5 Steps to Having an Organized Classroom Library

5 Steps to Having an Organized Classroom Library

One of the number one questions I have seen new teachers ask is "how do I organize my classroom library?" This can be a tricky thing to figure out, whether you are coming into a classroom where books have been left for you, you are bringing your own books into a classroom, or you have acquired new books. Fortunately, it's not as complicated as it might seem. Here's five steps to organizing your classroom library.

  1. Give away books your students don't read anymore. Check out my post Seven Classroom Items to Get Rid of Today for some ideas on what to consider when purging your library. Remember, you want your library to have books that are high quality and that your students will want to read. Having a smaller library actually makes it easier for students to find the books they want!
  2. Start sorting books into categories and see what you have. Make piles of books that "go together." If they are in the same series, by the same author, or on the same topic, put them together. This will give you a better idea of what additional books you may need or want, as well as what other books you need to get rid of if you have too many of the same. This is a good time to start thinking about what kinds of read alouds you might want to do, ways to include literature in other subjects, and what books you have to teach specific reading and writing concepts.
  3. Figure out what storage will work for your library. Consider the amount of space you have in your classroom to put shelving, how long and deep your shelves are, what is easy to access, what fits the books you have the best, how many books you have, and what will look best in your room. Obviously picture books will generally need larger containers than chapter books. Don't spend a bunch on storage, because you can always add it later! Family, friends, and fellow teachers may be willing to donate containers to your classroom if you let them know you're looking. The dollar store is also a great place to look for storage. I use the small Sterilite bins that come in a variety of colors to hold my chapter books, and the large ones to store my picture books.
  4. Categorize your books in a way that will make sense to your students. Think about what your students might be thinking when they look for books. Will they be wanting a specific subject? Do they know the series they are looking for? How will they find other books they like once they finish a series? Some teachers level their entire library. However, organizing your books by level takes a lot of time, is difficult to maintain long term, and doesn't facilitate natural transitions between books. It is important for students to build skills finding books they like that are at their level, as books won't always be leveled for them. Instead I categorize my books very generally by genre, then by topic, series, or author. For example, I have all my Flat Stanley, Junie B. Jones, Fly Guy, Series of Unfortunate Events, Judy Moody, Magic Tree House, and Who Would Win books in separate bins. I have additional bins for books about horses, dogs, general animals, fairies and princesses, dragons, magic, and mysteries. I also separate realistic fiction, poetry and joke books, and nonfiction chapter books in their own bins. My picture books are separated only by fiction and nonfiction.
  5. Sort your books, label your storage, and finish off your library. Sort your books into the categories you've decided on, putting tentative labels such as sticky notes on them. Once your library is sorted, take a picture of your sticky notes or write down what categories you have. Use this information to create labels for your sections or containers, making sure they are easy for students to read. Pictures as part of the labels for younger grades are a great way to help them be independent. Add any posters, seating, etc. to make your library an inviting place, and it is ready to go!

BONUS TIP: Don't forget your library management! Decide how you want to have students take and replace books, and what the expectations are for your library. Some teachers have a checkout system in place. I allow my students to grab books as they finish others, keeping about 3 books at a time in a bag in their desk. When they put books back, they are expected to put them back in the proper place. This system works well for me, and isn't difficult to manage. Students practice self-sufficiency and responsibility, and I don't have to spend hours putting books back in their proper place! I also do not allow students to take books home for the most part, making it much easier to track books.

How have you successfully used your library in the classroom? What are your tips for organizing and managing it?

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Dear First Year Teacher...

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