How to Make a GREAT Classroom Library

As many of you have seen, I've recently revealed my brand new classroom, featuring my classroom library. I'm very proud of it!! About five years ago, I decided to categorize and label every single book I owned. Which at the time numbered around 600 books.

Yes, thank you Scholastic Book Club and my mother!!

So I had all these books and they were kind of just sitting in disorganized, slipshod, extreme chaos in baskets shoved in the corner of my classroom or wherever I could find a place. Not really a focus in my classroom or my lessons. Back then I was still using the basal, so I didn't really need trade books. Oh, how I have learned!!

That summer I devoured every blog, article, website, book, webinar, Facebook post, etc. I could about Reading Workshop. I re-examined the way I taught reading to my kids and decided that the workshop method was the best way to differentiate my lessons and reach every student.

I also spent that summer with my books. Oh taking them home was such fun. I think it took like a million trips. Maybe less.

Anyway, so to get started on making a GREAT Classroom Library, here are the steps I took:

address labels, 30 per page
color coding labels (aka garage sale stickers)
book leveling chart (included)
baskets, lots, or some other type of container for the books
basket labels (included)

1. Decide how you will level your books. There are so many great ways to do that!! My school at the time was big into AR so I chose to level my books by AR quiz level. Then when I got more into Guided Reading I aligned AR to Fountas and Pinnell. Then I brought in Scholastic, Lexile, and DRA. I eventually ended up with the following chart:
It includes grade levels up to 7th, primarily because I only teach 1st grade. 

My Coding is a way of determining which books are at which levels in my classroom library. I assigned each grade level a different color and code, using the letter of the color and a number. I tried to divide the levels in an even way, like two or three levels per color code:  1.0-1.3, 1.4-1.6, 1.7-1.9

2. Next I made a list of different categories of books:
Fantasy (picture books)
Fantasy (chapter books)
Animals Characters
Realistic Fiction
Math Stories
Language Arts
Mystery (chapter books)
Science Fiction
100th Day of School
American History
United States Government
Books about States
World History
Space and the Solar System
Poems, Songs, and Jokes
Fairy Tales
Mixed Up Fairy Tales
Folktales and Legends
Marine Life
Many Different Animals
Insects and Spiders
Magic Tree House
Magic School Bus
Louisiana Books (I teach in Louisiana)
Fun Books
Family and Friend Relationships
Animal/Human Relationships
Dr. Seuss
Berenstain Bears
Action Adventure (chapter books)

This list is by no means definitive. When I taught at a Catholic school, I had a basket for books about Religion. I also didn't have series baskets because I didn't have enough of the series to make an individual basket. But as I bought or received new books I would change out the labels and add new baskets. Add to it. Sort it differently. Make it your own. I'm actually trying to figure out how to better sort out my Fantasy books because I have a TON in like four baskets. It's a work in progress.

3. Using the categories list, I made labels for my books. I used Avery address labels, 30 per page. They are available practically everywhere and it doesn't have to be Avery brand. I just found those work the best.

I made labels for my books, listing category and genre. 
You can download my labels for free here
Or if you want you can use Microsoft Word to make your own labels. Here's a quick tutorial on another blog post. 
Print them out and get ready to label!!

4. I bought some of those round labels that are used for garage sales. Actually I bought A LOT. Like 50 packages. Not exaggerating. 

When I start to label my books, I use these circles and a sharpie to write color codes and attach to the top right corner of the book. 

5. Next I found labels for my baskets. Beth Newingham was my inspiration and where I found a lot of places to start. Check out her blog post on Scholastic Top Teaching about her classroom library.
Well she had these labels for download:
Check them out here.
So I printed them out and backed them with construction paper and laminated them. I had to make some of my own to fit into my library, but it was a great place to start.

6. I started acquiring enough baskets to contain all my different book categories. Dollar Tree and Walmart became my new best friends. I got clear packing tape and those plastic baskets like these:
Though I didn't buy all the baskets brand new. My mom had some, my friends had some, I had some. They were all different colors and sizes. Some were broken, some were taped together, some were even those small Rubbermaid boxes that are supposed to be used for shoes. But the point is I found a way to store all my books that first summer. Beth Newingham's library baskets are color coded according to fiction or nonfiction, series or chapter books (like all fiction books are in green baskets, nonfiction in red, etc.). I didn't have that option that first summer. Beggars can't be choosers. 

7. I used the packing tape and laminated basket labels to tape them to the front of my baskets. Then I laid all the baskets out on my living room floor. Totally wish I had a picture from the time. There was like a small path between the baskets to my room and the kitchen. This was no overnight endeavor. Here is what a finished basket looks like:

8. I found a small area where I could sit surrounded by baskets and all my supplies. I used AR Book Finder and Scholastic Book Wizard and sometimes just Google to find the levels for my books. Sometimes I had to get creative to find the level of the book and search by author or publisher or alternate name. Or just my professional knowledge. Yeah, I guessed on some.......

9. I wanted a file of all the books I had so I could easily find where they were once I sorted them all into separate baskets. So I created an Excel file.

Which you can find right here: Classroom Library Google Doc

So after creating the file, I typed the book's title, author's name, genre code, color code level, and basket location after I labeled and sorted the book.

9. After all that came the fun part. Labeling and sorting. You kind of just have to dive right in. Take a stack of books at a time and just go for it.

I would get one book.

Look it up on one of the websites: 

Find the book level (2.2), align it to my coding (G1), assign it a basket category (Animal Characters), and label it. Type it into my Excel spreadsheet and go. Onto the next one!! 

I eventually got the book on tape, so I cross referenced this book with my Listening basket. 

I also wrote the AR quiz number inside the front cover of the book and the book level and the points level. The quiz number really helped at my old school because we had Neo 2's and it was easier for my kids to type in the number rather than the whole title of the book. 
Yeah, okay, so I made some mistakes. 

And on and on it went. For all 600 of my books. I have to admit, this first summer was the LONGEST I have ever spent on school stuff. I don't even think I went on vacation. Or outside. 

But it was totally WORTH IT. 

At the end I had a beautifully, albeit mismatched, organized classroom library. I was so proud and still am. 
This is the only picture I could find on my computer that semi showed what a finished library looked like: 
 Yeah, this one is blurry but you get the idea.
I will post my new updated library as soon as I'm ready for my classroom reveal!!

I've since added probably close to 1,000 more books to my library since then. I mean it's been five years and I love Scholastic. And Barnes and Noble. 

And hey, who goes on vacation without buying at least ten new books for their classroom, am I right??

This upcoming school year will feature a new updated library in my classroom because I can finally afford to buy color coordinated baskets!!! I also made new basket labels to go along with my theme. Very simple. Here's a preview: 
You can grab a free copy right here on my blog: Rainbow Classroom Library Labels

I've also got new baskets from Dollar Tree. Blue for Fiction, green for nonfiction, and I'm hoping to find purple for my series but I may have to stick with red. 

Anyway, I hope this post helps you with planning your classroom library. 

Thanks for reading!


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