Is Your Classroom Literacy Rich? Part 3: Classroom Libraries

I believe that a classroom library is the heartbeat of a teacher’s environment. It is the window into an educator’s own personality, and it reflects the importance of literacy in the classroom. I believe that every teacher — no matter what subject he or she teaches — should have one.

Heather Wolpert-Gawron on Edutopia

Growing up, my favorite place in the world was a library, and it still is! As an adult, I have continued to frequent public libraries, first with my daughters while they were growing up and now on my own.  I love that the majority of tutoring I do takes place in public libraries! I remember clearly being in the library of Hartman Elementary School in Omaha Nebraska, around 1968 and discovering Little House on the Prairie, the book that for me, changed my life.  I had been a voracious reader before that, but this was a book I connected to in a powerful way.

Teachers need to ensure that our students have opportunities to connect with books, right in their classrooms. Classroom libraries are one of the most important elements of a Literacy-Rich Environment.  In my previous post on this topic, I provided an overview of all the important literacy elements for a classroom. Now it’s time to delve more into how to make your classroom library the best it can be!

All students must be able to access, use, and evaluate information in order to meet the needs and challenges of the twenty-first century. – NCTE Statement, May 2017

Note the use of the words “all students”. Classroom libraries are most often associated with primary classrooms, but they need to be in intermediate, middle and high school classrooms. One of my former school colleagues, who now teaches middle school writing, sent me photos of her classroom library in response to a request for photos. She said that her students always ask why she has a classroom library if she teaches writing! I applaud her for having the library, pictured below, because as Stephen King says, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

Middle School Classroom Library
Carol’s Middle School Writing Classroom Library

But classroom libraries are not just for reading and writing teachers in middle and high school! Content area teachers should not only have books on and about their content in their classrooms but all kinds of reading material…fiction, informational books, resource, magazines, etc. There will always be those early finishers…of assignments or tests. Why not have reading material handy? Perhaps one of those students in your math class might come across one of your favorite books and ask to borrow it? Every teacher can make a difference in the reading life of a student! Check out the classroom libraries in these classrooms: (l–r, top to bottom – science, art, art again and music). By the way, I put out several requests to teachers for photos of classroom libraries in math, science, social studies, industrial arts, etc. and received NO response.  Do you know of any teachers who have one? Let me know!

Now, down to the nuts and bolts of putting together a classroom library. In a presentation at CCIRA many years ago, Linda Cornwell, formerly of Scholastic books, stated that students in classrooms with well-designed and well-stocked library collections:

  • exhibit more positive attitudes toward reading
  • read more widely for a variety of purposes
  • demonstrate higher levels of reading achievement

In addition, she suggested the classroom library should:

  • look inviting to all students
  • be organized for easy access and materials
  • include a comfortable area for reading
  • offer an array of materials from many genres

Some things to consider when organizing your library:

    • How will you store your books to make sure they can be easily accessible to students?
      • My personal preference is colorful, plastic tubs, or even just clear ones. But years ago, while in observing in a classroom, I found this unique storage system…one of those rotating racks they have in stores for browsing!
    • Do you have guidelines for the use of the library?
      • I’m sure you don’t want students getting up in the middle of an important lesson to browse for books, so you need to let them know then the library is “open” and when it is “closed”. You could create some signs for your library letting them know when it’s okay to browse. In addition, there need to be guidelines for when students are using the library…here are some ideas:
        • how to respect books
        • how to shelve books back in the correct place
        • the use of quiet voices in the library and the importance of respecting others’ reading time
        • And for even more ideas on guidelines, you can find so many ready-made posters on Teachers Pay Teachers!

  • Have you shown students how to find materials?  Are there signs to help them?
    • Just as modeling when teaching something new to your students, you will need to model and/or explain how to use and check out and return materials from the library. The younger the student, the more modeling is needed. For secondary classrooms, the procedures can be more relaxed, but I’m sure you still don’t want to lose everything in your library! Check out this teacher’s blog post on how she introduces her classroom library to her students!
  • How have you categorized and arranged the materials?  Does the organization promote the reading of different types of materials?

