Setting Up, Organizing, and Utilizing a Classroom Library
Classroom libraries are such an important resource! On this page, you’ll learn how to obtain inexpensive books for children, organize them, level them, create book labels, and organize them in book bins. You’ll also find resources to help you introduce your class library to students and teach kids how to care for and utilize the books.
Self-selected reading guidelines are covered in-depth in The Cornerstone book and eBook: you’ll learn what students should be doing and how to teach them your procedures, as well as how to assess progress through reading conferences. You’ll also find tips for using individual book boxes, keeping meaningful reading logs, and more!
Ch. 7: Maintaining a Class Library
*How to choose books that kids will want to read (and how to obtain them on the cheap)
*Quick and inexpensive ways to categorize, level, and arrange your books into baskets or bins
*How to spend just ten minutes setting up a self-running book checkout system
*Solutions for the great debate: should you allow students to take books home?
*5 simple lessons that teach your students to care for and maintain your classroom library
*Creative ways to give kids ownership over the class library
Ch. 20: Managing Small Group Instruction
*Organizing your area and materials: photos and tips for setting up your reading group location
*Deciding on the number of groups and materials for each
*What to do with the kids who don’t fit in any group
*Flexible reading groups: how to manage your routines while pulling only the kids who need to work on a particular skill
*How to select your small group components and create a workable rotation schedule with limited time
*Is self-selected reading a waste of time? What the research says, and how you can apply it to your reading procedures
*Self-selected reading guidelines: what students should be doing and how to teach them your procedures, how to assess progress through reading conferences, using individual book boxes, keeping meaningful reading logs, and more!
Class Library FAQs
How can I create a functional display for my books?
My classroom library was fabulous in the days before fire marshal starting cracking down. How many violations can you spot in this photo? Couch, carpet, rug, curtains, lamps…these days are long gone. Sigh.
When you’re setting up a classroom library, consider having books displayed in other ways than just spine out. These early-childhood-style shelves are great for displaying lots of books with the covers facing out, and can be used for author displays, student book picks, etc. I nabbed this shelf one year when a kindergarten teacher retired.
Several years later, I used this type of shelf to feature different types of books. Each row has a category: Student of the week’s picks, Mrs. Watson’s picks (books I want the kids to read that they might not choose otherwise), social studies connection, science connection, and genre of the week (other books of the same genre we are reading in our anthology for whole class reading instruction). Kids can put these in their book boxes like any other book in the class library. Each book has a color-coded bookmark inside so when the kids are done with them, they know to put them back on the special shelf and not the general collection. I keep LOTS of extra bookmarks because they do get misplaced, and if a child accidentally puts the book on the regular shelf, I don’t mind, because I change the assortment pretty regularly.
Here’s one way to store menus, brochures, maps, magazines, and other texts that don’t fit easily or attractively on conventional bookshelves. You can purchase this pocket chart here. There are so many classroom library ideas–be creative with your materials!
Should I level my class library?
It depends. Some researchers believe that a leveling system limits students’ reading possibilities (both real and perceived). Personally, I like to give kids a general idea of the difficulty of books before selecting them, so I have always used a very simple leveling system with color-coded sticky dots. I place green dots on the upper left-hand corner of my easiest books, yellow dots on the ‘medium’ books, and red dots on the most challenging titles. Some experts get even more specific (most notably, Patricia Cunningham, who believes leveling is a critical tool for helping kids choose books). If you agree with this theory, check out this free book leveling resources. Keep in mind that leveling your classroom library will takes a very, very long time, and don’t have to start the year with every book leveled. It’s okay to work on the project slowly.
How do I label and organize my books?
Regardless of whether you level your books, you’ll still want to categorize them. Here are free, colorful, illustrated classroom library labels for your book baskets from various sites: thematic early-childhood labels from Our School Family, thematic labels from Kelly’s Kindergarten, and versatile classroom library book bin labels from Teaching Heart (which are what I used in the photo–I just typed in the genres I wanted and replaced the pics). Book labels for a classroom library can be really simple to make!
How do I keep track of books kids have checked out?
I kept this simple, too. For books they read in class, I did not use a system for tracking book check-out. Books were not allowed to leave my classroom, so I lost very few over the years. For home use, I has a notebook with one page for each child in the class. In the mornings, kids chose a new book and signed it out. I’ve explained this system in detail in my book. You can find another interesting idea for check-out from Share2learn.
How do I teach kids to properly handle books?
Here is an adorable, free printable book from Cherry Carl called Madame Libearian’s Guide to the Care and Handling of Books (it’s a large PDF file and takes awhile to download, but be patient because it’s worth it). You can also use this creative click-through online stories for kids on caring for books from Richmond Public Schools and a taking care of library books slideshare from William Breitsprecher.
Have you started creating a digital library for kids? SnapLearning has been a longtime supporter of The Cornerstone, and I believe strongly in the value of their digital resources. They provide hundreds of grade-appropriate eBooks, both fiction and non-fiction, which you can assign to your students and send to their devices! The eBooks come with interactive exercises and assignments which you can later review and assess. Best of all, the content is Common Core-aligned. If you want to check out their close reading portfolio (which is an awesome set of interactive exercises), you can request a free trial demo.
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