The Power of Bookrooms: Creating a Community of Readers
Research overwhelmingly shows that access to books in school and classroom libraries increases student motivation to read and boosts reading achievement. Research also underscores the importance of a variety of reading experiences, both teacher-led and self-selected, to improve comprehension and engagement. Students immersed in reading are more likely to become life-long learners, and they are more likely to go to college and to succeed in the workplace. Books are key tools of instruction, and they also open a pathway to curiosity. While most self-selection takes place in a school or classroom library, bookrooms are important hubs for literacy and learning. What, exactly, is a bookroom? How might it be arranged? And what is its role in instruction—and, ultimately, in student success?
Bookrooms: Shared Resources for Instruction
While a classroom library might be that class’s core set of texts, a bookroom is a shared space for books in a school. The bookroom can create a “revolving” collection to engage students in reading and provide extra instructional materials. Each classroom in the school has different needs depending on the students in that class, and those needs can change year over year.
A bookroom allows the needs of all students to be met, as it is a collection of books from which teachers can pull resources for their students. An ideal bookroom, then, provides what every teacher needs and what every student wants. A bookroom provides books for independent readings, multiple copies of books (usually packs of 6) to support small-group instruction, mentor texts for interactive read-alouds, and books for shared and partner reading.
How might a bookroom be arranged?
In a large school, bookrooms might be found spread across the building, with arrays of books appropriate for a range of grade levels closest to the classrooms where they will be used. Other schools may have an empty classroom converted into a bookroom. Many schools house their bookrooms in the back of the library. A bookroom isn’t always a “room”—but it’s always a collection of rich resources!
Bookrooms need to be easily accessed, in a central area or areas in the building. A bookroom should also be in a space that’s not used for teaching to prevent students from being distracted as teachers peruse the resources. A bookroom should have room to grow, and it should be organized so that materials can easily be organized when they’re returned.
Bookrooms typically have books arranged by their instructional purposes and their intended audience:
This section of the bookroom houses single copies of books that teachers might read aloud to model fluency, to model thinking around a comprehension strategy, to showcase powerful writing craft, and so on. Teachers might also use these books to show how readers decode text or to highlight the characteristics of a genre or the features of a text. These books can be organized by their modeling purpose. They are typically read-alouds, so they might not be organized by guided reading level.
The bulk of the bookroom will most likely be taken up with resources for small-group instruction. Teachers use these books with small groups or assign to students for partner work. Teachers might need books, for example, to teach a reading strategy, such as the main idea or to use as a resource for students to practice determining word meaning using context clues. Students often read these books with teacher assistance before reading independently—the books need to be in a “just right” place to provide appropriate supports and challenges.
In the bookroom, the books will be housed in bins according to their text complexity, or guided reading level, and by genre. This method of organization allows teachers to easily find texts that match students’ needs. If books have instruction that accompanies them, placing instructional resources in zipped bags with the books keeps everything together and makes these resources “grab and go!”
The books in the small group section of the bookroom can also be used for book clubs. You might place discussion guides in the zipped bags so that, once these are handed to students, the work is self-directed. Since students are often engaged by series books, you can dedicate a section of the bookroom to those books as well. Mark the levels for the teachers and label the boxes or baskets with the series name so that is what is visible to students when those resources rotate to the classroom.
The Role of the Bookroom in Instruction
The sections of the bookroom should be arranged to support instruction, with the resources organized by content, standards, and so on. Standards tell teachers what to teach—but teachers need the freedom to choose the resources that best engage their students. A rich bookroom also allows students to experience multiple texts and practice strategies across them, allowing them to gain deeper understanding.
English Language Arts Standards
A bookroom should include texts that support instruction of particular literary elements, such as symbolism, characters, and so on. The texts should support instruction of decoding skills, concepts of print, and so on. The bookroom can be organized by these standards by grade level and reading level. This allows teachers to easily find what they need. Rotating books in and out of a bookroom also allows all students at a grade level to be exposed to the same texts.
English Language Arts (ELA) standards also have a focus on genre, so it makes sense to include genre studies in the bookroom. Although not a part of instructional standards, students have beloved authors whose books can be grouped together in bookrooms as well.
Content Area Standards
In addition to ELA standards, a bookroom can support standards in science and social studies with carefully leveled books. These books arranged by topic area (for example, Jobs in Our Community, Life Cycles, American Symbols, Electricity, Photosynthesis) and then, within the topic areas, guided reading levels. The bookroom should include books for whole-class instruction and independent reading as well as small-group reading.
Bookroom baskets or bins can support units of study, such as biographies, texts about perseverance, fairy tales, families, extreme sports, accepting differences, the Civil War, books by Fran Manushkin, and so on. If the selection of texts isn’t large, mix up the reading levels so that students can self-select from the bin of books once it’s brought to the classroom.
When choosing books for your school bookroom, you can order sets of books that are pre-packaged and ready for your bookroom. Be sure to keep these criteria in mind:
- Choose quality books. Look to publishers that your school trusts for high-quality texts that are reliably leveled. You can use lists of award-winning books and consult websites to find the latest and greatest recommendations for stellar resources. New books should be added to replenish the bookroom and keep it up-to-date.
- Choose books that reflect diversity. Strive to find windows and mirrors, the materials in which students will see themselves and the materials that will provide a window into others’ lives.
- Consider pairing text sets. Thematically pairing fiction and nonfiction allows students to study a theme presented in two types of text. You might also pair, for example, a biography of Mae Jemison with a book about the solar system to get students thinking about the challenges and opportunities of space exploration and what it takes to become an astronaut.
- Choose books that reflect different time periods and important themes. Books in the bookroom need to cover universal themes, like truth, family, freedom, rights, and discovery.
- Consider your school district’s requirements in addition to national standards. Work together as a team of educators to look for gaps in instructional materials that can be filled in the bookroom.
Children learn to read by reading. The more books to which a child is exposed, the more likely a child is to experience success and build confidence. Although a computer program can choose a text at an appropriate reading level and might be able to match a book to a student’s interest, there isn’t a substitute for a teacher delving into the books in a bookroom, choosing the books that will engage particular students and providing the vehicle for deeper learning across subject areas. Teachers are equipped to choose books that capture the imagination and deepen thoughts. Although a core language arts program and reading program and core content programs deliver a consistent knowledge base, all instructional strategies reach an even greater level of success with the addition of engaging texts that provide further vehicles for understanding. In this way, a bookroom is a rich resource that benefits the whole school!