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A Virtual Peek Into My Classroom Library

By Beth Newingham on October 6, 2009
  • Grades: 1–2, 3–5

A library is an essential part of any elementary classroom. To run an effective Reading Workshop, it is necessary to stock your classroom library with books of a variety of genres, topics, and levels.

A library is an essential part of any elementary classroom. To run an effective Reading Workshop, it is necessary to stock your classroom library with books of a variety of genres, topics, and levels. Teachers who use the workshop method know that readers need lots of books in a single year, as they are given time to read self-selected texts independently on a daily basis. For this reason, it's important to organize your classroom library in a way that allows students to easily find "just right" books that they are interested in reading.

Read on to watch a video about how I organize my classroom library and how I use it as a tool to help my students evaluate their own reading progress throughout the year.  You will also find ideas for collecting more books for your own classroom library, links to download book labels, and additional photos of the library.



Take a Virtual Tour of My Classroom Library!



Using Colored Baskets to Organize My Books

Fiction picture books are stored in red baskets.


Chapter book series are kept in blue baskets.


Chapter books that are not part of a series are kept in yellow baskets.


Nonfiction texts are stored in green baskets.


Basket Labels

All baskets have a unique label that tells a reader what type of books they can find inside.  The basket labels vary based on the section of the library in which the basket is located.


Nonfiction basket labels reveal the topic students will find inside.


Fiction picture book and chapter book labels reveal the basket's genre.


Chpater books 
Chapter book series baskets reveal the name of the different series a reader will find inside.


Basket labels 
Download my pre-made labels and a label template you can use to create your own.


How I Level My Books


I do not level my books just so that I can assign students a color code (level) and then make them read only at that level.  I make certain that my students are involved in the process in every way.  They read books from the classroom library and try to determine what levels seem "just right" for them.  I meet with each student individually to decide upon a comfortable "just right" level so that students can start choosing appropriate books that they can read independently.  (Watch my library video for more information about how this process works.)  Once a student's JR level is determined, he or she can refer to the basket labels as a guide for finding books that are "just right" for them.  As the school year progresses, students are constantly reevaluating what levels feel "just right" for them and reading trial books at a higher level before deciding to regularly read books at that level independently.

A color code sticker can be found on the back of every book.


Basket labels also indicate what color codes can be found inside.


Library conversion chart 
The color codes in my library correspond to Fountas and Pinnell's guided reading levels.


I use Scholastic's Book Wizard to level my books.  It provides a variety of levels including guided reading level, grade level equivalent, DRA level, lexile level, and interest level.  A description of each book is also provided along with its genre, common themes, and topics you will find in the book.  The Book Wizard also allows teachers to create, print, and even exchange book lists with other teachers.  You can also use Book Wizard to help you find "just right" books for your students using the "Book Alike" feature.

Check out Scholastic's Book Wizard


Collecting More Books for Your Classroom Library

It's common knowledge that an effective classroom library has a large variety of books at many different levels, about many different topics, and of many different genres.  That sounds great, but where can you get more books?


One of my favorite ways to collect additional library books is to ask my current students to donate books from home that they have already read.  To provide them with an incentive, the donated books are given a special label with the child's name and the date that the book was donated.  Students like to know that their book will forever be part of the Newingham library.


Another idea to consider is a read-a-thon.  Students can collect pledges from family and friends for each book they read in a month (or a certain period of time).  Students can count the books they read in class and at home.  Not only are students motivated to read lots of books, but the money raised can go to the purchasing of new books for your classroom library.  The kids then get to enjoy reading the books they earned for the class.

Find more ideas about how to collect books for your classroom library without breaking the bank!


Keeping Track of Your Books

Once I began collecting a good number of books, it became important to me that I had some sort of inventory of the books I own.  This is helpful when choosing books to read aloud, when suggesting "just right" books for students, and for keeping track of all my books. Since I was using the computer to look up the levels of my books, it made sense to also add the book title, author, level, and library location to an Excel file that I could access when searching for a book.

Class library list 

I chose to print out my Excel library collection file as a sort of "card catalog" for students to use when looking for specific books or books by a specific author.




