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A Virtual Peek Into My Classroom Library

By Beth Newingham on October 6, 2009
  • Grades: PreK–K, 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. 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 and additional photos of my 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


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 (JR level) so that students can start choosing appropriate books that they can read independently. (Watch my library video above 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.


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 using IntelliScanner with my book collection. 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 (174)


In the post (and in my classroom library video) you can see how I use labels on the back of the books that indicate where the book belongs in the library. The labels indicate the section of the library and the basket in which the book belongs. I dedicate multiple reading workshop mini-lessons at the beginning of the school year to teaching my students how my library is organized, how to properly return books to correct baskets, how to record books in the reading log, what the color codes mean, etc.

Thanks for posting!



I use self-adhesive floppy disk holders to display the labels on the library baskets. (Luckily I bought tons of them years ago because floppy disk holders are pretty much "extinct" at this point.)However, I have found that over the years they lose their stickiness. We have begun hot gluing them to the baskets to make sure they don't fall off.


Hi Beth, I love your website and awhile back I came across another teacher's website that had many wonderful ideas like yours! I believe at the time, that teacher's site was a link on your site. However, now when I look, I can't find any links to other sites on your page? Did you at one time have links, and if so, what were they? Maybe I had found it somewhere else....

Thanks again for your amazing work and wonderfully useful website!


Hi Beth, I am so impressed with your classroom library and have been following your website for a few years now. My biggest problem is that my students have a difficult time keeping the books in the correct baskets. How do you go about keeping the books organized? Thanks.

I LOVE your classroom website and have just discovered this blog as well. I'm wondering how you attach your labels to your bins. I use bins similar to what you use and either my labels come off, or I have to use so much tape it looks yucky. Yours seem to be just stuck in the middle!


I too have quite a few readers this year who need to keep more picture books than chapter books in their book boxes. Of course this means they will certainly need more books and will need to switch their books more often.

The book boxes I use are large enough to hold nearly any size picture books and are very sturdy. They are from Really Good Stuff. They are a little pricey. However, I bought mine years ago, and they are still in great shape. Here is a link to the product: http://www.reallygoodstuff.com/product_details.aspx?item_guid=89a797ab-9e61-4239-9643-007c4daa12fe

If you do not have enough books in your classroom, I would suggest checking out books from your school library or your local library for weeks at a time so that students are able to continue reading a variety of books at their "just right" level.


Hi Beth, In an earlier post, you mentioned having your students collect enough books in their book boxes for about 2 weeks to avoid their reading time being used just for selecting book. I'm a 3rd grade teacher with weak readers who are almost all still in picture books or very easy early chapter books despite it being January already. Any suggestions on what I could do for my students' book boxes? I foresee them taking a very large amount of books to sustain them over even a week's worth of reading time and though I have around 800 books, selection might become problematic. Also, what kind of boxes do they use? I'm worried that they wouldn't be large enough to accomodate their picture books. Thanks!

Ms. Jones, I am currently using Print Shop Deluxe Version 23. However, I believe that all of my templates and files I have posted in my website and on the blog can be opened with any version of Print Shop.


What version of Print Shop do you use to create your book basket labels?


Thanks for posting your thoughtful comments on the blog. I hope my posts will continue to provide you with useful ideas you can use in your classroom throughout the rest of the year!


I just want to thank you for a wonderful website. As a first year third grade teacher it's been super helpful. We are starting to order books for next year and I was wondering if you could give me 1-2 of your favorites for each genre? Thanks!

Mufridah and Jamie,

You both asked for feedback about Intelliscanner.

I purchased my Intelliscanner about 4 years ago. I immediately began cataloging all of my books. It is a wonderful tool because you can just scan the barcode on the book, and it automatically recognizes the author, publisher, title, and a variety of additional information depending on the book. It even finds a picture of the cover for many books.

However, there are some things that I did not like about it. First of all, the titles were not always like I wanted them to look. Since I wanted my books to be in alphabetical order, I didn't want book titles to begin with The, A, etc. When that happened, I had to edit the title. Also, when I originally kept track of my books in an Excel document, I always entered the title of a series book by listing the title of the series followed by the specific title of the book. That way kids could easily find all of the books I had in a particular series when looking up books in my Excel "Card Catalog." When using Intelliscanner, I found that I ended up having to edit the title way too often.

