Setting up a book corner for the new school year in your classroom

When you are considering how and where to create a book corner for your classroom, some of your design choices will inevitably be dependent on the dimensions of the space available and any particular requirements of your school. Even so, there will be important decisions to make that are common to most teachers setting up a reading space. This post aims to help you to navigate some of the challenges you might face and encourages you to design a space that reflects your own values about reading. It is written primarily with children who are still enjoying picture books in mind and those who are also starting to be comfortable reading chapter books too. 

Before you begin

Before you even start to choose where your own book corner might be located, take a little time to think about what you’d like readers to be able to do in the space and how you’d like them to feel when they’re using it. Keeping this in mind will help you to make choices about the design as you assemble the various elements. You might even want to jot down some words and phrases that evoke an atmosphere that you’d like to create, make sketches or collect photos from magazines. 

A good starting point for your book corner design might be to envisage the space that you want to create. Here are some prompts to help you. They are not mutually exclusive, so you may want to think about how some of these qualities could work together. Take some time to consider what you value and what you want to prioritise. 

Considering your own priorities for the book corner

 Is it important to you that readers have a space where they can reflect and relax or would you prefer the reading corner to be a more ? 

Would you like the book corner to offer a place of retreat that may ease the tensions caused by the challenges of learning and pressures outside the classroom? 

Or might it more akin to a role play area, where children’s imagination are stimulated by the space itself, as well as the books? 

Are you someone for whom the book corner is the cosy hearth of the classroom? 

Perhaps you would prefer your reading space to be outdoors in a yurt, a shepherd’s hut or an outdoor classroom? 

Is a high status display and storage area that encourages a wide ranging choice of books the quality that you want to prioritise?  

Once you’re ready to begin, you might also seek out some of the many excellent tips and ideas to decorate the space and make it look appealing to children and to visitors to your classroom. You can find many examples of highly decorative book corners on pinterest or instagram or through a simple internet search. While the appearance of the space is important because it demonstrates the high value that you place on reading and books, this post focuses on the less well-documented subject of spatial design and creating particular atmospheres and sensory experiences. In the text below, you will find more prompts to help you make the design decisions that will suit you best.   

Considering spatial and atmospheric qualities

Open or closed spaces?

Are you aiming for an open area that can be seen from every angle of the classroom; an enclosed structure that offers a little space for reading inside or a combination of openness with a more protected area included? Many book corners have little spaces that are quite concealed, where a child can curl up with a book or retreat to when things in the classroom are overwhelming. However, if you feel that you want to keep an eye on every child at all times, then a more enclosed space won’t be right for you. This is very much a matter of personal choice and will be dependent on your own experiences of classroom teaching and the context of the school where you work. It’s important to design the space that you feel comfortable with and can live with day-to-day. Having said that, as you get to know your new class, you may find that some children feel self-conscious about reading in front of their peers and you might want to find an area where they feel more sheltered. 

What do you want readers to do in the book corner?

Imagining your classroom without a book corner might help you to think what you’d like readers to gain from having one. It might, for example, allow them to

  • explore range of books that they wouldn’t come into contact with elsewhere
  • enjoy looking in more detail at the books you read to them as a whole class
  • have a quiet time reading in a calmer space
  • read with or be read to by an adult
  • calm down in a quieter space, even if they’re not looking at books
  • use books as a starting point for play, especially if there isn’t a role play area in the classroom. N.B. You will also want to think about whether this will be a quiet or silent area where reading is prioritised and talking is not, or might it be somewhere that books and stories can be shared and explored 
  • a place to build relationships, for example if you have a child who is new to the school who doesn’t speak English, can they go to the book corner alone, with a friend or with a teacher to share some books. Do you have books in a language that they can read or be read to?

Choosing the right location for your classroom book corner

Drawing a plan, as if you are looking down at the classroom from above, might help you to get a sense of what can and what can’t be moved. Alternatively, you might want to move the actual furniture around to give you a sense of what could go where. Sometimes teachers move everything into the middle of the room for a deep clean of the classroom and this can give you a fresh perception of what can be changed and what can’t. 

The biggest challenge to the creation of a book corner is often  when a classroom is small  and in this case, it is worth considering taking out large pieces of furniture that might not be as beneficial to your classroom practice as a book corner. 

