Start a Classroom Library! Summer 2009, Tips and Techniques for Creative Teaching

By Cavanaugh, Terence | The Science Teacher, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

Start a Classroom Library! Summer 2009, Tips and Techniques for Creative Teaching


Cavanaugh, Terence, The Science Teacher


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In today's classrooms--science and otherwise--all teachers are charged with helping students develop literacy skills. One effective method for supporting literacy is to create your own science classroom library. These collections can encourage students to read while also helping them to develop background and science-content knowledge. The collection should reflect your specific teaching area but also reach beyond it to provide students with a wide range of experiences in all of the sciences. When I was a high school science teacher, my classroom collection contained books that related to all of the subjects I taught and included novels, nonfiction, pamphlets and booklets from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), coffee table picture books, and even some science-related activity books.

Reutzel and Fawson (2002) have identified five major functions of the classroom library. It

* supports literacy instruction,

* helps students learn more about books,

* provides a location in the classroom for resources,

* provides opportunities for independent reading and curriculum extensions, and

* serves as a place for students to interact with books in the classroom.

The reading collection can also be used to meet National Science Education Standards when it is incorporated into activities such as school-required reading times or extended investigations (Science Teaching Standard D) (NRC 1996, p. 32). My students used our classroom collection to complete projects such as analyzing the science presented in one of the books or giving a quick talk about what they had read to the class.

Choosing your collection

It is important for students to be exposed to a range of language, topics, genres, and perspectives (McGee and Richgels 1996). In developing your own classroom collection, try to offer a wide variety of genres in both fiction and nonfiction, including picture books, mysteries, romance novels, historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy, general fiction, short stories, nonfiction references, handbooks, biographies, how-to books, collections of science essays, and journal articles. A good place to start is the Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12. Every year since 1973, NSTA and the Children's Book Council (CBC) have created categorized lists of books that are great to use with students--lists from 1996 on are available online (see "On the web"). You can also include DVDs and audio books in the collection as well.

It is important to select material from a wide range of reading levels--both above and below the average ability level of students. This ensures that there are books available that all students in the class can read effectively. Too often the science books students have been exposed to (science textbooks) are written above the grade levels of the students they are intended for. For example, an analysis in one school district found that the readability of the standard middle school science textbook was 1-4 years ahead of the intended grade level (Yarbrough 2007). Having to read above their ability levels can frustrate students and contribute to negative feelings about science and reading.

The books and media that you use in your own classroom collection can come from anywhere--there is no perfect list. Just consider the subjects you teach, your interests, your students' interests, and their reading level. You can also explore books that relate to your content area as you develop the collection (Readence, Bean, and Baldwin 2004). But remember, just having a collection is not enough. You will need strategies to get your students interested in these books and media, as well as a method to regulate your collection.

Keeping track of your books

Once you have a classroom library of books and media, you then have to keep track of it. Before online tools were available, this was often difficult and time-consuming. …

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