In the past couple of years, I have been transferring my book collection to Media Collector, a software used with IntelliScanner.  An IntelliScanner is a device used to scan the barcodes on your classroom library books.  The information is collected and stored on your computer.  You can choose to add your own categories to the collected information as well.  For example, once a book is added to my collection, I add categories for book level and library location.




Comments (200)

Hi, I love your ideas. Thanks for sharing. Where can I purchase the round primary sticker dots for leveling the books? Thanks

You can purchase the round dots at any office supply store.

Hi, I love your ideas. Thanks for sharing. Where can I purchase the round primary sticker dots for leveling the books? Thanks

Hi Beth,
Thank you for sharing your wealth of information. I appreciate your willingness to share with others. Can you please tell me if the classroom library poster with the arrow (green, red, blue, yellow)indicating the book levels was purchased at Really Good Stuff? I contacted the company, and they could not find one. Perhaps you made this?

Thank you for your time & expertise!

Happy summer,


Where do I stsrt and not feel overwhelmed! I have been teaching for 17 years and I have alot of books. They are in bins now, but haven't been leveled. What website or system should I use?

How do you determine into what bin a book goes?

I see you have Judy Blume's Freckle Juice in a Favorite Authors bin. It could just as easily be placed in Realistic Fiction.

Likewise a book like Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing could be in Realistic Fiction, Series, or a Favorite Author bin.

What are the criteria you use to determine those specifics?

Hi Beth! I love your website and appreciate your willingness to share your ideas with fellow teachers. I was wondering where you bought your magazine rack for your classroom library. Thank you!

I appreciate that you have shared your labels and how you organized your library. It will save me a lot of time this summer, since I am changing teaching positions!!! I used the link you had posted to reallygoodstuff.com, but it is no longer available. They have many bins/baskets to choose from. If you could tell me which baskets you use, it would be helpful so the labels will fit. Thanks for your generosity in sharing your hard work. (:

Hi Beth! I was curious on how you check out the books in your library? How do you keep track of which books are being used? My school bought some books for our libraries, but they have to be accounted for if ever needed. Thanks!

On your site the link to make your own labels doesn't allow you to open unless you have print. Could you possibly make this a word doc so people who don't have print can make their own labels?


Kate Welsh
I liked your idea of making thick vs thin. I printed lots of stuff out of that thank you for your idea's
P.s Thank you for puting out your book baskets I rely needed them

Amazing ideas!!! I'm a first year teacher and was so inspired by your library tour. I wasn't able to purchase the same baskets following your link, but purchased what I thought were similar ones through the same company (Really Good Stuff). The plastic is thinner than I thought and the baskets bend slightly when full of books. I was wondering how your baskets have held up over the past few years. Would you recommend investing in something sturdier, or have you found that they hold their shape well enough? Thank you!!

I wanted to let you know that your link on this website http://hill.troy.k12.mi.us/staff/bnewingham/myweb3/ to the suggested book baskets is no longer working. Thanks for always sharing :):)

I noticed this as well.

Maybe this has been answered somewhere, but how do you attach labels to the baskets? My labels keep falling off. I used tape.

I don't have a question, I just want to say thank you for sharing! I love it!

Can I have a copy of your guided reading basket labels? They are perfect for what I need in my classroom.

Last week I was able to view your classroom library tour but unable this week. I am hosting a Classroom Library PD for our district and wanted to show your video. Would you be willing to email the link? dedavis@peoriaud.k12.az.us
You are my idol! Thanks, Denise

Hi Beth, I can't get your video to play either and I really want to show it to some Australian teachers. It's very inspiring. Please help.

I can't get your Virtual Library tour to play! It redirects to the article only! I have seen it before and want to see it again. Please help!

Hi Beth,
I'm a newly credentialed teacher and currently working S. Korea teaching English. I've been assigned to organize the English Library and came across your site! Wonderful! I like the idea of your book inventory on the Exel program. The the program automatically alphabetize the titles or did you have to manually do it? That would be a lot of work!!

I would like to read a mystery to my third grade class--I am looking for something that is entertaining for both boys and girls--do you have any suggestions???? THANKS TONS!

