As I set up my classroom this year, I was so proud of myself. I had carefully organized when I packed up my room in June, so my room looked “livable” in just a few hours this fall. “Wow, this is smooth sailing,” I thought smugly. Then I approached my classroom library, and I didn’t emerge until 8:30 p.m.!
The hours disappeared as I labeled book baskets, leveled new books, culled through my collection, and planned new library routines. This was certainly time well spent, but I have to tell you, sometimes my “librarian hat” feels heavier than my “teacher hat.” That said, I feel that much of my success as a reading teacher can be attributed to my classroom library. Join me on a photo tour of my classroom library, as I reflect on my organization systems and what works for me.
This is what my classroom library looked like my first year teaching. It's not particularly organized or all that inviting, with not-very-full book baskets. During that hazy first year, I could barely keep up with lesson planning; organizing my classroom library was far beyond me. I gratefully adopted shoddily leveled baskets from a retiring teacher, and we made do.
“Who cares how my library looks? That’s just aesthetics,” I thought. However, throughout the year, I realized something wasn’t working. The library became less and less organized, my students were not careful with their books, and independent reading was a chore. After speaking with colleagues, reading everything I could get my hands on, and thankfully stumbling upon Beth Newingham’s website, I realized that in order to rehab my reading workshop, I first had to revamp my library.
As I grew as a teacher, I realized having an inviting, organized classroom library is an essential part of managing reading workshop. My students take an active role in maintaining our organized library, books are accessible to all of my students, and best of all, my students fall in love with reading as they discover books that speak to them. This is what it looks like:
Nonfiction is currently enjoying its turn in the spotlight, thanks to the Common Core State Standards. I am looking to give nonfiction a boost in my classroom library — my library used to be very fiction-centric. My class is two-thirds boys this year, so I have extra impetus to ramp up the nonfiction collection.
I'm planning to swap nonfiction baskets every two to three months throughout the year to keep the topics fresh. I've also set aside a shelf for large-format nonfiction picture books. These books don't fit in my library baskets, but they are some of the most popular books among many of my boys.
I only level about a third of my library collection. Leveled books are an excellent scaffold for my developing readers. It helps my students feel secure while choosing their books, and it gives them a sense of growth as they advance through the levels. However, I try not to overemphasize reading levels in my class. Many of my students have made incredible leaps as readers when they have struggled through a book that was above their reading level but that deeply interested them.
Try using the Scholastic Book Wizard (also available as an app with a scanning function) for an easy way to level books.
The clear basket on the bottom shelf is our "book hospital" for damaged books. I also include a lot of poetry in my classroom library, an often overlooked genre.
Series books are very popular among my third-graders, and I find that particular series become "fads" for a while among my students. Part of keeping my students interested in reading is gauging when their series interests wax and wane. After many of my students have read through a series, I swap out those books for another series, usually on a higher level. I refresh my series and author (blue) baskets at least three or four times throughout the year. Series books that are not in use get stored away in our closets. (This isn't glamorous, but here's a peek behind the scenes of my classroom library.) The spinning racks available through Scholastic Reading Club are perfect for displaying series books together.
Magazines are awesome! They provide high-interest short texts in a wide range of genres (think authentic test prep). I get my subscriptions through DonorsChoose: Click, American Girl, and National Geographic for Kids are particular favorites among my students.
These shelves have our books that pair with audio recordings. Books with the yellow sticker pair with mp3s on our class iPods; books with the red sticker pair with our CD collection. I also load our classroom iPods with podcasts and audiobooks that do not match up with our hard-copy collection. Sometimes it is OK to just listen to a book without reading along. That's how I listen to audiobooks, after all.
Here are my guided reading shelves. I keep the books that are on my students' current levels on these shelves, and swap them for higher-level books throughout the year. Keeping only the relevant levels out helps me focus when deciding on a book for a particular lesson. (I use labeled bins to store guided reading books that I don't currently need — photo at right.)
The other shelf houses my collection of read-aloud picture books. I used to keep these mixed in with the students' books, but books were often missing when I needed them for a lesson. This bookcase is now hands-off for the kids. It makes them all the more excited to hear these titles when I share them with the class.
My students use reading notebooks to track their reading progress, take notes, collect interesting words, and much more. We store their notebooks on top of a bookshelf, and I use plastic file racks to keep the notebooks neatly in place.
I taped library pockets to the sides of two bookcases for our "Look What We're Reading" book check-out system. Each time my students borrow a book from the library, they write the title and the basket on the top of an index card and slip it into their pocket. When they return the book, the remove the corresponding index card and drop it into a "used card" basket. This system helps me track what my students are reading at a glance, it helps my students keep our library organized, and it is very simple to manage.
If you want any of my book basket labels (patterned off of Beth Newingham's fabulous labels), visit the "Teacher Resource" section of my class website. Here is a Word document with the outline for my library basket labels, in case you want to make your own: Library Basket Labels Template
Ray Reutzel wrote a very useful book about organizing and planning an effective classroom library, Your Classroom Library: New Ways to Give It More Teaching Power: Great Teacher-Tested and Research-Based Strategies for Organizing and Using Your Library.
Make sure to check out Beth Newingham's article about organizing a classroom library, "Give Your Classroom Library a Boost." She was my original inspiration. The Scholastic Teacher magazine article "Creating Your Dream Classroom Library" also has some great ideas.
I would love to hear your tips for organizing your classroom library, as well as any questions you may have about my library. Please comment below.