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Part 2 – The Classroom Library — If You Build It, They Will Come

By July 18, 2015 February 8th, 2018 No Comments

Part II of The Independent Reading Series
The Classroom Library — If You Build It, They Will Come

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’d like to become the voice in your head: If you build it they will come.

I’m referring to a classroom library. One of the foundations of every great literacy and language arts class is creating a love of reading through independent 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 draw them 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 the 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.

carnival at bray book cover

One of the Top 10 Best Fiction for Young Adults (YALSA).

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, fantasy, science fiction, humor, and gaming.

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 students 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.bluford book cover

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 – YALSA

 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: sports books, fantasy, science fiction, romance, 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 robust 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.

Here are some Ideas that the fourth grade teachers in Thompson School District shared with us, for how they’ve built their classroom libraries.

  • Scholastic book points
  • Scholastic $ books
  • Garage sales
  • Used book stores
  • Flea markets
  • Scholastic big book packs
  • com donations
  • Personal donations (books my kids outgrew)
  • “Friends of the Library” book sale—multiple towns!
  • Parents–we ask for them
  • Christmas presents from students’ families
  • Book Fair—teachers fill out requests and students “buy” for the classroom
  • org
  • ARC/Goodwill
  • Retired teacher gifts
  • Barnes & Noble Night

Join us next week for the continued series on independent reading:

Part I: The Power of Independent Reading

Part II: Building a Classroom Library—If You Build It, They Will Come

Part III: Independent Means Independent—The Importance of Student Choice

Part IV: The Importance of Series Reading

Part V: Independent Reading—The Foundation of Vocabulary Instruction