Creating Your Classroom Reading Collection (Classroom Library)

The beginning of the year is a great time to ensure that you and your students have adequate reading material for the year. In the past, you may have put in an order to your local bookstore or done a donorschoose. Now, with the abundance of reading material readily available to even the smallest readers, we at LitLife and Be Core Ready prefer to call the wealth of reading material a “Classroom Reading Collection.” Having a Classroom Reading Collection (CRC) allows you as the teacher to think of reading material not only as books, but as articles, online books, online blogs and other authentic reading experiences that we as adults take for granted. The more authentic and engaging, the more your students will feel invested in their reading experiences.

Your classroom reading collection is the most important collection of materials you will use all year for reading and writing lessons. It should support your teaching by providing high-quality examples of the types of texts you will highlight in your lessons, and it should mirror the Common Core Standards for your grade level. Most importantly, your classroom reading collection should be inviting and exciting for your students, providing them with rich and rewarding choices for their daily reading practice. As you organize your classroom collection, consider the following suggestions for groupings of texts:

Literary Text:

  • Historical Fiction
  • Realistic Fiction
  • Science Fiction
  • Fairy Tales
  • Myths
  • Mysteries
  • Adventures
  • Fantasy
  • Tall Tales
  • Fables
  • Legends
  • Animal Stories
  • Literary Magazines
  • Poetry Collections
  • Book Series
  • Author Collections

Informational Text

  • Informational Books and Articles
  • Human Interest Biographies
  • Autobiographies
  • Infographs
  • Blogs
  • Informational Magazines

Argument Text

  • Book, Movie or Product Reviews
  • Persuasive Articles
  • Social Media Posts
  • Editorials
  • Op/Ed articles
  • Letters to the Editor

Topics of Interest to Class:

  • Little Bill Books (or any series)
  • Books We’ve Read Aloud
  • Beverly Cleary Books (or any author)
  • Space (or any other topic)
  • Amazing Animals
  • Award Winners
  • American Heroes
  • Books about Amazing Girls
  • Famous African Americans
  • Books about Amazing Boys
  • Around the World
  • Crawly Creatures
  • Books that Have Movies
  • Books about Overcoming Obstacles
  • Funny Books
  • Last Year’s Class Recommendations
  • What We are Learning About Now
  • Recommended by a Classmate
  • Teacher’s Picks
  • Principal’s Picks
  • Star of the Week’s Picks
  • Books to Read When You are Sad
  • New on the Scene

Websites to Bookmark:

These are, of course, just examples. Your best bet is to know your students and your curriculum thoroughly enough to build a collection that matches both as well as it can!

Questions? Comments?

Comment Below or Email: – we will always get back to you within a week!

For further explanation, watch this informative video found on our Pearson Core Ready PD Toolkit:

Using Text Types for Unit Planning

As the school year comes to a close, it’s time to plan, reflect, and revise what our students are reading and writing. Planning a well-balanced scope and sequence can leave teachers feeling frustrated and concerned about the variety of text selection per unit or in a yearly calendar. In general, there are three text types that should be integrated throughout the year in all grades: informational, narrative, and argumentative. Ideally, each unit of study should include examples of each as we devise our themes or units.

Why is it important?

We want students to be able to see different types of texts are in service of themes. The other benefits of incorporating various texts includes increased engagement for students, exposure of more topics, and routinizing how all pieces of writing have a purpose—either to persuade, entertain, or inform. For teachers who have struggled with integrating nonfiction into their curriculum, this is a perfect opportunity to ensure a more balanced, real-world approach to literacy.

Let’s take a close look at these examples:


Elementary school units provide an ideal opportunity to use different types of text in unit planning. Primarily, lower grade units are thematic based using real objects, multiple modalities, and disciplines. For example, a 1st grade unit on underwater life. Begin with a read aloud of the nonfiction book, Do Animals Take Baths? As an all-about book, student begin forming questions around how animals live in the water. Following the all-about book, the teacher does a guided reading with a narrative book like Meet the Octopus by Sylvia James. Students are then asked to respond to an opinion prompt about  which underwater creature is their favorite.

