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Setting Up Your Classroom Library | Education to the Core

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What is one area of the classroom that you can spend hours and days creating and organizing, only to have it look like a tornado went through it in a matter of seconds? Recess area? Guess again! Your filing cabinet? Possibly, but not what I was thinking of… That’s right! You guessed it, your classroom library!

A Classroom Library is an essential part of your room, but why does it involve the most work? I mean, come on, from leveling the books, marking them, organizing them, teaching expectations of the area, and teaching students how to “hopefully” put the books back (*fingers crossed*) in the correct spot. It is exhausting! Is it worth the extra work?

ABSOLUTELY! It is worth all the work and more! Classroom Libraries continue to remain an integral part of classroom setup because not all schools have a physical library space anymore. Students continue to need access to not only informational texts but also books for entertainment purposes.

Setting up a classroom library is not an easy task. I called on our Teaching Trailblazers for some assistance through Education to the Core’s Facebook Groups: Fearless Kindergarten Teachers, Fearless First Grade Teachers, and Fearless Second Grade Teachers. What we came up with will guarantee a few ideas to keep in mind while setting up your classroom library, how to organize it, and some inspirational photos!

WHY A CLASSROOM LIBRARY?

As I stated earlier, classroom libraries continue to be an important fixture in your primary classroom. Many may believe that it is sufficient to have a few books on a shelf or box for students to have access to. Maybe you are lucky and still have a physical library within your school. This is not an ideal situation. Students across grade levels need to have access to exciting and accessible texts. The texts need to be organized so your students can find what they need.

Scholastic shared five broad, but important functions of an effectively designed classroom library.

1 – Supports Literacy Instruction

2 – Helps Students Learn About Books

3 – Provides A Central Location for Classroom Resources 

4 – Provides Opportunities for Independent Reading and Curricular Extensions

5 – Serves as a Place for Students to Talk About and Interact With Books

WHAT TEXTS SHOULD I INCLUDE IN MY CLASSROOM LIBRARY?

If you are looking to fill your classroom library with multi-cultural and interest-level texts, then you came to the right place!  Check out the following Education to the Core blogs on various book lists.

HOW DO YOU ORGANIZE A CLASSROOM LIBRARY?

I have seen a bunch of different ways to organize a classroom library.  I’ve seen teachers organize by reading level, by fiction/nonfiction, category, and/or author.  Personally, I have my texts organized and separated by reading levels.  This way students can be in an area where they are comfortable and can check out the next leveled box for a slight challenge when they feel they are ready.   With that being said, students are ALWAYS able to look around at other levels for interest texts as well. 

However you wish to organize your space, make sure you take the time to review expectations, teach and model to your students how to use the space appropriately.  Let’s see what some other Teacher Trailblazers are saying about organization! 

“My books are organized by book level.  I have a picture books section and also some favorite series that I grouped together per request.  I have found that having students select books at their level helps them improve their reading level. However, I know it’s not for everyone.” ~ Jillian K.

“My books are in tubs by AR level, and then I have 3 smaller shelves for specific science, social studies, and reference books!” ~ Beth B. 

“There is not one specific place for books in my classroom, there are book baskets everywhere.  I want my students to see reading as part of every content in the classroom, so books (and all content) are spread throughout the room.” ~ Trisha C. 

“I switched from alphabetical order to genre this year!” ~ Jinger L. 

“My books are organized by genre. Children should be encouraged to read for interest and not be discouraged by the level of a book.” ~ Helen S.

“I am sorting them into categories to switch out throughout the year! The books that don’t fit into a category or I don’t have a ton of I will be leveling.” ~ Courtney A. 

“Organize them by theme, but level them on the inside of the book.  That way students can go to the theme they like and still find their level.” ~ Macey J. 

“Mine are sorted by fiction/nonfiction. Nonfiction is then grouped by subject.” ~ Kathy S.

“ABC order, but the level is written on the outside cover.” ~ Kathie H. 