    • I love that Teachers Pay Teachers have sellers who offer book bin labels in all genres! And of course, you can always make your own!
    • I found several blogs and websites for ideas on how to organize your library. This blog discusses organizing the library by genre; Reading Rockets stresses that there is no right or wrong way to organize and they offer several suggestions, including the reminder to LABEL your books so they can find their way home if misplaced. Here’s a blog on Scholastic with more organization ideas.
  • Does your library invite browsing and using? Is there a comfortable area to read?
    • Check out these photos and decide for yourself! (Note that you don’t need to spend a lot of money to make it inviting and have comfortable seating…pillows, a rug, a lamp, beach chairs….just simple things will work!
  • Do many of the books have their covers facing out?
    • I had never even thought about having my books facing out (probably because I was an intermediate teacher coming from a high school teaching job) until I read the chapter in Jim Trelease’s book, The Read-Aloud Handbook, and learned about rain gutters in the classroom…wait, what? Rain gutters? YES! Trelease promoted the practice of hanging rain gutters on your classroom wall in order to house books with their covers facing out. Think about it…when you go to a book store next time, look around to see HOW many books are facing out so buyers will notice them.  So, the same thing in the classroom; books facing out will help the “buyers” in your classroom notice books easier. And while you are teaching a lesson, those students whose minds wander can study all the books and decide which one to check out sooner.
    • After I talked about this idea and showed photos at our district literacy training sessions, we suddenly had a rash of rain gutters popping up in classrooms! Eventually, when new schools were built, shelves specifically for this purpose were added. But even if you don’t have shelving like this, there are other ways to have your books facing out. Check out the photo gallery below.

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Oh, and last but not least…if you are a new teacher who does not have many books for your library, and you can’t necessarily afford a binge at Barnes and Noble…here are a few ideas for finding books:

  • Retiring teachers
  • Garage and estate sales
  • Library used book sales
  • Donors Choose
  • Ask parents for book donations
  • Use book club points
  • Craig’s List and eBay
  • Scholastic warehouse sales
  • Create an Amazon wish list and share with parents
  • Kids Need to Read donation application

A classroom library: If you build it, they will read.

– Jim Bailey, title of his Nerdy Book Club blog post

Copy of Copy of Copy of TpT Cover Page

Game on! What’s Your Word?

Freebie TpT Product coming up at the end…just for readers of my blog!

IMG_2069As I stated in my blog post on Word Walls, I love words. I have been surrounded by words my entire life, first in books, magazines, and newspapers, and then the internet and apps. I will admit that I am a Words with Friends junkie…I have played this game for nine years now and show no signs up stopping anytime soon. (Username: Jan119 – send me a game request!) In addition to words, I love playing games, so imagine my excitement when I first realized that there were games totally devoted to WORDS!

Last year, I discovered Words with Friends Edu and jumped on it as a fun activity for my tutoring students. However, several months ago, the company discontinued the Edu version online. However, I still think that Words with Friends, Scrabble or other word building games are a great resource for students to learn and study new words.  While playing WWF, I have learned many new words that I had no idea existed until either I or an opponent used them in the game. While I don’t believe in students learning strange words they will never use, I do want them to learn and be able to use some of the more common words played in the game that they will see in books, textbooks, and the internet.  One of the best features of the WWF Edu website were the many lesson plans to use in conjunction with the game; fortunately, I saved all the lesson plans in my Google Drive so you can access there HERE!

In an article posted on Edutopia about building vocabulary with games, it states that “Developing students’ vocabulary doesn’t have to be a chore. Given a creative mindset and some openness to exploring, we can find opportunities to educate and stretch students’ understanding with play. Far from being wasted time, these exchanges can help motivate students to realize that playing with language can be enjoyable”.