When using Excel, you can organize your book information anyway you like. For instance, if I want to know all of the books I have by a certain author, I could easily choose to reorganize my book list by author. This was not a feature in my version of Media Collector (the software that comes with the Intelliscanner).

Another problem with Intelliscanner/Media Collector is that every book is not in their database. When that happened, I just added the book myself. Many books did not have pictures for the title, so I ended up scanning them in because I wanted to have the book covers visible for every book when I printed out the pages. I do LOVE that feature! I also found it easy to add new categories like level, library location, etc.

I should point out that Intelliscanner has made many updates to their product and has increased their database since I purchased the product. I am guessing that many of the problems I ran into have been solved or at least improved.

I do think it will save you some time, but it is not as efficient as it may seem.

I hope my advice is somewhat helpful!



I clicked on the link for your IntelliScanner. I have been working all year at levelizing/cataloging and my books (I too, have several books). I have recently taken a break because I was begining to feel as though I would never finish. My goal was to have my personal books levelized and catagorized by the begining of next year so that my library will be more student friendly. I was wondering if you felt like the IntelliScanner was a big help. Would you recomend using it to make a catalog of your books or do you believe your previous catalog version is more kid friendly? Is it that the IntelliScanner does what you had already done by hand? Just curious, I would definetly prefer to use this technology if it can create a catalog like you had already done by hand.

Your classroom site and blogs have always impressed me and given me ideas that I can implement in my room.

Thank you for taking the time to answer my question, I appreciate it!

Hi Beth! Just wanted to say thank you for sharing your wonderful expertise esp. in the creation of your library in the classroom. I hope to explore your site more fully. Thank you so very much :)

Sorry Beth, I see your post above! My apologies!!

Hi Beth,

I apologize for revisiting this post, however, I have a quick question for you regarding how you level your books with the colors. I am in the process of levelling my books as they were previously just stored in genre, and taught the students extensively how to choose "just right" books. However, I am going to level them. Why have you chosen to used the color system versus the Fountas & Pinnell letter? How do you find this system works for you? Do you find students choose books at their level? What are your experiences with this. Thank you and Happy New Year!


When using Intelliscanner (with Media Collector software), there is a way to keep track of the books that students check out using the barcodes on the books. However, I do not use this feature. For that reason, I am not completely familiar with how laborious this task might be to implement in an elementary classroom. I'm sure you could email tech support on the intelliscanner website for more information.

Thanks for posting!



I love all of the "toys" of teaching--I think after the kids themselves, it's one of the many things I like most about my job, so I just wanted to write and say so many thanks for all the info about organizational gadgets that you put into your posts, and particularly ways to utilize computer technology & software. I am especially excited to figure out this IntelliScanner unit. Do you happen to have any feedback/advice about the item? I see on the website there are several different media collector options for purchase. Any thoughts would be highly appreciated.

Take care, and thanks again.

Cheers, Mufridah

I was wondering if there is a way to keep track of the books the kids check out with the intelliscanner? How do you keep track of that in your classroom library?

Daar Sir/ madam

How can i get a library Softwere , i am working as a librarian in a school in bangkok .

thanks shialesh


When I first started organizing my library, I did purchase my own "assembly required" bookshelves from various office supply stores. However, the bookshelves you now see in my classroom were provided by my district. Our district passed a bond issue a few years ago which provided each school with money for building improvements. Our teachers voted to use a chunk of that money to purchase bookshelves for each teacher since so many of us were organizing our classroom libraries at the time.


Hi Beth,

Did you purchase your bookshelves?

Maria and Elizabeth,

You both asked about the Excel template that I use to keep track of the books in my classroom libary. Here is a link to a page on my classroom website about library organization. There you will find a link to the Excel template I use.



I love your idea for the book spreadsheet! Would you be willing to share it so I have a format to start with? Thanks!

Hi Beth,

I LOVE your website, and it has given me a lot of great ideas since I was moved to third grade two weeks before school started. I used to teach all of the fifth grade math, so I am really putting in a lot of effort into researching how to teach reading. Needless to say, you have a lot of stuff that I have already used in my classroom. I have a question about how students check out their books. Do they sign them out somewhere? My students are signing them out but I must admit it is a pain to keep track of; however, I want to know that my books are being returned. How do you manage this part of the library?


