Saturday, October 6, 2012

Organizing Your Classroom Library

Hopefully your biggest problem in your classroom library is how to organize the hundreds of books you have.  If you're still needing more books for your class library, head to my Finding Great Books on a Dime blog ( ).  I was very lucky as a first year teacher because I started teaching the same year that my uncle retired from 25 years of dedicated service to the education profession and bequeathed to me boxes full of amazing books (he chose carefully for his class library and had some great titles perfect for late elementary school age students).  I also had a few dozen books from my own childhood and a couple of boxes from garage sales.  There were even dozens of books left for me by my amazing mentor teacher, Jaqui Forney, who I had student taught with in the same classroom two years before!  I was very blessed in terms of a starting classroom library, and I've added a few hundred books to our collection thanks to DonorsChoose.Org grants and Scholastic Book Club orders.  Above is a glimpse of part of our classroom library; the green bookshelf to the left houses our class set of dictionaries as well as the first and second grade level books (each get their own shelf) and our third grade level books (which take up the two bottom shelves).  Without fail, I have had a kindergarten/first grade level reader every year as well as high school level readers, so a good variety of books is essential!

There are many ways to organize a classroom library, and each grade level and teacher will be a little different.  The way I organize my books probably works best for 3-12 grade, but some teachers prefer to have their libraries organized by genre, especially in the younger grades.There are a few reasons why I organize my books by reading level.  The first is research.  If a child is reading a book where they don't comprehend at least 90% of what they're reading, they will be at the frustration level and will get very little out of the text, let alone build a life-long love of reading.  Some research puts the percentage of required comprehension as low as 80% to reach frustration, but anyone who has tried learning another language and attempts to read something that's beyond their current comprehension level will know this frustration first hand.  Research has also shown that a student's independent reading level should include books for which they comprehend about 95% of the words on each page, and that only for the instructional level should we bring them down to only knowing 90% of the words (At least I got that much from my Reading Endorsement, although I am too lazy to actually cite my sources since I'm not being graded! :).  This is one reason that I level nearly all of my books and organize them by reading level- so that students will find a "just right" book that will build their vocabulary while increasing their love of reading and building their comprehension.  Here are some of the titles on one of our fifth grade level shelves:

Another reason I can get away with this is that I know the books in my library.  No, I don't have them all memorized in alphabetical order or anything, but I have a general idea of what books I have in my library and could probably rattle off a few hundred titles.  When a student is struggling to find a good book, I can ask them about what type of book they like (funny books, mysteries, animal books, adventure, etc).  With that in mind, we go to the shelves that have their book level on them, and I can pick out about 5 books that suit their reading interests and have them excited to bring their favorite three back to their desk to put inside their book bag within 5 minutes (I use a gallon sized Ziploc bag instead of book boxes to save space and have them easily accessible).

We use the STAR Reading Test to get a general feel for each student's reading level.  I also do a quick vocab test (I'll have to save that for another post) with each student within the first few weeks of school.  Using an average of those two scores and what I've seen from their classwork, I tell them a grade equivalent reading level.  If they are at a 4.2, they record that number in their "My Reading Level" of their Literacy Journal (see ) and they also write 3.2-5.2.  This means that they can get any book in our classroom library that is within a grade level of their scores (between a 3.2 and a 5.2) to do the "Five Finger Test" with to see if it is a just right book.  As you can see in the picture below, I just use a tiny piece of a label to hand write the book's level and stick it to the spine.

All my students are trained on the "Five Finger Test."  I don't know who made up this little method of finding a good fit book, but it mostly assures students that they'll get a book that will be at their independent reading level.  A student turns to a full page of text in the book they're interested in and starts reading.  As soon as they get to a word that they're not sure about (they couldn't give a definition or use it in a novel sentence) they put a finger up, preferably their pointer finger.  They continue reading until they reach the end of the page (usually about 100 words in an average chapter book).  If they knew every single word on the page well, the book is too easy; they find a different book that will help them build their vocabulary a bit more.  If there were one or two words that they weren't sure about on the page, it's a just right book and they can keep it in their book bag.  If, after reading the page, they had three or more fingers up, it is probably not quite at their level yet, and they should look for a book just a titch lower.  Generally speaking, I find that some students will claim they know all the words until you have them read it aloud to you and you help them keep track of words they can't decode/define/use in a sentence.  This seems to be especially true for lower level readers who are eager to read harder books but are still building their reading skills.  If students are complaining about not having much in the way of reading material, or that they can't find a book that's at their reading level because they never find any new words, a quick read aloud by them will almost always find some words that they may have missed when reading it independently!

I have leveled all of my chapter books by grade level equivalent (find the conversions for DRA, AR, and so forth with a quick internet search for charts like this one: ).  For example, most of the Amelia Bedelia books are around 1.9, 2.5, 2.7 grade level equivalents.  Scholastic's will help you level your books, but for older books or random ones, you'll have to use your best judgement as to what level they are.  My books are organized by whole number (like all the 2's together on one shelf, all the 3's on another, etc.)  The tall white bookshelf below is for all my fifth grade level books (between 5.0-5.9). To the left is the white book shelf where all the books from 4.0-4.9 are shelved, and the brown bookcase to the right holds all the 6.0+ books.  Once my students get above the 6th grade reading level, they can choose any of the books on the brown bookshelf because there will always be new words in them.

Here is a better view of the brown bookshelf:

 Our fourth grade level books:

 Below is a picture of my bookshelf with the group book sets.  I collected these mostly from Scholastic and they range from Kindergarten to high school reading levels on a variety of subjects.  Most of the reading my students do is from a book they've chosen from the shelves, but I group them homogeneously for the book group.  Each group has a set of three books that are at their level to choose from, and they read the book together and do a variety of projects with each one.

  The only books that I don't label are the huge/non-fiction/class-created books/comics/random ones that I keep in these bins as "Everybody" books.  I mostly just pull them out if they pertain to a particular topic we are covering in class, but other than that, my students only read these during a "read any book to self" time or our buddy reading with a younger class.  They also won't fit on my regular little shelves that are chapter book height or are tricky to level.  I also have about 100 books in separate bins that are from the school district, so I keep them separate from my own books.

 How is your classroom library organized?  What have you found to be helpful when you're guiding students in book selection?  What are you still struggling with in your library, and what's working well?  Leave a comment below, share this with a friend.  Here's to great books!

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