Skip to content

Part 2: The Power of Independent Reading – The Classroom Library

Part II of The Independent Reading Series
The Classroom Library — If You Build It, They Will Come

In Part I: The Power of Independent Reading, we discovered that if students don’t have regular opportunities to engage in successful and enjoyable independent reading, they won’t develop the foundational skills they need to address complex texts. The question is, how do we help our students develop a rich reading life and improve student attitudes toward reading?

Recently, flipping through the TV channels, I came across the movie Field of Dreams. Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner) listened to the voices in his head and built a baseball field in the middle of a cornfield. And the players came. In this same vein, I’d like to become the voice in your head: If you build it they will come.

I’m referring to a classroom library. One of the foundations of every great literacy and language arts class is creating a love of reading through independent reading. We know the power that independent reading can have on students’ vocabulary development, fluency, stamina, and understanding of language conventions.

The key to creating a text-based culture in our classrooms is to surround students with wonderful texts and then help them figure out which ones draw them as readers.

Book Recommendations

Here are a few current “Best of the Best” lists to share with your students:

Organizing the Library

Teachers spend way too much of their own time organizing their libraries. STOP! Get some bins (I like to get mine at any of the dollar stores), salvage some shelves from that random storage closet everyone forgot about (or go to a garage sale).

classroom library

Example of a classroom library at Cascade Middle School in Seattle, WA

Then, lay out all of the books. Have students sort and organize them. This is a great way for them to check out book titles and see the wide range of books available. I generally had very few categories: sports books, fantasy, science fiction, romance, or adventure books.

Have the “best of the best” books displayed around the room—covers facing out so they are visible. While we all want to pretend that it is what’s on the inside that counts, the cover of the book draws in readers.

Without a robust classroom library, students will continue to get stuck. They will struggle to find something that fits their interests. You want to be able to send a student to a bin of books in his or her interest areas as soon as he or she abandons a book. Students are terrific at self-selecting a book that they can access and enjoy. Remember: If you build it, they will come.

Join us next month for our continued series on independent reading!