've shopped at have huge children's sections, as well as a $1-and-under bookcase, which if you're willing to hunt through, you can always find a stack of books. Last year, my wife, who teaches first grade, and I were both up for the hunt. Unfortunately, our three daughters were not. After a few stares from other shoppers, repeated whisper-scolding, and several "just-hold-on-for-two-more-minutes-girls," we checked out with a shorter stack than normal.

Public Library Sales
I live near a pretty huge public library. They have a book sale each fall and spring where they clear out part of their stock. It is AWESOME.  First of all, the books are the library-bound editions, so they last a long time (even the ones that are being sold because of damage usually aren't too bad). And second of all, the books are cheap. There are two best times to go to a library sale: at the beginning and at the end. At ours, you want to go at the beginning to have the best selection and to scout. The prices are good (but I know they're going to get even better the second day) so I'll buy a few must-haves and then come back towards the end of the sale because that's when the closeout deals really happen. It's usually like a "Fill Your Bag for $5" kind of thing. You've never seen a bag crammed so tight with books as mine.

Goodwill (or other second-hand stores)
Did you know Goodwill has a book section? Their children's book section can be a goldmine for teachers. At the store near us, paperbacks are 69 cents each, and if I go on the first Saturday of the month, everything in the store is half price, so we're talking THREE books for a BUCK, people!

Garage Sales
Make good use of your time and wait for the neighborhood sales. And then bring the van because you can really haul it in. It depends on the seller, of course, but I find garage sale books at 25 cents and even 10 cents a pop. And when you show the healthy stack of books to the lady in the lawn chair, don't be afraid to ask for some sort of bulk discount. Remember, they want to get rid of this stuff.

Online Used Book Sellers
Many sites sell used books and have huge inventories with hundreds of independent sellers. I can usually find what I'm looking for, but that's one of the downsides here. You really need to know what you are looking for. I have a hard time browsing at these sites. The other downside is the price. It's been a few years since I've purchased used books online. When I did, I remember paying less than a dollar for each book, but then having to pay $3-$4 for shipping, per book. I did a little research recently, and it seems that a total price (including shipping fees) of $4 per book is about average. I found a couple of sites that could beat that:
  • Abe Books: What's nice here is that you can sort your search results by "lowest total price," so you don't have to worry about hidden shipping fees. My searches for a sampling of  picture books and chapter books seemed to average between $3.00 and $3.50 per book.
  • Thrift Books: Prices here start at $2.99 (but most books seem to be between $3.00 and $4.00). Free shipping within the U.S., and you get 50 cents off the additional books you buy from the same individual seller.

My Own School Library
Ask any seasoned teacher who a new teacher should become friends with at school, and the third place answer, coming right after the custodian and the secretary, is the school librarian.

Mine, who just retired at the end of last year, is an enormous wealth of book-knowledge, and stayed very much "on trend" with books for our library, which in turn worked out well for us teachers (Do you see where I'm heading with this?) when she would roll the "free books" cart down to the work room, loaded with the books she's getting rid of in order to make room for her new ones. I'll take a good librarian's leftovers any day. This is also the best source for magazines. Yes, they are prior-year issues, but that doesn't bother me a bit.

My librarian probably didn't know this, but some of my walk-throughs into the library's "back room" were to say hello, yes, but also to keep an eye out for that "free books" cart being loaded up so I could get first dibs.

Donations
I don't do this every year, and it may or may not be appropriate for the population of students you have, but it can be fun to request (in an "optional" sort of way) families to donate a book to the classroom library. I like to allow the students to share with the class the title of the book being donated and why our class would like it. I then like to put a label inside the book that tells who gave it to our library. (Click HERE for a copy of the labels you see below.) And don't be surprised if some students (especially the "youngest-child" students) bring in a whole bag of books.

https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B5ePvBTfGoXfcVRXVXNDblRlazg/edit

Be the Diligent Middleman

In a way, you are the middleman between the book sources and your students' hands. For me, it's not a job that ends. I'm always jotting down specific topics my current students are interested in, or a new series a child brings in from home. I'm paying attention to who writes the really good books I read aloud, and am on the lookout for more of those authors' books. I'm keeping my eyes peeled for engaging, high-interest nonfiction books, and I'm constantly building personal little wishlists for my next bonus point redemption. 