Furthermore, the website Reading Rockets published an article on using technology tools to promote vocabulary instruction and had this to say about having fun with words: Whether directly teaching vocabulary and word learning strategies, or increasing students’ volume of reading, an important research-based principle that applies across the board is to promote a lively interest in words through student expression and participation in a learning community that enjoys playing with words, builds on individual interests as well as curriculum needs, and emphasizes self-efficacy in word learning (Beck et al., 2008; Graves & Watts- Taffe, 2008).

My Favorite Word Games for Students

Word Monkeys – I have to say this is my top choice; I have used it with both struggling readers and gifted students, both in schools and during tutoring. The concept is simple; players take turns making words with the seven cards in their hand and the top card on the draw pile. The longer and more complex the words are, the more points they receive!  I remember pleading with my RtI reading group to play on Fridays, even though some were tired of the game!

 

IMG_7481Word Shark – Another fun game that has players building words with mats. The game can be easier for younger students (mats already have the rime/word family on the mat, and the player just has to provide the beginning consonant). For advanced or older students, you can use the blank word mat where players draw both vowels and consonants and build their own words.

My Word – A fast-paced game with the dealer continuously placing vowel, consonant, digraphs and suffix cards on the table while the other players watch for words they can create out of the cards. When they see one, they have to grab it and make it…the more words they can spot and build, the more points. I found I had to make some adjustments for younger students, such as pausing in my dealing so they could have a chance to look over the cards and not get overwhelmed.

fullsizeoutput_626cWord Connect – I only recently learned about this app from a tutoring student…a fun app that displays letters and the boxes for the words; the player has to put the letters in the correct order to make the words. It sounds easy, but I was surprised at how many words you can make from just three letters; it’s all about putting the letters in the correct order. The levels are easy at first but gradually become more difficult as they pass the beginning levels.

Word Ladders – This is not really a game, but it’s so much fun that I’m including it on my list. Students start at the bottom with a word, then have to add or remove letters based on the clues as they “climb” the ladder. I would put together packets of these for both RtI and tutoring students as it’s a great warm-up for a group or tutoring session. The link takes you to the Daily Word Ladders book you can buy, but you can also find others word ladder sheets online: here and here, as well as many other websites.

Bananagramst3T1nWfbTC++6f1%2gxRig – I only recently discovered this game, but it’s already a favorite! The banana-shaped pouch contains Scrabble-type letter tiles, and players race each other to build words! I recently played this with two sisters I tutor; 5th-grade sister did fine on her own, but I had to help the 3rd-grade sister…she didn’t understand the all words had to connect; she wanted to just build isolated words from her tiles (although that could be an option at first with younger kids). Another option is that there is a version especially for young kids, My First Bananagrams!

Okay, so playing these games is fun…but what about the LEARNING aspect?

Of course, these games can help foster phonics, spelling and vocabulary skills, as well as a love and knowledge of words.  But all of that is nebulous and hard to measure…so I took it a step further.  As the games were played, I had students write down the words they built or played. After the game,  I had them choose 2-3 words they either did not know the meaning of, or just “kind of knew it” (have you ever asked your student if he/she knows what a word means and they answer yes, but then can’t give you the definition? That’s “kind of knowing it”). I had them record words on this sheet, find out the meaning…either with my help, other students’ help, or the internet, and then write the definition and use in a sentence. I then add these words to lists in either Vocabulary/Spelling City (for younger kids) or Quizlet (for older kids). I have the students return to these words over the weeks by using them in a variety of vocabulary and spelling activities. Even after they have “passed” their tests on the words on Vocab/Spelling City or Quizlet, I still have them use and review the words during the year….that’s what ensures retention of words.fullsizeoutput_6184

My latest Teachers Pay Teachers product is all about Word Games, and the activities for practicing and retaining the words! There are several fun vocabulary and spelling ideas that incorporate social media and popular culture. However…YOU, the reader of this blog, can have a copy for free, by clicking on the link below! 

Please use the comment section to tell me about any other word games and word study activities you use in your classroom!

LINK to Google Drive version (make a copy and edit any way you want)!flat-2126879_640

TpT Cover Sheet

Word Walls? Word Up!

