Classroom Makeover Part I: Print-Rich Environment

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

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Summer is the perfect time (read: only time) for teachers to think about giving their classrooms and procedures a spiffy little makeover. This three-part series will share a few ideas for polishing up your reading corner (Part I), procedures (Part II), and discipline (Part III). It’s makeover time!


Creating a Print-Rich Environment

It’s a researched fact: children exposed to high-quality print in abundance are better readers. But, kids are just like adults: they want things (like books) to be nice, pretty and attractive before they pick them up. So, if your class library is a little less than attractive (read: tattered hand-me-downs wedged onto a spare shelf), check out these tips for creating an effective reading corner that will lure children into literacy.

First: Place Books With Covers Outward

Reading guru Jim Trelease makes the point that grocery stores arrange products with the fronts of packaging–not the spines–facing outward. Why? To attract buyers. But, how do we usually shelve books for children? Like this:

photo from

The solution? Face covers outward. Here are two ways to do just that.

TIP ONE: Install rain gutters!

This one would take some approval (it involves drilling), but look how GREAT this is. Inexpensive rain gutters make incredible, inviting book holders. Jim Trelease shares many success stories on this method on his website. Here are two photos, to show you how cute this is:

TIP TWO: Book baskets

This idea is easier and even less expensive than the gutters. Simply snag a bunch of cheap baskets from your local big-box store. Then, create genre labels for each basket by printing genres (mysteries, historical fiction, picture books, sports books, adventures, etc.) on cardstock, cutting them into small rectangles, laminating them, and attaching the labels to the front of each basket. Place books in baskets, covers facing outward. The books in a basket will overlap and cover each other obviously, but the front cover will face outward invitingly. Line up baskets side-by-side on your shelves, and voila! A colorful, inviting, well-organized library that children will literally run to when they first walk in the door. (The baskets also teach children to search for book by genre…another good literary lesson.)

Second: Comfy seating

Any non-school-looking seating options make for a great reading corner: an old rug, a couple beanbag chairs, a slew of pillows, a stack of carpet squares, a hand-me-down love seat, a futon. My elementary school library even had an old ceramic bathtub filled will pillows! It was THE hot spot in the library, of course. Any way you can set this space apart as fun and different will create positive connotations with literacy for your students.

Third: Fun lighting

A couple small lamps on the top of a bookshelf add a warm, inviting ambiance to your reading corner. Again, it’s all about giving the corner that “Oooh!-effect” when students walk in.

Fourth: Kids’ book reviews

Post a bulletin board above your reading corner that says: “Books We Dig.” You can decorate the bulletin board with a paper bucket and some paper “dirt” at the bottom (coffee grounds glued onto brown construction or bulletin board paper are cute…and smell Starbucks-y :). Tie a real plastic shovel on as an accent. Then, put a stack of colorful note cards nearby, and tell your class that after they read a book in the class library, they can recommend it to their classmates by writing a review for it on a note card, which you can then staple or tack onto the bulletin board. Include a sample card on the board that looks something like this:




Why Was It Good?

Two-Sentence Summary (no spoilers!):

Do a mini-lesson at the beginning of the year on how to write an effective book review, using this format. (“No spoilers” is a simple reminder not to give away the ending!)

Then, when your students say, “But I don’t know WHAT to read!”–tell them to read their classmates’ reviews and pick a book.

Fifth: Stock the shelves

To stock your library with children’s books, check out garage sales, ask for donations from parents, and create a Library Wish List to send home (or post at Open House), listing titles your kids are asking for. For a large selection of children’s books at really great prices, check out:

Another idea: If you have a budget to play with, check out this awesome two-sided library shelf from The School Box (LOVE that store!): double sided library shelf.

Now that your reading corner has been sufficiently spiffed up, give yourself a pat on the back. You just created an inviting print-rich environment!

Elizabeth D. Cossick, M. Ed. has a bachelors in education from The University of Georgia and a masters in curriculum and instruction from Lesley University, Cambridge. In addition to being the editor of A Learning Experience, she publishes Little Black Dress | Little Red Wagon Magazine. She resides in Atlanta with her husband, two young children, and a frisky Westie named Munson.



Filed under Centers, Classroom Community, Classroom Decor, Reading, reluctant readers

10 responses to “Classroom Makeover Part I: Print-Rich Environment

  1. Pingback: Classroom Makeover Part II: Procedures | A Learning Experience

  2. Jennifer Nuss

    This is very inspiring and I love it!! I am going to try the basket idea. I don’t think I have room for rain gutters, but the basket is a great alternative. I am always inspired for an organized and awesome classroom. I am determined this year to make it the best.

  3. Thank you! This week I am organizing the classroom for the 2011-12 school year. My space is limited but many of these ideas will be used. If a classroom is attractive in a “print rich” environment, students will be tend to explore and become active learners. Also, an organized attractive classroom, is easier to teach in as well as a space that anyone working in the room feels “at home”. If adults are happy in the classroom that also postively affects the students.

  4. Joey Byrd

    I can’t wait for the other parts to this three part article. I really like the idea of using baskets to group by genre. This summer I have purchased some fun lighting and bean bag chairs (thanks for reinforcing this decision for me:)). Book reviews are a great way for students to share how they feel about a book and why. Love the bulletin board idea! Thanks for the great ideas:)

  5. Jackie Helm

    Great ideas! I really like the rain gutter idea. I have been looking for an inexpensive alternative and that may just be the answer!
    I agree with the above comments, an inviting and organized classroom is a win-win situation.

  6. Paula Whitfield

    I have heard most of the ideas before, except the rain gutters. I like that idea. I may try that for next year. I don’t have a lot of room, but it might help me get more books in the room. Thanks

  7. Kay Wallin

    I love the rain gutter idea. I don’t have a classroom yet, but I do have a classroom library. I started buying books during my undergraduate studies, and I have several tubs full now. I got them very reasonably from Good Will sales, used book stores, and Ebay.

  8. Pingback: Classroom Makeover Part II: Procedures | A Learning Experience

  9. Pingback: Classroom Makeover Part III: Behavior Management Procedures | A Learning Experience

  10. I love, love the gutter idea, but I’m not sure I have the space for it. I do use baskets and they make things much easier (on the teacher and the students) especially when it comes to clean up, as long as the books have a matching sticker or code that allows the kids to help with reorganizing books! I also love, love the “Books We Dig” idea and will be implementing it with my kiddos this year – thank you!