I'm trying to keep from having a static collection that only accumulates dust. Instead, by always looking for the next book, I'm shooting for a dynamic collection that accumulates readers.

*  *  *

I hope you're looking forward to the fourth part in the series, where I'll share my ideas and experiences about how I introduce the classroom library to my students during the first few weeks of school. In case you missed it, you can click HERE to go back to the introduction to this series.








July 24, 2014

How I ORGANIZE My Classroom Library [Part Two in the Classroom Library Series]

In my first few years of teaching, my classroom library sparkled on the day before the first day of school... every book in the proper place, facing the right direction, the corners all lined up. I'd put the last label on the last book and put my hands on my hips like a conquistador, thinking, I've done it this time. This is the year for an organized classroom library. 

Then the kids came.

And all heck broke loose.

Okay, I'm exaggerating a bit, maybe. But I'll tell 'ya what, I have gone through many "extreme makeovers" in how I organize the books (and other texts) in my classroom library. Only in the last few years have I been satisfied with my system enough to only make minor tweaks or additions. But I learned a lot in those early years about what works for my students and what works for me.

In Part One of this series of blog posts, I talked about arranging our classroom libraries, putting the pieces in place to create an inviting and purposeful area. Here in Part Two, I want to share how I organize the books within it.

For me, an organized classroom library, one that can remain organized, has four NEEDS:
  • It needs to be easy to browse for something interesting to read.
  • It needs to be easy to find something specific for which you are looking.
  • It needs to be easy to return a book to the correct place.
  • And last, and just as importantly, it needs back-up plans. In other words, it needs measures to fall back on when the first lines of "organizational" defense are broken, or ignored.

With these "needs" in mind, what follows is how I go about containing books, categorizing books, labeling books, and hmmm... leveling books?

Containing Books

I prefer to have every book in my classroom library belong to a container, as opposed to putting books directly onto bookshelves. I know what you're thinking: either, "Yes! I love containers too!" or "Hang on, isn't that an inefficient use of space?" I could definitely cram more books into a bookshelf if there weren't any buckets or tubs getting in the way, but I think the advantages to an abundance of containers outweigh the square footage they eat up.

The advantages? Physical separation of your categories, and mobility! You don't have to move every single book in order to rearrange or add something; you can just move the containers around. I think it also helps students browse, because with a container, especially a smaller one, they can remove it from the shelves and browse the books within it easily, without stressing out about keeping each individual book in place.

I teach third grade, so I have a large supply of both picture books and chapter books, which means I need different size containers. Here are the "basics" for my library:


Ice Cube Bins are cheap and great for chapter books (holds about 6-10). I use them for my chapter book series categories. I also use some to hold magazines, which work 'okay,' but magazine holders work better. Makes sense, I guess.
Plastic Shoe Boxes are also cheap and are great for early chapter book "readers," good for chapter books (you have to fill it pretty full for the books not to slide down), and 'okay' for picture books (they'd be better if the "walls" were taller). I use them for all of my nonfiction categories as well as my large-quantity series (e.g. Magic Tree House).
Large Storage Baskets are a little pricey but are very durable. Great for large quantities of picture books, or any other large-size texts, like atlases, comic books, and catalogs.
Small Storage Baskets are also a little pricey. Great for chapter books. I use them for my "partner books" chapter book category (more on that later).

These are clearly not the end-all-be-all of book holders. They have worked well for me, though. Before you buy something in bulk, make sure of a couple of things:
  • Will it fit into my bookshelves? 
  • Will it remain standing upright when books are inside of it? (Or will the whole thing tip over?)
  • Will it last more than one school year?
I also love finding unique ways to hold books. This is completely a personal-taste-thing, but I think a charming or unusual book container adds instant character to your whole library. It's like the stylish shoes you wear with blue jeans and a plain tee.

