A classroom library plays a key role in helping early childhood students to make the transition from emergent readers to independent readers. Simply stated, it is a designated area of the classroom where children can interact with a variety of printed materials with the goal of expanding or reinforcing literacy skills taught by you, the teacher.
What Makes an Effective Classroom Library?
A good classroom library should be enticing, inviting, and functional. Here are some essential materials you should consider when designing your classroom library.
- An open-faced bookshelf to provide easy access to books and to help to define the space
- Bins to help organize printed materials such as magazines or newspapers
- A lamp to provide soft lighting to give it a “cozy” feel
- Rugs, pillows, and soft furniture to make this area seem “special” to children and to allow them to learn comfortably
- Posters of favorite books or characters to help designate this area as the library, or a picture label and the word “library” neatly displayed on a bookshelf
Beyond making the classroom library a fun place to learn, its success can often rely on the literacy tools that you choose to include. An effective classroom library should contain a wide range of printed materials such as:
- Age appropriate picture books. You will want to include both familiar books that you have read to your students, and ones that are new.
- Oversized or “big books” full of colorful pictures
- Wordless books so children can tell their own story
- Early childhood magazines
- Books of familiar poetry and collections of nursery rhymes
- Non-fiction books
- Books with characters from diverse backgrounds and cultures
Other materials that you may wish to include might be: a CD player so that children can listen to audiobooks, or play soft music while reading; storytelling puppets or storyboards so that students can engage in literacy-related dramatic play; or, you may wish to include writing materials and paper so that students can respond to a book that they have enjoyed.
A well-designed library should also be organized so that books are easily accessible to students. You may want to classify and sort fiction from non-fiction books; or group books by theme or author. Furniture and bookshelves should separate the library area from the rest of the classroom.
Don’t Forget to Model Use
Don’t forget that once you’ve planned and created your perfect classroom library, you will need to show your students how to use it! You should model the appropriate library area behaviors that are expected of your students. For example, you should show students how to select a book, correctly put it away, and how to take care of books. You should also demonstrate the various literacy related activities that may be completed in this area such as looking at pictures in a book and telling the story. If students have little prior experience with reading materials, it might also be necessary to give a lesson on concepts of print such as how to correctly hold a book and how to turn pages.
And since no project is really complete without a little evaluation and assessment, after you and your students have been using your classroom library for a few months, take some time to reflect on your experience and make changes, if necessary. Do your students use and enjoy your library? Are they gaining literacy skills? Don’t be afraid to ask your students what they like about your classroom library or what they would like to change – I’m sure they will be happy to tell you!
Creating an effective classroom library for early childhood students may require a little planning, organization, time, and a few extra materials – but you will be providing your students with access to books, an important key to literacy that they might not be receiving in their home.
About the Author
Marissa Kiepert Truong, Ph.D. is an educational psychologist and mom to a toddler girl. She writes about emergent literacy, children’s books, and child development on her blog, Land of Once Upon a Time. You can connect with Dr. Kiepert Truong on Facebook and Twitter.