July 27, 2023

Introducing Students to Your Classroom Library With Book Spine Activities

Engaging students with book spine activities puts books from my classroom library in their hands to help them find one they would like to read.

Getting my independent reading routine started is a priority for me in my first week of school. To introduce students to the organization of my classroom library, on those first days of school I do activities like genre circles, a book sort, and book speed dating. You can read about all three in this blog post.

But those aren't the only activities I do to have students see and put their hands on as many books in my classroom library as possible, especially ones they might not normally gravitate toward. Having students create book spine poetry is a great way to do this because students are looking at books’ titles, rather than immediately evaluating whether or not the books are ones they’d like to read or not. 

Spelling Out Names With Book Titles

Jumping right into creating poems out of book titles might be a little intimidating, so to ease students into this, I first ask them to choose book titles to spell out their name. For example mine would be:
    B = Breakout (by Kate Messner)
    R = Red, White, and Whole (by Rajani LaRocca)
    Y = Yusef Azeem Is Not A Hero (by Saadia Faruqi)
    N = Nowhere Boy (by Katherine Marsh)
    N = New From Here (by Kelly Yang)

If you have time, snap photos of each student’s name spelled out with books. The photos could be used to create a cute bulletin board for back to school or displayed on students’ lockers.

Engaging students with book spine activities puts books from my classroom library in their hands to help them find one they would like to read.

Building Sentences With Book Titles

Their next challenge is to create a sentence out of book titles. While some books’ titles may already qualify as a complete sentence, I stipulate that students must use at least two book titles to create their sentence (this activity would also be a great starting point for a grammar lesson on what makes a complete sentence). For example, mine might be something like:
    The Blackbird Girls (by Anne Blankman)
    Swing (by Kwame Alexander)
    Everywhere Blue (by Joanne Rossmassler Fritz)
    In the Beautiful Country (by Jane Kuo)

Similar to taking photographs of students’ names, photographs of students’ sentences could be used for later grammar activities.

Engaging students with book spine activities puts books from my classroom library in their hands to help them find one they would like to read.

Crafting Poems Out Of Book Titles

Finally, I challenge students to create a poem. Before they set out to collect titles, I encourage them to think about the feeling they want to evoke with their poem. Knowing that they are going for a joyful or depressed feeling to their poem can help them zero in on book titles that might go together to create that vibe. For example, I went for an ominous tone:
    Eyes of The Forest (by April Henry)
    Going Dark (by Melissa de la Cruz)
    Heartbeat (by Sharon Creech)
    Small Steps (by Louis Sachar)
    Closer to Nowhere (by Ellen Hopkins)
    A Wish in the Dark (by Christina Soontornvat)
    Alone (by Megan Freeman)

If you are able to take photos of students’ poems, you could post them on Google Classroom or whatever learning management system you use and have students vote on favorites. These poems could also make a comeback later in the year when you teach tone, and students would have to match their classmates’ poems to different words describing tone.

Structuring These Activities To Work For You and Your Space

All three parts of this activity could be done individually, in pairs, or small groups. I prefer to have students work in small groups to assist each other as needed, but with each student in the group create their own name, sentence, and poem. While this activity is certainly not graded, it mimics the structure of what group projects will be like in my class; students collaborate, but everyone is responsible for their own work. It also helps to create a culture of helping one another and sharing a love of books.

Depending on how much movement you are comfortable with in your classroom, this activity could be done with stacks of books placed at students desks or tables (if you are creating the book stacks, be mindful of the variety of letters and parts of speech). If you have enough space you could allow students to move freely from their desks or table to the classroom bookshelves and back as they find books they want to use. Another possibility is to allow only one student from a group to be out of their seat at a time or have students work with the stacks of books you’ve provided to start and go to the bookshelves if there’s something they are missing.

Wrapping It All Up

At the end of this activity, students are going to have a lot of books out on their desks. It is the perfect time to have students start a To Be Read (TBR) list. Give students five to ten minutes to peruse the books that are at their group of desks, reading a few pages of books that look good to see if they will hold their interest. I have my students make a TBR list right next to the bookshelf graphic in their ELA notebooks that we use to track the books they’ve read. As they jot down a book they’ve finished on their bookshelf, they can see their list of ideas of what they might want to read next.

After students have a chance to create a TBR list, it is time to clean up. This is the perfect time to introduce or review how your classroom library is organized, whether in alphabetical order by author’s last name or sections for different genres, and your process for returning books. Once students have the necessary information about your organization system and preferred method of book return, they can practice by returning all the books they created names, sentences, and poetry with. You can give on the spot feedback as students are practicing and possibly identify students who could be your library helpers during the school year.

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