Starting a Margin Project in Your School

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 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…

A whole beautiful section of books with the sole purpose of annotating the text IN THE BOOK as children were reading. My mind was blown and I knew right then that I just HAD to get this 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 right then, sounding like a crazy person, and explained what it was and got her permission to do it. I now just had to wait for break to end and get back to school.

Getting Ready

The first thing I had to do was get our LRC assistant, Jen, on board because without her support in the LRC, the project would fall flat. Lucky for me, she is incredible and always willing to put up with me and my crazy ideas!

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. If I could’ve created a billboard with lights and music….I would’ve.

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 titles that were popular, but I also grabbed some from authors that weren’t as well-known. I was using this opportunity to be able to possibly hook kids on authors and genres that were unfamiliar to them. I also made sure we had the books 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. I couldn’t just pick lengthy novels for our older kids; I grabbed some beginning chapter books and even picture books. I was committed on making this accessible and fun for ALL our students.

Materials Needed

As Jen was busy recataloging all the books in our system, I got started on creating the labels that we would put inside the books. I had to create one label where the project would be explained. I knew this was important because I envisioned our students taking the books home and writing in them in front of their parents. I needed the parents to understand that YES, they were allowed to be writing in these books.

The second label I created was a space where each student could write their name down so other students knew who had the books before them and who the thoughts and pictures were connected to. 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.

We also created spine labels so the books would be easily recognized as books that were part of the Margin Project.

Introducing it to Staff and Students

I love a great theatrical reveal, so the whole time Jen and I were working on this, we had the shelf covered 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 I set up my office in the LRC so I would be able to personally introduce it to each class that came in….I have control issues. I’m working on it…

Anyways, as soon as I said the words, “you can write IN the book”, I had them hooked. I’m not even entirely sure they heard anything else I said; I just know that as soon as I was done, every single student checked out a Margin Project book.

What’s Next?

A few weeks in and it’s been crazy successful; the books coming back in have doodles, thoughts, questions, and more. I’m seeing kids respond to one another in the book; reading has become social in my building and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve even had a few teachers start mini Margin Projects in their own rooms with their classroom libraries.

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, please reach out. I am more than happy to share them with you!


One thought on “Starting a Margin Project in Your School

  1. Love this idea! I’m a huge proponent of annotation and sharing thoughts via margin notes. I am not a fan of dictating use of specific symbols and types of notes to include, so this sounds so appealing to me! I’ve already shared with our staff.


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