Middle Example

A popular central idea in middle schools is coming-of-age. Students are able to use text-to-real world connections and generally, have opinions about self and maturity.  The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton represents realistic fiction as the narrative and contains strong examples of teenage problems. A potential essential idea could be if peer pressure can negatively affect how someone acts in public. To expose students to informational texts, an article from NPR entitled “Elephant Emotions” is presented as a close reading lesson. The article details how elephants can influence the behavior of other in their parade or herd. The argumentative text was a New York Times editorial, “Peer Pressure Can Be a Lifesaver”.

High School Example

One of the classic books taught in high school is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald . Over the years, it has remained a hallmark for its analysis of identity. The theme considered could be if it is possible to reinvent or escape your past. For argument, students could evaluate and state a claim about “6 Steps To Managing Your Online Reputation” by Forbes magazine. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, students read and response to an authentic New York Tribune from the 1920s. The informational text provides key facts about the lives, wages, and political climate during the period of The Great Gatsby.

The Common Core highly encourages that students have varying and diverse formats in their reading and writing. We suggest making this a part of your regular routine to keep rigor and investment high in your classrooms. Not only does this provide rich experiences and exposure for students, it will help you grow as a teacher as you navigate several texts based on similar themes and ideas.

– Brian Johnson

LitLife’s Summer Reading Suggestions!

Summer is just around the corner and with it comes the excitement of sunny days and a long break from school for our students. While we take time to appreciate summer’s myriad gifts, it is also important to ensure that reading is at the center of our summer activities. We must provide continuous access to books of all kinds so that our students will begin the new school year feeling enriched, prepared, and confident in their reading identities. We appreciate books that challenge us, inspire us, and call on our imaginations during those long, hot days. Below are some of our favorites!

summer reading

Grades K-2

Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems

Mo Willems is a popular and beloved author and Knuffle Bunny is a perfect example of why his words and stories are so appealing and so widely read. A routine trip to the laundromat becomes dramatic when the young protagonist, Trixie, leaves behind her beloved stuffed animal. Willems’ book is warm and enjoyable- just like summer!

Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke

The first in a series, Atinuke tells the story of Anna Hibiscus, a young girl who lives in Africa with her family. This book is a great resource for teaching children about another culture while emphasizing the universalities of every childhood. Readers will be eager to explore all of the books in the Anna Hibiscus series.

Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Henlon

Dory is spunky, curious, imaginative, and energetic. Her story is told in chapter book form, which makes Henlon’s book an excellent choice for a read-aloud or a great selection for independent readers in search of early and accessible chapter books. Dory’s enthusiasm is annoying to her siblings, Luke and Violet, but her silly questions and wonderings (“why do we have armpits?”) will make her a favorite among young readers.

The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat

Beekle is a lovable and endearing protagonist in this unique and deeply engrossing picture book. Santat’s spin on the familiar concept of the “imaginary friend” is both whimsical and touching, and readers will embrace Beekle with open arms.

Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China, by Ed Young

Winner of the 1990 Caldecott Medal, Young artfully tells the story of three sisters who encounter Lon Po Po, a wolf pretending to be their grandmother. Told from the point of view of the sisters, with beautiful and haunting panel illustrations, this twist on the classic Little Red-Riding Hood is emotionally textured.

Grades 3-5

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

Kate DiCamillo’s tale of a mouse named Despereaux Tilling has garnered a great deal of well-deserved popularity and attention. Despereaux is no ordinary mouse; he can read and hear music and, most importantly, he can fall in love (with a Princess!). Despereaux’s big heart and unconventional courage make him a lasting and memorable hero.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

This Newbery Medal winning novel tells the story of Ivan, an artistic and creative gorilla who lives captive in a shopping mall. When Ivan meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, his life forever changes. The lessons Ruby teaches Ivan, and his transformative journey, will lead readers to think thoughtfully about human-animal relationships and the power of empathy and kindness. This is a perfect book for animal-loving readers.

