Top Teaching > Angela Bunyi > Organizing an Intermediate Classroom Library

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Organizing an Intermediate Classroom Library


When I received the news that I was moving to 5th grade, the first thing that came to mind was my books. Did I have an ample enough collection for the intermediate crowd? Did I need to start from scratch with organizing the library? In the past three years I have taught 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade. With each grade change, my library has changed with me. Read on to see how I am revamping my classroom library this year.

The Tools of Our Trade: Books Matter!

A few years back I was conducting a literacy meeting at one of my schools. The topic was building and maintaining a balanced classroom library, and I was advocating for more rich literature. To support my point, I used Richard Allington's quote that specifies 1,500 books as a base for elementary classroom libraries. I still remember one teacher saying, "That's not realistic. How could we do that?" My response was, "How can we not? They're the tools of our trade." I have said this before, but I'll say it again: I just can't imagine teaching in a literary desert. But with so many books comes so many responsibilities. How does one keep up with a large classroom library? I have a couple of things in place to help in our room, and I hope it will help in yours, too.


How I Organize My Classroom Library

Themes, Not Levels

One of the first things I decided when creating my classroom library was to not organize my books by level. Since a prominent goal for me as a teacher is to help students independently self-select books, I plowed forward with my idea to organize by theme. I even went to my local bookstores and noted their organization for inspiration and to pinpoint areas of weakness in my collection. 

I discovered that students not only find books easier with this approach, but they also get to know their genres very well. I leave the teaching of self-selection to my mini-lessons and individual conferences. I still add the level of the book, use Scholastic to help monitor book selections, and privately consult students on level and genre balance before buying new books, I just don’t have bins sorted by level. It’s also nice that you can visually see which genres need more representation, which helps when you go book shopping. I once heard a speaker say, "Buy the bins, and the books will come." So true. 

Balance of Fiction, Nonfiction, and Informational Texts

Teaching in the upper grades, we all feel the pressure to teach the content areas well. And yet there is so much to cover and so little time! The good news is that we can be working smarter, not harder, by incorporating more nonfiction and informational texts into our classroom library. This way we are reading to learn and supporting our content standards at the same time. Research supports the following balance: 1/3 fiction, 1/3 nonfiction, and 1/3 informational texts. An added bonus is that you don’t have to rely on a textbook when you have high interest books on your shelves and in your students' hands. For example, when we were researching facts on our cell video, students looked for books in our room and the library. The textbook was not the first stop.

Taking It to the Web: IntelliScanner vs. Delicious Monster


I formerly used a software program called IntelliScanner for my classroom, and I highly recommend it if you work in a PC school. The cost is about $150, but I believe it is well worth it if you have a large library collection or value organization. I never knew so much information could be pulled up with an ISBN, but with a simple scan, I can learn the number of pages, publishing information, author, genre, and more! From there, I merely add the level and location for each book. IntelliScanner even comes with a free Web site with a search engine for your collection. I utilized parents to scan books into the system as well as to create individual book labels for bin location and level. Added bonus: A printer friendly edition is available and can be transferred to Microsoft Excel. I admit that I stopped at 2,300 books and have failed to update the site beyond that, but I use the printed version on a weekly basis.

Visit our now outdated IntelliScanner site.

Delicious Monster

In my new 5th grade classroom, we run on Macs, so I opted for a new program called Delicious Monster. It allows you to use your iPhone or built-in camera to scan books into your library. In the time it takes to check yourself out at the grocery store, you can set your classroom library up. I am still finishing this transition, but it will have Web publishing capabilities and book reviews when I am finished.


It's All About the Labeled Bins

K–4 Setup in Bins

The bins I use are expensive. They come from Really Good Stuff, but you get what you pay for. They are sturdy, durable, and they last a long time. Before I had four colored bins indicating genre/themes. Yellow included poetry and fiction. Green included award winners and miscellaneous topics (e.g., book buddy bins). Blue included informational books and author studies. Red was nonfiction. I previously had 60 bins with most of the novels sorted by author name in a rotating bookshelf. I also made sure the books were facing forward to make it easier to browse. 

Labeling the Books

Regarding bin labels, I adapted Newingham's labels (among many things!) and added photos. After laminating, I used gorilla glue and clear clips to firmly secure the labels.

Labeling Individual Books

On each book I used a clear mailing sticker to add the following information:

  • title of the book
  • color code to indicate section of library
  • bin location
  • level, if possible


Download my PrintShop bin labels. Over 88 different labels are available.

5th Grade Setup

I have revamped my classroom organization in a few ways to better meet the needs of my students this year. Here are a few tips:

~ If you are working with older students, give them the opportunity to help you organize your library. For example, I have a few select genres sorted for chapter books. This includes fantasy, mystery, and realistic fiction. I have asked my students to be thinking of particular genres that are missing. I know their involvement will help create a more personalized reading experience for them. 

