Tips for Getting Kids to Do More Choice Reading: Classroom Library Organization

Tools for Classroom Library Set-UpThis video is part of the teacher tip series, “How to Create Book Hype.” In this video, I’m discussing how to increase the love around choice reading by organizing your classroom library in a way that will support your students’ access to books. Every teacher organizes his/her classroom library in a way that suits their style and needs. Through trial and lots of time-wasting errors, I want to share what I do now to help both me and my students do more reading.

Q: Where do you get most of your books?

A: My books have come from a variety of awesome blessings. I have purchased a large number on my own, mostly through discounted methods, such as public library book sales, the used shelves at a local bookstores, and used Amazon books. Next, I use DonorsChoose to draw on the amazing help of all those generous souls out there. I was really reluctant to use this method originally, because I didn’t want to beg my friends and family for money. I do post an occasional request on Facebook every once in a while, but I have to say that my cousin showed me that there are people out there looking to donate to causes where they can see their funds actually make a difference. This has been amazing. Following those avenues, I write a number of various grants and place requests from my district.

Q: Where did you get your book shelves?Classroom Library

A: My large shelves came from a local video store that was going out of business. Along with a few of my teacher-friends, we scooped them up for a good deal. All we had to do was the tear-down and assembly, which my engineer husband did. (Thanks, Matty!) While it’s sad that Netlix is squashing these local businesses, we teachers can benefit from these awesome shelves. I like mine because they’re tall (sometimes too tall for my lil’ high schoolers), tilted, and not too deep. These attributes make accessing books easier for my students.

My little classroom library during my first year teaching

Q: How do you label your books?

A: I use genre labels from Demco, reinforced with a strip of packaging tape. I mark my last name on the edge of the book. This helps lost books return to my classroom. I also write the reading level on the inside of the first page; since my students have a basic understanding of Lexile levels, I use those.

Q: What is your student check-in/check-out system?

Inside our defective binder check-out system

A: When my library was still small, during my first few years teaching, I had a binder system. Each time kids checked out books, they wrote their name, the book title, and date. When they returned it, they’d place the book in a basket, find their original sign-out date, and record the return date in the binder. Then, I spent far too much time re-shelving the books and updating the binder. This was a major waste of time. I tried to employ “class librarians,” however, sophomores–like me–have a lot better ways to spend their time. Our former binder check-out system

Now, we use Booksource’s Classroom Organizer. We’re lucky to have one-to-one netbooks in the Tech 21 Academy; however, I can see how if this were not the case, I would still use this resource to check-in and -out books from my teacher computer. To view a tutorial on how to get set up with Classroom Organizer, check out the video below.

Since this organization process is all about getting more books into the hands of students, I’m curious. What do you do ease the access to books for students?

15 thoughts on “Tips for Getting Kids to Do More Choice Reading: Classroom Library Organization

  1. Great post! I also moved to Booksource’s Classroom Organizer. It’s not perfect, but it’s much better than my old binder system. I also like how you spend time with your genre labels (though the Demco website is not coming up right now). One of my struggles is how to split up “realistic fiction” — this genre seems pretty large in my classroom library. Any tips? Thank you again.

    • Hi Mark,
      Thanks for the comment! I agree that there are ways of improving Classroom Organizer. In fact, Booksource is pretty open to suggestions, so I’m sure they’d love to hear what classroom needs aren’t being met.

      In terms of genre labels, I also struggled with the huge Realistic Fiction shelf, and I came up with an okay-for-now solution. Sometimes I recategorize RF books as Adventure, Mystery/Thriller/Crime, Romance, or Sports. This isn’t a perfect remedy because some kids don’t look in the other locations; however, since I have a mixed-genre reading requirement, they eventually find their way to the other shelves.

      I’d love to hear what genres (or other methods) you use to categorize your books, and thanks again for the great question! 🙂

      • Hey Erica,
        Thank you for your thoughtful reply. You’re right about the people over at Booksource. They’re always nice when I email them with a question.

        As far as genres, I know that some teachers categorize books in more than one genre if they own multiple copies. I don’t know about that practice; it seems too confusing for me.

        But I wonder how best to divide up my Realistic Fiction books, particularly to sell to specific subgroups of students in my classes. For example, many of my Latina and African American girls want to read books with Latina and African American protagonists (no matter the subject). But that’s not exactly a genre. And I don’t like Urban Fiction (or Street Lit) as a genre.

        I welcome your ideas, and I appreciate reading that you sometimes recategorize books. That means, of course, that you’re consistently looking at your collection and figuring out what works for your students. Thanks again!

  2. Mark,
    You bring up such a good point about subgroups and under-represented readers. I totally feel your hesitance about labeling books within genres that are not only too confining but also full of stereotypes, like “Hip Hop Lit” or “Minority Lit” sometimes can be.

    Often, I want to identify books for certain students, like say LGBT readers, so they can easily access characters that are like them. Yet at the same time, I don’t want to turn other students away from stumbling upon a book that might bring on an amazing and unexpected reading experience.

