Literacy Instruction

All things literacy!

9 Guiding Ideas for School Libraries

9 Guiding Ideas for School Libraries

The Role of the Library

At a school using a balanced, comprehensive literacy program the library is the heart of everything. I would like to argue that the library should always be the heart of a school regardless of curriculum. 

These are some truths I believe about school libraries. I would like to say that I am not a trained librarian but a classroom teacher. If you are a school librarian, please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below. Learning from one another is extremely important.

Readers Should Have Free Choice

The only time in my classroom that students don’t have choice is when I choose guided reading books and a few rare other times when I select texts for students. I often recommend texts to readers but they can always turn down my choices. Not all classrooms offer students choice and power over the books they read. Libraries need to be the safe haven that always allows choice. 

Students should be allowed to explore their own interests. They should be allowed to check out books that are far too difficult and far too easy for them. They need a space where they are allowed to be a reader. No one prevents me from checking out certain books at the library. Students should have the same privilege. 

Just Say No to Levels

I don’t believe that levels are for students and I do not believe levels have a place in libraries. If kids are allowed free choice, their reading abilities shouldn’t limit them. 

When I was in elementary school there was a picture book and chapter book section of our library. We had to check out from the picture book section in grades K, 1, 2 and then were no longer allowed to check books out from there in grades 3, 4, 5. In second grade the top three readers were allowed to check out books from the chapter book section. I was so excited to hear the names announced Allison, Grace, and Daniel. It wasn’t me. My teacher later told me that I was reader number four. I was so upset and I spent the entire year checking out books (because we had to) and returning them without reading them. That year I also spent a lot of time at the public library checking out Boxcar Children and Amber Brown. Don’t limit kids because of their reading level. Let them love books!

Checkout Limits Need To Go

If the goal of school libraries is to create book lovers and readers then why do we limit how many stories a child can take out? Don’t we want more books in the hands of readers? Checkout limits are counterintuitive. Of course, some students will need guidance but I’ve found that even without checkout limits kids figure out how many books is right for them. Teaching kids how to self-regulate is an important skill and book check outs are the perfect place for it. 

EveryDay Is Library Day

My class visits the library once a week for class. During that class our library media specialist reads a story and reinforces a concept we’re teaching in reading or writing. Then students are allowed to browse the library and check out books. But everyday is library day. So if students go home and read all of their books they can always check out books during the first and last half-hour of the day. I have students who visit the library daily and check out what I’m sure is a ridiculously large number of books a year. Every child has the opportunity to visit the library every day. That is what matters when creating readers.

The library also shouldn’t shut down for large periods of time where it is inaccessible to students. Libraries that close the last month of school aren’t helping create more readers. I know that inventory is an important process but kids having access to books is even more important. Think about the policies of your school library. Do they support growing readers or do the polices stand in their way? 

Students Should Be Allowed A Clean Slate

My favorite librarian Barb always had a clean slate club. Each and every school year she welcomed students back into the library and declared that they each had a clean slate. That meant that all of their past library activity was wiped clean. If you had late fees- gone! If you lost a book and never returned it- don’t worry! Every child was guaranteed a clean slate. Clean slate announcements happened throughout the school year as well.

When books were lost and fines weren’t paid Barb didn’t shame children and she didn’t restrict their access to books. She said they were simply building their home libraries. Books are consumable resources. We know that they become well loved and pages fall out or they become lost at home and get added to a home library collection. Not returning books and not being able to pay late fines shouldn’t hinder children. If we don’t allow those kids to check out books we are often limiting our most vulnerable readers. That is against our goal of creating more readers! 

The Library Should Be Filled With Book Lovers

You can tell a successful library and a successful literacy program by the whispers and sometimes shouts you hear at the library. Kids should be talking about their interests. They should share recommendations with other students. They should jump up and down when they see the new texts being added to the library. The feeling in the library should be one of loving books. Do these kids love books? Are they given opportunities to share their reading life with other readers?

Books Should Mirror the Diversity of the World

Kids need windows and mirrors. This isn’t a new concept but it still doesn’t happen in all classrooms. Students need mirrors to see themselves and their own cultures reflected back at them. They also need windows to look out and learn about lives that are different than their own. We grow stronger by reading books that are both mirrors and windows. 

