Organizing Your Classroom Library

The task of organizing a classroom library can be SO daunting.  Where to begin?  How many tubs to do I need? What is the best way to sort my books?  How can I make it easy and inviting for my students?  This has been my summer task and today I am sharing with you how it is going.  Please keep in mind, that I am nowhere near done (it will take me ALL summer to organize the number of books that I have) but I am getting there!!

This is my confession to you!  I own so many books it is ridiculous!!  I have FIVE bookcases FULL at school and FOUR bookcases FULL at home.  (These are NOT small bookcases.) My husband swears that he will not buy me anymore bookcases because I will just fill them up!  This is terrible, but part of me cannot wait until my littlest son is older so that I can take all of my children's books from home into my school classroom library! My name is Jessica, and I am a book hoarder.  I also have a really hard time letting the kiddos touch my special favorite books (isn't that terrible?).  It truly is an addiction!

Yesterday, my friend Em shared with you a whole list of places to buy books.  Obtaining a full classroom library truly takes time and money (something that we teachers do not have a lot of).  We are helping you find some cheap places to gather these materials!  You can check out her list here.  And if you have any others to add, please let us know!  I know that here in Virginia, we have what is called the Green Valley Bookfair.  It is a serious addiction.  Every few months they open up this huge warehouse (it used to be a barn and they have had to add on to it) filled with discounted books.  Teacher's Paradise!  Do NOT let me in this place with a credit card!  (My husband only allows me to go twice a year!)

Since my classroom is currently being cleaned, I can't really get into it at the moment.  Instead, I have loaded up the car and brought some of them home.  I could only fit about half of them into the back of the van but it gives me a good start.

Next, I had to decide how I wanted to sort my books.  There are many ways to go about this and a lot of it depends on you and your school.  Personally, I like when my students can find books that interest them.  I want them to easily be able to find their favorite race car book or Pete the Cat.  The other thing that I want to consider is the reading levels of my books.  I have had years when I sorted my books strictly on book level and students were only allowed to choose from certain shelves that contained their level.  This is great for readability but not for interest.

This year, I have decided to do BOTH!  Each book will contain 2 stickers on the inside cover, one with the topic of the book and the other with the level of the book.  Books will physically be sorted by their topic but students (and I) will also be able to see what level the book is.  At my school, we use Fountas and Pinnell.  This is what I will be leveling my books by.  I prefer this leveling system to AR, grade level, and Lexiles.  I think that it considers the book as a whole better than other leveling systems.  It looks at the readability, content, vocabulary, and appropriateness of the book.  I do recommend looking to Lexiles for your outlying students however (older students reading at a low level, younger students reading at a high level). But that is a topic for a different day! =)

So, why am I choosing to sort using both concepts?  Many teachers do not believe in letting students know their reading level because they judge one another and themselves against their peers.  I get that.  I do.  I also get that students are going to do this regardless of us telling them their reading level or not.  I think that this strategy can be used appropriately and with gentle care, and can then be very successful in the classroom.  In my classroom, my students track their own progress throughout the school year, using this chart that I made.  You can pick it up for free at my store.

Guided Reading Student Goal Setting Chart

They always know what level they are.  We set goals together.  We discuss their reading progress together.  Please understand that I also spend a lot of time helping students to understand that they are capable and that everyone has strengths and weaknesses.  We celebrate each time that a student meets their goal and I put more emphasis on reading growth than on reading level.

Each student in my classroom has a book box.  They are allowed to choose 3 books from my library each week.  Two of these books must be within their reading level and one can be ANY level.  This is to give them the opportunity to just enjoy reading!  I have made my reading levels color coded and in groups so that students who are reading at a C, D, or E are all reading books with green stickers.  These students may choose any book with a green sticker.  Keep in mind that this should be their INDEPENDENT reading level, not their instructional level.  I plan to keep an index card paper clipped to the inside of the book box that will contain a sticker for the student's current level as a reminder for them.

So now that I have decided HOW I am going to sort, it is now time to do it.  Where to begin?  I find it easiest to begin with my books that are in a series.  These books are obviously going to go together.  Magic Tree House in one tub; Cam Jansen in another.  Little Bear in a tub; Frog and Toad in another.