Hi Beth,

Would you be able to send me the Excel form that you used for your organization? It would be great to have a template to work from.

Thank you!

Hi Nicole,

You asked about why I color code my books instead of just using the Fountas and Pinnell levels. When I first started leveling my library many years ago, I was teaching second grade and thought that using different colors would be better than using letters. It was my hope that color codes would be less obvious than actual letters. For example, if a student was reading a J, it was clearly lower than a P. However, I learned very quickly that no matter how you level your books, the students know the "order" of the levels and catch on to any system a teacher puts in place.

Still, I strongly believe that students should be reading "just right" texts. There is just too much research that shows that students who are reading too far below or above their reading levels will not make adequate progress. With that being said, it is more important for me to ensure "just right" reading than to just allow students to read whatever books they want to read with no attention to the difficulty level of the book. While I teach MANY lessons on choosing "just right" texts, my lower readers often still continue to read books that are just too challenging for them. In turn, they are not able to apply the strategies I am teaching them when reading these books independently. While I am aware of the stigma of levels, I am most concerned with my students' reading growth.

If you watch the video on my classroom library at the beginning of this post, I show how I really involve my students in determining their "just right" level. I do not simply assign students a level. They must also figure it out themselves. Making them part of the process helps them feel more in control of their reading and accepting of their "just right" level (whatever that may be).

I hope this helps answer your question!


Hi Beth,

I just have a question about the way that you level your books. Can you explain why you choose to 'color code' your books? I have seen other teachers who just level with the Fountas and Pinnell level... do you ever have issues in your classroom regarding students being anxious or embarrassed about the level they are reading? I would love more on your thoughts and opinions on this when you have time! Thanks!


I actually create most of the activities and games for my word study centers myself. I often get ideas from teacher resource books or online games and recreate them using Microsoft Word or Print Shop. I also think of favorite card games or board games (Go Fish, Uno, Sorry, Candyland, etc.) and try to change the game in a way that it can work for learning a specific spelling pattern.

Scholastic has some great resource books for center games. Here is a link to their teacher store: http://shop.scholastic.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/StoreCatalogDisplay?URL=StoreCatalogDisplay&storeId=10001&store=TS&jspStoreDir=TeacherStore&src=BTB000000N0010100000&langId=-1&catalogId=10002

Hi: Would you be willing to share where you purchased or how you created the materials for the games and activities you use in your word study centers? Thanks so much!


Unfortunately, your challenges are ones that most teachers are probably facing on a daily basis (myself included).

I remember so well being a first year teacher and being so completely overwhelmed with everything I was being asked to do. It took me many years to really feel like I was doing a good job!

However, with all of your challenges (kids at so many different reading levels, kids being pulled out, etc.), a reading workshop is really the best approach to take. The great thing about reading workshop is that it allows you to differentiate your teaching to meet the needs of your very diverse learners.

I also have a huge range of reading levels in my classroom. I still teach a whole-class mini-lesson everyday, but then I meet with guided reading groups and strategy groups during individualized daily reading time (IDR) to meet the very specific needs of my readers. Remember that your higher readers need to be seen less than your struggling readers. Many teachers try to make sure they meet with each reader an equal number of times, but your low readers should be seen more often. Your higher readers will still grow if they take part in an effective mini-lesson each day and then get IDR time to practice the strategies you are teaching when reading their self-selected texts.

I also have many students who are pulled out for different services. I try to work closely with the teachers who pull them out because I want them to be aware of what I am teaching. This way they can connect my teaching to what they do when they work with my students. I often share with them my conferring notes and my notes I take when meeting with the kids in guided reading and strategy lessons so that they can really focus on the readers' weaknesses. You might also ask these teachers who pull the students out of your classroom if they can stay in your classroom on certain days to support the student within your reading workshop. It is nice for them to see how you teach so that they can observe how you deliver your lessons to the class.

I certainly do not have a "right" answer to all of your questions, but hopefully some of these suggestions will help!



Feel free to use anything from this post (including the video) as well as any pictures from my website in your presentation. It is exciting to know that teachers from Kuwait and Bangkok are also working on building classroom libraries for their students!

Good luck!

I am an international teacher and am so impressed with your wonderful classroom library. I am doing a presentation about classroom libraries, including a lot of information about leveling. I love your video and would love to include it at the end of my presentation. May I please have permission to do so? My presentation is for other teachers in my school in Kuwait, and possibly at a conference for international teachers in Bangkok.