When I taught grade 3 my class wanted to do a classroom library audit. We dumped all of our books out onto the floor and started sorting by type of characters- animals, white people, Black people, First Americans, etc. One of my First American students was so upset to only find one book that represented First Americans in our library and even more upset when she realized it didn’t represent the Ojibwe tribe. Representation matters. She couldn’t read stories about her own culture in our classroom library and no other students could read about her culture. That isn’t ok. Kids need to see representation across the genres as well. I should see myself represented in historical fiction, poetry, realistic fiction, narrative nonfiction, biographies, fantasies, thrillers, mysteries. You name it and I should be able to find a mirror book and several window books. As a white woman I don’t have too hard of a time finding mirrors but finding windows can be tricky. 

Our school consciously purchased more books about Black Americans for our biography unit but then we realized they bought stories about slavery or stories about civil rights. Want to know which biography was the most popular? Gabby Douglas. Kids wanted more biographies of Black Americans of today. By only showing times of struggle the window and mirror view of the Black experience was warped. 

Support Reading in All Forms

Magazines, eBooks, audiobooks, printed books, whatever kind. All books are created equal. Earlier this year I was told I shouldn’t put the book I was reading on my door for literacy week because I was “only listening to it.” Sometimes the only way I get to read is by listening to stories as I walk around the city. Each morning on my way to the taxi I listen to an audiobook. I also read book on my iPad and I have paper books as well. Libraries should celebrate all readers and all types of readers! 

There Should Be No Censorship

We shouldn’t exclude books from our collections just because it might be controversial. In fact we need to include controversial books. We can’t exclude texts about LGBTQ people. Their lives aren’t inappropriate. We can’t exclude texts on police violence. We need an inclusive library without censorship.

When I was in middle school I went through a phase where I only read really depression books about drug addicts, violence, and teen pregnancy. I read Smack and Go Ask Alice, Speak and Cut. These books were deemed inappropriate for me and I didn’t care. I loved reading those book so much. They were the windows I must have needed at that time in my life. My sister had a teacher call home to tell my mom the Gossip Girl books she was reading weren’t appropriate. Thankfully, my mom does not mess around when it comes to reading. She didn’t care what we were reading as long as we were reading. After going through my dark books phase I started reading the Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging series. Readers go through phases- its ok. Let kids explore and figure out their identity and place in the world through books. 

Weekly Wisdom

Weekly Wisdom

Weekly Wisdom

Weekly Wisdom

Letters & Sounds Hooray!

Letters & Sounds Hooray!

A few weeks ago during science we went outside to trace our shadows. On the shadow we wrote the day and time. As kids wrote with chalk I said the letters in Monday aloud. M-O-N-D-A-Y. I looked around at my diamonds to see many, many incorrect spellings of Monday. I had some Muntew, Nondei, Mondaw… I mean the list goes on. Later that morning we played a game called write the letter I say as we tested to see which markers needed to be thrown away. As I said the letter names they wrote down the letter and then checked their marker to decide if it was a keep or a toss. I watched as they wrote incorrect letter after incorrect letter. We needed to do something about letter names ASAP! …but what?!

Last year was my first year teaching grade 1. Previously I had never taught lower than 2. I know, I know. It might seem like there isn’t a big difference between grade 1 and grade 2 but there is. There really really is. A HUGE difference.

These are some of my classroom favorites for teaching letter names and letter sounds. Remember that this is taught in cooperation with reader’s and writer’s workshop. Although these are isolated activities they are brought out of isolation during workshop. Kids need to learn within a context as well. 

My Favorite Letter/Sound Activities

Class Name Chart

These are not the names of my students. Fake names have been chosen to demonstrate a class name chart.

If you use Fountas and Pinnell Phonics then you probably have a class name chart in your classroom. We made our class name chart the first or second day of school. The name chart is a great way to get to know your students and to find out what they know about their own name. Starting with the name is a powerful choice. Students take great pride in their names… actually, I think everyone takes pride in their name. If you haven’t read this post about names, please check it out! Having their names up on the wall is so exciting. I once read somewhere that a child should be able to find their name at least 7 places in your classroom.

While creating this name chart I can see who knows the first letter of their name, who can spell their name, who knows about ABC order, who knows what sounds different letters make, and so much more. I just love this activity! We then use our name chart throughout the entire year.

