Does your classroom library need work? Do you avoid working on it because you’re not sure where to start?
Organizing and setting up your classroom library can be daunting, but it is such an important part of your classroom that you can’t just put it aside. It doesn’t have to be hard or perfect! Here’s how you can get it up and running in no time!
Step 1: Find a Good Location for your classroom library
Plan where you will place your library. Pick a place in your room where you can have a few bookshelves in an open space so kids aren’t crowded when browsing or book-shopping. If you can fit a few cozy pillows or comfy chairs for kids to sit and read, bonus!
Step 2: Sort Your Books
I used to separate my library into 3 parts (read section below on leveled books), but now I recommend 2 parts:
Within each of these parts, I will have many baskets for topics and genres. But I don’t plan my basket labels first! Before I make labels for my baskets, I sort all of my books so I know what I need. It saves time and ink to plan the labels I need to print. I may think I have enough books for a ‘Mystery’ basket, then find I only have a few and have to condense these books with another group.
Here’s what my sorting process looks like:
- Designate a table for fiction and one for non-fiction
- Take one book at a time and place it on the corresponding table
- Label that pile tentatively with a post-it note
- With each book, I either add to a current pile or start a new one. I’m not afraid to make a million piles because…
- Last, I condense small piles and rename that category. In addition, large piles may be split up further.
Step 3: Label Books
Once I have my piles, I make myself a list of the labels I need and print them out. After laminating, I use mounting squares to stick them to my bins. I love my bright decor library labels. They make my library look inviting and the pictures help kids know which books belong in each basket. These come in 2 sizes, so they’re perfect no matter which baskets you use.
I also have the library labels below that go with my ocean-themed decor. These also come in 2 sizes. All of my labels are also editable.
It helps to not only label your baskets, but also your books. This can be time-consuming, but it’s worth it! Have your spouse or children help if they can! Labeling books that match the baskets will help with organization throughout the year. My Library Labels have small stickers that match my larger basket labels. You can also color-code with dot stickers. I’ve even used the same color sticker for different baskets, just writing a letter to differentiate the categories.
Step 4: Grand Opening
That’s right, I have a grand opening of my library! Before tiny little hands are all over my neatly organized library, we need to set some ground rules. Until then, it’s off-limits. This also builds excitement about our library! Kids just can’t wait to look through the colorful baskets, touch the stuffed animals, and choose books for their book baggies!
Before our library is available for their use, we talk about taking care of books, choosing just-right books, and where to keep them once we have selected them.
On Grand Opening Day, we have a ribbon-cutting ceremony and make a huge deal out of being able to use our classroom library! I even play some background music and we dance when we cut the ribbon (crepe paper).
Starting on this day, each table gets to book-shop. I use a book-shopping schedule so kids know when it’s their table’s turn. Each morning, I place a gift bag on the table that gets to shop, as a reminder. After putting their things away and ordering lunch, kids from that table will get their book baggies, place any books they are trading in the book return basket, and shop for new books. **I also let them exchange books later in the year, during center time.
*Before the year starts, I either place books in baggies for each individual child (referencing their previous year’s level and teacher notes) OR place a basket of books on each table that they can read until our library opens. This way, they all have access to some books from the start.
Should Children Have Free Choice or Pick From Leveled Baskets?
I used to have a leveled book section in my classroom library.
Over the past few years, I’ve changed my mind about this because of what I’ve learned from research and the science of reading. Many leveled books require students to use picture or context clues for decoding, so implying that students can read those books independently promotes these guessing strategies.
So I eliminated my leveled library. However, I do recommend having books that your students are able to read independently in their book baggies. This is important for them to build confidence, apply skills, and learn to use strategies independently.
So where do they get these books?
Rather than have a “leveled” section in your library, use the books you use for your small-group sessions. I recommend using decodable books so your students can apply their phonics skills. Even if you haven’t yet read the book together, you can place a few in their book baggies.
It’s very possible you don’t have enough decodable books to use. You can also use reading passages. You can find many online and my Reading Warm-ups are a great option because they include phonics, fluency, and comprehension.
Should students use only decodable books?
Nooo, students should have access to all kinds of books! Imagine you could only eat foods that you knew how to cook. My menu, for one, would be very limited!
Of course, students will have books that are beyond their independent reading levels. I believe it is important to allow students to choose books they want to read. This promotes motivation and engagement, independence, and self-confidence.
Plus, even if students can’t decode the books, they can still gain comprehension from the pictures.
And, I also believe in teaching decoding strategies to help them become flexible readers. These strategies are phonics-based so they don’t promote guessing, but they do remind students of different ways to apply their phonics skills when approaching new words.
I don’t have my students return the books to their corresponding baskets on the day they shop. I learned the hard way that this is very difficult for many children and I don’t want to spend too much time on getting them to perfect this routine.
Instead, I have a ‘book return’ basket they all place their books in. At the end of the day or week, I will return the books to the baskets. I’ve also assigned and trained ‘librarians’ that do this as well. You can make it a classroom job!
Make it Cozy
A beautiful library is nice, but you don’t want to spend a fortune on making it cute! You can find great deals at garage sales, thrift stores, and Kohls! I love their $5 book and plush deals and I’ve found some popular characters there. A simple lamp, fake plant, area rug, and throw pillows or beanbag help make your classroom inviting. Here’s a picture of my farm-themed library from years ago. I got the lamp and planter for $5 at a garage sale and the cow pillow was $15 on clearance at Kohls! A friend gave me the red basket on the floor (tell your friends to keep an eye out for items that go with your theme!). I was still setting up my baskets so they are not finished in the picture.
- Include Diversity: Make sure you have books that represent all different kinds of people. It’s so important that kids can relate to the characters and situations in books and see themselves reflected in books they read. Here is a great list of diverse books, and here is another. Please comment with any more lists you know of!
- Book Hospital: Books break. Having a bin designated to hold books in need of repair until you can get to them is a huge help! Simply print the label in the freebie and adhere to a bin!
- Have students sort books: I don’t do this at the beginning of the year because there is just so much to do and I like to have my library done before school starts. But, I do have students sort books for me throughout the year when we start a new unit, or when I want to update my library to add more books (I have so many books that I rotate some baskets to renew excitement).
- Library Closing: After a while, your library may look like a hot mess. Kid may drop books when shopping, leave books on the floor or shelf, leave post-it notes in books, or my biggest library peeve: return books backwards and upside-down (aaaaahhh!). Give students a reminder of why it’s important to keep the library organized! Model how to take care of books and put them away. If necessary, shut the library down for a few days until kids can appreciate it.
- Play Guess That Basket! If you will have students return books to the baskets themselves, play this game often to reinforce where they go! Hold up some books from different baskets. Ask students to tell you which basket each book belongs in and how they know: the label, the genre, title, author, etc.
- Adding to your collection: Books can be expensive. Ask parents for donations of books they have at home, visit thrift stores, book fairs, and take advantage of Scholastic’s dollar deals. You can also start a book exchange in your faculty room! Teachers can place any excess or unwanted books in there and take what they need. If you’re in NY and teach in a high-need district, there is a program called Book Fairies that is super helpful in providing tons of books at almost no cost! We are Teachers has a list of great ideas to get free or cheap books! 18 Free or Cheap Ways to Stock Your Classroom Library Of course, you can also borrow books from your local library! I’ve been known to borrow 5, 6, or 50 books at once!
Having an organized, inviting classroom library will give you and your students so much satisfaction and make reading so much more fun! If you have any more steps or tips to add, please comment them below and share this post!
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