~ Keep nonfiction and informational picture books displayed forward facing in a bin by genre/category. Students in the intermediate grades often complete research or become fascinated with niche topics. So, when a student wonders about a particular ocean creature, having an "Ocean" bin will help guide that student to learning more.

~ Organize novels, mostly, by the authors' last names. In most bookstores, the young adult novel section is organized this way as well.

~ Create small display cards that advertise particular books. Again, you will see this at many bookstores, and it is easy to recreate this effect with a small clear picture frame from the Dollar Store. As the year goes on, you can encourage your students to create and maintain displayed advertisements, too. A small photo of the student can be added as well.

~ Fiction picture books can be kept out of the main library section and reserved for author studies, writing points, and mini-lessons.

~ Gather and display particular authors together. In our room this includes authors such as Jerry Spinelli, Gary Paulsen, and Patrica MacLachlan.

3rd and 4th Grade Classroom Setup Photos


Pictured, 4th grade: Yellow bins are for fiction; blue bins, for author studies.


Pictured: Red bins hold informational texts, such as travel guides, math reference, plant guides, culture books, etc.


Pictured: Yellow bins are for fairy tales, fantasy, realistic fiction, family themes, folk tales, holidays, etc.


Pictured,3rd grade: A general view of one of many bookshelves in our room.

5th Grade Setup Photos


Pictured: Red and blue bins came with me for the move. This includes some key picture book author studies (e.g., Cynthia Rylant and Eve Bunting) and all informational/nonfiction picture books.


Pictured above: What we call "blessing the books" in the South. Showcasing some excellent authors is key. With the grade change, a few authors in this photo were removed and replaced. Make it fit for your classroom!


Pictured: Most novels are organized in alphabetical order by author. Using small picture frames and index cards, I talk about certain books with students. I am heavily focusing on increasing the number of novels in our room this year.

Pictured: Two shelves house most of our picture books now. This is a large decrease from our former four bookshelves.


Pictured: One of our bookshelves is used to house all of our current reads. Each student has a personal reading bin for their current reads. This photo comes from my 3rd grade classroom. In the intermediate grades, we often focus on just one book at a time. This includes reading the same book at school and at home.


Pictured: Where most novels are housed. First by a few select genres, with a few select authors in forward facing wicker bins, and the remaining in alphabetical order by author last name. Our nonfiction picture book bins begin on the right-hand side of the bookshelf.

Pictured: If you look carefully, there is a large bookshelf situated on the left-hand side of my desk. This is where all the fiction picture books are stored for mini-lessons and author studies.  

Want to Learn More?

Come back for my next post where I will slow down and give you a tour of my classroom while sharing some organizational tips for all of your teaching and learning materials.

For now, post any questions you might have below, and visit our classroom Web site!




  • #1 Angela Bunyi

    Wednesday, May 25, 2011 at 06:04 AM


    How kind of you. I have word that I am returning next year under Top Teaching and Beth will continue with Scholastic as well. That makes year 4, and I can't believe it!

    Regarding Intelliscanner, I no longer use it because we are a Mac school. My summer job is to organize the library using Delicious Books instead. However, I found Intelliscanner easy to use and organize books. My favorite options are the online search engines and printable collection log.



  • #2 Larissa

    Tuesday, May 24, 2011 at 11:16 AM

    Dear Angela,
    Almost daily I check the scholastic website for a new blog post from either you or Beth. You two are our fourth grade team’s idols. :) I’m planning on organizing my classroom library this summer and really like how you have organized yours. I am also looking into purchasing the Intelliscanner to help organize and keep track of books. Every year I purchase new and exciting books for my students to read and more than $100 of my books will either get ruined or lost. I’m hoping that the Intelliscanner will help to control most of this. Could you tell me a little more about the Intelliscanner? How do you use it in your classroom? Is it easy to install and easy to use? Any information you could give me would be great! Thanks and I look forward to reading your future blog posts. :)

  • #3 Angela Bunyi

    Sunday, October 31, 2010 at 11:21 AM


    Great to hear that you are launching a classroom library for your students. I would recommend looking at my site (yellow teacher section) that has book labels and organizational tips that match the lower grade spectrum more. I also recommend that you look at Beth Newingham's posts. She has posted an in-depth article on setting up a classroom library as well.

    My only suggestion for organizing your books that differs from Beth is that I do not endorse organizing books by level! You can read about that on my site as well (link on organizing your library).



  • #4 Jessica

    Saturday, October 30, 2010 at 04:38 PM

    I am very interested in setting up my own personal library. I just ordered a book cart and am wondering what to do with all the other books and how to organize them all. I am very interested in the Intelliscanner as well.

