MAT Blog

Beyond Books: Building a Diverse and Engaging Classroom Library

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Jul 31, 2014 9:41:14 AM


It’s funny how many of our students claim that they dislike reading despite the fact that they read all the time! Before you shout, “That’s not true!” try something: Ask your students if they read “non-book” texts on the Internet, if they read their friends’ Facebook posts, or like comic books and magazines. Chances are that your students, even the ones that claim to “hate” reading, engage in reading habits on a daily basis.

Like it or not, if we want to nurture a love of reading in our students, we must acknowledge that “non-books” are in fact legitimate forms of reading and belong in our classroom libraries!

Indeed traditional books will make up the majority of reading materials in our classroom libraries, but if we want our students to become confident readers who are well-equipped to tackle a variety of texts in a variety of life situations, we may want to start by adding a few of these “non-book” texts to our independent reading collections.

  • Magazines are some of the most popular non-book texts in our collection; they’re also some of the cheapest and easiest reading materials out there. Stop by your local Salvation Army or Goodwill, where you can usually pick up recent publications for a dime a piece.

    I like magazines because they deal with a variety of topics. Not only that, children’s magazines  often include crosswords, stories, poems and other learning activities that I tear out, photocopy and place in the Puzzles & Games section of the classroom library.
  • Newspapers are another excellent non-book text not only because they are easy to come by, they are also written from a persuasive point of view, and cover a multitude of topics about local, state and global issues.

    Rather than hanging onto the entire paper, be selective about the articles you include in your library. If you come across an article that piques your interest, cut it out, laminate it, tag it, and file it under the appropriate topic in your library. To spark further engagement, you might try adding a “What Do You Think?” basket to your collection. Simply glue or tape an interesting article to a piece of cardboard and provide students with enough space to respond to the article for extra credit.

  • I don’t know about you, but catalogs appear in my mailbox almost every day from places I’ve never shopped and probably never will. I used to pitch catalogs into the recycling bin, but on a whim, I brought in a stack and filed them in the library. So that my students had a specific reading purpose, I decided to staple an activity list to each magazine. In a Toys “R” Us magazine, for example, I include the following questions:

o   Which toys do you think are the best? Why?
o   Write a letter to your parents in which you try to convince your parents to purchase a specific item from the catalog
o   If you could give your best friend any item from the catalog what would it be? Why?

  • I love looking at maps and picturing all of the landmarks, the people and animals I’d see along the way, and the dusty roads I’d take to get to my destination. It turns out that my students have a love of maps, too, and for exactly the same reasons. After noticing how captivated my students were with the classroom globe, I decided to bring in my collection of old road maps and atlases I’d picked up from estate sales and antique shops. Would you believe it, these are some of the most popular reading resources in the library? As with the catalogs, I like to pair each map with a different writing prompt.

  • Travel and sight-seeing brochures are also popular non-book texts. Whenever I travel, I load up on as many brochures as I can from roadside rest stops, motels and souvenir shops.

Photo credit: Daniel Y. Go / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

These ideas have all been adapted from Tony Stead's book, Good Choice: Supporting Independent Reading and Response.

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Tags: classroom library, reading motivation, reading specialist, reading teachers

10 Cheap and Easy Ways to Transform Your Classroom

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Aug 26, 2013 9:24:00 AM

Classroom space savers iconWe’ve always believed that the way our classrooms look and feel is a reflection of our personalities and teaching styles.

Unlike cluttered classrooms, cheerful, well-organized learning spaces inspire us, keep us focused and—we happen to think—make us better teachers.

Sprucing up your classroom can be costly, but we’ve found 10 creative ways for you to save money and space while you do it.

Inside we'll show you how to:

  • Turn Crates into “Storage Stools”
  • Create Seat Pockets for Your Students’ Books
  • Plant a Vertical Garden Using a Canvas Shoe Organizer
  • Repurpose Your Old Soup Cans
  • Give Your Classroom Library a Makeover
  • Create a Plastic Storage Pyramid
  • Transform Ordinary Objects Into Blank Canvases 
  • And more!

