Creating Reading Engagement in the Junior Classroom!

Scrolling through my Facebook page this September, I see many Junior Division educators looking for suggestions to get their students engaged in reading.  They face classes filled with children who seem unwilling to contemplate reading anything that doesn’t appear on their phones and tablets, creating anxiety among those of us charged with teaching students to “read and demonstrate an understanding of a variety of literary, graphic, and informational texts, using a range of strategies to construct meaning” (Ontario Language Curriculum).


Learn how to use your upper elementary classroom library as a teaching strategy to boost reading engagement in your Grades 4, 5 and 6 students.

Clearly, this is a daunting task, but two activities that I introduce early in the school year appear to help my students become invested in our classroom library AND able to see themselves on a journey as a reader.

The Student-Created Classroom Library

Over the years I’ve come to appreciate the importance of students taking on the responsibility of sorting, organizing, and labeling our classroom library.  In my early years as a Junior level teacher, the students would arrive on the first day of school to find a beautiful reading nook, with books already organized by genre, author, and series.  This was before the arrival of Pinterest, with its wealth of class library images to inspire me; I made my own colour-coded, laminated labels and neatly affixed them to the appropriate (also colour-coded) book bins.  It was pretty…but the kids took no ownership of this library, because they had no input into its creation.

So I decided to hand the creation of the class library over to them….and it was amazing.  It still is, every single year!  One day in September I tell my students that they will be sorting, organizing, and labeling all the books that are randomly on our shelves, and they immediately begin throwing out ideas as to how this should be done.  Generally, the process goes something like this:

1.  Students brainstorm book categories.  For example, they may start simply with “Fiction” and “Non-Fiction”, and then move into sub-categories.  For example, fiction could be sorted by genre (mystery, historical, adventure….) while non-fiction could be organized by topic (sports, space, trivia…).  I record their ideas on chart paper, and the class finally votes on their final classification system.

2.  Students create labels for the many, many bins I gathered over the years.  Usually just index-card size labels are fine, but I do have some old pre-made labels floating around, and I let students use those if they wish.  Once a label is made, it is hole-punched twice (once in each corner) and attached to the bins with dollar-store zip-ties.  Labeled bins are placed on student desks.

3.  Students work in pairs, taking a handful of books from the shelves and deciding where each book should go.  (We have already discussed using the information at the back and inside front covers of books to help determine genres.)  Books are placed neatly in the appropriate bins.

4.  Bins are placed on the shelves, according to whatever criteria that year’s class has decided upon.

Classroom Library Display

This may not result in the prettiest classroom library I’ve ever seen, BUT all my students understand exactly where and why books are located in particular locations in the classroom.  They can easily find a particular book, and return it to its proper location.  Some years students also place numbers on the bins, and then use pencil to record the bin number on the inside of each book.

In this picture you will see that many books still remain on the shelves.  This was a “work in progress” over several days!!

Image of Classroom Library

My Life as a Reader

One thing that every student I have ever taught can tell you about me is that I LOVE books and reading.  My favourite part of each day is our read-aloud (you may see from the photo above that we were reading Holes early last year)!

I like to invite students to think about the reading experiences that have shaped their own lives, and ask them to create timelines of their lives as readers.  Of course, I model this first!

Image of "My Life as a Reader" reading activity example.

I use timelines for a variety of purposes throughout the school year, but this is one of my favourites!  I took time to “think aloud” about the reading experiences that resulted in change or growth over my life, and recorded these experiences sequentially on a line, noting:
  • my age
  • the book or experience
  • the significance of the experience
Then I ask students to do the same activity.  Most do it with pencil and paper, but many will use some type of technology to make things more organized and legible.  Sadly, I have lost the images of my students’ work, so I have only included my own example.

I have found that this activity helps students to recognize that they have already experienced growth as a reader, and it also inspires them to discover new authors and genres in the year ahead.  

And…these timelines make a great display during Open Houses and Meet the Teacher nights!!


P.S.  Check out my “Coach’s Corner” TPT store for more great teaching ideas!

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