Thanks so much for your work and I look forward to hearing from you soon!

Chereylene Gilbertson Fourth Grade Teacher American International School, Kuwait

Hi Beth, I am a first year teacher, and I am reading through all of the great stuff that you do. I am familiar with the workshop and how it works, but I am really struggling with how to get through all of our content combined with all of the students that are in and out of my room for different services. When I add in my couple of students who just don't read during independent time and the reading levels in my room which span D-Z, I get stuck. I am trying to make it work, but I was wondering if you might have any advice on where to start.

Thanks, Leigha


I dedicate multiple reading workshop mini-lessons at the beginning of the school year to teaching my students how my library is organized, how to properly return books to correct baskets, how to record books in the reading log, what the color codes mean, etc.

I also introduce each genre during my launching unit so that students can begin recording the genre code in their reading log. However, we study many of the genres separately and more thoroughly in different units of study throughout the year.

I hope I've anwswered your questions! Thanks for posting on the blog!



I am sorry that you are unable to download things from my website. I'm not sure what exactly files you can't open. However, I am suggesting you follow the directions below.

Instead of just clicking on the links to download the files, try right clicking on the hyperlinks. Then choose "save target as." Browse your computer to determine a location to save the files. Once you have them saved, open Print Shop. Once you are in Print Shop, open each file individually. Hopefully this will work!!


Hi Beth, I am so glad another staff member at my building recommended I take a look at your website...you are an incredibly devoted and inspiring teacher to all!!! With such an organized library, I was wondering how you go about introducing your students to your classroom library (how to find books, what the labels mean, etc.) and the proper way to use it? Also, do you introduce all the genres at the beginning of the year?

Please forgive me, my email address wasnt correct with my first post.8

I have tried everythng I know possible to download these files and I cannot get them to work. I would like to see and use the templates to create my own but I am finding it impossible to download even with Print Shop 23. Can you help point me in the right direction? Thanks so much!


You can download my Excel "library catalog" book list on the Classroom Library Organization section of my website. There is a link to it from the Teacher Resources page. You can just delete my books and use it as a template for your own library.

I hope this helps!



You can download a list of the books in the my classroom library on the Classroom Library Organization section of my website. You can access that page in the Teacher Resources section of my class website.


I just can't stop looking at your site. I am a literacy coach with Mpls public schools and this is the direction our district is moving. I watched your library video which is so helpful. I had a hard time finding 2 forms on your website that I would like to start using. One was the "choosing just right book sheet" and the other was the "Trial book evaluation form." Am I just missing it on your site?

Beth, I love your organizational system!! Is there any way you can share your list of books? I would love to see everything you have. Bethany

I was wondering if I could get a template of the excel sheet you used to organize your classroom library?


I am still in the process of entering all of my books into the Media Collector database. This is the software I use to catalog all of my books. I will post a link to my collection as soon as it is complete.

You can find an Excel file with a list of my books from a few years ago on my class website.

Good luck with your own library!


Hi All,

Would you please email me a copy of your book list. I am a newer teacher and would love a list to aspire my library towards.

Thanks for all your hard work!


Unfortunately there is no specific website where I find images of all the book covers I need when posting them on my theme charts. I just use Google images to find JPEG images of the book covers. I right click to copy the images of the book covers and then paste the images in Microsoft Word. Finally I print them out on cardstock and laminate them for use in future years.



In answer to your question about the labels on the back of my books, I put the name of the basket and the section of the library so that students can return the book to the correct location. However, some baskets in the library are named by a specific genre, so there are times when the actual genre does appear on the label.

When recording books on their reading log, the students must determine the genre based on their reading of the text. For this reason, I choose not to put the genre on every book. This makes my students have to think for themselves.

To answer your specific question about my fairy tale labels, my labels would say "fairy tales" (in reference to the basket), not traditional literature. The students must understand that a fairy tale is a type of traditional literature and then record the correct genre code on their reading log.

I hope I have answered your questions!



I love how you post book covers as visual reminders when teaching themes and when students are commenting on read-alouds. Is there one website where you can download all of the covers at once, or do you just make color copies of the books?

Your website is fantastic! I am so impressed with your class library! I can tell you are a skilled and highly effective teacher!

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