Sunday, June 28, 2015

shopping in the classroom library

I've been teaching first grade for a long time and I've had so many guided reading groups, I probably talk about it in my sleep.  Doesn't your "guided-reading-talk" spill over into other parts of your life, too?  My own children, who are not in elementary school anymore, will ask me homework questions like, "What does perseverate mean?" and "What's an algorithm?" and I instinctively respond, "Well, what strategy can you try to figure that out?"  I know they wish I'd check my teacher-hat at the door.

(Confession:  Sometimes I don't know the answers to their hard homework, so my response is really a win-win for everyone.  My kids learn to be resourceful and I don't look dumb.)

The work we do during our guided reading groups is so important, I want to make sure the children have a lot of additional time to read a lot of books that are just-right for them... books that will help them grow as readers and continue to foster a love for reading.

It's critical that all of my students have a handy collection of books to read at any given time and I've structured our schedule and classroom environment to make sure that happens daily.  A well-stocked classroom library, with a wide variety of books, is the most important part of making this a reality for my kids.  My classroom library isn't just in one part of the classroom... I've got shelves and bins and cubbies of books all over the place.  (Don't worry... it's organized.)  There's a fiction section, a nonfiction section, a section of favorite authors and one for favorite characters, and we have a leveled books section, too.

When I first started teaching (forever ago), I made my fair share of rookie mistakes, one of which was letting children choose ALL of their own books, ALL of the time.  It seems like a good idea, right?  And don't I want "buy-in?"  I mean, what's so hard about choosing books?  I do it myself all the time.  

But I'm an adult.

And they're six.

And I soon figured out something important about new, emergent readers... they don't always know how to pick out books that are going to help them grow.  It doesn't really make a lot of sense to read with children in a guided reading group on Level E books and then watch them self-select 10 Junie B. Jones chapter books from the classroom library for their personal reading collections.  That offers them little chance of practicing proficient reading behaviors on their own. And then I realized, little kids need a little help when shopping for their books.

(You should know:  I take great care at the beginning of the year making sure our classroom culture is safe and encouraging.  We talk about individual strengths and needs and how people, including myself, set goals for areas where we want to continue growing.  We value differences and celebrate everyone's successes, big and small.  These are the kinds of conversations that need to take place so my students understand why different students have different books at different times.  They make great connections when we talk about how training wheels and swim floaties come off at different times for different kids.  And it's important that children are keenly aware of what their peers are good at and that there's a spirit of collaboration and camaraderie in the classroom.  When that is missing, competition creeps in and that's why some of our emerging readers are choosing 100-page Junie B. Jones chapter books and pretending to read them during reading workshop.  There is a place for chapter books in their reading lives, and I'll explain how I honor that in just a minute, but a large amount of time spent pretending to read isn't really helping anyone.)

This is when I started using "Shopping Cards" and I've been using them for years because they work so well for us.  Here's how they work in our room:

After I finish my initial running records at the beginning of the year, I make a shopping card for each student.  The last letter on the card indicates the child's instructional reading level... the level we're working on during our guided reading time together.  This is the level that "pushes" the reader just a bit because it's a level where they need to be actively using strategies to read and make sense of the text.  

The other two levels are just slightly lower than their instructional level. Reading books at these levels strengthens their confidence, helps them read sight words more automatically, and improves their fluency (both rate and expression).  

The cupcake represents something we call "Dessert Books."  (Hello, Junie B.)  To help them understand this, we have fun talking about desserts... about how they're not the best part of our daily diet, but how we want them anyway, don't we?  We talk about how it's important to have a balanced diet and how it's okay to have dessert once in a while as long as it's not the thing we're eating most often.  They understand how that's unhealthy for our bodies.  And then I make the leap to a healthy reading diet... and they're able to leap with me... they get it. They learn that a healthy reading diet has to be full of books that are just-right for us; that are good for us; that will help us grow.  Dessert books may not be just-right for us, but they're a fun treat to have if we have just a little.