This year we also added a people at our school name chart. This was inspired by this video. The kids love having the different people at our school up on the wall and it brings our whole school community into our classroom.

Once the class name chart is completed it is the gift that keeps on giving. We use this all the time during word study or interactive writing. Sometimes I call a kid up to write a letter if they have it in their name. “Kuba can you please come up to the board and write the last letter in your name?” Or “Oh my goodness! This word starts with the same letter as Filip!” 

The Alphabet & Alphabet Linking Chart

Yeah.. I always forget to take pictures so here is a sort of blurry one of the alphabet. I recently learned that it is not ok to have igloo as the I because it is offensive to Native Americans so I have changed it to an iguana. BUT... of course I don't have a picture of that one.

This year I switched my alphabet and made one intentionally thinking of letters and letter sounds. I don’t think you can create an alphabet without thinking of letters actually! 😂 In the past, I had an alphabet that had only animals or one that the kids and I made together. After reflecting upon how I use the alphabet in my classroom, it’s importance in our word study program and problems I’ve had with my previous alphabet I made a change.

This year all of the pictures in my alphabet were chosen because they made a certain sound. This way each time a child looks at the picture they hear the sound I wanted them to hear. All of the vowels are short vowel words (apple, egg, iguana, octopus, umbrella). I learned that elephant is not a good short e word to use because it sounds like the letter l.  Letters like c or g that make different sounds have a hard sound (cat, girl). X doesn’t use x-ray or xylophone both make a sound of x but not the one I wanted my children to hear. X instead uses box. The only word in the alphabet to end with the letter sound. I thought it was very important for them to hear that /x/ sound.

As a class, we then made an alphabet linking chart. Here I printed only the lowercase letters and a black and white version of the picture for each letter. The kids and I colored our cards together while discussing the letter sounds. Then we glued them onto a large piece of chart paper and hung it next to the easel. When I first taught second grade, each teacher had the alphabet hanging (usually up high), an alphabet linking poster at the easel and a smaller alphabet linking poster at the guided reading table. I don’t have a specific area in my classroom for guided reading so we just have the large alphabet and the alphabet linking poster for now.

The personal alphabet took the place of the small alphabet linking poster at the guided reading table. As I worked with small groups kids were able to color in the pictures of the letters they knew the sounds for on their alphabet. Each child now had a small alphabet linking chart that could be used for many different things. Some friends keep their letter offices out during writer’s workshop to determine sounds. Some use it during writer’s workshop to determine how to make the lowercase letter they are looking for. Sometimes we bring it to the carpet with our letter looker to find what letter sound I am making. There are just so many different ways to use a personal alphabet. This alphabet will also transform into a personal word wall for some of my friends.  

Click here to purchase my alphabet set! 

Handwriting and Letter Sounds

In our Grade 0 (kindergarten) kids learn both upper and lowercase letters but many students leave only knowing the uppercase letters. In many cultures in Europe the way writing looks on a page is valued higher than the ideas and the story. Many cultures also teach cursive from the very beginning so print can be looked down upon. I know there has been a fairly large shift on this thinking in the US but I don’t teach in the US. When our parents see our children’s writing they focus on how it looks, not what it says. We are working to build in parent education around this but you can’t change cultural values through parent education. In class, we place more value on what we are writing and how we are saying our message but culturally we also need to focus on how the letters look.

My assistant teacher and I focus heavily on lowercase letters in grade 1 and try to de-emphasize uppercase letters. Our children are learning to write in many different scripts all at the same time. Some students might be learning Polish and English at school but Korean at home. The Polish, French, German, English, Czech, and Korean (just to name some) scripts all make their letters in different ways. In many of the languages, they are learning cursive but we are teaching print. So in grade 1, we spend a lot of time on handwriting and on lowercase letters while trying not to lose the essence of the writer’s workshop and word study. It is a tricky balance but after children start making their stories “look nice” parents start to understand the importance of the other parts of writing.

Each Letter Makes a Sound (Farmer in the Dell)

There are so many ways to take the traditional songs we might know and change the lyrics. This song goes to the tune of the Farmer in the Dell.

Each letter makes a sound

Each letter makes a sound

High-Ho Here We Go!

