Teaching Beginning Reading Strategies in the School Library Media Center: A “How To" Guide

Library media specialists have been collaborating with classroom teachers for years and have long been advocates for tying the classroom curriculum to the library media center in real-world ways. In the past, however, this collaboration has focused almost exclusively on upper-elementary, middle, and high school students as it involved only research and information skills.

The idea of teaching reading is not so much a shift in philosophy as it is a new perspective. This “old" form of collaboration should not be discontinued. On the contrary, we know through well-established research that the more connections students can make, the more meaningful their learning becomes. The No Child Left Behind Act makes it clear that we should all be working together, collaborating and making strong connections, to reach this goal.

Library media specialists are not reading teachers, nor should they be. And library media specialists should not spend all of their time engaged in reading instruction. However, as teaching professionals, we are all responsible for helping students succeed academically After all, finding information in the library media center doesn’t do a student a whole lot of good if he or she can’t read or understand it.

Current reading research focuses on the many aspects of learning to read, including phonics and alphabet recognition, vocabulary building, fluency, and the motivation to read. All of these skills work in combination to increase reading comprehension.


Phonemic awareness occurs when students realize that spoken language is actually made up of individual sounds, and traditional phonics instruction focuses on the relationship between those sounds and the letters of the alphabet. These strategies will most likely be introduced and taught by classroom teachers yet they are easily reinforced in the library media center simply by using a good alphabet book. For example, a library media specialist can use careful pronunciations and a chalkboard or projector to write out spoken, but possibly unfamiliar or difficult, words as he or she shares a read-aloud. Many library media specialists may already be teaching letter recognition or alphabetical order activities. To build on these, have students match uppercase letters to their lowercase counterparts, or share alphabet books with children such as:

  • Alphabet City is a great book for getting students to identify letters and then trace them with their fingers as they say the corresponding sounds.
  • Alphabatics is a fun book to share aloud with a class because they get to interpret what happens to each letter.
  • The Z Was Zapped is a wonderful book that builds vocabulary.

Vocabulary Building

Building a child’s vocabulary may be the single most important way to increase comprehension. The more words a child hears and understands, the better off that child will be when it comes time to actually read and recognize words. Build vocabulary using these strategies with any book:

Previewing: Pull out words that might be new or troubling, spell those words, and define them. With Score One for the Sloths, you might preview the words chortle, louts, amble, and vitality. When the students later hear these words in the context of the story, they will be better prepared to understand their meanings.

Make a Word Splash: Simply fold a sheet of 11" x 18" construction paper into fourths. Write the new word in the middle of the paper. In one quadrant you can write the definition, in another you can paste pictures that go along with the word, in another you can write synonyms, and in the last antonyms. This technique will build a more thorough understanding of a word. Again, pull the word from any that you have read aloud.

Utilize Nonfiction: Almost all high-quality current nonfiction is appropriate for introducing new and interesting content-area words. Teach students how to read captions and headings, and explain why such printing techniques as italics and boldfaced print are used. This also is a natural way to teach parts of a book such as glossary, index, and table of contents.


Fluency is the ability to read text accurately and quickly. Fluent readers recognize words automatically and effortlessly construct meaning from the text. Fluent readers read with expression and don’t stop to sound out words. To build fluency, students need good reading modeled for them. And who is better than the library media specialist to model an expressive, fluent voice? To practice fluent reading, share books with repetition and have students join in reading. Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See? and The Napping House are good examples of books that can build fluency.


This is a natural place for library media specialists to fit in the teaching of reading because most library media specialists already consider motivating students to read a big part of their job. We want to encourage students to read but not just to read anything. We want students to read books that are on their reading level—not so difficult that they can’t process the text and not so easy that they’re not challenging themselves. We also want students to read quality literature: books that are interesting and help students develop higher-order thinking skills. Here are some techniques:

Book Displays: You can build a display around movie tie-ins such as Because of Winn-Dixie and Holes. Or you can make suggestions based on popular themes, “If you like adventure stories, you might like Island of the Blue Dolphins."

Feature Readers: If a student reads an award-winning book, have him or her write a summary and a recommendation. Then take digital pictures of the student and the book cover and feature them prominently on a bulletin board.

Reading Incentives: Some library media specialists use and enjoy Book It ®, Advantage Learning System’s Accelerated Reader ®, Parents As Reading Partners (PARP), Scholastic’s Reading Counts! and other well-known reading programs. Or invent your own reading incentive program. Giving away trinkets, such as stickers, pencils, or bookmarks, for so many books read is a surefire way to get kids reading

Teaching Reading Comprehension

The area of reading comprehension includes many well-documented strategies that classroom teachers have used for years and that library media specialists can easily reinforce during storytime. These strategies are listed in no particular order:

Building background knowledge: This may include gathering nonfiction to accompany a fiction read-aloud or having students look up their own information, in print or nonprint sources.

Determining the main idea: After reading, have students discuss with a partner what the story was mostly about. Then ask for pairs who would like to share their ideas with the whole group.

Sequencing: Read the book How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World. After sharing the story with the class, ask them to sequence the order in which the girl gathers her ingredients for the pie. Another option is to ask your class to sequence an apple pie recipe.

Comparing and contrasting: Read several versions of the same story such as Lon Po Po, Flossie and the Fox, and Little Red Riding Hood. Have students find story elements that are alike and different.

Visualizing: Help students practice seeing a picture in their mind’s eye. Select a story and read it aloud, without showing the pictures. Then, supply paper and crayons and let students create their own pictures that go with the book. Wild about Books may be a good choice to practice visualizing.

Predicting: This skill can be taught with any story. Simply have students guess what the book will be about by the cover illustration or title. Or, with a chapter book, stop at a predetermined place and have students write the next chapter.

In the End

Teaching reading in the library media center can be a way to strengthen your overall library media center program. It certainly shouldn’t be the main focus of the library media center, but it will be another way that you can connect with your colleagues: the teachers in your building. It may also be a good way to promote your program with your administrator. After all, we are all responsible for helping students succeed academically, and reading is the first step on the road to academic success.


DiCamillo, Kate. Because of Winn-Dixie. Massachusetts: Candlewick Press, 2000.

Johnson, Stephen T. Alphabet City. New York: Viking Children’s Books (Penguin Putnam), 1995.

Lester, Helen. Score One for the Sloths. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2001.

MacDonald, Suse. Alphabatics. New York: Bradbury Press, 1986.

Martin, Jr., Bill and Eric Carle. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? New York: Henry Holt & Company, 1992.

Marzollo, Jean. Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King. New York: Scholastic Inc., 1993.

McKissack, Pat. Flossie and the Fox. New York: Dial Press (Penguin Putnam), 1986.

O’Dell, Scott. Island of the Blue Dolphins. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1960.

Priceman, Marjorie. How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World. Dragonfly Books, 1996.

Sachar, Louis. Holes. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1998.

Sierra, Judy. Wild about Books. New York: Knopf, 2004.

Van Allsburg, Chris. The Z Was Zapped. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1987.

Wood, Audrey. The Napping House. San Diego: Harcourt, Brace & Jovanovich, 1984.

Young, Ed. Lon Po Po: A Red Riding Hood Story from China. New York: Philomel (Penguin Putnam), 1989.

Crystal Barringer

MLA Citation Barringer, Crystal. "Teaching Beginning Reading Strategies in the School Library Media Center: A 'How To' Guide." Library Media Connection, 24, no. 7, August 2006. School Library Connection, schoollibraryconnection.com/Home/Display/2233189.

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Entry ID: 2150553

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