Each week, my students go shopping in our classroom library for their own books.  (I have 5 student teams, so one team goes each day.  This prevents the library from feeling too crowded.) They pick their own books (buy-in) with a little guidance from me... so much better than what I did my first year of teaching. Students self-select 3 books from each leveled bin on their own shopping card and then they head over to the fiction / nonfiction sections of our library and choose ANY 3 dessert books they want.  All the books they choose go into a canvas book pocket that hangs on the back of their chair, along with all the books we've been reading during our guided reading time together. As they grow as readers, so do their cards and they begin to shop for different levels.

When we get ready to go home each day, each child picks one leveled book and one dessert book to take home.  The goal is for them to read their leveled book to a family member and then ask a family member to read their dessert book to them or with them.  

You can make your own shopping cards with a simple index card, but if it would save you some time, you can pick up these blank cards for free in my TPT store.   They go all the way up to guided reading level M, but a lot of students no longer need help choosing books after about levels J or K.  By that point, they're pretty good at knowing what's just-right for their reading diet.  I have also included a completely blank card in case you use a leveling system other than guided reading levels.

If this is the time of year when you think about updating or redesigning your own classroom library, check out this Pinterest board dedicated to special reading spaces for young children.  It is loaded with pictures and links to dozens and dozens of classroom (and home) libraries. They are cozy and inviting and inspiring to young readers.  You'll find great tips for not only reimagining your library space, but organizing it as well.

Happy teaching!  :)


  1. I love setting up this part of my classroom…Every year I look forward to making it a place where all the kiddos want to be. :-)

    1. Robin... are you doing something new this year? I'd love to see to pictures when you're done. (Maybe you could put them up here??) :)

  2. Discover a Surefire Method to Teach Your Child to Read

    There are many different methods and opinions on how to teach a child to read - while all are well-intentioned, some methods could actually lead to reading difficulties in children. Learning to read is a critical step towards future academic success and later on success in life. If you cannot read, you cannot succeed. There is an amazingly simple method - actually, a combination of two methods - that can teach anyone to read, even children as young as 2 and 3 years old.

    The combination of these two methods has been used in the Children Learning Reading program to successfully teach thousands of young children to read. So what are these methods?

    It is the combination of synthetic phonics and phonemic awareness. Most have probably heard of phonics, but phonemic awareness is a concept less well known and ?it's not something you hear about often. Certainly, phonics is absolutely necessary to develop fluent reading skills; however, there are different types of phonics including embedded, analogy, analytical, and synthetic phonics. While using some type of phonics is better than not including any phonics instructions at all, you will achieve FAR BETTER results by employing synthetic phonics, which is by far the most easy and effective method for teaching reading. Multiple studies support this.

    In a 7 year study conducted by the Scottish Education Department, 300 students were taught using either analytic phonics or synthetic phonics. The results found that the synthetic phonics group were reading 7 months ahead and spelling 8 to 9 months ahead of the other phonics groups. At the end of the 7 year study, the children were reading 3.5 years ahead of their chronological age.

    Very impressive!

    Through their amazing reading program, the creators (Jim & Elena - parents of 4 children and reading teachers) have taught all of their children to read phonetically by 3 years old and have helped thousands of parents to successfully teach their children to read as well! Some are small 2 or 3 year old toddlers, others are young 4 or 5 year old preschoolers, and still others at ages 6, 7, 8 or even older.

    >> Click here to watch amazing videos of young children reading, and see the amazing results so many parents are achieving with their children.

    The Children Learning Reading program works so well that many children will achieve reading ages far ahead of their chronological age.

    Take Jim & Elena's children as an example: their oldest child, Raine, was reading phonetically at 2 years 11 months old, and by the time she entered kindergarten at 5 years old, she was reading at a grade 5 level with a reading age of 11.9 years - almost 7 years ahead of her chronological age. Their second child, Ethan, learned to read phonetically by 2 years 9 months, and at age 3, he was reading at a grade 2 level with a reading age of 7.2 years - progressing at a similarly quick pace as his older sister. Find that hard to believe? You can watch the videos posted here.

    There are many different phonics programs out there, but rarely do you ever hear a mention of phonemic awareness (PA), and PA is absolutely an equally critical component to developing reading skills in children. What makes the Children Learning Reading program so unique and amazingly effective at teaching young children is that it seamlessly combines the teaching of synthetic phonics along with phonemic awareness to enable children to develop superb reading skills.

    >>> Click here to learn more about the Children Learning Reading program and teach your child to read today