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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)

This isn't a library question, although I am in the process of organizing mine like yours...I was wondering, silly as it may be, how do you play Magic e Uno and Word Family Candy land?? Thanks!

Wow! Your post about Reader's Workshop was great! I'm looking forward to your post about the Reader's notebook. Thank-you for sharing. I've learned so much from your website. I'm wondering about the labels for the books themselves, Do you label the genre and which basket the book is returned in. For example, do you label the book Realistic Fiction and Family/Friend Relationships or do you just label it in with Fiction and Family/relationships? Or do you just label it family/relationships? Or for Traditional Literature would you label it with Fairy Tales and Traditional Literature? Or would just label it with Fairy Tales. Thanks in advance :) Stephanie


I'm glad you found this post helpful! I know that I checked out tons of other teachers' libraries before deciding on my own system to use. Good Luck!


Thank you for sharing. One of my goals this year was to better organize my classroom library. I had begun but this has helped to make it even better.


I will be doing a future post on Typing Camp since I create many of the resources I use for the fun week on my own.

However, we do use an instructional video called "Typin' Time." It is a great video for teaching students ways to remember the location of the keys, but unfortunately, the company that produced the video is no longer in business.

However, we use the software program "Type to Learn" in the computer lab for extra practice once students are introduced to the keys. It is great! Below is a link to purchase it on the Scholastic site. It is also offered in many issues of Scholastic's Click software club. After typing camp, I send out Click flyers that offer "Type to Learn" so that parents can purchase a copy for additional practice at home. The bonus points you earn can be used to buy lots of books for your classroom library!

Link to Type to Learn: http://shop.scholastic.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductDisplay_16051_-1_10001_10002

Link to Scholastic's Click Software Club: http://teacher.scholastic.com/clubs/click/october.htm

Check back often for a future post on Typing Camp!


Hi Beth, I was wondering where you got the resources for your typing camp. It looks amazing and I would love to use the video and resources. Thanks!


I'm glad you found this post useful! I purchased my library baskets from Really Good Stuff. Here are links to their medium and small baskets that I use to hold picture books and chapter books.

Small Baskets: http://www.reallygoodstuff.com/product_details.aspx?item_guid=0a035899-836a-469d-97a1-3a268b99af23#

Large Baskets: http://www.reallygoodstuff.com/product_details.aspx?item_guid=1c5eb308-0c0e-4352-8685-cefd11e83605#

Good luck organizing your library!


hir books.. !Congratulations I love the way you sort you,,,Where did you buy the color plastic basket for all your books..Please let me know . Iam a Kindergarten teacher and I want to do the same in my classroom with my books...


I do have a rubric to assess my Reader's Notebook, but the way that I use my notebook (including the weekly letters) has changed a bit over the past couple of years. My website does not completely reflect what I use in my classroom at this point. However, you are in luck. My next three posts will be directly related to reading workshop. Stay tuned this Wednesday for a detailed post about reading workshop, complete with a video that shows what it looks like in action on a typical day in our classroom. The post after that will be specifically about Reader's Notebooks. I will describe the different sections of my reader's notebook and provide links to download the updated pages.

Thanks for your comments!

-Beth Newingham

Beth, I am so glad I discovered your website. I have used many of your ideas and shared them with the teachers at my school. I wondered if you have any rubrics to assess reader's notebooks or strategies used during workshop? Also, could you explain the weekly letters. Are they for homework, or a weekly class assignment?

Hi Josh,

My post next week will focus specifically on Reading Workshop. I am even creating a video to show what a day of reading workshop looks like in my classroom. I think some of your questions will be answered more thoroughly in that post.

In next week's post, I will certainly include tips for keeping students on task including a daily self-checklist that students complete at the end of workshop.

In my classroom, students are not allowed to "shop" for books during independent reading time. Instead they must choose books (when necessary) during our morning work period or even during recess if I am not on duty. I tell my students that their book box should have enough books inside to last them at least 2 weeks, so they are certainly not visiting the classroom library on daily basis. If a student finishes his or her books during independent reading time, he or she must reread their books on that day. My third graders are expected to be prepared for workshop everyday. That means they are encouraged to shop for new books when they know that they have less than 2 days worth of reading material left. Making this "no shopping during independent reading time" rule a few years ago really improved the reading environment in my classroom. Readers are not distracted by the inevitable talking that takes place among classmates browsing books at the library, and my small group lessons during that time are now much more productive without the disruption of book shopping.

We do not use a basal text in our classroom. We teach whole-group strategy lessons as our mini-lessons each day, and then students practice using those strategies in their self-selected texts during independent reading time. The strategies are also reinforced when students read books at their instructional level in small guided reading and strategy groups.

I think more of your questions will be answered in my Reading Workshop post next week. Stay tuned!!

-Beth Newingham


I've been following your work for a couple years now and I am so impressed and inspired by how you run your classroom. I teach 4th grade and am trying to get a feel for managing the workshop.

One challenge I am facing is keeping the kids engaged in their independent reading. It seems that I have several students spending their entire reading time looking for books, and not enough time reading or at least trying to read books they've picked from our library or my classroom library.

Also... do you use basal readers in your classroom? We use them to teach our strategies, so I am looking for insight into balancing Reading Workshop and whole-group basal reading.

I would love to hear your other tips on how to manage students during the workshop times.




Here are some answers to your questions:

1. You asked about mini-lesson ideas for reading and writing workshop. The philosophy of workshop is great, but where do the mini-lessons come from? This is a question so many teachers ask. My district is currently in the process of writing units of study for each grade level with daily mini-lessons for each month. While I can't share that here, I can recommend some books that can be useful when looking for mini-lessons.