I love words. Words in books, words online, words in games, words out in the world. This quote could have been written about me: “She had always wanted words, she loved them; grew up on them. Words gave her clarity, brought reason, shape.
― Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

And another favorite quote…funny but also sadly, true…“Some people have a way with words, and other people…oh, uh, not have way.”
― Steve Martin

How can we ensure that our students have “a way with words”?  In my previous blog post, I gave an overview of the elements of a literacy-rich environment:  classroom materials, classroom design and layout, and reading and writing using authentic activities. I promised that I would go into more detail about each one, so the first topic will be WORD WALLS!

In this article from Questia.com, a word wall is defined as: “An ongoing, organized display of keywords that provides a visual reference for students throughout a unit of study.  The words are used continually by teachers and students during a variety of activities.”  However, when I first started presenting on word walls during my literacy training sessions, I discovered that many teachers had a narrow definition of which teachers and students should use word walls…namely primary teachers and students. But word walls are important for ALL students in ALL classrooms…pre-school to university! And (shocker!) they don’t have to be on a WALL!  

Here are the purposes of word “walls” (whatever format they are in!):

  • To focus students’ attention on important subject area words
  • To allow students to have multiple exposures to new vocabulary and anchor the words in their long-term memory
  • To foster connections between words
  • To enable the use of content/academic words in discussions, writing, and activities in your classroom

The purposes listed above are necessary for whatever grade, content, subject or topic you are teaching! Here are some different types of “word walls”:

“Those who do the work, do the learning!” – Anonymous
I think it’s great that there are so many Word Wall card products on Teachers Pay Teachers…teachers don’t have the time to be making all those cards! But…there is no need for YOU to be creating the words for the wall…students should! It is far more powerful for the students to write the words that will go on the wall!  Teachers just need to guide them in which/what words to include on the wall and make sure the handwriting is legible and the word spelled correctly.  Student-created word walls elicit far more excitement and ownership than a professionally created wall!

Okay, this is all great, but perhaps you don’t have a wall…or time to put stuff up…or your classroom changes all the time. No problem!  You can still have your students use word walls in these ways:

One of my favorite memories from my literacy training years was presenting our district’s balanced literacy program to our Specials teachers (art, music, PE, band, orchestra, etc.) and having some of them create word walls for their content areas! Check out the P.E. wall, and what a middle school teacher has done in her classroom!

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Photo taken by me many years ago; can’t remember what amazing teacher did this!
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Used with permission from Marsha Anema, Music – Sagewood Middle School, Parker, CO
Yellow Kid Print
All words are written by students! Photo by me
Laminated Word Chart
Laminated word wall for easily changing out new unit words. Photo by me
Felt Word Wall
Word Wall using a felt backdrop; perfect for teachers who track in & out of classrooms! – Photo by me
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More student written words – Photo by me
I love how eye-catching and colorful this wall is! – Used with permission from Abby Schmitz, 2nd grade at Ruth Hill Elementary in Lincoln NE
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I love this student-created science word wall with illustrations! Source: Middle Web Blog by Valentina Gonzalez
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I love how this Sped Classroom is so print-rich and has a writing word wall! Used with permission from Melissa Finch of  Autism Adventures Blog and TpT Store!

Okay, okay, so you now understand the importance and power of word walls…whether they are on a wall or not. Now…how do we get students to use them? Here are some ideas and resources for you!

Favorite Primary Grades Word Wall Activities:  This book has SO many great activities for primary students! Some of my faves are:Big Book of Word Walls

  • Word Wall Storytelling: A “traveling” story where one person begins with a word and then others continue with their own words…no repeating! The teacher needs to keep track of which words are used.
  • Morning Mystery Message: Write your morning message to kids as usual, but leave some blanks where word wall words should go! Have kids guess which words they are!
  • Dictionary Word Wall: This is similar to Balderdash…make sure to have the real definition AND fake ones ready!
  • Double Trouble:  Students guess the word using phonemic elements.
  • And not from the book…but check out this FREEBIE of word wall center activities from Mr. Giso’s Born to Read blog!
  • And here’s another FREEBIE from The Colorful Apple on TpT!

