Challenge #3: Prepare displays, table baskets, book shelves, or stacks of enticing books.

Challenge #3: Prepare displays, table baskets, book shelves, or stacks of enticing books for every age and stage that you work with. The purpose of this challenge is to ensure that every child comes face to face with a tantalizing collection of books from the minute they enter your classroom.  One of our favorite ways to do this is to have table baskets of an inviting variety of books sitting out from the first moment of the first day.

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     “Although I enjoy digging through the library to help students find books, my aim is            to help them develop self-confidence in choosing books for themselves.”   

-Donalyn Miller, The Book Whisperer

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How Does This Help Grow A Community of Readers?

For many of our students, absolute free reign of the classroom library may be a bit overwhelming at first. Think about the last time you were at a restaurant with a massive menu- The Cheesecake Factory comes to mind. Their menu is over a dozen pages long! Choosing what to drink let alone an entire meal can be quite the task when presented with so many choices.

Likewise, choosing what to read in a sea of books can sometimes feel overwhelming to our students, especially for those who may be new to choice reading. We agree with Donalyn Miller that it is our goal to help students develop self confidence in independently choosing books. To do this, we like to start small. Rather than offering an entire library of choices during the first few days of school, we recommend offering a few baskets, stacks, or shelves of books that you know have been loved in the past. By doing this in the beginning and then slowly adding to their choices, we’re helping our readers get to know their preferences in manageable ways.

When we draw attention to what we consider to be some “best of the best” authors, genres, categories, or themes for the ages and stages of readers in our classroom, we can help readers find a starting point (“Hmm… I know I love pasta, maybe I’ll check out that section of the menu.”). When readers finally do have access to the entire library, they’ll have already started to identify some preferences by paying attention to the kinds of books that draw them in and hold their attention.

Tips to Get Started

  • Table baskets can work well at any age. We love them because they allow kids to get their hands of books from the first moment of the first day.  A table basket is a carefully selected collection of 10 – 20 books that we know will draw a wide variety of readers in. They typically include loved picture books, firsts in a series, graphic novels, highly visual informational texts, old favorites from previous years, reference and record books, etc.  With a basket of books like this at the center of a table and a few minutes of time to dig in, students can explore a variety of text types themselves as well as start to interact with each other about what it is they look for and love in a book. The table baskets say from the start, “We are a community of readers. Let’s explore some books together and see what we find.” The beauty of the baskets is, once you’ve created one basket per table, you can simply rotate baskets every day for the first week or so to provide even more variety for your readers.
  • Consider providing mini-booktalks about some of the books you’ve put in baskets or on display, saying things like, “If you like adventure . . . . . And when our classroom library opens soon, you’ll find a whole basket of books by this author (genre, topic, etc.)”
  • Display enticing books throughout your classroom. You can use purchased display stands (we found them for about a buck a piece on Amazon) or make your own by turning a wire hanger (the hateful kind that come from the drycleaners) into a book stand as shown in this YouTube Video.

Questions to Consider

  • Where do you display books in your classroom?
  • What books will you purposefully have on display from the first moments of the school year?
  • How often will you trade out the books on display in your classroom?
  • What type of books are you most likely to be excited about sharing with your students?  What type of books do you need to remind yourself to include, even though they aren’t your own personal favorites?
  • Have you used table baskets in the past?  Stacks or shelves for the first days of school? If not, what might be a starting point for you?
  • What are some other ways you help readers get their hands on books from day one?

Whether it’s a gigantic menu or an enormous classroom library, too many options can be overwhelming at first. The reverse is also true. If there are too few choices, we can quickly become disinterested or disappointed. 

Building a community of readers begins by getting kids excited about books. By selecting and highlighting some high interest genres, topics, authors, and series in the early days of school, we increase the likelihood that the earliest reading experiences students have with us are positive ones. We also start to create a sense of anticipation within students about what they might want to read next. 

Helpful Links

Rather than sharing a list of links in this post, we recommend perusing the links from Challenge #2 on classroom libraries. Images of libraries and book displays abound on the internet. We don’t mean to suggest the goal isn’t to make the room look “Pinterest perfect”. We’ve seen how that be both a financial drain, an energy drain and a whole new source of stress for teachers. Instead, we simply recommend starting with what you have, doing what feels manageable, and building as you go. You’ve got great books in your collection. Get some of them out front and center and they’ll naturally steal the show of any display!

We’d love to hear from you. What type of display or table basket do you imagine building first? How will you start to make this challenge come to life?  Come on over to our Facebook group to join the conversation and maybe share a few of your ideas for displays and book baskets. 

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