Love your library. I have a question about your Inventory in Excel. How do you sort the titles excluding "The" and "A" and "An"?

I teach grade 4-8. I can see benefits of using a classroom library but how would you change the structure or label system to accommodate the higher grades? I think the 4,5,6 grades could benefit from this system.

Hi Beth,

I noticed beside your genre of books in your library that there are binders. The picture was a bit blurry so I am assuming those are students names. I just wondered what contents are in the actual binders?

I tried going to the link to find out where you purchased the book baskets, but the link did not work. Please let me know where I can get those. Thank you!

Dear Beth,
A friend sent me your website and I was fascinated. I run a kindergarten in Amman, Jordan and think your ideas are simple and lovely. I fully intend to implement something similar and wondered if you could send me the link to where you bought your 'book boxes' please. (I cannot access the link you mention on your webpage) I would be most obliged.
Many thanks,
Donna Naber

Beth...I teach first grade and I am wondering how to organize my classroom library for book boxes...I don't want too many choices for the kids or to get real specific with types of books...can you give me any direction as to how to organize my books with first graders in mind?

Our school currently administers the DRA (Developmental Reading Assessment) to determine each student's level. How does the Benchmark Assessment differ from the DRA?

Beth, thank you so much for inspiring me to have a better library. My question is about the checking in/out of the books . I have a problem with many of my books dissapearing from my library and I was wondering how do you track your books back into your library. DO you have a librarian? Thank you

Beth- I have followed your website for a few years, and you are my teaching idol. My school is getting a brand new building next year, and I am looking at changing my library then. This will give me time to purchase materials needed, due to cost. I was wondering where the shelves came from in your library? Did you purchase them? Also I was wondering where you purchased the buckets for bucket filling? Thanks

Hi Beth, I just love your classroom and all of your ideas. I was just wondering, I'm fairly new to the concept of centers and especially reading workshop. I'm a lil confused also. I do incorporate centers into our daily routine, however my new principal wants us to do reader and writers workshop. Are center time and readers workshop the same time? Are some centers incorporated into that time? It doesn't seem like they could be with everything that entails the Workshop... I just need some clarity... Thanks, Ms. Bradshaw


Many teachers ask me about my check-out system. You can read my response to a similar question asked by another teacher f you check out comment #86 on this blog post. If you still have questions, let me know!



Here is a link to a reading grade-level comparison chart that will help you figure out levels when you can't find a Fountas and Pinnell level for it: http://oasl.info/lexiles/ReadingLevelComps.pdf

I hope this helps!


Hi! I love your website! Just a quick question, how do students check books out of your library? Do you have a system that keeps track of the books they have or do you allow them to just take them and put them in their book baskets? I have tried a couple ways over the past few years, but so far, I haven't found a system I like.

Thank you!

I am trying to get my library set up and I was wondering how you pick what level it will be?

For example, I have the book Scooby-Doo! The School Play Suprise and it is level at a 2.3. I know it would be yellow but after that I am not sure what number it goes in.


I have an odd-shaped classroom. It is somewhat like a trapezoid and is approximately 38x35. I do feel lucky to have a fairly large room, and I especially love the wall space. One of my walls is made completely of bulletin boards. It is a folding wall. However, we never open it up to join with the room next door, so I am able to maintain permanent wall displays. Two of my other walls are magnetic. While that frustrated me at first because I was unable to staple or tack anything to those walls, I have become a huge fan of business card magnets! I place them on the back of everything to create wall displays and interactive charts. My last wall is made of cinder blocks and is practically useless! However, I have found different adhesive materials at office supply stores that work fairly well when necessary. I guess the best idea is to make the most of what you have!

Thanks for your comment! -Beth

I love the way your room and class library look! I would love to try to set my room up in a similar way, but am notsure I have the space. What size is your classroom, because it looks huge on your virtual tour?


It's great to hear your excitement about teaching! I know that I always feel renewed during summer break and use the time to make improvements to my classroom. Good luck implementing the reader's notebook and organizing your library! I'm sure your students will reap the benefits of both!