Favorite Intermediate/Secondary Word Wall Activities:

  • Word Sneak – this is a game based on Jimmy Fallon’s Word Sneak game on his show! I can’t wait to play this with one of my tutoring students!
  • So many GREAT ideas in THIS resource too…my faves are “Unfolding Five Words in a Story”, and also the drama and musical groups activities!
  • “Guess My Word”.  I found the “Guess My Word!” idea on Pinterest, but the website it links to has been discontinued, so I created my own version using Wheel Decide!

Check out my Pinterest board on a Literacy-Rich Environment for more information on types of word walls and activities!

So what do you DO for word walls in your classroom? Do you have other ideas for how to do word walls and activities to use with them? Let’s hear it in the comments! SHARE the great things you are doing with other teachers….and until next time, “WORD UP”!

“Word up everybody says
When you hear the call you’ve got to get it underway
Word up it’s the code word
No matter where you say it you know that you’ll be heard!”

Songwriters: Larry Blackmon / Tomi Jenkins
Word Up! lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

Is Your Classroom Literacy Rich? Part 1: Overview

Getting students absorbed in meaningful, purposeful literacy activities requires a number of significant changes in the classroom – in the physical environment, in the events and activities, and in the nature and quality of the interactions. Noel Jones

By now, your classrooms are all set up, decorated and in full use by your students!  But I have a question to ask you: Is your classroom Literacy-Rich?  During my tenure as a district literacy trainer for Douglas County Schools in Colorado, I trained hundreds of elementary and secondary teachers in a program for best practices in teaching literacy that we called LIFT (Literacy Instructional Framework for Teaching). This program was based on the program, California Early Literacy Learning.

One of the most important components of LIFT was ensuring that teachers, especially those in elementary schools and teaching secondary Language Arts, had a “literacy-rich environment” in their classroom.  Dr. Kimberly Tyson defines this environment as: “a setting that encourages and supports speaking, listening, reading, and writing in a variety of authentic ways – through print & digital media”. During our LIFT training, we focused on the following components of the “LRE”: classroom materials, classroom design/layout and reading and writing through authentic activities.

Classroom Materials: The Classroom Library

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This how NOT to do a classroom library! Sadly it was mine back in the 90’s, a rolling cart with books on both sides. Ugh!

The classroom materials necessary for an LRE include books, books, and more books, as well as other print materials: magazines, comic books, online reading material, as well as print on the walls, writing materials, and displays of student work. During our training sessions, I spent a great deal of time discussing classroom libraries and how best to make them inviting, organized and useful. As an elementary teacher back in 1994, I had never been taught how to set up an effective classroom library, and mine was appalling, as evidenced in this photo.  Yup, that’s it..both sides of the rolling cart filled with books! Inviting…NO! Organized…NO!

At our training sessions, I began by asking our teachers this question:  Is the classroom library inviting, providing a range of quality books at all appropriate levels?  However, it’s not enough to have an inviting classroom library, it needs to be organized! Teachers can use many methods to organize…using bins/baskets separated by popular authors, levels of books, topics, etc. There must also be a clear and easy check-out system.  Check out the photo gallery of some exemplary classroom libraries!  

(Click on each picture in the photo tile below for explanation and credit!)

After leaving the classroom and moving into offices as either a literacy, GT or RtI specialist, I managed to hang on to some sort of classroom libraries: (notice the Laura Ingalls Wilder shrine on the right!)

Classroom Materials: Words All Over the Place!

“A printrich environment is one in which “children interact with many forms of print, including signs, labeled centers, wall stories, word displays, labeled murals, bulletin boards, charts, poems, and other printed materials” (Kadlic and Lesiak, 2003).