Before we move on, we should probably talk about the elephant in the room, right? You've noticed all of my green and blue book boxes in my photos, and you're wondering why I haven't included those in my list of "basics," since I have like, 40 of them. Well, I built those from scratch. So yes, they are an integral part of my basic book container collection, but no, you won't find them in a store. Sorry.

Categorizing Books

If you looked at each of my containers as a separate category, well, I have a LOT of categories. But the majority of my containers are really just a part of two categories: authors and series. For me, instead of having one basket of books by all of our favorite authors, I have a separate container for each favorite author (same thing for each series). When it comes to literature, a favorite author or a favorite series are the two most likely sources for the next book I read, so it makes sense to me to have a multitude of options for students in these two categories.

The remainder of my fiction is, in general, categorized by genre, like poetry, historical fiction, etc. My nonfiction books are categorized in a half-genre/half-topical way. My main categories are: Animals, Science, History, Sports, and Biography. (I'm currently debating whether I have enough books about math to add that category.)

What factors go into settling on a category?  I try to think about: the current interests of my students, if I have enough books to even constitute a category, and a bit of "quality control," although I tend to downplay this factor when it comes to a series. Yep, I have both Captain Underpants and Diary of a Wimpy Kid categories.

If you try to have a category for every single book in your entire library (and believe me, I've tried), it becomes frustrating, and expensive. It goes something like this... "Hmm, does this dinosaur book fit into my 'animals' bucket or my 'history' bucket? Ooooh, here's another dinosaur book. Well, why don't I just add a new category called, 'Dinosaurs.' Hmm, two books... welp, I better go buy some more dinosaur books to fill that bucket."

So after I overcame the rage the icky feeling of not having a category for every book, I just created a few catch-all containers. I have an "Other" category in my nonfiction bookcase, a rack of random chapter books, and two general picture book tubs ("Realistic Fiction" and "Fantasy") which I guess are technically categories, but when they're that big, they are more of a catch-all.

Below is a list of all my current categories, if you want to get all nitty gritty on me. You can click on the image to get a printer friendly copy.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5ePvBTfGoXfbkR3MjdhZFBTZW8/edit?usp=sharing

Partner Books
As my library grew, I fell into more and more duplicate copies of books. So I eventually created a whole separate category with these, called "Partner Books," where students will find two copies of the same book that they can read together. It is a hit!

Guilt-Free "Hands Off" Shelf
For the good of my future students, I have a shelf of books that I do not allow students to touch unless they personally ask to read a specific book. This shelf contains the books that I use in lessons or read alouds. I used to feel too guilty to do this, but it's the only way I (1) keep them all in one place, and (2) don't lose them, which would be sad for my future students.

Labeling Books

Labeling your books is highly dependent on your personality. Many teachers don't put any sort of label on their books, relying on students to return their books correctly without them. If that works for you, that is awesome. I prefer to label any book that fits into a category. While it takes some extra time, it has helped a lot with getting books back where they belong.

My general principle for labeling books is to make it as simple as possible for students, while keeping it simple for me. I use peel off 1" x 2 and 5/8" mailing labels for both containers and books. Because labels do not come cheap, I create them so I can get four book labels out of each one.

I print them out, cut apart all of the book labels, and store each type in a separate baggie. When I'm labeling a book, I:
1. find the right label and peel it,
2. stick it to the upper right corner of the book, and
3. cover the label with a piece of standard invisible tape.

For books belonging to a series category or an author category, the label only says "series" or "author," not the specific name. This GREATLY cuts down on how many types of labels I need. I rely on students' common sense to get the book to the correct author or series container. It's a similar situation for my nonfiction topics: each one has a different color of smiley-sticker, so I just add that sticker to the "nonfiction" book label.


To be a little more efficient, I keep a basket in my library area with all of my labels and supplies.


The image above on the right is our "Books to File" basket. This has been CRUCIAL to keeping the library organized. Instead of rolling my eyes and mumbling under my breath every time I'd find a book shoved into the wrong container, I created a non-judgmental "way out" for students who aren't sure where to return a book. Then periodically, my library helpers unload the basket and put the books away correctly. (More on this system in Part Four, when I introduce the library to students.)