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

This novel, told in verse, details the story of Hà and her move from Saigon to Alabama. Readers will learn about the real-life struggles of child refugees and their families. Lai’s words and narrative are beautiful, moving, and powerful.

Giants Beware! by Jorge Aguirre

This graphic novel centers around a lively protagonist named Claudette, who dreams of slaying a giant. The only problem is that there are no giants to be found near Claudette’s house- so she embarks on a journey to locate one. Readers will be drawn to the humor of Claudette’s adventures and the appealing graphic novel format.

Star Wars: Jedi Academy by Jeffrey Brown

This graphic novel is an especially good choice for fans of Star Wars, but all readers will enjoy the adventures of Roan, a middle schooler who is invited to attend Jedi Academy. Roan’s middle school trials and tribulations will feel familiar, but the backdrop of a “galaxy far, far away” make them remarkable and memorable.

Grades 6-8

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

This award-winning novel will stay with readers long after they finish the last page. An homage to Madeleine L’Engle’s classic  A Wrinkle in Time, Stead’s book is an enduring read that has entered into the pantheon of the classics in its own right. The friendship at the core of the novel is profound and complex and plants the book firmly in a sensitive and realistic world that will be familiar to many readers (despite the elements of mystery and fantasy that anchor the larger plot).

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

This beautiful book is written in verse and is a must-read for students and adults alike. Woodson’s memoir, presented through lyrical and poetic language, is powerful and moving, and addresses challenging and complex issues with clarity and sensitivity. Eloquent and deeply affecting.

Harlem Summer by Walter Dean Myers

We love reading Walter Dean Myers’ books year round, but this one is especially perfect for summertime reading. This novel takes place during the Harlem Renaissance, and significant historical figures such as Langston Hughes make appearances throughout the book.

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

This is the first installment in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, and its fast-paced fantastical tale makes for perfect summer reading. The Lightning Thief follows the story of Percy Jackson and his friends Annabeth Chase and Grover Underwood as they embark on a mission to find Zeus’ stolen lightning bolt. On their adventures the friends encounter minotaurs, centaurs, and a host of Greek gods and goddesses. Readers will connect with the realistic characters (for example, Percy is dyslexic and struggles with ADHD) and action-packed plots while learning a little about Greek mythology.

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

This graphic novel, through its moving images and thought-provoking stories, brilliantly connects three very different characters and their struggles: the famous folktale of Sun Wukong, “The Monkey King”; Jin Wang, a boy who starts at a new school where he wants to fit in with his classmates; and Danny, a boy whose life is turned upside-down by the visit of his Chinese cousin, Chin-kee. This graphic novel gracefully examines a range of hardships and joys, including exclusion, racism, friendship, and first love.

Global World, Global Students

In today’s technological world, we can constantly connect with people from all over the globe. Students can collaborate often with their peers on the other side of the world. For that reason, it is more important than ever that we prepare our students to be informed, empathetic, and compassionate contributors to this global community. We can work towards this goal in a number of ways, some of which are outlined below.

Provide access to diverse books

We are excited to live in a time in which we can all advocate for a multitude of perspectives and varied experiences in the books we read. Movements like the We Need Diverse Books campaign are powerful because they are an example of how people’s voices are coming together to encourage access to a wide range of experiences in all our reading lives. We must transfer the momentum and energy of this discussion into our classrooms. Our classroom libraries should allow our students literary access to a diverse range of voices, perspectives, and cultures.

Our Inspiration Director, Pam Allyn, has partnered with our friends at Booksource to create book lists that support diverse voices in the K-2 grades. You can find them here.

Another helpful resource is this list of books from the New York Public Library.

Here is a small sampling of some of our all-time favorite titles that reflect a wide range of experiences and voices:

The Crossoverby Kwame Alexander

Wonder, by R.J. Palacio

The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros

Dumping Soup, by Jama Kim Rattigan

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

Use technology

Wonderful tools like Skype Classroom enable our students to interact with peers, writers, teachers, and friends around the world. Our partner organization, LitWorld, hosts World Read Aloud Day every March, and on this day, tools like Skype enable students to enjoy read alouds from authors and discuss books with students in other countries.