I found these great tubs at the Dollar Tree and started sorting them.

Then I began labeling them.  I created these labels with the topic and a space that says "This book belongs to ________."  These went on the inside cover of the book.  (I didn't put them on front because I don't want it to be distracting to the students).   I will also place a matching sticker on the front of the basket that holds these books.  So a Magic Tree House sticker will go on the inside of the book AND on the tub holding the Magic Tree House books.

Next, I had to find the guided reading levels for each of the books.  I found that Scholastic Book Wizard had the majority of the levels that I needed.  Book Wizard even has an app now where you can scan the bar-code for easy look up.  I had a little trouble with the scanning, but since I was only looking at series books at this point it was easy to search Magic Tree House and find all of my levels.  Then I place the leveling sticker on the inside cover of the book under the topic sticker.

You can get the guided reading labels for free here!

Next, I started in on my picture books.  This part is still on-going.  Picture book topics come in a huge range and determining the topics is the most daunting task (for me anyway).  I am a bit of a perfectionist so I have a really hard time with this.  I think the easiest thing to do is clear a big space on the floor and spread them out.  Find a few books that are on a similar topic (probably an easy start would be animals) and put them into a basket.  Keep going until all books are "categorized."  Then go back and look at your baskets and see if any of your topics need to be broken up into smaller categories, such as farm animals and ocean animals.

You can see that I laid a piece of scrap paper with the topic written on it in front of each basket to remind me of its contents!

Once I have the topics labels in my picture books I will go back and add the level for each of these.  I have found that I have a lot of old books from the Rigby series as well as others.  These are obviously not going to show up in the Scholastic Book Wizard.  I will share with you below a few places that I have found for finding levels.  Please understand that there may be some discrepancy among these levels as they are not coming directly from the Fountas and Pinnell website.  Sometimes you just have to use your own judgement.

A-Z Teacher Stuff
Hubbard's Cupboard
The Classroom Library Company - This one had my Superphonics book levels from Rigby
The Story Box - McGraw-Hill
Sundance - Little Red Readers
Rigby and Harcourt Levels
Conversion Chart
McGraw-Hill Science Readers - grade 1
McGraw-Hill Science Readers - grade2
Rigby Grade Level Chart

If you have a series of books that you cannot find the levels for, my best advice is to find the publisher's website.  I was amazed at how often I was able to do a search on the company website and find the reading level right there!

Have one basket just for damaged books - The Book Hospital - and one basket just for returns!  This is a classroom job in my room.  My librarian helpers return the books to their correct baskets simply by matching up the topic pictures on the inside cover of the book!  Every week or so, I will fix any damaged books placed in the book hospital basket and move them to the return basket for my librarian helpers to put away.

Now, once I have topic stickers and guided reading stickers in each of my books, my library should be able to run itself. Students can easily find the books that are their level.  They can easily find books of interest to them.  They can easily PUT THE BOOKS AWAY to the correct basket!

We want to know how YOU organize YOUR library!  Take pictures of your classroom library and post them on INSTAGRAM or our Facebook Page.  Tag it with #LitLandLibrary.  I will be back with you next month to share my final library pictures as well as some of yours!


  1. I am with you on the book addiction, Jessica! I tell my children that my picture book collection alone will be their legacy! I went shopping for more bins at the Dollar Tree just this morning!

    Thanks for the free leveling labels and all of the other suggestions! I am working to re-organize my library corner this summer!

    Stories and Songs in Second

    1. I am loving these Dollar Tree bins. I bought a couple last year to redo my kids' playroom and they have held up so well! I think it is going to make my library so pretty! =) Good luck with your organizing!

  2. I definitely need a 12 step program for book addiction! That's one reason why I'm not putting out ALL my books at one time. Just way too many choices for my kiddos. I'm taking pictures as I go and I'll share how it goes! ~ Lisa

    1. I have considered not keeping them all out, but then I forget to pull them out later on. Plus, I rarely have time with all the paperwork involved in a Title I school. I do think that it is a great idea though. I like to keep a special basket with our favorite books and recent read alouds that the kids can look through. I rotate these books out often. I can't wait to see your pictures!