Now this next idea I haven't tried yet, but I think it might help the students who come to me halfway through the year who tell me they have nothing to read. It's kind of like on Amazon, where the site will suggest other products based on your shopping history. I think I'll make a few of these little signs and post them on certain book containers. Maybe I could get suggestions from students too.

Don't forget to put your name in the books you own! I normally just write mine inside the front cover, but you can click HERE for a "classier look" that you can print onto labels.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5ePvBTfGoXfUU5LNjVrQnh0MzA/edit?usp=sharing
Simple Classroom Library Labels
And click on the image to the right for some editable labels, similar to what I've been talking about. You just print them on a sheet of labels. (Keep in mind, they're pretty simple-looking. WAY cuter labels are out there, especially for containers.)

Leveling Books?

To level or not to level, that is the question. For me, I have WAY too many other category and labeling things going on to also level all of my books. That's one reason why I don't put levels on my books.

The second reason is more about life. I'm trying to build real readers by building this classroom library, and part of being a real reader is knowing how to choose a good-fit book for yourself.

I did level all my chapter books during one of my very first years teaching. I know many, many teachers level their books, even categorizing their whole library based on books' reading levels, and run successful classroom libraries, but for me, it didn't work.

I felt like it was (1) narrowing the library too much for each child, and (2) changing how students went about finding books. Instead of looking for something interesting, their first instinct became looking at the level. I just wasn't comfortable with it. There's probably a better way to incorporate a leveling system into a classroom library than how I did it, but I think I'm in too deep now without it.

The key to not leveling your library is to put in the time teaching and modeling how to find good-fit books, and staying involved in the reading-life of each student. Easy? No. Rewarding? Oh yeah.

*    *    *

Now before you go jump in the deep end and redo your whole organizational system, first take some time to evaluate what is working and what isn't working. I hope you'll take a moment to comment below about the former. And I hope some things I've shared here can help you with the latter.

It doesn't really matter how many books you have in your classroom library if it's not organized well. But, I'll take a large organized library over a small organized library any day. So how does one accumulate books without emptying one's life savings? Be on the lookout for Part Three in my series, where I talk all about how I stock my classroom library.






July 17, 2014

How I ARRANGE My Classroom Library [Part One in the Classroom Library Series]

Arranging my classroom library is fun for me. I used to be an architecture major in college (you can read the drama of that story here), so I get a kick out of space-planning and design-y kinds of projects. I've learned a few things that work well for me when I go about arranging my classroom library from scratch. Being in six different classrooms has given me some practice.

I'm going to organize my thinking about classroom library arrangement into four areas: Purpose, Placement, Feel, and Extensions, and while there are definitely some overlapping concepts in there, this will at least help me feel like I'm not rambling. So let's dig in!

Purpose

I think it's helpful to identify the purpose for your classroom library. Besides being the location of books (duh), what else do you want it to be? For me, I try to have a balance of (1) space for traffic and (2) space for seating. I actually don't want to have too many spots to sit within the library area itself because I want students to feel like they can come in and have room to look for a book without tripping over anyone. Notice in the picture above that I have one table in the middle that students can sit around. In the past I've had a fold-up lounge chair (which is now in my daughter's bedroom) or an old bean bag chair (which is now in the trash), but not a whole lot else in the immediate area.
 
I also devote a bit of space in my library area to store carpet squares that students can take to other parts of the classroom. (One of my grade level teammates stopped by Home Depot one day and asked for old samples from their carpet department, and now we each have a half-dozen or so.) I have one shelf that I use to keep these stacked when not in use.

The amount of space with which you have to work will play a role in your thinking, and a lot of your decision rests in your personal preferences, but take some time to consider the purposes for your classroom library.

Placement

I know I'm pretty lucky to have a classroom large enough, and a class-size small enough, to have a rather spacious classroom library, without needing to worry too much about fitting all the student desks. Just in the last few years, I've set up three different classrooms, and when I look back, one of my first thoughts about a new room has always been, "Where am I going to put my classroom library?" (Followed by, "What am I going to do with these walls?" but that's another story.)  I guess what I'm trying to say is, I build around my library, as opposed to building around the student desks. This mindset has helped me prioritize my space for a healthy library.