Online blogging platforms also make it possible for classrooms and students around the globe to share their writing and thinking with each other. Teachers can moderate and supervise these classroom blogs and allow their students to share what they are thinking with others. Students can also comment on the pieces of their peers and can reflect on the learnings and wonderings they develop during their reading experiences.

Give students space to share their own stories

One of the best ways for students to practice compassion and empathy is to actively listen to the stories of their classmates. As teachers, our most important job is to honor the experiences of each of our students and to promote the importance of individual storytelling. In her book Your Child’s Writing LifePam Allyn writes that, “Language brings us together. The details of our stories are different, but by sharing them we can find one another across any gulf of distance.”

In today’s global world, it is essential that our students recognize the power of language and of their own stories and that they develop compassion and respect as they listen to the stories of others. Ensure that all students feel comfortable to express themselves in your classroom, and devote specific time to sharing, talking, and reflecting. Host classroom celebrations of student writing frequently; allow time and space for student-to-student conversation; think actively and frequently about your classroom environment. Honor the narratives and experiences of each child, so that they will know to honor their own stories as well.

Let’s continue to share ideas and to advocate together for the voices of our students. Let’s work to ensure that all of our students see their experiences represented in the literature they read and that all of our students are exposed to unfamiliar experiences and voices in that literature as well. And let’s actively embrace all the gifts and resources of our global community.

Let’s Not Opt Out of the Common Core

By Pam Allyn, LitLife Inspiration Director

A firestorm has erupted around the Common Core Standards. Parents across the country have joined together to create an “opt out” movement, protesting time consuming standardized test preparation and assessment requirements that feel inhumane and developmentally unsound.

Many might think the Common Core Standards themselves dictate such practices. But this is not the case. Let us protest too much inauthentic and joy-stealing test preparation, but let us not miss the opportunity the Common Core Standards provide us to close a catastrophic learning and opportunity gap for every child, and to give every child a far richer classroom experience. Let us not opt out of the Common Core.

The Common Core debuted in 2010, when the National Governors Association commissioned a set of standards to build coherence in instruction and academic achievement across grade levels and zip codes. The Common Core is a bill of rights for learning and teaching, the first of its kind for literacy and math in the history of public education. It lays out a road map for the child’s academic journey through school, creating a safety net whereby teachers can compare outcomes, plan curriculum and assure a more continuous experience for the learning child.

Protest inhumane test prep, yes. Protest unfair and harsh assessment of teachers based on just one test score, yes. Protest the lack of access to resources and materials needed for children to meet standards. But let us stand up together for the Common Core itself, which stands up for the learning rights of every child, for equal access to resources and for professional development for teachers that will help them best meet the needs of all children in the 21st century.

State departments of education launched the Common Core by mandating assessments and linking them to teacher evaluations. In this crucial way, they put the cart before the horse. This all happened before ensuring that all schools had the resources needed (books and technology to start) and before training teachers effectively in new methodologies and best practices for the new era. This was not sensible. It was like demanding that everyone run a marathon without providing any time to exercise, build routine and stamina. It was like not providing basic running shoes to run that same hard race.

This misstep is an underlying cause for the confusion and anger towards the Common Core. I want to help correct the misunderstandings in the hopes that we can rally behind the standards themselves, so they can do the work I want them to do: close the learning gap.

Misunderstanding: The Common Core Standards are a test. Fact: The standards are a set of outcomes. (For example: “By the end of first grade, a student should be able to “use illustrations and details in a story to describe its characters, setting, or events”.) The standards clearly articulate goals for children as learners and outline well defined and robust skills in literacy and math. Yet districts jumped straight to assessing rather than implementing the standards through Common Core aligned curriculum and professional development.

I agree that excessive test prep and time spent testing disengages children, takes them away from genuine learning experiences, and produces results that are often not reflective of what students actually know and are able to do.