Each letter makes a sound

The a makes a sound

The a makes a sound

/a/ /a/ /a/ /a/ /a/

The a makes a sound

I think you get the picture! This song is so engaging. We sing it while we are lining up. We sing it as we are coming to the carpet. We sing it as we are cleaning up. The kids just love this song! The grade 1 reading interventionist at my old school taught this song along with the next one to me long ago. Sometimes I let the kids call out the letters. Sometimes I pull magnetic letters out of a jar. Sometimes we go in ABC order or in reverse ABC order. The song is great for practicing letter sounds.

The Letters on the Bus

This goes to the tune of the wheels on the bus.

The a on the bus goes

/a/ /a/ /a/

/a/ /a/ /a/

/a/ /a/ /a/

The a on the bus goes

/a/ /a/ /a/

The letters make a sound.

This song is also great just like each letter makes a sound. There are so many different things you could do with this song. I even made a little letter bus to help kids use on their own. 

Click here to get a letter bus FREEBIE

Letter Looker

This is an idea I borrowed from Dr. Jean. You might know Dr. Jean from her Guacamole video but she has so many educational ideas to share with everyone. The letter looker is a pipe cleaner that is twisted into a magnifying glass shape. When we have our letter lookers I call out a letter and everyone tries to find that letter. The kids have a blast. Some of them only feel comfortable going to the letters on our alphabet linking chart right now. That is completely fine! As they learn more about letter names and sounds they will start to move away from the alphabet linking poster and go out into the room. This is a reason why Interactive Writing is so important in Grade 1. If we didn’t produce any writing together the kids might not have places to look for the letters. 

I also use the letter looker with some of the videos I will share below. Simply pause the video and have the kids search for the letter the video paused on. I honestly didn’t think that this would be as engaging as it was! the kids have a blast!

Youtube Videos & Go Noodle

We use Go Noodle and on Go Noodle there is a Youtube Channel. Teachers can add videos to their channel and I add all of these videos. It is much more fun to dance and sing to a letter video when your champ is going to earn points to level up! 

Here are the videos I recommend

ABC Kickbox by Dr. Jean

Phonercise by Dr. Jean

Go Letters by Dr. Jean

A to Z by Jolly Phonics

LeapFrog Letter Sounds

Sing and Sign by Jack Hartmann 

Vowel Bat 

What do the Letters Say by Have Fun Teaching

Thoughts?

What are your favorite letter and letter sound activities in the classroom? How do you work with your students who don’t know their letter sounds? I would love to hear from you, please leave a note in the comments below! 

What’s the Deal? Word Walls

What’s the Deal? Word Walls

I remember the word wall was one of the most confusing pieces in my classroom my first year teaching. In fact, it was left empty until the 3rd quarter because I had no idea what to do with it but I knew that we were required to have them. I didn’t know what to do or when to put up words or what words to put up! Let’s try to clear these up.

This new series, What’s the Deal? works to demystify some of the most confusing and sometimes contradictory pieces of information in education. I’m not going to say I’ll always piece it together correctly here but I will try. 

Should I Have a Word Wall?

Yes. Yes, you should.

A word wall is a designated area in the classroom set aside to help young writers with tricky words. Every grade level in elementary can have a word wall catered to their needs. Even older grades can use a word wall! A word wall is designed to help students make connections between words and provide a scaffold when spelling tricky words. Word walls need to be interactive and created with students not created for them. Students should not walk in to find new words suddenly up on the wall but it should be built together. If a word wall is already put up in a classroom then students are using it as a crutch when it should be a scaffold. A word wall should assist students in spelling words and they should begin to make connections to the words on their own. 

How Do They Work?

The teacher adds words with the students to assist in spelling. This is not a place where the teacher puts up all the words kids don’t know so they can just copy them. If you do that kids will either ignore the wall or be overwhelmed by it. Adding words together allows students to have ownership over the wall. It lets them know what words are on the wall and it becomes a tool. 

I put up the word and recently. When adding the word and we said it and clapped it and spelled it out loud and traced it on the floor. Some teachers even sing a song. Then we added it. A few days later (actually I think later that day) we made connections using the word and. If you know and then you know sand. If you know and then you know hand! The kids got so excited and found many more examples. Now if a child were to wonder, “how do you spell hand?” They could look to the word wall and see if they could use a word to help them spell. 