What goes on your classroom walls is important as well!  I never learned about an LRE in my teacher prep training, but I attempted it in my 5th/6th-grade classroom…sometimes to excess! Some of my displays probably overwhelmed my students…evidence below:

All grade levels need to have a great deal of print on the walls that assist students with (depending on the grade level) the alphabet, sight words, phonics concepts, writing and content vocabulary.  Of course, you can buy commercial posters, make some online, or print on chart paper. But more ownership comes when these materials are created with the help of the students through Interactive Writing (sometimes also called Shared Writing). Check out the interactive writing that students can continue to refer to during the school year…(these were all taken in Douglas County School District classrooms during my literacy training years, 2006-2009). More on interactive writing, including how to use it with older students, and in content areas, in a future blog!

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I even tried to maintain a print-rich environment in and right outside of my offices once I left the classroom! This was a display in the hall outside my door for our upcoming all-school Star Wars Day my GT students were planning!

And don’t forget Word Walls!  There are so many ways to create word walls: on the wall (of course) personal word walls, or electronic word walls. Content area classrooms in secondary schools should have them too and so should art, music, and PE teachers!  More on Word Walls in a future blog!399

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A Personal Word Wall that I had one of my tutoring students create on Padlet for her self-selected words in her book. We then use this wall for various activities to help her not only learn the words but retain them.

(Click on each picture in the photo tile above for explanation and credit!)

Classroom Design and Layout

“The room arrangement should encourage repeated opportunities to interact with literacy materials and activities to practice skills that students are learning.” (Gunn, Simmons, & Kameenui, 1995)

Another question teachers need to ask themselves is:  Does the room arrangement support all literacy activities of the instructional framework? How your room is set-up can affect how successful your literacy activities are!  What area will allow for a large enough classroom library, where students can both read and browse for books? Where will content print be hung so that students can use as a reference? And most importantly, where is your whole class meeting area?  This is something that I never had in my 90’s intermediate classroom; again, I had never been taught or told to have one! But in my classroom visits, I saw the power of this space, not only in primary classrooms but also in intermediate! These areas are used for read-aloud, shared reading, interactive writing, interactive editing (all topics coming soon to this blog!) and mini-lessons. And of course, they can be used for class meetings as well.  You also need an area for your small group instruction work. Check out some ways teachers have designed their whole-class meeting and small group instruction areas!

(Click on each picture in the photo tile below for explanation and credit!)

Authentic Literacy

Children who are successful at becoming literate view reading and writing as authentic activities from which they get information and pleasure, and by which they communicate with others. – Richard Allington, Classrooms That Work

Finally, a literacy-rich environment needs to include authentic literacy activities, not ones created by publishing companies (disclaimer: nothing wrong with using these occasionally, but authentic stuff creates better readers/writers!). NWEA states that: “Authentic learning occurs when activities or projects offer students an opportunity to directly apply their knowledge or skills to real-world situations.”  So what are examples of authentic literacy activities?  Here are a few ideas in the slideshow below: daily class or personal news, novel character texts (I used http://ios.foxsash.com/), real text from tutoring student to parent using a vocabulary word, thank you notes, a character “Fakebook” page using Classtools.net, or this Google Doc template, and an Instagram template! For more ideas, check out my Pinterest board on the Literacy-Rich Environment for even more!

And that’s a wrap for this week! I would like to thank the following teachers for sharing photos of their classrooms!

  • Kelly Broecker, 5th grade, Gold Rush Elementary in Parker, CO
  • Sarah Rumsey, 3rd grade, Aspen Crossing Elementary in Aurora, CO
  • Renee Hartwig-Ott, 2nd grade, Westgate Elementary School in Lakewood, CO
  • Carol McRae, 6th-grade writing, Sagewood Middle School, Parker, CO
  • Abby Schmitz, 2nd grade, Ruth Hill, Lincoln NE
  • Leslie Schlag, Pre-School, Cherokee Trails Elementary, Parker, CO
  • Angela Davis, Kindergarten, Saddle Ranch Elementary, Highlands Ranch, CO
  • The many K-12 Douglas County School District teachers who attended my literacy training sessions (LIFT) from 2006-2009!

Click on the links below for more information and details about each of the aspects of a literacy-rich classroom!

Word Walls
Classroom Libraries
Print-Rich Walls
Classroom Design and Layout
Authentic Literacy