Let me be very clear: the Common Core does not harm children — the effects of the over-emphasis of preparation for standardized testing that have become conflated with the Common Core can cause harm.

Misunderstanding: The Common Core is a federally mandated curriculum that limits what schools can teach. Fact: The standards never, not once, dictate any curriculum or mandate any lesson plans. The standards do not so much as mention a specific book title that a teacher must teach. The standards specify what students must achieve, but educators are meant to work collaboratively in their schools to determine the best way to get there. They can create their own curriculum or choose to purchase Common Core aligned programs. They can choose the texts they love and that children love to help them meet the expectations of the standards. The standards provide a blueprint for analysis of these programs, helping educators to make sound decisions.

Misunderstanding: The standards are too rigorous, too intense and place unrealistic demands on children. Fact: The standards are purposefully designed with a child’s choice and voice in mind. Emphasis is placed upon a variety of writing types (narrative, informational and opinion writing). Speaking and listening skills and tools for collaboration are valued. Students are encouraged to develop critical thinking skills, not just responding to the “how” and “what” of a text, but to their own “why” questions. In the primary grades, the standards emphasize literacy as critical thinking but also as building and creating, as conversation and storytelling. The core heartbeat of the standards is that each child will reach independence. The role of independent practice, meaningful experience with authentic materials and a child’s own choices all play a vital role in the standards.

It seems as if the Common Core Standards themselves are provoking unnatural testing environments for children. But they are not. It is how some loud voices  (very few of those actual educators or children or parents) interpret them that is provoking this kind of environment. It is time to tell a new Common Core story. Stories about how students are now given more access to authentic and diverse texts in the classroom, are being encouraged to talk more about the deeper ideas in the texts, are encouraged to do the kind of research that matters in their own lives, are given the opportunity to share their opinions in ways that enhance their skills. Stories about how families at home can also be Common Core ambassadors, listening to and sharing stories with their children, all a critical component of what the standards value.

The Common Core Standards are a once in a generation transformational moment for public education. Let’s use the standards as a clarion call for equity and opportunity for every child. No matter her zip code, she has the human right to an education that makes her truly college and career ready and well prepared for engaged citizenship. She has the right to experience the joy of learning and knowledge building in the 21st century.

What If We Measured This?

As teachers, parents, and supporters of our students and children, we are always trying to determine the most important and effective tools to use and bring with us into our classrooms and our homes. We are constantly on the lookout for methods and practices that will best prepare our students for their futures and will nourish their lives and worlds. It can be difficult to evaluate effective classrooms and to ensure that students are learning and absorbing information in useful, creative, and enriching ways. We have pinpointed some of the practices that we feel are most important to our children’s development as learners, readers, and writers and have considered the implications of measuring those activities.

Number of times students are read to

Reading aloud to students of all ages has been proven to have a wealth of benefits. The 2015 Scholastic Kids and Family Reading Report detailed the importance of reading aloud. A recent New York Times article summarized the findings of the report in this way: “Reading aloud through elementary school seemed to be connected to a love of reading generally.” Encouraging students to love reading is the most important gift we can give them as they develop their reading lives. If they are motivated to read both independently and with the whole class, they will naturally acquire and continue to grow the essential skills they need as readers, writers, and learners.

The importance of the read aloud is echoed in a U.S. Department of Education Commission on Reading report, which reviewed over 10,000 studies and concluded that reading aloud is the most important activity for building and supporting successful readers. Successful readers will not only likely show positive results on standardized tests, but perhaps more importantly, they will be armed with the communication and linguistic skills they need for successful futures. Measuring the amount of time devoted to this simple yet essential practice will encourage teachers and parents to ensure that read alouds are a consistent and daily part of their students’ lives.

Number of minutes a day students are engaged in independent practice versus whole class instruction

The time devoted to independent practice versus whole class instruction is particularly important when it comes to reading and developing strong literacy skills. Allotted time for independent practice gives students the opportunity to develop their own reading interests and learn to select books that reflect their passions and abilities.

