*This Margin Project was all done pre-COVID. For the time being many of us do not have access to share physical books. This considered, perhaps you can use this as a jumping off point for a digital format, or you can start planning out how you would kick off this program at your school when students can return to in-person learning*

It all started when I visited my parents over winter break last year and my mom wanted to show me and my kids the newly renovated library in their town. I have to admit, the new library was beautiful and kinda made me wish I was still living back home.

As we were walking around in the children’s area, I noticed a shelf labeled “Margin Project”. Hmm…I had never heard of that or seen anything like it, so naturally I wandered over to get a closer look. And what I saw…stopped me in my tracks…

Example image of a Margin Project Setup

A whole beautiful section of books with the sole purpose of annotating the text IN THE BOOK as children were reading. It blew my mind and I knew right then that I just HAD to start a Margin Project back into my school. We have been working hard for the past two years on creating “thinkmarks” while reading and I knew our kids would LOVE writing their thoughts inside the actual book.  I called my principal immediately, explained the project, and got her permission to do it.

Inside of a Library Book that is Part of the Margi Project

Step 1: Prepare Your Learning Resource Center and Gather Books

The first thing I had to do was get our LRC assistant on board because without her support in the LRC, the project would fall flat. We did some rearranging and cleared off an entire shelf close to the circulation desk and the door. I wanted the display to be in a place where there could be no way the kids would miss it.

After we had our space, the next step was to gather the books. I walked around the LRC with a cart and pulled books we already had off our shelves. Our LRC is very large and has multiple copies of books so it was easy to find enough books to stock our shelves. I mainly grabbed popular titles, but I also grabbed books by more obscure authors. This is a great opportunity to hook kids on new authors and genres. Also in my selection of books were titles from the different award lists; we were already promoting these so I knew they would be a hit. Lastly, I knew I needed to have a wide range of levels. In addition to full-length novels for older students, I grabbed some beginning chapter books and even picture books for younger age groups to make the project accessible and fun for ALL students.

Step 2: Collect Materials You’ll Need for Your Margin Project

As our LRC assistant re-catalogued all the books in our system, I started creating labels to put inside the books. You will need at least one label that explains the Margin project and how it works. I knew this was important because I envisioned our students taking the books home and writing in them in front of their parents. It is important parents understand that YES, students can write in these books.

Margin Project Book Label 2/2

The second label I created was a space where each student could write their name down with their pen color. We ask students to do this so other students can see who read the books before them and which margin comments belonged to each student. I wanted to make reading social, and by putting a name to the thoughts and ideas in the books, our kids could start interacting with each other. 

Lastly, I also created spine labels so students could easily recognize the books as part of the Margin Project.

Margin Project Books with Spine Labels

Step 3: Introducing The Margin Project to Staff and Students

I love a great theatrical reveal, so the whole time we worked on this, we covered the shelf in bulletin board paper to gain interest. When we were finally ready, I dramatically ripped off the paper and revealed it at a staff meeting to everyone at once. I brought in some of the books so they had a chance to read the labels and ask questions. One of the main rules we decided on was that they could only have 1 Margin Project book checked out at a time to ensure that everyone had a chance.

The next day, we all worked together to introduce it to our students. As soon as I said the words, “you can write IN the book”, I had them hooked. I’m not entirely sure they heard anything else I said; I just know that as soon as I finished speaking, every single student checked out a Margin Project book.

Other Considerations – What’s Next?

Before we had to leave due to COVID, it was crazy successful; the books were coming back in with doodles, thoughts, questions, and more. I saw kids respond to one another in the book; reading had become social in my building and I couldn’t be happier. I even had a few teachers start mini Margin Projects in their own rooms with their classroom libraries.

We paused this project because of COVID, but I wanted to share it anyway because  it’s never too early to plan for our return to fully in-person learning. As you can see, this does take some time & coordination with your learning resource center and staff to bring to fruition. Plant the seed for your own Margin Project when you have free time this Fall, or think about ways you could make this work in a digital format. Another consideration is to incorporate it into a materials pickup system for students if your school is implementing one.

Finally, If you are interested in learning more about the Margin Project, please check out Jen Malone’s website. She offers more in-depth information. If you would like copies of the resources that I created for my school, feel free to DM me @mrs_janusz; I am more than happy to share them with you!

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Liz Janusz

Liz Janusz

ELA Instructional Coach

Note: Fresh Ideas for Teaching blog contributors have been compensated for sharing personal teaching experiences on our blog. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.

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