When I'm trying to decide where to put my classroom library, the number one, most important, biggest difference-maker is... a corner. A corner defines an area. Whether it be one corner of your classroom or a corner you make yourself, that "L" shape creates a space in the angle of the two surfaces that meet, and that's what I'm looking for.
 
Create your own corner with a piece of furniture. A bookcase is the prime choice because it holds books too. Any size bookcase, even a small cheap one, will do the job.

Looking at a blank classroom wall.
A bookcase set against the wall perpendicularly creates an "L" shape.
Defining an area with a corner makes it easier to design a space.

Using a teacher desk to create a corner.
But a bookcase is not the only "corner-maker." Maybe you can't bring ANY outside furniture into your classroom. Fear not. Shove a teacher desk or a filing cabinet perpendicularly against a wall, and BOOM, you've created a corner.

Then where do you put the books, you ask? If you can't use a free-standing bookcase, and you have a lack of built-in shelving, a low cost, efficient, and dare I say, stylish, solution is to use plastic crates for the bulk of your book storage.

http://www.kmart.com/united-plastics-large-crate-clay/p-9990000034592611P
Plastic Crate (from K-Mart)
Filing Crates (or milk crates) become great make-shift bookcases, and normally don't fall in the furniture category. They are pretty cheap during back-to-school season and come in lots of bright colors.

Let's take this scenario further! Line the front of your teacher desk with two rows of crates, tying them together with zip-ties or string. Stand a few together on their ends to hold taller picture books. 


Take it even further by wrapping a wood board with foam and fabric and laying it across the top, and you have some seating too. You could really build your entire classroom library out of crates!


With my library, I use two corners to create a "U" shape, made from a corner of my room and a low bookcase with a couch behind it.


As you place your library and the pieces that define it, also consider where you will likely be during the times when students will be in the library area. I try to keep open sight-lines into my library from my guided reading table, as that is where I am often located.

Feel

Who doesn't want their classroom library to be inviting? I'm betting that's a word that most teachers would put on their wishlist of adjectives to describe their classroom library. It's definitely on mine.

How do you create the right feeling? I've tried lots of ways to make my library a place students want to visit. Defining the area goes a long way in itself, but other accessories can really give it the feel you want. I'm going to give you a lot of ideas now, and feel free to use any and all of them, but as you read through, be choosy. Keep in mind the overall theme and style of your classroom, and see what might coordinate with it.

Plants: A plant inside of an interesting container is one of my favorite things to put in my classroom library. Most of my plants are pothos philodendron plants (I'm pretty sure, at least), which is a common indoor house plant. I really enjoy sticking these plants inside of unique containers. (Be sure to drill a hole in the bottom and set the whole thing on a dish for drainage.) My favorite container in my classroom came from a former student who races midget-cars. One day he brought in the dented wheel off his car that he had crashed that weekend and gave it to me as a gift. Hmm, interesting, I thought. And now it holds a plant. (Sadly, no picture of it here.)

Plants from my classroom.

Lighting: A lamp reminds me more of a home than a school, so I love using them in my library area. Many schools don't allow lamps, but I've even used one just for "show," never even plugging it in, just setting it nearby for the look of it. Lantern lights or stringed patio-style lights give a cool feel too!

Comfort: Add some comfort to your library through texture and softness. Think about: tablecloths, rugs (bath rugs work great), bean bag chairs, carpet squares, curtains, and... pillows, maybe. Think carefully about how you use pillows. I've gone from having loads of them, to hardly having any now, mainly because of a couple of cases of lice. It just wasn't worth it. Sorry for the downer.

Art: I love putting artwork into my classroom library that has a "reading" theme. Putting something in a frame packs more punch than you may think. I'm not suggesting you buy expensive prints. Student artwork is perfect, partly because it's an original, and partly because the frame itself can play a big role in the overall look. Or try putting your printed library procedures in a unique, stand up picture-frame. It looks great! This summer I'm wanting to find a good deal on some of those large, 3-D letters, specifically the letters: R, E, A, and D.

