141: Setting up your ELA Classroom Library

Imagine a long wooden bookshelf in your living room, near a sunny window. Along the top there are five books, covers facing out, with a little sign that reads “Top Five English Teacher Favorites.” On the wall nearby are photos of your friends, holding up their favorite books and smiling. On the top shelf, in rainbow order, you see the ten most popular dystopia novels of the last few years. Next to that, the ten most popular travel books. Below, a display of Amanda Gorman’s poetry next to a photo of her reading her inauguration poem. You can’t believe your eyes when you see your favorite scifi – Asimov’s Foundation Series, Ender’s Game, and Dune. Suddenly you realize you want to reread them all. But then your eyes are drawn to the complete works of Elizabeth Acevedo, Jason Reynolds, and Angie Thomas.

Now you don’t know what to choose! You grab Ender’s Game and On The Come Up and sit down on the cozy couch near the bookshelf, happier than you’ve felt all day. A pile of bookmarks on the table next to you will help you mark your place AND give you recommendations for future reads. The posters on the wall above you read “Too many books? I think what you mean is, not enough bookshelves!” and “A Book can take you Anywhere you want to Go!”

What a lovely vision, don’t you think? Now, do you think you’re more likely to grab a book and start reading in this environment, or in one with no books?

In today’s episode, we’re talking about how to create a classroom library you (and your students!) will love.

You can listen in below, or on the podcast player of your choice. Let’s do it!

It all Starts with Books

When it comes to building a classroom library, it all start with the books. But don’t worry, that doesn’t mean you have to spend hundreds of dollars. There are lots of ways to build up your collection. It’s important to note though, that you don’t want just any books, you want the books that kids will want to read. Quality over quantity, for sure.

Start peeking in at library book sales, the Goodwill book shelves, and rummage sales. Put the word out to family and friends that you’re building a classroom library, in case they don’t like to hang onto everything they read.

If your school will let you, put up a Donors Choose project for your classroom library (use this handy guide for the best success with the platform). Or start an Amazon wishlist you can share with parents and community partners.

Then chat with your school librarian, if you have one. Many librarians are delighted to create an outpost in a classroom library, allowing kids to check books straight off your shelves. You can go through and pick your favorite titles, then showcase them on your shelves. Your school (or local) librarian can probably also help you obtain digital access for your students, using a platform like Sora, Libby, or Overdrive. Nothing wrong with adding a few digital shelves to your classroom library (learn more about how to do that in this post)!

Now, you may be thinking that this is going to be a slow process. Well, sure, but that’s OK. Start with what you can and build from there! As with so many valuable pursuits, the important thing is to begin.

How to Keep Track of Things

There are a lot of fancy schmancy ways to keep track of your library books. If you’re feeling techy, you can use the app Book Buddy, or the online program, Book Source. But it’s also perfectly fine to have a box of empty notecards where students can put their name and the book title they’re checking out, or a sign up sheet on the wall. You can even have them snap selfies of themselves with their chosen book on the class iPad, and then delete the photos when they return the books (or better yet, turn them into book recommendation posters if they loved their choice).

To help kids easily find books they’ll like, organize your library with genre labels. It won’t take long, and it will make re-shelving books quick and easy. You’ll also probably want a book return area – a simple labeled basket or crate will do nicely.

The Visual Elements

When it comes to a classroom library, think about how you can show COVERS OUT! It seems so simple, but it’s huge. Whenever you can, change up the books you have on display across the top of your shelves. Feature books for displays like “Banned Books Week,” “Spooky Reads,” “Student Favorites,” “The Best of YA,” “Starbooks,” etc.

Then see if you can pick up some old and varied frames at a thrift shop and spray paint them in a color you like. Fill them with fun reading-themed posters or photos of students with their favorite books. Grab all the ones I’ve made for you inside Camp Creative, and/or make your own using Canva.

Now, I know I’ve already given you a solid to-do list! But as long as you’re keeping your eyes open for frames and books at thrift stores and garage sales, you might as well add a couch or some big pillows or beanbags to your list. Having a bit of flexible seating near your bookshelves is huge, and you’ll see why the day you put it in.

In Review

Are you ready to get started? Are you fired up? (I am, but then, you know me!). Let’s walk back through the steps.

Begin with books. Share your wishlist and Donors Choose project near and far. Talk to friends and family. Meet with your librarian. Find out how to get your students free digital access to audio and electronic books.

Set up a simple system for keeping track of things. A system that you like.

Print genre labels for your library and start shelving your books. Add a book return basket. Add some posters with or without freshly spray-painted frames.

Boom! You’ve got a library! Sooooo exciting!

Remember, I’ll be sharing my top list of over 50 book recommendations, printable genre labels and book posters, tips for reading accountability, a done-for-you First Chapter Friday program, and more in my upcoming free PD, Camp Creative: Ignite your Choice Reading Program. So don’t forget to sign up!

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I'm Betsy

I’ll help you find the creative ELA strategies that will light up your classroom. Get ready for joyful teaching!

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