To download our new guide, simply click on the icon below!


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Tags: classroom library, classroom organization, classroom makeover

5 Tips for Creating an Effective Classroom Library

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Nov 13, 2012 1:40:00 PM

Like any library, our classroom library should be filled with a wide range of texts, both in terms of genre and difficulty. It should also be purposefully arranged and thoughtfully organized so that our students have a permanent, welcoming  space where they can read, check out, trade and order books that will engage them. Early Literacy Education scholars D. Ray Reutzel and Parker C. Fawson take it a step further: They suggest that the classroom library should literally be “the backbone of classroom activity,” a space where “much of what goes on each day draws from or occurs in or around the resources.” We’ve been reading their book, Your Classroom Library: New Ways to Give It More Teaching Power and liked it so much that we thought we’d share 5 of their teacher-tested, research-driven strategies to consider as you design (or redesign) your classroom library:

5 Tips for Creating an Effective Classroom Library

1. Library texts should relate to all areas of your curriculum
The primary function of any classroom library is (obviously) to bolster reading and writing instruction—but reading and writing cannot be taught in isolation. That’s why classroom libraries should include a wide variety of materials related to your entire curriculum. Do you have books related to history, music, art, drama, poetry, math, computers and nature? Try to build a collection that accommodates a wide range of interests and reading levels.

2. Find creative ways to engage reluctant readers
It’s always rewarding to have hungry readers, students who love to read, know how to find the books they want and are blessed enough to have parents who take them to the public library on a regular basis. But these students are, more often than not, a minority of our readers. This is precisely why our classroom libraries need to be so much more than a collection of books.

Reutzel and Fawson suggest that teachers use the library as a space for teaching students not only about literacy, but how to care for books. Try setting up a book repair shop equipped with a work bench, glue, tape and pencil erasers. Have them collaborate to create a display poster with clear directions on how to fix torn pages, broken spines and mangled covers.

3. Make it inviting. Make it fun.
An effective classroom library should be a gathering spot, a haven, a getaway spot that makes reading exciting. It should be a place students can't wait to get to. Here’s a great idea courtesy of middle school teacher and blogger, Heather Wolpert-Gawron:

Her classroom library comes complete with a Shakespeare action figure (detachable quill and all) that sits between a full-text edition of A Midsummer Night's Dream and the manga version of As You Like It. Her childhood Clash of the Titans lunch box bookends the fantasy section, and a knight rides among the historical-fiction section. If her students need a reminder about some of the rules, all they’ve got to do is glance up at the figurehead of Captain Morgan who is glaring down at a sign that reads, "Any who dare not use the proper means of checking out a book." I don’t know about you, but this seems like a place I’d like to hang out in.

4. Just because it’s a library doesn’t mean it can’t have other classroom resources
In addition to housing books, why not use your library as a central storage location for all of your curriculum resources like CDs, MP3 players, DVDs, comic books, computers and a printer with a scanner. How about a couple of typewriters and a few reams of scrap paper so they can mimic their favorite writers?

5. Provide them with daily independent reading time
Many of us grew up surrounded by books; we had parents who read to us and read for pleasure themselves; we were lucky enough to take frequent trips to the public library, maybe even book signings or author meet and greets. It sounds odd now that I think of it, but I even remember attending an all-night lock-in at my public library when I was a kid. Many (most?) of our students do not share these experiences. In fact, many of them grow up in homes without a single book.

That’s why we need to set aside time every day for students to experience the pleasure of reading. Studies repeatedly suggest that the more time students spend reading, the more they want to read and the more skilled they become at it. If your school doesn't honor Sustained Silent Reading (SSR), it might be time to become an activist and bring it back. Studies show that reading just 20-minutes a day not only helps create more enthusiastic readers, but also positively impacts reading test scores.


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Tags: classroom library, reading strategies, reading motivation, reading instruction, reading strategy, reading fluency

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