My classroom library is the best part of my room.

When I started the school year I didn’t have a classroom library. I had a shelf full of old textbooks collecting dust in the back corner of my room. It was full of books I had never touched – you know, the leftovers from teachers past… when I was new to my school, I wasn’t sure what to do with the clutter, and eventually those old books became just part of my classroom landscape. Students wouldn’t have considered picking up a single book on that bookshelf. Dreary.

But everything changed in October! Our school hosted the wonderful Stevi Quate as a consultant for writer’s workshop, and one of her topics to discuss with us was our classroom environment.

Eek. That was a brutal realization. Not a single anchor chart, or even student-created poster was on those walls. It was time for a change.

I boxed up the musty dusty disgusting books that were on that shelf and kicked them to the curb (okay, I think they were donated somewhere), and started filling up the shelves.

Here’s a photo of what it first looked like. (Notice I even have some student-created posters behind the shelf covering up the old pre-printed ones! Progress!) The bottom shelves still had teacher editions to old textbooks that weren’t in use anymore… but it was a start.


I went home and raided my children’s bookshelves, as well as my own, and slowly started to fill in the classroom library.

I went to our department’s book room and grabbed a copy or two of different titles, especially the ones that aren’t currently being taught as whole-class texts. Eventually, students even started bringing in copies of favorite books to share.

Next year, the classroom library will be overhauled, and I can’t wait to get my hands on all of those books! But living overseas means that having books delivered can take time, so for now, this is what is working.

rainbow-book-shelfBy November, the shelves were full and organized. You might be skeptical about the organizational method we employ in my classroom, but think about it… with a collection of this size there is no need for signage or bookends. I know what titles are on my shelf, what color they are, and where to find them. Even better, students know where to find them and put them back, so the shelves stay somewhat tidy and organized.

We use the old-fashioned spiral notebook check-out system. Want to borrow a book? Write your name on the list along with the title. Returning a book? Cross it oimg_7262ff. Simple. But pages and pages of the spiral notebook have been filled with student names and book titles, and then crossed out again. It’s exciting to look at those
messy pages.

This last photo was taken just this afternoon. I didn’t tidy it up; I didn’t reorganize. It’s worth noticing that students are keeping the shelves mostly orderly, and we have an anchor chart behind the shelf, reminding the class of what our reading agreements are.

  1. Read at least two hours per week.
  2. Read to understand.
  3. Choose a book you want to read.
  4. Have a books I want to read list.
  5. Drop books you don’t like.
  6. Save books for later.

This piece of furniture that used to be in the way, full of clutter and sometimes even trash, is now the hub of my classroom. Situated right by the classroom door, I think it gets used at least a dozen times a day, even by students who aren’t in my classes.

It really wasn’t a hard change to make, but it was profound.

One of my favorite moments of random student interaction was earlier this fall, when a student I’ve never had in any class walked through my door and said, “Miss, I hear you have nice books.”

Yes, yes I do.

Author: adventuresinhighschoolworkshop

Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for nineteen years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon, four in Amman, Jordan, and is currently in her second year teaching in Managua, Nicaragua.

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