I do not level my books just so that I can assign students a color code (level) and then make them read only at that level. I make certain that my students are involved in the process in every way. They read books from the classroom library and try to determine what levels seem "just right" for them. I meet with each student individually to decide upon a comfortable "just right" level so that students can start choosing appropriate books that they can read independently. (Watch my library video for more information about how this process works.) Once a student's JR level is determined, he or she can refer to the basket labels as a guide for finding books that are "just right" for them. As the school year progresses, students are constantly reevaluating what levels feel "just right" for them and reading trial books at a higher level before deciding to regularly read books at that level independently.
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All I have to say is you are amazing! I don't know how you keep up with all that you do. I had started to use bits and pieces of everything you have in your Reader's Notebook and never followed through. I also tried to organize my library every year, but it never stayed that way. I have a new light and can see my classroom library looking and functioning like yours. I can also see my students using the Reader's Notebook and being successful during readers workshop. Thank you very much for everything you share! You are wonderful and I can't wait to see more exciting things from you!

Sincerely, Holly


Thanks for your compliments on my library! I know how you feel about your labels falling off your baskets. Even my self-adhesive floppy disks holders that I've used for years are beginning to fall off.

I think I am going to start using something I saw on the Really Good Stuff website. Here is a link to their basket label holders. Check them out! http://reallygoodstuff.com/product_details.aspx?item_guid=42f07642-489e-48aa-8adc-13d0ee5461e6

Of course this means I will have to recreate my labels since the size of their label holders is different. However, I find that it is easy to make new labels if you create an initial template on your computer and then print out new titles when necessary.



After basket location, I also include a column for "Teaching Points." This column is helpful just to remind myself of what books I use to teach different concepts in reading, writing, social studies, science, etc. I also include columns that list different themes we study. That way when I want to introduce a new theme, I can easily sort the spreadsheet to show all of the books I have that incorporate that theme.

When I print out the list as a "card catalog" for my students, I do not print out the teaching points or themes. Those are just helpful for me.



The computer that has Intelliscanner installed on it is currently in my classroom, and I am still on maternity leave. I do know that you will need to add a custom field in order to make your own categories. I do not remember exactly how to do this without seeing it on my computer screen. However, I believe you must access the "preferences" tab in the file menu. I will be able to give you a more detailed response in a week when I return to my classroom!


Your library is outstanding! This is my 2nd year back teaching 1st grade, after having taught grades 2,3, and 5 for the prior 12 years. The former teacher in my classroom also left loads of books. I have them all leveled, however, I'm having problems trying to come up with a way to attach the labels to the baskets. I do not have the various colored baskets, rather the white Sterilite baskets in the small and large size. In the past you mentioned using the self-stick diskette covers, but I can't find them anymore. Sometimes I also find the need to change books into different baskets depending on which unit of study we are working on. (We use the Growing Readers by Kathy Collins book.) I've been connecting laminated tagboard or index cards to the baskets with computer ties, but I wish there was an easier way! Any ideas would be much appreciated. You are a truly amazing woman..to have 2 young children at home and still keep up such a wonderful classroom and blog! Blessings on you!

Your library is outstanding! I'm teach 1st grade again after having taught all the others above it over the last 12 years. The former teacher in my room also left tons of books. My problem is keeping the labels attached to the baskets. I know in the past you mentioned the self-stick plastic diskette covers, but they don't seem to be selling them anymore. I also find that with my units of study (yes, I do use Kathy Collins book) I keep having to change my collections. Any ideas on a quick and easy way to relabel?

Beth- On the your excel database, what are the following labels after basket location? Do you display for the students just the first labels to "basket location"? -Kenzie

Hi Beth! I recently purchased the intelliscanner and software. I have added a stack each day and I'm up to approx. 650 books. Now I need to start planning for my return to the regular classroom next year. I will be leveling them and labeling them according to your recommendations. Can you share how to add that information to your intelliscanner records?


The Intelliscanner does allow you to tage a student to a specific book. However, you can only use that feature if you scan every book in your classroom library into the system. It is a time-consuming process, but you would then be able to use that feature.


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