Enhancing Literacy Skills: Building Your Elementary Classroom Library

Oct 23, 2023
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In today’s always-online world, text is everywhere. From the label on your cereal box to the captions on your Instagram feed. This makes literacy skills an absolute necessity. Now more than ever, it’s critical that we teach our children not just how to read, but how to quickly and accurately process and understand different reading materials and draw meaning from what they are reading.

It’s long been accepted that the best way to develop literacy skills in young readers is to simply get them reading. For teachers, building your own classroom library to supplement scheduled trips to your school’s library is a great way to encourage kids to look for books that interest them, explore new topics, and become proficient, independent readers. Here are six tips to help you create a top-notch classroom library so your bookworms can eat up some great reads!

1. Build Your Library Around Your Readers

The best way to get your students interested in the books you put in your classroom library is by letting them choose what’s there! During class, ask your students to write down their top three favorite authors or books on a scrap of paper and turn it into you. For younger students, have a discussion about things that interest them and pay attention to what they gravitate toward on your next class trip to the school library. Now you’ve got your shopping list!

Money to fund your own personal library might be hard to come by, so check out your favorite local book store or other online retailers for great deals on used books. Garage sales and local thrift stores are another option for book bargain-hunting. Second-hand stores will often donate books to schools as well. See if there are any in your area that you can take advantage of.

You can also offer extra credit to kids who bring in their own used books as donations to your classroom library. If you end up with books that aren’t at an appropriate level for your readers, you can re-donate the books to other teachers in your school, drop them off at your local charity, or (if they are in really bad shape) recycle them.

Book recommendations:

1. Our Class Is a Family by Shannon Olsen

In this book, students learn that their classroom is a place where it's safe to be themselves, it's OK to make mistakes, and it's important to be a friend to others. When hearing this story being read aloud by their teacher, students are sure to feel like they are part of a special family.

2. The Magical Yet by Angel DiTerlizzi

The Magical Yet is the perfect tool for parents and educators to turn a negative into a positive when helping children cope with the inevitable difficult learning moments we all face. This encouraging and uplifting book reminds us all—children and adults alike—that we have things we haven't learned—yet! This book explores not knowing something and welcoming the “yet.”

3. The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds

Vashti’s art teacher encourages her to make a mark to see where it takes her. Despite having no drawing talent, that one little dot marks the beginning of her journey of surprise and self-discovery. That special moment is the core of Peter H. Reynolds’ delicate fable about the creative spirit in all of us.

4. You Matter by Christian Robinson

In this full, bright, and beautiful picture book, many different perspectives around the world are deftly and empathetically explored—including a pair of birdwatchers and the pigeons they’re feeding. Young readers will be drawn into the luminous illustrations inviting them to engage with the world in a new way to see how everyone is connected and to find that everyone matters.

5. Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña

This story of CJ’s weekly bus ride with his grandma across town is an inclusive ode to kindness, empathy, gratitude, and finding joy in unexpected places. It celebrates the special bond between a curious young boy and his loving grandmother.

6. We’re All Wonders by R. Palacio

Inspired by the author’s own book for older ages, Wonder (which was adapted into a popular movie), We’re All Wonders is Auggie’s story from his point of view, and it taps into all children’s longing to belong and to be seen for who they truly are. It’s the perfect way for families and educators to talk about empathy and kindness with young children.

7. The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes by Mark Pett and Gary Rubinstein

Beatrice Bottomwell had never made a mistake, but one day, the inevitable happens: Beatrice makes a huge mistake in front of everyone. The perfect introduction to growth mindset, The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes is a book about accepting that mistakes happen, learning to move past them, and avoiding unnecessary worry.

2. Make The Library a Happy Place

While you may not have the space in your busy classroom to build the Library of Congress, you can still make your classroom library a cozy and appealing space for your students. Don’t be afraid to get crafty with your bookshelves and paint them soothing colors or patterns.

Roll out a comfy rug to define the space, and make it easier for students to browse by grouping books by genre or author. Find a couple of big pillows or soft chairs for students who want to read in your ‘book nook.’ Just make sure your class knows the library is for reading, not napping!

Need some inspiration? Check out these classroom DIY ideas!

3. Leverage Digital Literacy Solutions

The world has gone digital, so don’t be afraid to take your classroom library into the digital realm, too. Online programs can be a great way to offer your students access to a broader range of engaging and appropriately-leveled reading materials, as well as resources to help students practice key literacy skills.

4. Pair Reading With Rewards

Reading logs are a great way to make use of your classroom library. Not only will they help you make sure your students are reading outside the classroom, they’ll also get parents more involved. By encouraging students to keep a weekly reading log where students track what they’ve read and the amount of time they spent reading, you’re getting everyone more engaged developing literacy skills. Just make sure it doesn't feel like extra work!

Offering prizes to your students, like coupons for nearby restaurants, small toys or treats, or even extra credit points adds incentive for kids to remember to read when they are at home. For a more budget-friendly option, check out local businesses such as pizza places and theme parks that may already have reading programs in place that you can leverage for your students. Check out these free printables from Edmentum! The bookmarks include pre-made reading logs and get started right away.

5. Assign Book Reports

Nothing beats the classic book report. It’s a great way to make reading a class-wide participation experience, and challenge students to read for deeper comprehension. Have all of your students select a book from the classroom library to read and present a book report on. You may run into some trouble making sure your tech-savvy students don’t just scour the web for summaries instead of actually reading their pick, but this is easily remedied.

Come up with unique and personal questions to ask your students to discuss in their reports: How did they feel about the main character of their book? How does this book compare to something else they’ve read recently? Were they surprised by the ending? Give each student time to present their book report to the class, and encourage students to read the books they find interesting. There are plenty of other creative book report ideas that skip the craft store.

6. Host Classroom Book Exchanges

Most people consider reading to be a solitary activity, but the sharing of stories is actually one of the oldest social activities on earth. Have your students participate in a classroom book exchange to help turn reading into a fun “get to know me” activity. Ask each student to bring in a book to lend to your classroom library. Then, have each student choose a title (help them find one at the appropriate level) and give them a deadline as to when they should have completed reading that book.

Once the deadline has passed, and you are sure everyone has actually read their book have your students pick a partner in the class to exchange books with. After reading, have the students meet up again and discuss what they both thought about the book. You could even have them do a group project together, like presenting a Venn-diagram to the class about the differences and similarities about each book, or creating a story board to describe their book’s plot and characters.

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