Extreme Classroom Library Makeover

A fifth grade class leaves a legacy gift for their teacher

How This Came About

Spring 2014- It all started with a few parents donating bags and boxes of books to the Hampden Meadows library. As I looked through the fabulous titles I realized that we already had the books on our shelves. My next thought was: "What if these books could be the beginning of a fun classroom library makeover?"

As a former fourth grade teacher I acquired books for my classroom library in the following ways:

  • Scholastic book order points
  • book store gift cards
  • yard sales
  • library book sales
  • gifts from families
  • books I bought myself

As I looked at these boxes of books I realized that it never occurred to me as a classroom teacher to request gently used books from my students' families.

However, Barrington is a very literate community. We have families of avid readers. Readers who sometimes don't wait to get the book from the public library. Readers who buy books at the bookstore. What happens to those books when they've finished reading them? I've learned this year that they like to donate them to libraries.

I'm always looking for ways to entice students to read. That's pretty much why I became a librarian. It is my life's mission to get the right book into every child's hands. That's what all teachers worth their salt want, right? Therefore, I say the more access students have to books, the better.

Donalyn Miller is a former ELA teacher who has written The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild. Here's what she says about building a classroom library:

"Building an effective classroom library is an ongoing process. As you select books for your classroom library, think about your students and what books you want to offer them to read....Begin with books that have wide appeal to many readers....When considering series, make sure you include at least the first three or four books in your collections. Students who discover a series are frustrated when a book in the series run is missing...don't load up your bookshelves with award-winning titles if they lack kid appeal. It's a waste of money and space. Include a mix of engaging, easy-to-access titles as well as more challenging texts that stretch students' worldview and deepen their reading experiences. Full bookshelves don't matter much if your students won't (or can't) read the books."

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The Nitty Gritty

Mr. Tibbetts, a fifth grade teacher, was the recipient of the "Extreme Classroom Makeover" experiment, and a very good sport indeed.

I wanted the students to take ownership of their classroom library. I offered to meet with them every Monday after school and every Tuesday before school during the month of May to tackle this project. Needless to say, there were a handful of students who were VERY excited at the prospect of organizing their own library.

First they looked at all of the book donations and chose the titles they thought should go into their classroom library.


Next we started going through the classroom library shelves to remove any titles that were damaged, unappealing, or outdated (such as science titles over 5 years old). We bagged up any books we did not want in the library to make room for the new titles that were coming.


Students organized books by genre. Then they decided that they wanted to ensure that the books would be organized in the future. They labeled every book (using Avery labels and Sharpie markers) by putting a sticker in the back cover. For example, they labeled "fantasy series" for all the books marked for the fantasy series bins.


After years of trying to keep a classroom library organized, I decided to order the bins from www.reallygoodstuff.com for this library. They are a little pricey but I'm thinking about long-term durability. I wanted the library to look uniform and have labels that wouldn't break off from wear and tear. The HMS PTO agreed to donate 24 bins. The students donated money and bins to complete the library. Mr. Fernandes, our reading specialist, made the colorful labels for the bins.

The Finished Product

The students set up a "donation bin" to collect books for the library. Many families sent in fantastic, current titles such as The One and Only Ivan to add to the library. Students report that their library is bright and clean, and that books are interesting and easy to find.

See the "AFTER" pictures below.

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Some Points to Consider if You'd Like to Improve Your Classroom Library

  • The students of Mr. Tibbetts' class expressed disappointment that we embarked on this exciting makeover project at the end of the year instead of the beginning of the year as they wanted to benefit from the changes for a longer period of time. I believe you have student "buy-in" and create your literate community when you let students in on the planning and organizing of their classroom library. Involve them at the beginning of the year and let families know that you welcome new titles to spice up your collection.
  • Don't forget the allure of graphic novels. There is significant research behind the benefits of graphic novels. We've got to hook our readers in any way we can. Reading is reading.
  • Be sure to add picture books to your library. They serve as mentor texts for our readers and writers. They are great reads and not as threatening as chapter books for some readers. Picture books never go out of style.
  • When you create your wish list for the school year, don't be afraid to include book store gift cards. Some families are looking for ways to help.
  • When the Scholastic Book Fair comes to your school, involve your students in selecting books for your classroom "wish list." Families love buying titles to give the class. The kids will tell you the books they're dying to have in their classroom if you just ask.
  • How old and in what shape are your classroom dictionaries? The Common Core curriculum involves much more direct teaching of word study. Do your current dictionaries fit the bill? Consider adding a dictionary or two to your Scholastic Book Fair "wish list."
  • Periodicals are a great way to bring more nonfiction reading into your classroom. Why not add a magazine subscription to your beginning of year wish list? Or ask families to donate gently used kid magazines for your classroom library.
  • Encourage families to order from the monthly Scholastic book orders. If it's too much work, ask a parent to volunteer for the position. It's a great opportunity for working parents to volunteer for their child's class from home. Even easier is encouraging parents to order online so you're not dealing with checks and mailing money. You'll be able to skim through the flyer and choose wide appeal books as well as books that tie into your curriculum. Let families know that the more books they order, the more points your class earns for classroom library titles.

Why This Makeover?

After seventeen amazing years in the classroom, in 2013, I transitioned into my new position as school librarian. I am passionate about finding any way possible to turn children into lifelong readers. I want students to have access to books in any way they possibly can - their home, bookstores, their classroom library, the school library, and the public library.

I wanted to experiment with students taking ownership of their classroom library. These children surpassed my expectations. They took this project on full force, staying after with me, meeting me before school, and coming down to the library in between to check in with updates on what they needed next. These students knew what they wanted (sports fiction and graphic novels) and had a vision for keeping the books organized for the future (inside back cover genre labels). This task was a labor of love for many of the children. They are proud of what they have accomplished. I am so proud of their hard work and dedication.

In conclusion I want to thank:

  • Our principal, Tracey McGee, for fully supporting me in this endeavor and pushing for the PTO library bin donation
  • Mr. Tibbetts for graciously allowing the students and me to take over his classroom library
  • The parents who donated books and bins to the library as well as money for library book bins
  • The Hampden Meadows PTO for generously donating book bins
  • Mr. Fernandes for making colorful labels for the bins
  • And finally, I want to thank the students of Mr. Tibbetts' class for giving their time, energy, money, and books to make this "Extreme Classroom Library Makeover" a reality.

They loved taking over their library and leaving a legacy gift for their fifth grade teacher. Can you think of a better gift than that?