Despite it’s name, a book corner doesn’t need to be placed in a corner, particularly if it involves a free standing structure such as the one in the picture above

Here are some further questions to help you choose the best location for the book corner in your own classroom:

  1. How is the area lit? Is there an overhead light and does this create the right atmosphere for reading? Does the brightness vary throughout the day, for example, if the space is close to a window? Beware of a space that becomes very hot from the sun or dark in the winter, unless you introduce a lamp to bring a warm light and a sense of cosiness to the area. 
  1. Where is the book corner in relation to the sink? Watch out for splashes and paint if it is nearby.
  1. Is the book corner near to a window? As ventilation has become such a pressing issue in the last couple of years, does this adversely or positively affect the temperature in the book corner? If there is heavy rain outside, are the books protected from rain damage (or alternatively sun damage). Can you use the window ledge for seating or storage? 
  1. Is there an outdoor area available for a book corner? This is more likely to need a protective structure to shelter books as well as readers from the elements but is worth considering.
  1. What are the sightlines from the book corner? Can you see what is going on inside a secluded structure and is that important to you? Is the space in a quieter area of the classroom, away from tables and chairs where focused learning is taking place? Would you like it to be close to your own table/chair or further away? 

Furniture and comfort

  1.  How will furniture fit into the area and will there be enough room for children to adopt different postures, such as reading lying on their stomachs? Is comfort a priority for the area and if so can you find furniture and soft furnishings to achieve this (e.g. from freecycle/the school storecupboard/charity shops)? Think about the postures that children adopt when they are reading comfortably and how furnishings might encourage this. You might even try sitting in different postures in the area yourself.
  1. If you would like to use the area for relaxed adult and child reading sessions, do you need furniture suitable for the adults who will use the space? If you want to use the space for more formal lessons where you need a desk and two chairs, think carefully about how this might affect the atmosphere of the space. And if you decide to create a structure (see this linked post) can the adults you work with use this comfortably too or is it a child-only space? 
  1. Once it’s up and running, don’t forget to involve the class in suggesting improvements that they’d like you to make.

Storage and display

  1. How will books be displayed? This sometimes gets forgotten when planning a book corner but it is really important that books in this area are given a high status so that they are well-looked after, last for a long time and are easy to select. 
  1. If you have a lot of picture books, consider making a smaller display and changing them regularly, so that they are all displayed prominently with their covers facing outwards. This can sometimes be a challenge, as they are of completely different sizes but if you look for ‘gallery bookshelves’ online, you will see examples of shelving that allow you to display them well. 
This book nook has gallery shelving on all sides to display picture books

 Chapter books can be displayed in small boxes with the spine visible so that the title and author is easily read. Consider displaying fewer books but changing them regularly. You might want to create boxes with a particular genre, theme or by an author. 

  1.  Can children reach the books when they are sitting down to read? Or do they have to leave the area to reach a book shelf? This might encourage more (or unwanted) foot traffic within the classroom.  
  1. Are favourite class books prominently displayed so they can be enjoyed in more depth?
Here’s an example of book storage that doesn’t work well: you can’t see the titles or covers; the unit is at ground rather than eye level; and books are packed in and can be easily damaged

14. Reading scheme books

Reading scheme books are a different matter and need to be arranged by level/stage of reader. Because these need to be selected and sorted to be read in class for more formal reading lessons or taken home, these can be stored elsewhere in folders or boxes so that they don’t get lost. Try not to make these part of the book corner unless you really need to. 

And finally …

Can the reading corner be used equitably? Sometimes, when a space is particularly cherished and sought-after, there can be arguments about fairness and who gets to spend time in the book corner and for how long. Children enjoy using sand-timers to ‘police’ the space, however, be clear and firm about who uses the space and when and don’t allow these disputes to become a feature of the area’s use. 

Don’t ever use the book corner as a punishment but do use it as a space where someone can calm down and take a break if needed. 

And don’t feel that the book corner has to be perfect from the first day of the term. Some of the most successful spaces evolve only once your class has settled in and you know more about what works for particular individuals as well for as the class as a whole. Involving members of the class in the design can also give them a real sense of belonging. The first half term break might be a good time to make some adaptations if necessary.

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