“I sort by author, topics, and months (seasonal).” ~ Sam R. 

HOW DO I MANAGE MY CLASSROOM LIBRARY?

You could totally have that “Pinterest worthy” classroom library!  All the books placed perfectly, cozy pillows and rugs, decorations and bins.  However, if you don’t teach expectations and manage how students utilize the space you will be ready to throw in the towel by lunchtime!   Don’t stress over how to manage your classroom library!  Our Teaching Trailblazers have some tips for you! 

“Most are separated by genre, but then leveled readers from the old curriculum is kept in leveled bins.  Every book has a sticker that matches the bin it goes into.” ~ Bethany M. 

“I have a leveled library sorted by F&P levels… But I moved schools so might have to re-level them… This is the library students shop from for book bins/take-home books. Then I have my library that’s sorted by series/topics. Fiction series books (Arthur, Pete the Cat, etc) and Nonfiction (mammals, people, places) and I have a few bins that are mixed fiction/non like space, farm, penguins… This is where I grab read aloud and let my students read from during quiet time, early finisher, or DEAR time.” ~ Amanda M. 

“I put picture stickers on the books that match the sticker picture on the tubs. It makes it a little easier to return books to the correct spot.” ~ Kathie H.

“At my school, we have the students take the entire bin! That way when they finish the book, they have another one right at their fingertips. No extra wandering and no unorganized books.” ~ Mandy C. 

“When I student taught, my cooperating teacher had each student have a bin and they got to “shop for books” each Monday and they kept those books all week and then returned them on Friday.” ~ Mandy D.

“I assign “librarian” as a job to kids I know can do it. Every day they choose a bin to tidy, taking any wrong books out and putting them in the proper bin. I’ll choose the same 2-3 kids for a month at a time, they get really efficient and come up with their own little systems! They do it during our end-of-day cleanup, usually only takes 5-6 minutes.” ~ Amy E. 

“I have a book return bin and I have a responsible student assigned to put them away when there’s free time in the day. It’s usually one of my early finishers.  It helps me out and keeps them busy.” ~ Lisa B.

“I use stickers on the books that coordinate with stickers on the label of the bin. Works like a charm.” ~ Leesa G. 

“My book bins have a picture AND a number. I then put a small circle sticker on the book cover with the bin number. Since I started this, it has been fairly easy to manage.” ~ Sally H. 

“I printed the same bin picture label onto a return address label and put it inside the book cover.  This way, they just have to match it up.” ~ Erica A.

“I have hundreds of books. I organize by labeled bin but also with a number. So for example “Fly Guy #5” so I know it’s fly guy books but each book has a five on the cover. My kids who can’t read can easily match numbers. It’s very rare for a book to be shelved wrong. Took a long time for me to do it that way. Other ways worked but each time as my library grew the system would break down either because it was too hard for the kids or too hard for me when I got new books or needed to add a new basket. Now it’s easy and simple for me and the kids. I honestly haven’t had to do any organizing in several years. They can maintain it easily.” ~ Emily J. 

Special THANK YOU to Kelsey N., Bethany M., Destiny M., Donna G., Jenny M., Angie S., Sam R., Amber S., Leslie D., Kirstie M., Chelsea H., Patti A., and April C. for the AMAZING classroom library pictures used throughout this blog! 

I hope you are a bit less stressed about setting up AND managing your classroom library!  Find a way and system that works for you and your students.  It may take some trial and error, but you will find that magic system to make it a smooth-running machine!  I cannot wait to see your classroom libraries!  Feel free to show us in the comments below!  

Written by – Christopher Olson

At Education to the Core, we exist to help our teachers build a stronger classroom as they connect with our community to find trusted, state-of-the-art resources designed by teachers for teachers. We aspire to be the world’s leading & most trusted community for educational resources for teachers. We improve the lives of every teacher and learner with the most comprehensive, reliable, and inclusive educational resources.

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