I'll admit it. I have a bit of an obsession with classroom libraries. I think it all began as a new teacher, and as a staff developer in classrooms where zero books were provided. I learned how to scrimp and save points, get donations, and shop yard sales to find books for my classroom, as well as my colleagues' classrooms. I made due with what I had, and learned how to keep a detailed wish list. I'm sure some of you know exactly what I'm talking about.
As part of the team of coauthors on the Units of Study for Teaching Reading (by Lucy Calkins, et al), I spent a lot of time studying classroom libraries to support young readers. In this series of posts, I hope to provide support with organizing beautiful, engaging classroom libraries to support units of study in teaching reading. Over the next several days, I'll lay out suggestions for each grade level (K-5), but I do want to say first that all of the books in the world cannot replace a great teacher. No matter how beautiful your classroom library is, you still need to model, daily, a love for books, and a passion for teaching reading. While having a great classroom library is incredibly helpful, there are ways to stretch the resources you have, make adaptations, and do a bang up job of it. I'll lay out goals to aim for, and together with your colleagues you can figure out what makes sense for your team.
Let's begin with kindergarten!
A kindergarten classroom library should be a place that inspires young children to fall in love with books and words. It needs to be inviting and child friendly. The library should be brimming with a range of text types, topics, and styles. Just like the children who use the library, the kindergarten classroom library will grow and change across the school year. At the start of the year, for example, the library will be chock full of books that are accessible to even the most emergent of emergent readers. Concept books, board books, emergent storybooks, small copies of books made by the children, and more will fill the baskets and shelves at the start of the year. As the year goes on, small copies of familiar big books, songs and poems, and eventually leveled books will find their way onto the shelves.
Unit 1: We Are Readers
This unit begins by offering student concept books, beautiful picture books (nonfiction and fiction), and other engaging texts for children to browse and look at. Concept books might include alphabet books, shape books, colors, opposites, counting books, and label books. Depending on how many books you have, you might put all of these into several bins in your library organized by text type, or you might be able to create a bin of these types of books for each table or group of children. Often people add in a few beautiful picture books for children to admire and study the pictures, and to storytell across the pages. The goal is to provide books that even a very emergent reader can pick up and enjoy without needing very much prior knowledge, and certainly not needing to know anything about letters and sounds.
In this unit, you'll also need multiple copies (ideally 4-6 copies) of emergent storybooks. These books are very important (see this post for details). These are books such as Caps for Sale, Three Billy Goats Gruff, and The Three Little Pigs. Many teachers mark these books with a star-shaped sticker and call them "star books" to distinguish them from other books in the library, and to make it possible for children to put the books back where they belong (in the baskets marked with stars, of course).
An easy way to manage and organize the star books is to create one basket of star books for each table or group of children, and fill each basket with a mix of star book titles. The baskets live on the shelves of your classroom library, and each day, at the start of reading workshop, a table captain for each group places a basket of star books on the tables for kids to share. Another way to go is for each child to have their very own book bin (or baggie) and for children (not adults) to select one or two star books for their own book bins each week.
Unit 2: Super Powers: Reading with Print Strategies
In this unit, children are beginning to develop strategies for attending to print, first in very familiar shared reading books that have been read again and again with support from their teacher and classmates, and eventually using less familiar (but still very predictable) patterned texts that have been introduced with quite a bit less scaffolding than the shared reading texts.
To support that work, an ideal classroom library would continue to hold the wonderful emergent texts and concept books from Unit 1, but would expand to include many small copies of the big books, songs, poems, and other shared texts that the children have read together as a class many times. Ideally, you will plan ahead for this, by gathering (or making) small copies of your big books from Day 1 of school, and by creating small versions of the charts and poems you have on chart paper. Ideally you would have set aside some time, every day, to read and reread big books, songs, and poems so that by the time you get to Unit 2, your kids have quite a repertoire of texts that you've worked on!
In addition to the copies of shared reading texts, you'll be introducing beginning leveled books to groups of children who are ready. This means, your classroom library could include baskets of leveled books (especially levels A & B). This doesn't mean you have to write a giant letter "A" and "B" on the front of all your leveled baskets. You might have one or two baskets marked with a level for convenience, but the majority of your leveled books could be organized by topics and interests. Many books at these early levels fall into several categories. Books about family, school, play/games, and food are common. Books about animals, vehicles/transportation, and toys are also fairly easy to find. Some publishers, such as Candlewick Press and Pioneer Valley, offer lovely little character series books, even at the earliest levels, so you might have baskets of characters, or even authors, as well.
Unit 3: Bigger Books, Bigger Reading Muscles
If you are moving into this unit, it means many of your children are likely reading levels A and B (which is nearly but not quite conventional reading), and might be moving into levels C and D (which is much closer to conventional reading). Your students still benefit from and need book introductions to most unfamiliar texts, but with a little support can read these books independently. You'll want to either add or swap out fresh baskets of leveled books, to provide new challenges and plenty of choices of lovely little books for your readers.
Some teachers might feel pressure to put away emergent storybooks and shared reading texts at this time, finding that kids are too tempted to fill their book bins with books that won''t support the work of the unit -- which is focused on beginning reading (levels A/B, C/D). But before you put those books away, you might instead keep these books available so long as you have a way to manage workshop with different types of reading in mind. A simple management strategy is to designate part of reading workshop as "book bin" time where kids read their independent, just right books, from their book bins (or baggies). Then switch to "baskets" where children read from separate baskets of emergent storybooks, shared reading texts, and look books. This makes it possible to manage the amount of time kids spend reading just right books versus other types of (also important) texts.
Unit 4: Becoming Avid Readers
By the time you reach this unit, you may want to infuse your library with some fresh leveled books, that perhaps you've been saving, set aside somewhere. If books are in short supply, you might rearrange the books that have been on the shelves to create new interest. It's likely that you'll need to make a range of levels available (A-H is typical), adding new books as children grow as readers.