    I notice you teach intermediate grades. Do you have any suggestions for first grade? Our books are phonics, alphabets, etc and some top readers are into chapters. Any suggestions?

    Thank you

  • #5 Angela Bunyi

    Tuesday, September 14, 2010 at 07:26 PM


    Sounds like you have a great plan in place.

    And I know what you mean...last year we were one hop away from the library. And I also relate in that our library doesn't seem to be in such a demand when my students are sticking with one chapter book at a time, and our librarian is OUT OF THIS WORLD good. She's always finding books for my students and helps them select books as much or more than me. I am totally blessed...they even check out the very books I have in my library, which allows my books to last even longer!

    Best to you,


  • #6 Angela Bunyi

    Tuesday, September 14, 2010 at 07:20 PM


    That's great! It's also nice to hear that someone else actually enjoys scanning books into the program. I almost don't want to admit it, but it really is fun. Goodness, my life is getting boring, isn't it?



  • #7 Allison

    Tuesday, September 14, 2010 at 07:10 PM

    Thank you for sharing your ideas! I am hoping to organize my 4th grade classroom library with color-coded bins and corresponding "garage sale" colored dots, placed on book spines with clear clips or book tape. I will have a poster with a key for which color book matches which genre, or bin. Luckily, we have a large media center which we visit weekly, so I don't need to be as extensive as some teachers may need to be.

  • #8 Ashley Cross

    Monday, September 13, 2010 at 06:38 PM

    Thanks for sharing Delicious Monster- that is so amazing! I just downloaded it, and I'm having a blast!
    :) I can't wait to get this in my classroom.

  • #9 Angela Bunyi

    Thursday, September 09, 2010 at 07:42 PM


    That's great! I'll be sure to post a link on this post tomorrow for you.


  • #10 jennifer

    Thursday, September 09, 2010 at 07:10 PM

    That would be great. I actually purchased the software today, so I'm excited to experiment with the program when it arrives. Thank you so much!

  • #11 Angela Bunyi

    Thursday, September 09, 2010 at 05:00 PM

    Hello Jennifer,

    We have Mac laptops and Printshop is included. I am not sure of the price (40 dollar range, I believe). I can post my template that I use, but it will only open up if you have the program as well. If you do, let me know. I can get that up and posted for you.



  • #12 jennifer

    Thursday, September 09, 2010 at 08:38 AM

    Hi Angela!
    Ever since I have discovered your blog, I have been hooked and can't wait to read your blogs this upcoming school year. I just had a question about your newsletters: how do you make them? Do you have a template that you can post? I'm sure there is a special program that I need to purchase, correct? Thanks so much for sharing all of your insightful ideas!

  • #13 Angela

    Wednesday, September 08, 2010 at 07:43 PM

    Hello Dana,

    Sounds like you have a plan that is working in your room! :) It was a tough decision moving some of the novels in ABC order, but when in doubt I went for my question of WWBND (What would Barnes and Noble do?). Ha! I still haven't decided if my novel genres will go into bins or not (eg- mystery or realistic fiction), but that's okay. It's a work in progress and selection, or lack of selection, will determine if I need to rearrange again.

    And typing your books in Excel still works, but I will admit that it was fun scanning my books. It even makes the noise you hear when you use the self check-out at the grocery store. It's the little things in life that amuse me....

    Best to you,


  • #14 Dana

    Wednesday, September 08, 2010 at 06:28 PM

    I completely organize my 4th grade library with bins. Thanks to all the ideas from you and Beth.

    I have blue bins for series -- tree house, percy jackson, etc.

    Yellow- authors and previous sunshine state books

    Red- fiction genres

    green- non-fiction.

    The best part of organizing my library like this is the fact I can see what I need more of.

    I love the idea of putting notes on the shelves to see talk about books you've read with the kids.

    I also wish I had a mac. I organized my library by TYPING into excel. I have an iPhone and would have loved to scan my stuff into it!

  • #15 Angela Bunyi

    Wednesday, September 08, 2010 at 04:59 PM


    Yes, but in a different way. Using Intelliscanner, you actually use a scanner like a library. Through Delicious library you can scan the bar code and the book comes up. At that point, if you have created a file "shelf" for each student on the left side, you simply do the following:

    Find the item you want to loan out and drag it directly from the shelf onto the name of the borrower (shelf labeled). The item will remain in your main library, but will appear grayed out.

    Click on the item again, then on the loan tab, and set the return date by clicking on a day on the calendar.

    A reminder will automatically be added to your iCal for you! For non-Mac users, this is a calendar program that is built in and works with your email (if desired).

    Checking it back in is pretty direct as well.

    Hope that helps!


  • #16 Amanda Nickerson

    Wednesday, September 08, 2010 at 02:48 PM

    Does the Delicious Library allow you to check out books in the same way that your IntelliScanner did?

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