Classroom Solutions > Michelle Sullenberger > Organizing the Classroom Library

Organizing the Classroom Library

BookshelfDo you love children’s literature? I do, and I share this love of books with my students. I display books throughout the entire classroom. Star author books line the chalkboard ledge, weekly read-aloud books are displayed around the easel, and favorite titles and themes are arranged in baskets on the bookshelves. I strive to create a classroom library that is both organized and enticing for my young readers. This week, I will provide a look at the features of our classroom library.




Choosing Books

I begin by filling the shelves with books that interest the students and are appropriate for my beginning readers. I include picture books from different genres, leveled books, and magazines. Later in the year, I include early chapter book series. Some of my students’ favorite books are the ones I read aloud. I feature those read-aloud books in the classroom library for a short time. After a few weeks, I rotate the books to reflect the new learning in our room.

At this point in my career, I have a huge collection of books to choose from to keep the library interesting. However, that was not always the case. If you are just beginning to build your classroom library, include books from your school and local libraries, visit garage sales for gently used books, ask parents for donations, swap books with colleagues, and collect Scholastic points. Scholastic’s monthly book clubs feature quality children’s literature at great prices.

Sorting Books

I begin by sorting the books into categories. People sort by genre, topic, theme, accelerated reader level, guided reading level, and student-generated categories. Some common themes and topics include songs, holidays, fairy tales, space, math, ocean, famous people, featured authors, jokes, etc. Other teachers alphabetize their collection. In my classroom, I sort the books by topic, author, genre, and level, and I place the books into plastic bins and baskets. Over the years, I have found that I prefer to use plastic baskets that are large enough for the books to face forward. Students can take the basket from the shelf, look at the book covers and titles, and make a choice. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to organize your books. Consider your collection and have fun sorting. You may even involve the students in this process.

Labeling Books and Baskets  

Animal fiction books Once the books have been sorted into categories and put into baskets, I label the front of the baskets. The labels on the baskets have a title and a picture. The label is large enough to see easily and helps the students identify the book baskets. For the pictures, I have used clip art, Google images, and shared resources. I use packing tape to adhere the labels to the basket. To help my 1st graders with returning books to the proper place, I put a sticker on the back of the book that matches the one on the basket. I also include my name on the stickers.Book labels I suggest taking the time to put your name on the books in your classroom library. This simple step allows misplaced books to be easily returned to your classroom. Try Mrs. Meacham’s Classroom Snapshots or Beth Newingham’s classroom Web site for a wealth of resources for labeling your classroom books and baskets.

Leveling Books

Novice leveled books About a third of my classroom library contains leveled books. Leveled books support students’ reading development and allow them to practice their reading skills. I utilize the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) to guide my reading instruction. At the beginning of the year, the books in this section of my library are grouped into four leveled categories that mirror my school’s literacy continuum: emergent (DRA levels 1–5), novice (DRA levels 6–10), apprentice (DRA levels 11–14), and developing (DRA 16–20). Within each category is a range of leveled books. I expand these categories to include higher leveled books as the year progresses. The leveled books are kept in separate bins for student access and are clearly labeled with a colored dot sticker on the cover of the book. Leveled books I mark emergent books with a green dot, novice with a black dot, apprentice with a yellow dot, and developing with a red dot. Leveling books takes time and patience, but it ensures an organized system that students can maintain.

Book wizardUse Scholastic's Teacher Book Wizard to quickly identify the levels of many children’s books.

Opening the Library

To grow as readers, students must have time every day to read books that reflect their interests and reading levels. At the beginning of the year, I teach focused lessons to feature favorite books and to discuss how to care for books. I also explain how to find and return a book to our classroom library, to choose a “just right” book, and to care for books. I want the students to take ownership of and responsibility for the classroom library. A few of the professional resources I utilize to support these focused lessons include Growing Readers by Kathy Collins, The Daily Five by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser, and The Complete Year in Reading and Writing by Jaime Margolies and Pam Allyn.

Student Book Bags

Book bins In my classroom, each student receives a gallon-sized plastic bag to hold the books he or she is reading. The number of books in this “read again bag” varies depending on the time of the year. At the beginning of the year, the bags may include up to ten books, as some of these books are very short in length. Four or five of the books have been read in small-group instruction and become favorites to reread. Two or three of the books are student choice and not necessarily at the student’s reading level. Students also include one or two of their favorite books, by a favorite author, perhaps, or an easier book to read just for enjoyment. The bags are organized in table bins and the bins are returned to the shelf when the students are finished using them for the day.

My students are excited to read when they have a variety of books and when they are allowed to change those books. I set up a rotation for my students to “book shop” weekly or biweekly, depending on our schedule. I keep this rotation simple: I assign each of my four table groups a day of the week to exchange books, leaving Friday as a make-up day for absent students or for groups who missed their day due to schedule interruptions.

I hope this peek into my classroom library will help you organize books for your favorite readers!



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Michelle Sullenberger
Michelle Sullenberger
Grades 1-2
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