Part 2 – The Classroom Library: If you Build it They Will Come

Part 2 of The Independent Reading Series

Recently, flipping through the TV channels, I came across the movie Field of Dreams. Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner) listened to the voices in his head and built a baseball field in the middle of a cornfield. And the players came. In this same vein, I want to become the voice in your head: If you build it they will come.

I’m referring to classroom libraries. One of the foundations of every great literacy and language arts class is independent reading and creating a love of reading. We know the power that independent reading can have on students’ vocabulary development, fluency, stamina, and understanding of language conventions.

The key to creating a text-based culture in our classrooms is to surround students with wonderful texts and then help them figure out which ones they are drawn to as readers. As a former literacy teacher, I taught a reading intervention class. My job was to support students to grow in their reading skills. The general target for readers who were reading below grade level was to get them to attain two years growth in one year’s time. My class was primarily filled with reluctant readers—and many were self-proclaimed reading “haters.” They were all below the ninth grade reading level by two years (according to a Lexile measure and MAP test).

My budget was limited, and I would often get asked which “program” I was using or was planning to use. I explained that I didn’t use or want a program. I wanted books…lots of books. I had taken a few classes in adolescent literature and had a foundational list of books I wanted. But that was certainly not enough. I scoured websites to see the “best of the best” book lists.

Here are a few current “Best of the Best” lists.

2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults - YALSA

Best Books for Young Adults – YALSA

Best Fiction for Young Adults – YALSA

100 Young Adult Books to Read in a Lifetime

Young Adult Book Lists – Goodreads

The 100 best Young Adult Books of All Time – TIME

My class was also full of boys. I needed to find books that interested them across a variety of categories: sports books, fantasy novels, science fiction, humorous books, and video game books.

Best Books for Teen Boys – Goodreads

Don Calame's top 10 funny teen boy books

Popular Teen Sports Books – Goodreads

List of books based on video games – Wikipedia

Popular Teen Fantasy Books – Goodreads (also for girls)

Popular Teen Science Fiction – Amazon (also for girls)

I also had student who were reading as low as a second grade reading level. While low-level books for teens are more difficult to fine, they are out there. I finally found the best series: The Blueford Series. I couldn’t keep these on the shelf, and they are inexpensive (actually cheap). If a book disappeared, it was no big deal.

The Bluford Series

Here are a few more great resources for reluctant readers with lower reading levels.

Orca Soundings

2012 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Readers

Organizing the Library

Teachers spend way too much of their own time organizing their libraries. STOP! Get some bins (I like to get mine at any of the dollar stores), salvage some shelves from that random storage closet everyone forgot about or go to a garage sale.

Then, lay out all of the books. Have students sort and organize them. This is a great way for them to check out book titles and see the wide range of books available. I generally had very few categories: mysteries, sports books, fantasy, science fiction, or adventure books.

Have the “best of the best” books displayed around the room—covers facing out so they are visible. While we all want to pretend that it is what’s on the inside that counts, the cover of the book draws in readers.

Without a nice classroom library, students will continue to get stuck. They will struggle to find something that fits their interests. You want to be able to send a student to a bin of books in his or her interest areas as soon as he or she abandons a book. Students are terrific at self-selecting a book that they can access and enjoy. Remember: If you build it they will come.