  3. I didn't bring any books home this year (other than the pile I've collected over the past month in my shopping adventures) because I reorganized my library last year. Can't take any pictures until I get back into school the second week of August. I have bins by level and different bins that are by topic. Not sure I would do it that way again, but it works at this point. Good luck!


    1. I normally don't bring my books home either Amanda. My library just needed a makeover! I would love to see your pictures when you get back in August!

  4. I am so glad these library posts are happening now. I am in the process of releveling my school's literacy library AND my 25 year class library...not an easy task as you pointed out! I am somewhat of a perfectionist too and I am really struggling with the levels. Our school still uses DRA (developmental reading assessment) and AR (accelerated reader) but is making a slow transition to GR levels. So we have to show all three currently. My problem is finding a "true" correct levels that do correspond. One sight might say a book is a 16/I but the AR level is wrong. Another might say that Mr. Putter and Tabby is an's so confusing. I want to do it the right way the first time. It is really time consuming and stressful!!! This is helpful to me to see how others level and what tools they use. Thanks again for the tips!


    1. Rene there are some decent correlation charts out there that may be able to help you with the DRA levels. I think it is easier at times to find the guided reading level but perhaps then, you could use the correlation chart to make it DRA? I have had to come with terms that this is never going to be a perfect project and at times, I have to use my own judgement! Sometimes the levels just don't seem to make sense with the book I have in hand so I "adjust" it a little myself. For AR, do you have a way to look up the books through your school's AR program? I think that may be your easiest route. I hope that it goes well! I would love to see pictures as you are getting started!

  5. Thanks for the post. I too am in the middle of doing this; however, I just could not bring myself to drag books home and now I am regretting it. It looks like I won't be able to work in my classroom as early as I was initially told. Ahhh! Anyway, thank you for the labels. After thinking it through numerous times, I finally decided how i was going to sort them and it appears great minds think alike. :) I am labeling my bins and books a little different, and I am numbering them. I have kindergarten and I thought this wold work well. I have a label that I made for each bin. Then I'll put a number on it. The students can then refile them based on the number. I just thought it would be easier and cheaper for me. Then I will tackle leveling and use your stickers. We follow Daily 5 and this was the best way for me to logically make all of my books accessible. Thanks again and I hope you have a great rest of the summer!

    1. That sounds like a great system. I like the idea of numbers for Kinders. It will help them with that math standard too! =) I hope all goes well! I would love to see pictures when you are done!

  6. This is a great post! I have seen so many times for a box for a book hospital and I have never followed through with it. I may have to do that this school year. At my old school we were required to have books sorted by level. Students all knew their reading level and we had them chooose books withihn a range. So, as a first grade teacher I might have kiddos choose from a box of books that were e/f/g, etc. Last year I moved to a new state, new school, and new grade level- third. The teachers at my new school had books sorted by interest. The books that were mine were marked with levels but students struggled to find just right books. This year, I am doing both! ALL of my books are now marked by their reading level. I use those little colored label circles on the front. I am sorting them by interest for the most part. Students will know their level and look in the boxes for appropriate books. I still have a lot of work to do on it when I go back, but when I get there I will take some pictures!

    1. That sounds similar to what I have tried. I have sorted by ONLY reading levels and by ONLY interest. In one scenario the kids couldn't find the books they were interested in and in the other, they couldn't find a "just right book." I even tried to teach them the finger rule for a just right book but if I wasn't standing right there, they would not use it. I think that doing both will be a much better option!

      The book hospital saved me from always being interrupted by a student when a page tore. I was able to teach students to value the books and really care for them, so when a page tore, they were devastated. They had to tell me right away, which means interrupting me. This way they had a place to put the book and they knew that it would be taken care of.

      Can't wait to see your pictures!

  7. This made me all the more anxious to get back in my classroom and reorganize my library (again)! ;) I downloaded your labels and the data tracking sheet for students and I can't wait to use them. So simple, so effective!
    Mrs. H's Resource Room

    1. I am glad you like them! I hope it works well for you! I would love to see pictures of your library!