Conquering my class library!

I have been teaching for almost twenty years (oh, I'm getting old!), and throughout all this time I have struggled with how to organize my classroom library.  I was taught in college that it should be organized by interest level, and I tried to do that.  I would group the books and put silly stickers on them to encourage my students to keep them organized.  I ran into two major problems doing this: 1) the books never fell into nice, neat categories (is it an animal book? or is it a silly story book?), and 2) my students could never seem to get them back where they belonged so the library was always in a state of disarray.  I was spending way too much time organizing books and cleaning up the library!

After a marathon Pinterest session last year, I decided to do things differently.  I teach my students to read using levels so why not group the library book by levels?  This is what my library looks like now:


Now, I'm not going to kid you, this took me a LONG time to do!  I spent several marathon sessions leveling books over the summer, but I have now leveled every book in my classroom library.  I would come to school, put Netflix on the Smartboard, and sit amidst stacks of books and level and label.  It was worth every minute.  

To level the books, I used Scholastic Book Wizard.  I started with the FREE app.  It scans the barcodes of the books and tells you the interest level, grade equivalent, lexile measure, guided reading level, and DRA level of the book (see picture below).  It will also give you a short synopsis of what the book is about.

The disadvantage is that it only worked on about 50% of my books.  Then I would switch to my second app called Level It! (also free).  It also scans the barcodes and gives similar information.  Here's what it looks like:

Both of these apps allow you to create a classroom library, and then you can use your phone to have kids check books in and out.  I don't have time to do this, but I guess you could assign a responsible student to be the librarian if you are interested.

If the book didn't come up after being scanned (some of the Scholastic books don't because they have different barcodes), I would go to the website for Scholastic Book Wizard and search for them.  And if all else failed, I would fall back on my eighteen years of experience and guesstimate the level!  Since my school uses Accelerated Reader, I also included AR points on all books that had an AR test.  You can find AR book information here.

Once I had the books leveled, I created labels.  I used Avery 5160 labels.  I used this size because I could wrap them from the front of the book to the back, with the level of the book clearly displayed on both sides.  I put the sticker in the same location on all books so students wouldn't have any trouble finding it.  The location at the bottom left rarely interfered with the title or author.  After I placed the sticker, I would cover it with scotch tape to enhance the durability.

Next, I ordered book boxes.  They were not cheap, but again it was worth it.  I bought them from Really Good Stuff.  They aren't my first choice because they aren't the sturdiest, but at the time I didn't know about  any others.  I have since found a more durable box at Steps to Literacy.  Live and learn, right?  The number of boxes you will need depends entirely on how many books you have.  I bought them in three different colors, again to help students differentiate between different levels, and to facilitate them getting the books back to the right place.  I put the label on the back of the box and covered it with tape to increase durability (and discourage scribbling!).  I used Avery name badges (88395) for the book boxes.

Whew!  Like I said, it took me a long time, but in hindsight, it was all worth it.  My students used the library all last year, and it worked great.  I spent very little time straightening up the library, and I felt good about the fact that my students were reading books on their level.  My students all have book boxes, and they know their reading levels.  I taught them that they had to have just-right books in their books boxes; this meant that they could only have books on the level they were reading during guided reading time, or books that were one level above or below their targeted level.  They could choose any book they wanted from those levels, and they were always very excited when they got to move up levels.  It was a great way for them to see their own growth.

One more thing, I often get asked where I get all my books.  So here is my big secret: library book sales.  Libraries sell books, and they sell them cheap.  If you live in a small community, you will need to travel to the nearest urban center to find the best sales.  I live in a rural community, but once a year I take a personal day and travel to Salt Lake City to buy books at the library used book sale.  The sale lasts for several days, and the prices go down as the days go by.  On the first day of the sale, hardback books are $2.  Then they drop to $1, and on the last day of the sale they are $5 per bag (as many books as you can fit in a paper grocery bag).  In Salt Lake, they also have a special teacher day once the sale is over.  On teacher day, the books are free (but you take a risk on selection!).  I have lived in several states, and the public libraries in those states also had these sales.  Call your library for more info!

Good luck!  I hope this gives you some inspiration for your own classroom.

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