The Bigger Picture: A Classroom Library Supports Balanced Literacy Instruction

Classroom LibraryIn a balanced literacy classroom, teachers read to students by engaging in read alouds on a regular basis. They also read with students and guide and support them as they progress in their reading skills and provide time for students to read by themselves. A diverse, classroom library that is rich with resources supports each of these distinct purposes. In this post, I’ll focus on the overarching purpose of your library – the whys behind all the work, effort, and joy of building a diverse and spectacular classroom library.

The classroom library serves a broad purpose in the classroom. I’ll explore 5 overarching purposes of a classroom library.

Serves as a Foundation for a Literacy-Rich Environment

Your book collection serves as an integral foundation to establishing a literacy-rich environment for your students. Students need to be surrounded by print which includes teacher-made charts, labels, curriculum-related posters, word walls, bulletin boards, and student work. A literacy-rich environment has a significant impact on what goes on in the classroom and sets the stage for interactions with a wide variety of genres. Your classroom library can provide the foundation for interaction with print.

Supports Independent Reading

When students are provided with classroom libraries rich with resources, they interact more with books, spend more time reading, exhibit more positive attitudes toward reading, and exhibit higher levels of reading achievement (NAEP, 2002). Students that have access to interesting books that they want to read and can read with success, they read more. Independent reading from a wide variety of texts also helps create fluent readers, builds background knowledge, and increases comprehension and vocabulary development.

Helps Students Learn About Books

As mentioned in a previous post, students need to have the opportunity to learn about books in a variety of ways. For example, not only do they need to learn about genres and authors, but they also need to learn about how to select the right reading materials for their purposes. In addition, students need to understand organizational systems and how to properly care for books. All of these skills can be learned based on your classroom library which serves as a smaller, more controlled environment than the school library/media center.

Supports Literacy Instruction

Teaching students how to speak, listen, read, and write are at the heart of a balanced literacy classroom (and the Common Core standards). A diverse book collection that includes a variety of reading materials and resources supports literacy instruction in each of these areas. Students can listen to books on CDs and read alouds by the teacher, partner with a buddy to read side-by-side, independently read, and respond to reading by writing about what they read. Your research-based classroom library is a perfect tool to support reading and writing instruction across the curriculum.

Fosters Conversations around Books

When students are reading more, they naturally want to talk and share about what they’re reading – favorite authors, genres, and topics of interest. I frequently see well-meaning educators believe that reserving time for independent reading is enough. The scenario goes something like this. Students read independently, complete books, and walk to the nearest computer to take a 10-question comprehension quiz over the book. That is simply not enough to build engaged, lifelong readers. Rather, I propose creating space and time in the schedule for students to read and share their books with each other. This may take several different forms. For example, students may read and share books through partner pairs and book clubs. In addition, students should have the opportunity to participate in Book Talks (which I’ll share more about in another post) to share their own likes and dislikes about their selections and to learn more about what their classmates are reading. Book Talks both keep interest high and focused on reading and serve as a vehicle to create a community of readers.

Final Thoughts

In closing, perhaps the most obvious purpose of a classroom library is to provide access to books which supports independent reading. In a broader sense, a diverse classroom library does much more than that. It serves as the cornerstone of a literacy-rich environment, provides resources for cross-curricular reading and writing activities, fuels independent reading and learning about books, and fosters conversations about books. Here’s to your spectacular classroom library.


Classroom Library ResourcesClick on the “Classroom Libraries” tab to view our resources. Click the button to go there now and check out the resources.



PinterestMany more classroom library resources are located on our Pinterest page. Learning Unlimited has developed 40+ boards and over 900 pins to support your balanced literacy instruction.



BlogHave you found these posts helpful in supporting your literacy efforts? Then subscribe by email or RSS feed and have new posts delivered regularly to your inbox!

The following two tabs change content below.


Kimberly has been a teacher, administrator, and literacy consultant who worked in districts across the country to improve student literacy achievement. She currently serves as an Educational Specialist with Solution Tree and project manager for large-scale PLC implementations. Her new book, Blended Vocabulary: Harnessing the Power of Digital Tools and Effective Instruction, was recently released in February, 2017.