Creating a Balanced Literacy Library
One of the goals for a balanced literacy classroom is to have a diverse classroom library that will engage, excite, and encourage readers of all age groups and
ability levels. But starting a well-stocked, appropriately-stocked library can be daunting. Following are some guidelines that will hopefully make the task more manageable.
The key to a balanced literacy library is diversity. In each library there should be books of various reading levels and genres (fiction, non-fiction, classics, adventure, science fiction, fantasy, biography,
autobiography, historical fiction, to name a few). You’ll want to have a selection that appeals to children of that age group, in levels above and below their reading ability. It is not necessary
to have multiple copies of each book. It is hoped that a book that is well-liked will be “the topic of conversation” and other readers will be waiting expectantly to get their chance
to read it. It is a good idea to have approximately 20 books per student, so a typical class of 28 students would have a classroom library of close to 600 books. That sounds like a lot, but it really
is necessary to have a large variety to choose from.
There are many different ways to set up your library. You can store the books in plastic containers (the kind that can be purchased very inexpensively in Dollar stores). You might organize the books
by genre, author, subject matter, or reading level. I like to group a number of books by the same author. Students can compare the author’s style with his or her other books, or to another
author. Many authors follow one character for a few years and through different adventures, allowing the student to get to know the character like a friend. A simple label can be made by using an
index card to title the container. Use clear bookbinding tape to afix the index card to the container.
Approximately one third of your library should be leveled. These can run the gamut of genres. The purpose of leveling books is to encourage the reader to read books on his or her level: a level that
is not so hard that it will frustrate the reader and turn him or her off to reading, and a level that is not so easy that it will not challenge the reader. In most New York City classrooms, a start
up library is given to each teacher. In order to determine which books are most appropriate for your particular class, you need to determine the approximate reading level of your students. Generally,
the middle of the class reader is the approximate reading level for your class. I’ll have 50 percent of the books on that reading level, 25 percent below that level and 25 percent above that
level. Some good resources for finding out the level of a book are: Leveled Books for Readers by Gay Su Pinnell and Irene C. Fountas, Heinemann Publishing, Portsmouth, New
Hampshire, and A Field Guide to the Classroom Library, by Lucy Calkins and the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project Community, Heinemann Publishing, Portsmouth,
New Hampshire. Both can be found online at www.heniemann.com/fieldguides. You can decide which books you wish to level.
Initially, the teacher should match the student to the appropriate reading level, keeping in mind the student’s interests. Your goal should always be to
eventually move the student on to a higher level. Generally, the easiest books begin with level A (kindergarten) and progress alphabetically, with T, U, V, W, etc., being the upper elementary
The Five Finger Rule
How can the teacher help the students choose the “right” book? Have the student test the book using the "Five Finger Rule.” They should read a page and put up a finger for each
word they don’t know. Use this guide:
1 Finger: Easy to read.
2 Fingers: Just right--enjoy!
3 Fingers: Challenging, but try it--you might like it.
4 Fingers: Very challenging--read with a partner.
5 Fingers: Too hard--save it for later, or have someone read it to you.
How do students choose a “just right” book? Have them look at the cover, author, illustrations, and genre. Have them read the “blurb” on
the book jacket. Does the book look and sound interesting? Have them look at the size of the print, the number of words on a page and the total number of pages. Some students are turned
off by too small print or too long of a book. Other students like long books that they can get lost in!
Encourage students to share by having them retell their book.
I hope you have found this information useful. If you have any questions e-mail me.
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