The word wall should help kids spell the words that are there but it should also help them spell words that aren’t there. If kids aren’t taught how to make connections between different words then they will only be able to spell the words that are already up on the wall. 

What Words Do I Add?

High-frequency words should be added to the wall. I put up words that my students are using a lot like Poland, the name of our school, vacation, etc. During word study, we add exemplar words to the wall. We just added the word at and if you know at you know so many other words! I use the 500-word list in the Fountas and Pinnell Word Matters book as a guide but I adapt to meet my students’ needs. It’s all focused on what they need. Last year we added the word a to the word wall, this year we didn’t need to.

To determine which words to add next I generally walk around and read my students writing. I pick some words that are spelled wrong and jot them down. While looking at all the students I create a sort of a tally chart. I determine which ones are within the class’ zone of proximal development and then we add those words. 

How Many Words Do I Add?

We should add between 4-5 words a week to the wall. We shouldn’t add any more because then our students will forget what words are on the wall and it just becomes wall decoration instead of a tool for learning. I generally have a running list of words to add next. Now, the point of adding words is so that students spell those words correctly but it is also so that they spell more words correctly. I choose the words I put up intentionally some words like because and about go on my word wall every year. These words are used a lot by my students and they don’t yet have the strategies to spell them. Other words don’t go up every year. 

Once words are up on the word wall they might not need to stay up all year. Remember the word wall should meet the needs of your students. The wall should be interactive. Words should be going up and coming down as needed. This means the wall shouldn’t become overwhelming where students can’t find the words they need anymore. 

When Do I Add Words?

I add words in a few different times. Sometimes I call my students to the word wall as a mid-workshop interruption during writer’s workshop and we’ll add a word right then and there. Sometimes we will add a word to the wall during share. At times we add a word to the wall during morning meeting. Once we added a word to the word wall during math. I try to plan which word will go up on the word wall and then see where it naturally slides into my day. Adding a word to the word wall shouldn’t take too long, no more than 5 minutes typically. 

How Can I Differentiate It?

Word walls are meant to be for all students and I am sure that you also have a wide range of abilities in your classroom. One way to differentiate is to use those pockets that used to be in the back of library books. In the word wall pictured above, I used those for the letter card and more challenging words were placed in the cards. Words that I didn’t expect everyone to spell correctly but I did expect some kids to spell correctly. We added those words to the wall the same way as the other ones. This way anyone could use that card. In the past, I have lined those up on the bottom of the chalkboard for students who need them. 

I also create a words we know board when we remove words from the wall but some students still need them. I don’t always call it words we know depending on how my class would react to that with some kids still needing them. I’ve called it a retired word wall before as well. Together we move words like I or the from the regular word wall to the other word wall. Then eventually it might be taken down from that space. It might also stay up all year depending on what the kids need. 

What do I need to Start?

The word wall should be in a space where students can see it and reach it. We might not all have this space available in our classrooms. My word wall last year was in such a terrible place because it was the only wall space we had large enough. Do what you can. 

Alphabet cards– Currently I use lowercase only on my word wall. I needed a way to display only the lowercase letters and remind them that we use lowercase more than uppercase. I do have uppercase letters displayed in the classroom in many other areas so I felt the word wall was a place I could use only lowercase. In the past, I have used upper and lowercase on the word wall. Do what’s best for your class. What do they need? 

Magnet Tape– I use this if my board is on a magnetic surface. Last year I couldn’t use magnet tape. This way students can come and get the words and put them back. They aren’t permanently stuck on the wall. 

White cards and a black marker– research has shown that it is best of the words are written in black ink on a white or light surface. We all like colors in the classroom but keep color away from the word wall. You can type your words or write them out. I usually just choose to handwrite them. 

Highlighter Tape– Highlighter tape allows you to call attention to a particular part of a word. In the picture above I highlighted to vowels. Right now CVCe words are highlighted on the wall. Highlighter tape will go up and come down depending on what you are drawing their attention to. 

Click HERE for a word wall freebie! Included are lowercase letter cards and a few high-frequency word cards to help get you started. Enjoy!

Using a word wall can be such a powerful tool for the writers within our classroom. Let me know what questions you have about creating a word wall in the comments below. Please share any tips or advice about the word wall as well!