Challenge #4: Make a plan for student storage & management of self-selected books.

Challenge #4: Make a plan for student storage and management of their self-selected books. Take some time to think through what you want students to have in their bags or boxes. How many texts? What kind of variety? What other tools? Set up a sample bag (box, baggie, stack) of your own to use for demonstration and modeling with your students.  

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“For every minute spent organizing, an hour is earned.”  -Benjamin Franklin

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How Does This Help Grow A Community of Readers?

When it’s time for independent reading, the last thing you want to hear is, “I can’t find my books.” Or “I don’t have anything to read.”  To prevent this from ever happening, we’re advocates of helping students build and constantly curate a personal collection of books. This, of course, looks a little different depending on the age or stage of reading development of each student. But, the goal is to avoid the many pitfalls of having students choose just one book at a time and then try to find the next. Instead, we try to help students develop the skills and strategies for always having a generous supply of potential next reads waiting in the wings, whether it is a physical collection, or a written list of next reads.

Considerations for Primary Readers 

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Book boxes can be portable to readers can take them on the go in the classroom.

We find that with students in grades K-2 a general rule of thumb is for them to have about 10 to 15 books in their baskets or baggies at any given time. For readers in this age range, a box that allows the books to stand upright for easy organization and browsing works well. 

One of the benefits of having all of their reading materials in a box is that it also helps aid primary readers with their reading spot selection. When selecting a good place to read, primary readers can easily grab their book boxes and head to their spot in one trip when reading time starts rather than making multiple trips back and forth to gather all of their reading materials. This is a huge time saver that will help our youngest readers make the most of their valuable independent reading time. Then, on a weekly basis, they can do some shopping for new books, trading out the ones they’re done with, keeping a few favorites or books they’ve not yet spent time with, and finding a few new treasures. Many primary grade teachers find it works best to assign readers a special day of the week for “book shopping” to take place.

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You don’t have to break the bank to find good book storage solutions. This first grade teacher made great use of old magazine boxes for in-class storage and generic brand gallon size bags for take-home book storage.

Considerations for Older Readers

In the intermediate and middle grades, as students start to read longer texts, they typically won’t select as many books at a time, but we still like to encourage students to have more than one text at their fingertips. Variety is often the key with older readers. For instance, we might encourage older readers to have a novel, an informational text or two, and some type of shorter length text like poetry, a magazine, etc. By helping students learn how to be proactive in choosing a variety of texts, we increase the likelihood that they are able to make use of longer and longer stretches of time with their self-selected texts.  This is especially true in the fall of the year.

Lots of readers with lots of books and takes some planning and organization. 

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In this classroom, the fifth graders stored their books on top of their tables with a nameplate on top. The books were all in one place at each reader’s fingertips!

Designing a system to support your readers in keeping their texts and materials organized not only gives them easy access to their books each day, but it also ensures that valuable reading time is not lost to digging through their desks or backpacks for a lost book, aimlessly browsing in the classroom library, or getting lost in the hallway between the classroom and their locker.

When a storage or organizational classroom plan is in place and it’s time for self-selected independent reading, students grab their bag, box, or stack of reads and off they go to their reading spots. There is no wondering “What will I read today?” or “Where did I put my book?”

Ideas to Get You Started

  • If you’ve got a small classroom, you might choose bags rather than boxes since they can easily be stored inside a desk, on the back of a chair or on hooks on the wall.
  • Many businesses give away free reusable bags with advertising on them. Reach out and explain what you’ll be using the bags for and how they’ll support learning in your classroom. Chances are the business people will be happy to help out with a donation of bags. You can thank them with photos of their bags in action with students.
  • Adult sized shoe boxes can make great individual storage boxes in the primary grades. Ask students and fellow staff members for help in rounding them up and we’re guessing you’re request will result in a lots of quantity and variety of shoe boxes. Be sure to choose the sturdiest ones as keepers. And of course we’ve no doubt you’ve got a dozen quick ideas about how these could be customized by students.
  • Short on time and money? Large sized Ziplock bags can work well to get get you going. Gallon bags work well for most books will, or you can try the Hefty 2.5 gallon sized bag, big enough for any book your students encounter.
  • If you’ve got a budget and plan to purchase individual plastic tubs, shop around. Really Good Stuff has an amazing variety of study tubs. Kari loves these because they are narrow enough to conserve space but have little extender feet to prevent them from tipping over from if they are free standing.
  • With older readers bags and boxes are not always necessary. Some teachers simply have readers keep their books on top of their tables in stacks or on a designated counter top. An added bonus to storing books this way is that it makes everyone’s choices visible, doubling as an advertisement and conversation starter between readers. 
  • About once every two weeks with older readers, it’s a good idea to give the class an opportunity to reevaluate their stacks. Invite readers to put abandoned books back into the library, chat with other readers about what they’re currently reading, and grow their future-reads lists.

Questions to Consider

  • Do you have access to boxes or bags already?  If not, do you have a budget for this?
  • If you used bags, boxes or stacks last year, what did you like about your system?  What were some of the challenges? How might you adjust this year?
  • Do you have space for individual baskets in your classroom?  If so, where will they be stored when students are not engaged in reading?
  • What kind of plan or system will you have to make sure students have regular opportunities to refresh their book boxes or shop for next reads?
  • How many books will you encourage students to select at one time?
  • If management of book bags, boxes, or book stacks is new to you, who could you collaborate or connect with to get support?

Helpful Links

Simple Starts: Making the Move to a Reader-Centered Classroom by Kari Yates available through Heinemann

Rethinking the Book Box by Genia Cornell

We’d love to hear from you. How do you think you might approach student storage of books? How will you start to take actionable steps to make this challenge become a reality? We’d love to hear your ideas over on our Facebook group. Come and join us!

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