    I’ve toyed with the idea of just adding those stickers that are simply color-coded dots and then not writing anything on them. That way I could direct some readers to those “non-labeled-labels” without announcing the sub-group to the entire class. I’m still weighing the pros/cons, and I’d appreciate your take on the possible solution.

    You’ve brought up some big ideas here that a lot of teachers haven’t considered when trying to build their classroom libraries. Thanks for extending the conversation!

    • Erica,
      I really value your response. It got me thinking that genre could and perhaps should remain fluid — similar to how blog posts are grouped into “categories” but also may include “tags.”

      This could become chaotic, of course. But maybe there’s a way for books to have one official genre (like realistic fiction) but also have additional subgenres (like LGBT), if applicable.

      After all, as you note, the point is to connect good readers with good books. And there’s nothing inherently wrong, I don’t think, with assigning new and/or additional genres to a book as readers get to know it better.

      Please let me know your thoughts. This conversation has been really helpful!

  3. I enjoyed your video and blog post. I’m tempted to buy some Demco labels now. This will be my last year using a binder check out system. You’re right–it’s s hot mess. I’ve already started scanning my books to convert to the Booksource system.

    • Thanks, Jason! It’s funny how we tolerate things for only so long–like crazy binder check-outs–before we just say that enough is enough! I’d love to hear how you organize your classroom library in an effort to contain the chaos. 🙂

    • Jason, I agree with you that the binder checkout system is chaotic. For me, it was always problematic because I never knew which books were checked out and which ones were not. In addition, students didn’t like checking out books using the binder method. Did you have a similar experience?

  4. Hi Erica,

    I have been looking at your blog and I too am a big proponent for choice reading ( book whisperer, Gallagher). I was wondering what your thoughts are on the whole class? (I also follow Dave Stuart and am aware of his approach). Also, how do you run your choice reading in a way where all students are getting books that are challenging to them? Thanks for your help!!

    • Hi Shawn,
      Thanks so much for the comment, and I’m glad you found your way over from Dave’s blog. He’s such an amazing resource.

      It’s funny that you ask about balancing the whole class novel with choice reading, because I’m actually in process of writing my final Master’s project on this very topic! Wild coincidence? Probably not, mostly because this is such a huge debate that so many English teachers are currently having, namely because the CCSS has ignited a lot of concern about the direction we should take in ELA.

      In terms of a short answer, I don’t have any posts here on my blog that directly show how I find a balanced approach (This is mostly because I’m devoting a lot of my time to this finishing the project in the next two weeks). I am excited, however, to share my research once it’s done.

      In the meantime, I do follow a similar approach to Dave with some variations. My sophomores are challenged to read a minimum of 20 books each year (this goal grows depending on students’ individual reading rates), and within that we generally share at least six whole class novels. In terms of shared texts, I’ve drawn a lot of professional guidance from Beers & Probst’s book “Notice and Note” and Gallagher’s “Deeper Reading.” In terms of choice reading, I use Kittle’s “Book Love” and Miller’s “The Book Whisperer.”

      I’m sorry that I can’t be of more immediate help, but I will be sure to get back to you at the beginning of May (i.e. once this monster paper is submitted!).

      Best of Luck! I’m excited to learn what you’re doing as well. Can I follow you on Twitter or the blogosphere? Thanks again!

  5. Hi Erica,
    I am looking for some help. I have created labels for all of my books that have ISBN #s. I have some books however that I can not find ISBN #s for, or when I find them, Book Source does not recongnize them. Have you found a system for labeling such books?

    • Hi Kelly,
      When I have this problem, I generally look up the ISBN on Amazon. Then when I edit my library, I add the ISBN to the book’s entry. Sometimes, I’ll scan the bar code on the book itself and copy/paste that number into the entry on Booksource. I hope this helps; otherwise, the chat feature on their website is very helpful.

  6. I have followed your blog for a while but this is my first time commenting. I am an 8th grade reading teacher.
    I looked at Booksource but wound up bidding on an IntelliScanner ( from Ebay. I like the idea of my students being able to sort through my classroom library electronically.
    I also want them to be able to browse through in my classroom though, and I am always struggling with the best way to organize my books on my bookshelves for students this age. I don’t want them leveled – too much stigma. I don’t want them grouped by genre – I want to encourage kids to read a variety of genres. I’ve tried organizing them by topic or theme- it’s daunting and doesn’t really work out that well.
    What do you do?

    • Oops, I just watched the video at the top of this page and I see that you do it by genre. Do you find that it’s tough to get kids to branch out and explore new genres?

      • Hi Elizabeth,
        Thanks for the comment and the great thinking! It’s so important for us to recognize the way that we organize our classroom library can promote more reading among our students. I love that you’re considering possible stigma and increased variety. One of the ways that I challenge my students to read a variety of genres is by using a chart like Donalyn Miller does. I briefly describe the process in this post and include the actual chart: Let me know if you have any questions. Thanks again!

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