Containers for Books: Later in the blog series, I'm going to go deep into the "practical" types of bins and tubs that we all need LOADS of for the bulk of our book collections, but can I just tell you, I LOVE finding something interesting to hold books. Unique book containers usually aren't advertised as things that hold books, but with a little re-purposing, you can add quite a bit of charm to your classroom library.

Before we move to our last section, I want to step back and help you look at more of a "big picture" view of your classroom library's feel. We teachers are always looking for a deal, right? (Did someone say dollar-spot at Target?) And when something comes cheap, we want to buy in bulk. Hey, I get it. But also try to keep an eye out for those one-of-a kind pieces that will add character to your space.

Be it a student drawing inside of a cool frame, a table from Goodwill that I spray paint a glossy white, the mug from my summer vacation in Colorado that now holds bookmarks, or the one chicken wire basket I buy at 50% off from Hobby Lobby that will hold a genre of books, it's the little touches that I slowly and selectively add over time that truly give an inviting feel to my library.

Extensions

Let's face it. Right now some of you are thinking, "Great. I love some of these ideas, but I literally just don't have enough space in my classroom library to use many of them." Anyone?

Well, if this is you, then I first want you to make that little space you do have into the most charming and most efficient space-using little library anybody ever saw. But then, I want you to think about giving your library some "extensions." (And frankly, I'm not hurting for space at all, and I have several extensions, so really, this is for all of us.) What I mean by an extension is a piece of the library that is placed in a different part of the classroom. Your main classroom library area becomes more of a base of operations, but you infiltrate other sections of your classroom with books.

If we go back to my classroom, I have several small vignettes set up around the room that contain books and other reading material. Some might display books about a certain topic, another might showcase a certain genre. These spots have the same feel and style as the main library area, but now I have all these interesting little book "moments" that give me even more space to hold books. In the picture below, all of the blue bubbles show my extensions.


Besides adding size to your classroom library (in a round-about sort of way), extending your library into other parts of your classroom has other benefits as well. First, it helps alleviate congestion in the main library area. And second, it has put even more of an overall emphasis on reading. Everywhere you look, there are books. How awesome is that?

*    *    *

So many factors go into arranging a classroom library, many that you might not even want to think about. I understand. I hope by sharing what I've done over the last few years, you might be able to improve your own classroom library arrangement. Or just as importantly, maybe I've helped affirm reasons you arranged your library the way you already have.

Please feel free to add your own arrangement ideas, both the successful and the not so successful, in the comments below. I'd love to hear from you, and I know that other readers will be glad to have the additional perspectives too!

Read the Introduction to the Classroom Library Series right HERE.

I'm looking forward to Part Two in my Classroom Library Series, where I'll dive into organization, including more about what I use to hold books, as well as how I categorize and label them. I've got some other tricks up my sleeve too, so stay tuned.






July 9, 2014

How To Make the Most of Your Classroom Library: A 5 Part Series


It took me about six years before I actually liked my classroom library. And it was important to me to like my classroom library, because if I didn't, who the heck else would? Certainly not my students.

But I’m a tinkerer by nature, so I’m betting you will beat six years, or maybe you already have. Each year I gave quite a bit of thought to my classroom library, trying to think about what would make it better. The classroom library is the most important place in my classroom, so I couldn't help but continue to make changes. And who am I kidding? I still tweak it here and there. 


But what was it that made my library cross over into the "ahhh-this-is-finally-working" zone after those six years? What did I like about it? Three things:

Functionality: It had to be organized in a way that students knew where to find and return books efficiently.
Character: It had to be a welcoming, interesting place to be.
The Ability to Last: It had to have enough books and enough ways to stay alive and running throughout the entire year.

My classroom library has been working well for a few years now. It's not perfect, that's for sure, and it's ever-changing, because of the books being added to it (or taken out), because of me never being satisfied, but mostly because of the students who interact with it.

I'd like to share with you my thoughts about classroom libraries by telling you all about mine. Along the way, I hope that you pick up a few tips and ideas for your own classroom library. I'm going to have five parts for you over the next few weeks:


Thanks for checking them out!

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