The Book Nook – 30 Days, 10 Minutes to a More Literate Classroom
Every year my students walk in on the first day of school and are confronted with piles of books on their tables. And empty tubs. I put my students to work organizing the Book Nook (what I call my classroom library) on the first day, and for several days after that. Here’s why:
- If the students come up with an organizing system, they will understand how to find the type of book that they like.
- If the students organize the books in the first few weeks of school, they will be able to maintain that organization for the rest of the year.
- Giving this task to students helps them feel ownership in the classroom, and especially, in the books.
- This task is one of the best ways I know to teach kids about genre – something that is a pretty bedrock literacy understanding. For more ideas about that, check out this blog post!
- This is a great strategy for Getting Kids Thinking About Books and also for Selling them on books!
This literacy strategy takes about 30 minutes on the first day, and then 10 minutes a day until all of the books are organized. The first day, students walk into the classroom (usually after recess) to find approximately 20 books on each of their table groups. My group size is 4-5 students, so that’s 4-5 books for students.
First, we gather on the rug to talk about what we are going to do with the books. I tell the students that they are responsible for figuring out how to organize the books in a way that will make them easy to find and easy to keep organized all year. Then I ask them, “What ideas do you have about how we could organize the books?” Often, no one answers. Sometimes, someone volunteers a way they have seen another classroom library organized. If they do give me an idea, I respond, “What do you all think? Will that help you find books and keep them organized?” I don’t endorse any system of organization because I want this to belong to the kids. Using a question focuses them on the criteria for success and builds that sense of ownership.
After a few minutes of discussion, I send them to their tables. I have chosen the books for each table purposefully. In each stack, there are different connections that students can make, and some books that may not fit together at all. I am deliberate in the books that I give to each group because I want to foster discussion and critical analysis of the books. How do these books fit together? Which books don’t belong?
For instance, if students found this book stack on their tables, they would probably notice that “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “The Witches” are both by Roald Dahl, and suggest book tubs organized by author. They would also notice that this stack has a significant number of historical fiction books: “Sarah, Plain and Tall”, “Across Five Aprils”, “Sounder”, “Our Strange New Land”, “Sophia’s War”, and “Big, Bad Ironclad” could all fit in a tub labeled historical fiction. But, “Ghosts” and “Big, Bad Ironclad” are both graphic novels, so maybe that should be a tub too. Once they noticed that, I would ask them, “Where should you put the books so that you can find them and keep them organized? Which label will be more helpful? Is “Big, Bad Ironclad” mostly a graphic novel or mostly historical fiction?” That question causes kids to critically analyze themselves as readers AND the book!
Once a group has found several books that belong together, I give them an index card and a tub. Someone in the group is responsible for making the label for the tub, which I attach with clear Contact Paper or book rings, depending on the style of tub. I don’t expect them to finish the label in the 30 minutes because I want it to be high quality. The student just keeps the index card with them until it is finished, and then we attach it together.
Of course, there will be books on the table that the students don’t fit into any tub. Before we complete the work for the day, I ask the groups to leave the tubs on their tables, with any books that belong in the tubs. Books that don’t belong should be laying face up on the table. Then, one student from the group stays at the table to explain the group’s thinking to the other kids in the class. Groups rotate around the room. As they do, students start to notice that a book from one table might fit into a tub on another. In this example, “Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls” would fit nicely in the Adventure Tub on another table. When students make those connections, I encourage them to take the book and add it to a tub.
To finish up, students bring the books that are organized to the Book Nook, and place any books that are not yet organized in a tub by my desk. There are always several kids who discover a book that they would like to read, and of course, they can borrow that for Independent Reading! The next day, we continue the process. I have a lot of books in my classroom library, so this generally takes us about 3 weeks. On average, the kids organize about 100 books a day.
This strategy definitely is a bigger time investment than some of the other strategies we’ve been learning about, but it really gets kids Thinking (with a capital T) about books AND it hooks kids and builds motivation. It is well worth your time! Plus, you get the added benefit of gaining time back because you won’t have much work to do to keep your classroom library organized. The kids will do it because they know how!
For more easy-to-implement ideas, be sure to check out the other blog and video posts in 30 Days, 10 Minutes to a More Literate Classroom. Happy teaching!
Image by Annata78 on Deposit Photos.