Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

How a Leveled Classroom Library Benefits Students and Families

By Dr. Geraldine Haggard, Reading Recovery Teacher Leader, Guest Blogger

There are several ways that a classroom library can serve students as they learn about books and develop a love of reading. Reading can become a comfortable, fun activity with access to books organized in tubs, shelves, bookracks, and even in digital formats, and students can learn to select and care for books that interest them. Keep reading to find out how to make sure your classroom library meets students' needs and learn the impact your leveled classroom library can have on other teachers, school administrators, and families.

Teachers can use a range of books from their classroom libraries for group learning, guided reading activities, facilitating good reading habits, and preparing for national and state testing. Modeling guided reading strategies helps ensure that they are part of students’ lifelong reading toolboxes. After these books are used in guided reading groups, they can be housed in a leveled classroom library. 

Children love narrative texts and informational books about animals, but they also need to see themselves and their experiences depicted in books they read. Seeing family and community settings that are familiar is important for readers of diverse cultural backgrounds. If students are grappling with the turmoil of being bullied, teachers can direct them to books in the classroom library with a focus on bullying, which can expose them to coping mechanisms.

Feeling good about helping others and working together can also be addressed with the help of a book, such as Teamwork  from Fables & the Real World. After hearing the teacher read, students can discuss the book. Students may even make recommendations to their peers about books they liked. These are some ways to address emotional needs of students who may be struggling readers.

It's good to present students with a wide variety of book formats; you'll want to include new and gently used big books, chapter books, graphic novels, series books, hardcover books, and paperback books. Texts written by students, children’s magazines, and comic books are all additional possibilities to consider. Some teachers also provide a small listening center in the classroom library with a computer nearby if they opt for books on tape. It is important that the instructional reading levels are color coded so both struggling and capable readers can select books that are at their independent reading levels. More capable students will also have choices to read books at their independent reading levels. There should be a balance of nonfiction and fiction books on display. 

The library choices can boost the children’s desire to read, complement guided reading, and provide research material for content areas. Most important is that time for reading must be provided. I taught fourth grade for several years, and there was a student who was always asking to go see the nurse. The nurse told me that the child always brought a book and read on the cot in her office. As a teacher, I realized I had motivated reading, but I had not provided time for it!

The number of words read and the amount of reading time are important in the development of readers. Research studies have indicated that students who are provided opportunities to have more time reading books at their independent level, and of their choice, demonstrate greater growth in reading and writing.

Children become excited and gain confidence as language arts and content-area literacy are combined. The use of reading material with content-area studies can help improve vocabulary for students who experience greater challenges. The Hameray catalog supplies many titles for science and social studies instruction at various guided reading levels. The catalog also contains paired texts of fiction and nonfiction books for kids. This is another feature to consider for your classroom library.

There are some necessary preparation activities to complete as the library gradually becomes part of the classroom. Mini-lessons on the uses of the library can be used with the whole class. These mini-lessons can help students understand the purposes of the library while they learn to use its different parts. Learning how to arrange books, how to be good library users, and even how to help with the library is essential for students. The teacher’s guidelines for the use of the library should be displayed. The success of the library will be based in a significant way upon the early and continued use of these activities for the children.

The use of oral language and growing vocabularies are the basic foundations of reading and writing. A large number of low-level books is needed by some children to access background knowledge, speaking vocabularies, and decoding strategies, as well as understand print concepts. Some students may be ready to jump immediately into more difficult leveled readers. Teachers can set goals for individual students and groups of students, and they can supplement instruction and practice time with the classroom library.

In my twelve years as a district’s Reading Recovery Teacher Leader, I helped a huge number of Reading Recovery teachers set up classroom libraries. Many of them were in the classroom for half of the day and set up a classroom library for the students they served in that setting. The other classroom teachers sensed the excitement among the children once they had access to this new resource. Organizing these libraries became a part of in-service programs within the school and district.

Principals and librarians became involved by finding ways to share books and obtain new books. Teachers and principals found ways to involve family volunteers in setting up and organizing these leveled classroom libraries. Teachers who already had their libraries helped train other teachers. Parent groups used book fairs to obtain new and gently used books. Some student councils developed book drives, and retired teachers donated books from their previous teaching assignments.

When teachers spoke with parents at conferences, parents often shared that they realized the importance not only of the child reading at home, but also of the books being at their children's reading level. This resulted in some parents gifting their child's class library with a book on their child’s birthday. The district can now boast that all elementary classrooms have class libraries. Some middle schools are also joining the movement.

Setting up such a library is a challenge and takes time. It does not have to be completed overnight. It will continue to grow and change as you use it. This is not an easy task, but the benefits are irreplaceable in each phase of students' literacy development.

Be sure to return to this blog for more helpful tips and guidance!

Dr. Geraldine Haggard is a retired teacher, Reading Recovery Teacher Leader, author, and university teacher. She spent thirty-seven years in the Plano, TX school system. She currently tutors, chairs a committee that gifts books to low-income students, teaches in her church, and serves as a facilitator in a program for grieving children. If you like what you read here, you can enjoy more from Dr. Haggard elsewhere on our blog.