A colleague, Marilyn H., provided me with one of the most useful items for integrating instruction through thematic teaching that I ever used. She brought literature book boxes to our school. Here’s what she did and how they work:
Marilyn went to the PTO with a list of themes. She was interested in building a set of literature boxes that the whole school could use so her themes included common topics from kindergarten through sixth grade. Her idea was to create collections of trade books on common themes with a wide range of reading levels including fiction and nonfictional books that could be checked out by classroom teachers for a month at a time. The PTO loved the idea and funded it fully not only for that year but for years to come. Each year they eagerly asked for more themes to expand the range of the boxes while continuing to build and improve the boxes already in use. Each box had 65-100 books and came with a list of the books included. The teachers were responsible for keeping track of the books during the time she had them. If a book was lost, a two dollar charge or a replacement book was required (the replacement book didn’t have to be on the same theme or new; we accepted any appropriate book). At the end of the month the teacher, or a student, would go through the box to make sure it was complete. The teacher in charge of the program had a parent volunteer who would pick up, inventory, and deliver the boxes each month. Teachers were quick to turn in any money owed and during the time I managed the program I never had any negative encounters. The boxes were hugely popular and valued by staff and students alike.
Eventually I created my own boxes for my classroom library. In this way I was able to keep a fresh supply of books moving through the classroom. If you are interested in a similar program for your classroom or your school, here are a few suggestions:
- Start with themes you are already teaching.
- Present a list of the themes to the PTO along with a plan for book acquisition, monitoring, and repair. If you are thinking of a school wide program, bring a couple of interested colleagues and parents with you when you make your presentation.
- When I was in charge of the school wide program, the PTO gave us $1000 a year for the materials. Out of that we bought new books, paid for book repair tape, boxes, and paper. The school gave us copy clicks for duplicating the book lists. I had a separate account with each of the book clubs so that we could take advantage of the lower prices and free books provided by these companies, but we bought a LOT of books at thrift stores and periodically sent home fliers asking parents to donate books they were getting rid of. Marilyn had a wonderful set of boxes within a couple of months of presenting her idea to the PTO.
- Find an interested parent who is willing to donate an entire day once a month to checking, repairing, and delivering the boxes.
- Identify the books in each box in a characteristic way so you will be able to find them easily.
- We put a different pattern of stripes across the top of each book, as well as a sticker on the spine, to show it was a book box book and what box it belonged in. If the books were on a classroom shelf it was very simple to find the ones we needed.
Book boxes became a foundational part of thematic teaching for me, whether I was teaching preschool or eighth grade. They are more than worth the effort they take.