Independent reading time has been shown to directly correlate to the frequency with which students read. The Scholastic report found that, in children ages 12-17, frequent readers are more likely than infrequent readers to read independently during the school day. The report also states that, “Some children have opportunities to read a book of their choice independently during the school day, yet these experiences rarely happen every or almost every school day.” We need to make ample time in our classrooms for independent learning and reading so as to best encourage and model for our students the value and pleasure in developing into frequent and capable readers.

Number of books a child has access to throughout the year

According to a 2003 NCES report, a difference in access to as few as 25 books can have a noticeable and significant impact. The report found that fourth graders who reported having 25 books or more at home had higher scores on reading tests than students who reported that they had less than 25 books at home. This dramatic statistic illustrates the importance of ensuring adequate access to books, both at home and in the classroom, for all children.

Integral to the idea of varied and wide access to books is the importance of providing students with books that will appeal to them and support and sustain their interest in reading. According to the Scholastic report, 73% of kids ages 6-17 say that they would read more if they could find more books that they like. In this same vein, 91% of children ages 6-17 report that their favorite books are the ones they pick out themselves. It is important that we provide space and time for children to select books for themselves and to locate their interests and passions within their reading selections. The measurement of books children have access to should acknowledge and include a discussion on the kinds of books that children have access to throughout the year. Students should be able to read and select books that reflect their experiences and interests and introduce them to new perspectives as well.


Photo Credit: Wikipedia

As we consider the tools and skills that our students most need, let us continue to reflect on innovative measurements that will best push us to advocate for and support our students in their learning lives. Let’s put the student at the center of our thinking and focus on the practices and ideas that will prepare them for futures as independent and passionate readers, writers, and thinkers.

Common Core Spotlight: Toontastic

We are excited about any tool that promotes creative storytelling, and Toontastic is an app that does just that.


Image via

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.5 Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.

How does Toontastic work?

Toontastic is a popular iPad based app that allows kids to create their own original animated stories and presentations. The app has an easy-to-use interface and presents students with five major components of stories, or the “story arc” as Toontastic calls it. These five story components are: Setup, Conflict, Challenge, Climax, and Resolution. Students are not required to use every component, and can pick and choose which scenes they would like to focus on. In constructing their stories in this way, students are exposed to common story structures and themes.

The app also provides for flexibility; students can paint and create their own backgrounds or select from a variety of pre-made backgrounds and scenes. The same flexibility is offered with character creation; students can draw their own characters or select from characters that the app offers.

Once the characters and settings have been selected, students can begin the process of animation. They can shrink and expand the characters and move the characters across the screen, among a number of other actions. Students can record dialogue as they animate the characters and the app simultaneously records the actions and the words. Students can also add music to their stories and animations. The animations created with Toontastic can easily be shared online, allowing parents and other students to view the Toontastic stories.

It is likely that the app will continue to expand and grow as, according to, “Google has acquired Launchpad Toys, maker of the popular kid-friendly storytelling app Toontastic.” We can’t wait to see the future innovations Toontastic will offer.

Thanks to Graphite (described here in a previous blog post) for introducing us to Toontastic. Be sure to check out Graphite frequently for more great app suggestions.

How can I use Toontastic in my classroom?

  • Invite your students to create autobiographical animations and share their stories with each other. At the beginning of the school year as students are meeting and getting to know each other, Toontastic can be a great tool to facilitate those early interactions. Encourage students to include their families as they create their autobiographical animations as well, and share the final creations with the entire classroom community.
  • Isolate and discuss major story elements while reading in class texts and enforce those concepts with the story elements in the Toontastic app (Setup, Conflict, Challenge, Climax, and Resolution). The students can create animations that reflect books and stories they have read and discussed in class, or they can create their own original animations while focusing on those specific story elements.
  • Integrate the Toontastic app and storytelling across disciplines. If discussing a historical figure, consider allowing students to animate the life and accomplishments of that person. Students will learn that storytelling and communication are applicable over many kinds of discussions and can be used for varied genres and narratives.