Organizing an Intermediate Classroom Library
- Grades: 3–5
When I received the news that I was moving to 5th grade, the first thing that came to mind was my books. Did I have an ample enough collection for the intermediate crowd? Did I need to start from scratch with organizing the library? In the past three years I have taught 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade. With each grade change, my library has changed with me. Read on to see how I am revamping my classroom library this year.
The Tools of Our Trade: Books Matter!
A few years back I was conducting a literacy meeting at one of my schools. The topic was building and maintaining a balanced classroom library, and I was advocating for more rich literature. To support my point, I used Richard Allington's quote that specifies 1,500 books as a base for elementary classroom libraries. I still remember one teacher saying, "That's not realistic. How could we do that?" My response was, "How can we not? They're the tools of our trade." I have said this before, but I'll say it again: I just can't imagine teaching in a literary desert. But with so many books comes so many responsibilities. How does one keep up with a large classroom library? I have a couple of things in place to help in our room, and I hope it will help in yours, too.
How I Organize My Classroom Library
Themes, Not Levels
One of the first things I decided when creating my classroom library was to not organize my books by level. Since a prominent goal for me as a teacher is to help students independently self-select books, I plowed forward with my idea to organize by theme. I even went to my local bookstores and noted their organization for inspiration and to pinpoint areas of weakness in my collection.
I discovered that students not only find books easier with this approach, but they also get to know their genres very well. I leave the teaching of self-selection to my mini-lessons and individual conferences. I still add the level of the book, use Scholastic to help monitor book selections, and privately consult students on level and genre balance before buying new books, I just don’t have bins sorted by level. It’s also nice that you can visually see which genres need more representation, which helps when you go book shopping. I once heard a speaker say, "Buy the bins, and the books will come." So true.
Balance of Fiction, Nonfiction, and Informational Texts
Teaching in the upper grades, we all feel the pressure to teach the content areas well. And yet there is so much to cover and so little time! The good news is that we can be working smarter, not harder, by incorporating more nonfiction and informational texts into our classroom library. This way we are reading to learn and supporting our content standards at the same time. Research supports the following balance: 1/3 fiction, 1/3 nonfiction, and 1/3 informational texts. An added bonus is that you don’t have to rely on a textbook when you have high interest books on your shelves and in your students' hands. For example, when we were researching facts on our cell video, students looked for books in our room and the library. The textbook was not the first stop.
Taking It to the Web: IntelliScanner vs. Delicious Monster
I formerly used a software program called IntelliScanner for my classroom, and I highly recommend it if you work in a PC school. The cost is about $150, but I believe it is well worth it if you have a large library collection or value organization. I never knew so much information could be pulled up with an ISBN, but with a simple scan, I can learn the number of pages, publishing information, author, genre, and more! From there, I merely add the level and location for each book. IntelliScanner even comes with a free Web site with a search engine for your collection. I utilized parents to scan books into the system as well as to create individual book labels for bin location and level. Added bonus: A printer friendly edition is available and can be transferred to Microsoft Excel. I admit that I stopped at 2,300 books and have failed to update the site beyond that, but I use the printed version on a weekly basis.
Visit our now outdated IntelliScanner site.
In my new 5th grade classroom, we run on Macs, so I opted for a new program called Delicious Monster. It allows you to use your iPhone or built-in camera to scan books into your library. In the time it takes to check yourself out at the grocery store, you can set your classroom library up. I am still finishing this transition, but it will have Web publishing capabilities and Amazon.com book reviews when I am finished.
It's All About the Labeled Bins
K–4 Setup in Bins
The bins I use are expensive. They come from Really Good Stuff, but you get what you pay for. They are sturdy, durable, and they last a long time. Before I had four colored bins indicating genre/themes. Yellow included poetry and fiction. Green included award winners and miscellaneous topics (e.g., book buddy bins). Blue included informational books and author studies. Red was nonfiction. I previously had 60 bins with most of the novels sorted by author name in a rotating bookshelf. I also made sure the books were facing forward to make it easier to browse.
Labeling the Books
Regarding bin labels, I adapted Beth Newingham's labels (among many things!) and added photos. After laminating, I used gorilla glue and clear clips to firmly secure the labels.
Labeling Individual Books
On each book I used a clear mailing sticker to add the following information:
- title of the book
- color code to indicate section of library
- bin location
- level, if possible
5th Grade Setup
I have revamped my classroom organization in a few ways to better meet the needs of my students this year. Here are a few tips:
~ If you are working with older students, give them the opportunity to help you organize your library. For example, I have a few select genres sorted for chapter books. This includes fantasy, mystery, and realistic fiction. I have asked my students to be thinking of particular genres that are missing. I know their involvement will help create a more personalized reading experience for them.
~ Keep nonfiction and informational picture books displayed forward facing in a bin by genre/category. Students in the intermediate grades often complete research or become fascinated with niche topics. So, when a student wonders about a particular ocean creature, having an "Ocean" bin will help guide that student to learning more.
~ Organize novels, mostly, by the authors' last names. In most bookstores, the young adult novel section is organized this way as well.
~ Create small display cards that advertise particular books. Again, you will see this at many bookstores, and it is easy to recreate this effect with a small clear picture frame from the Dollar Store. As the year goes on, you can encourage your students to create and maintain displayed advertisements, too. A small photo of the student can be added as well.
~ Fiction picture books can be kept out of the main library section and reserved for author studies, writing points, and mini-lessons.
~ Gather and display particular authors together. In our room this includes authors such as Jerry Spinelli, Gary Paulsen, and Patrica MacLachlan.
3rd and 4th Grade Classroom Setup Photos
Pictured, 4th grade: Yellow bins are for fiction; blue bins, for author studies.
Pictured: Red bins hold informational texts, such as travel guides, math reference, plant guides, culture books, etc.
Pictured: Yellow bins are for fairy tales, fantasy, realistic fiction, family themes, folk tales, holidays, etc.
Pictured,3rd grade: A general view of one of many bookshelves in our room.
5th Grade Setup Photos
Pictured: Red and blue bins came with me for the move. This includes some key picture book author studies (e.g., Cynthia Rylant and Eve Bunting) and all informational/nonfiction picture books.
Pictured above: What we call "blessing the books" in the South. Showcasing some excellent authors is key. With the grade change, a few authors in this photo were removed and replaced. Make it fit for your classroom!
Pictured: Most novels are organized in alphabetical order by author. Using small picture frames and index cards, I talk about certain books with students. I am heavily focusing on increasing the number of novels in our room this year.
Pictured: One of our bookshelves is used to house all of our current reads. Each student has a personal reading bin for their current reads. This photo comes from my 3rd grade classroom. In the intermediate grades, we often focus on just one book at a time. This includes reading the same book at school and at home.
Pictured: Where most novels are housed. First by a few select genres, with a few select authors in forward facing wicker bins, and the remaining in alphabetical order by author last name. Our nonfiction picture book bins begin on the right-hand side of the bookshelf.
Want to Learn More?
Come back for my next post where I will slow down and give you a tour of my classroom while sharing some organizational tips for all of your teaching and learning materials.
For now, post any questions you might have below, and visit our classroom website!