"Revisiting the Reading Workshop:" This Scholastic book has mini-lesson ideas for the first 30 days. http://shop.scholastic.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductDisplay_20655_-1_10001_10002

"Workshops that Work:" This Scholastic book is geared toward grades 4+, but it also provides sequential mini-lessons for the first 30 days. http://shop.scholastic.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductDisplay_25425_-1_10001_10002

Frank Serafini also wrote a book called "Around the Reading Workshop in 180 Days." In the book, he provides month-by-month strategies for running a reading workshop across an entire year.

You can also write your own mini-lessons. Just look at the skills or units you have been teaching prior to implementing a reading workshop and try breaking them into smaller mini-lessons.

Remember, during the mini-lesson the teacher instructs the whole class on a skill, strategy, or habit that students need to learn and use during independent reading. The teaching point is stated clearly and demonstrated or modeled for students. Students are then invited to actively engage in trying out the skill or strategy on their own before they begin their independent reading for the day.

2. If you would like to do reading partnerships but do not have enough double-copy books, think about using the school library or even checking out multiple copies of chapter books from the public library. If my students want to do a reading partnership with a book that is only a single copy book, we always check the school library first to see if we can find another copy. Without 2 copies of the same book, I think it would be hard to do reading partnerships effectively. It is important for the students to be reading the books independently but also simultaneously so that they can meet to discuss the common text.

3. When I first started teaching in my district, there was an anthology that teachers were expected to use. However, we have gradually moved away from that since we know that "one size does not fit all readers." Our district has now adopted the Reading Workshop framework, so that's why we are currently writing our own curriculum.

I hope that my answers were of some help to you. My next post will be specific to reading workshop with lots of management ideas and a video of what reading workshop looks like on a typical day in my classroom. Check back soon!

-Beth Newingham


Here are answers to your 2 questions:

1. I got my magazine rack at Calloway House a few years ago. When I checked their website today, I noticed that the item you are referring to is no longer available. However, here is a link to some other similar book racks they carry: http://www.callowayhouse.com/prodsearch1.asp?type=search

2. I purchased my Intelliscanner two years ago. Since then they have come out with newer (and probably better) scanners. The one that I own is not currently available on their website, but I actually think I paid more than the $79 that the new one costs. I have found that it does not have information for every book that I scan, but it certainly saves time. It also comes with the Media Collector software which is a great program for keeping a detailed record of the books in your classroom library.

I hope I've answered your questions. I'm sorry I couldn't be of more help!



What a big change going from kindergarten to middle school! Library organization is such a big job. However, it is so wonderful to see your students able to find books of interest so easily once the books are finally organized. It certainly pays off in the end. Good luck! -Beth

As a new 3rd grade teacher, you have given me so many inspiratinal ideas! I have been collecting so many books, leveling them, and starting up my own library. I have a few questions if you have a second...

1. Could you consider posting more mini-lesson topics for reading/writing workshop? My school uses a different reading/writing program, but I really feel that my I could still incorporate reading/writing workshop into my schedule. I would love to know what type of mini-lessons you do!

2. I would love to do "Reading Partnerships," but don't have double copies of books yet. Do you have any suggestions for ways I could still do reading partnerhships even without double copy books?

3. Does your class also read from a basal or anthology? Or do they strickly get to pick their own books?

Thank you for for sharing your classroom and for taking the time to respond to questions as well!

Take care!

Beth, I have always loved your website and getting great ideas from you! I have two questions for you:

1. Where did you get the display rack for your magazines?

2. I clicked on the link for your Intelliscanner (I too, have many books and it would be sooo much easier to scan them into a database instead of typing every title), but I can't seem to find the exact model you show. I saw another model for $79 but was wondering if yours was cheaper and if it was, what model is it?

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

I have switched from kindergaren to middle school- what a change! So I am building up my library. Right now, sadly, my books are just on the shelves in no order. After seeing this site though- boy do I have ideas. Thanks for the inspiration!


I'm glad my post gave you some ideas for organizing your own books. You are so smart to get your books organized now so that your library will be ready to use when you get your own classroom! Good luck!


I love your idea of having a picture or symbol on the back of your books that match the labels on your book baskets. This sounds like a perfect solution for helping your kindergartners successfully return books to the correct baskets. Good luck with your eventual return to the classroom!

Hi Beth!

Thanks for all your ideas & downloads. I am a substitute teacher looking for my own class. In the meantime, I've been organizing my books. Your site has helped me a tons-thanks for the labels too!

Sara Smith

Wow! I thought I had a lot of books. I have recently moved to a different state, so all of my books are currently in boxes. After seeing how neatly organized your classroom library is, my creative juices are flowing. I love the idea of using the labels on the back of the books, but I will have to use a picture or a symbol for my younger Kindergarten students. It would be wonderful to have so much space for all of books. I can't wait to get back into the classroom. Thanks for sharing your organizational tips. Mary

Hi Christy,

Wow! What a drastic change of profession. I am so happy that you are finally able to fulfill your dream of being a teacher. Good luck with the rest of your elementary certification program. It sure is fun to finally get a classroom of your own when your pre-service days are over!


I am a pre-service teacher, and I am working on my elementary education certification. I am completely switching professions, from accounting to teaching. I have always wanted to be a teacher and am finally able to fulfill that dream. I stumbled across your classroom site when I was looking for racing-themed classroom ideas. I just wanted to let you know that I fell in love with your race-themed room and all the ideas you have. I can only imagine what a fantastic teacher you are! Thanks for all the ideas and I cannot wait for my own classroom to put them to good use!! Christy Edgar

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