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Reorganizing Your Classroom Library: Book Bins Out!

By Erin Klein on February 17, 2015
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

Each year I change our classroom up a bit. I always like for the students to have their say in how it looks. We usually rearrange furniture and do a few tweaks about three times during the school year. This year, however, we did a major overhaul of our classroom library. I couldn't be more excited to share our ideas and end result with you!

It Starts With a Conversation

We recently published persuasive writing reviews in second grade. Now it was time to dig into our next genre: nonfiction. One of our first lessons calls for pulling out several nonfiction books from our library to allow the students to start browsing through as they immerse themselves in the texts. As I looked at our classroom library, it just seemed artificial. That is the best word I could think to describe it. I wasn't excited to go over and pull our blue bins off the shelves and try to excite the children about the books hidden and crammed inside each bucket.  

So we gathered on the carpet and began talking about where we like to shop best for books. Many answers included Scholastic and Amazon. Other answers included our classroom library and our school library. Most answers included popular bookstores they could visit with family and friends. After we continued the conversation, it was clear that children loved seeing the rotating books on display. This was exciting. They also enjoyed being able to see the books as they walked into the library or store. What they didn't enjoy was trying to search for a book inside of a bin.  

Then it Gets Really Messy!

While I had always wanted to have an authentic classroom library, I never knew how much the students wanted it, too. Thus, we began our journey into reimagining and reorganizing our classroom library.  

Students took every book off every shelf. I mentally prepared myself as they were doing this. We developed a system together. Each child would grab a bin, double check its contents, and begin sorting it. Because it's February, many of our books have gotten mixed up by this point in the year. Granted, we try our best to stay organized throughout the beginning months; however, books simply get misfiled. So, this was a great opportunity to reorganize!

Students kept fiction books in bins and placed them in the back of the room. They placed nonfiction books on the tables in our room. After our nonfiction books were all pulled, we began grouping them by topic and category. This took about two hours, so we continued our work the following day. When the students arrived the next day, we started on our fiction books, pulling them out of the bins and organizing by series, genre, and author.  

Time for the Magic to Happen

As the students were organizing the books, a few conversations began to catch my attention. I couldn't believe the rich dialog the children were having with one another as they discussed book genres, authors, and series.  

Two girls began a conversation about whether or not the Magic School Bus books would go in fiction or nonfiction. One girl insisted they were stories while the other explained that they were filled with information you could learn. The first girl proceeded to explain that the characters were drawings and not real. Then the other student went on to tell her that just because a story is written to entertain doesn't mean it can't also be real. The conversation was respectful and calm. Next thing I knew a small group had formed as these "serious students" really started to debate whether or not this series was fiction or nonfiction. In doing so, they began to make connections within various genres and justify their rationale with supportive and specific examples. This is only one example of the meaningful conversations that were happening all across the classroom. There isn't a lesson in curriculum that could have sparked that level of engagement. The task was authentic and the students were taking true ownership.  

Sit Back and Admire Together. Then Go Book Shopping!

Once the students had the books categorized, they knew it was time to start organizing them back onto the shelves. The fiction books seemed easy. Most were chapter books and about the same size. However, the nonfiction books all varied in size and we were running out of shelf space. Then one of the students suggested since now that none of the bins were being used, we could put just some of the odd-shaped nonfiction books into a few of the bins. The students agreed since the books would no longer be crammed into bins; these nonfiction books could be separated into several bins with only a few in each. This would make it easier to shop and see the exciting selections.

Our library looked beautiful! I was amazed at how inspired the children were to go shopping for a new book. These were the same books that had been in our library since September. However, you could now see the spines of the books and they were organized! As the kids said, "It was awesome!"

Most of all, I loved that this idea was generated by the students. They facilitated the process and did the actual labor that went into the project. I've noticed how careful they are to put the books back exactly where they go, too. This was an added bonus! I love how much pride they are taking in their new space.  

It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves, that will make them successful human beings. – Ann Landers 

Comments (4)

My classroom library is organized based on Fountas & Pinnell independent reading levels. What are your thoughts about leveling the classroom library?

Your library looks beautiful! Another benefit to organizing books this way is that you have room to expand as your library grows. For years I tried to make use of bins, but I continue to acquire books in some genres (ABC books for example, you can never have too many!) or an author collection expands but those bins would already be full! I confess, as a Kindergrten teacher I can't expect my my kids to re shelve correctly consistently so I still use a couple of oversize baskets to pull collections we are currently using. These "high traffic" books are easy to flip through but it's also easy for me to out the whole collection away on the shelf when we're done. There's always a shelf &for bin of miscellaneous books so the kids have a broad range of choices. If I ever move back up in grade level, I will absolutely have the kids do the sorting! Thanks for sharing.

Not only does your classroom look cozy and inviting but you were able to support your students literacy instruction by allowing them to organize the classroom library. Was there a reason you had your students begin sorting nonfiction?
I also loved how the students came together and experienced the variety of book genres. Being able to listen to others' thinking, allows students to become more confident in their own learning. Were there moments when you needed to model or clarify which category a book would fit in? If so did you only work with that particular small group or did you create a lesson on specific strategies for selecting/organizing interesting, relevant, and appropriate reading materials?

At this moment my classroom library is sorted in those bulky bins. I can't wait to start this process with my own classroom! Thanks for the classroom library revamp idea!

I love those unplanned moments when learning takes place as an aside to some project -- such as reorganizing a library. Great ideas - thanks!

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