Do you have that one spot in your classroom that just makes you so excited when you see it? You know your students love it and so much meaningful learning will happen there. For me, that spot is the classroom library. I absolutely love creating a comfortable space for my students to re-read our favorites and find new books to love.
A few years ago, I started dreaming about helping a local teacher create a space like this for her students. When Bryce mentioned it this summer, I knew we absolutely had to do it! We poured over applications and finally found the perfect teacher and classroom. We chose Stephanie Perez, a kindergarten teacher in Dallas ISD. I was immediately drawn to her because her story was so similar to mine. Just like Stephanie, my first 3 years were spent as the only teacher on my team who gave instruction solely in English. The other kinder sections are dual-language so Stephanie is the only general education teacher. After seeing photos of her current classroom library, we made a plan and got ready to “flip” her classroom library.
For your convenience, I have included affiliate links to all of the products and books we purchased.
When we got to Stephanie’s room, her library was stacked on a few shelves for the summer. She had the books organized in numbered bins but (like most teachers) many of them had been passed on from other teachers and weren’t in the best shape. Many of the books weren’t ideal for kindergarten reading levels or appealing to young learners. So we spent the first day purging. We sorted the books into these piles:
- keep but not ideal for kinder (she’ll save these in case she ever moves into 1st/2nd grade)
- keep for comprehension lessons/read-alouds
- keep for classroom library
- donate (upper-grade texts, chapter books, duplicates, not appealing)
- trash (ripped, culturally insensitive etc)
The purging process was probably easier because we did it for her. It’s always much easier to get rid of someone else’s things 😂! If you’re looking to purge your classroom library, I’d encourage you to bring in a teacher friend. It will be easier for them to say “keep it!” or “purge it!”
If you find books that are culturally insensitive, please just trash them. There’s no reason to keep books that show Indigenous people having a party with the pilgrims. As far as Dr. Seuss, there is a TON of research that shows he doesn’t belong in our classroom libraries. We let Stephanie make this decision…they were her books to trash, not ours. This is a great article about throwing books out.
After we had purged, we began to sort the books into piles. Bryce donated a ton of leveled texts, so we decided to only sort the rest of the books by theme/topic. Once we had the books sorted, we would know where there were gaps and what we needed to add to her library.
- favorite authors (Mo Willems, Bob Shea, Eric Carle, Leo Leonni, Eric Litwin)
- favorite characters (Lego, Princesses, Paw Patrol, Clifford)
- animal fiction (characters are animals)
- fiction (characters are people)
- living things (plants and animals)
- Earth and space (planets, stars etc.)
- nonfiction (colors, biographies, places)
- holidays and seasons (fiction and nonfiction)
- dinosaurs (fiction and nonfiction)
- ABC and 123 (alphabet and counting books)
Lakeshore donated these beautiful bins so we knew we could have big groups of books. In the past, I’ve had smaller bins so I sorted my books into smaller groups. Either way is totally fine and students can use either just fine!
If you are using smaller bins, here are some other categories you might consider!
- types of animals
- reptiles and amphibians
- jungles and rainforests
- tundra and arctic
- fresh water
- fairy tales
- folk tales
- community helpers
- rocks and minerals
- historical fiction
- realistic fiction
- funny books
- owls, spiders and bats
- life cycles
Some teachers choose to organize their books into numbered boxes. Similar to how a library is organized, they might be alphabetized by author or title. For me, I like thematic bins for primary students. It’s easier for them to find the books they are looking for and helps me engage reluctant readers. If I have a reluctant reader who really enjoys LEGO, its much easier for me to pull out the “favorite characters” bin and find a few for them.
The books organized by theme were NOT leveled. We wanted students to be able to choose whichever books they wanted. However we were mindful to keep the books at the average kindergarten and first grade reading level. For us, that meant not keeping books that were much higher than I/J from Fountas and Pinnell. If Stephanie has readers who are reading at a much higher level, she can share those books with them in small groups. Because most of her students will end the year at a level D/E, we wanted to make sure most of the books still used simple sentences and had a lot of picture support.
We did have bins with leveled readers for students to choose from as well. We encouraged Stephanie not to focus on reading level too much but just encourage her students to choose from the boxes that say “letter A” or “the letter B box.”
Student book boxes will most likely include:
- 3-4 leveled texts (at or below their current reading level)
- 3-4 “free choice” texts (from the books organized by topic/genre)
Research tells us that students need a lot of time reading books at or below their current reading level. BUT we know that readers are often motivated by their favorite characters or topics…no matter what reading level the books are. That’s why we chose to include both…that has worked well in both of our classrooms and we think it will for Stephanie as well!
Inside each bin, we had the books labeled individually with matching stickers. I knew this was going to be a BIG task and I dreaded trying to get that many labels to pring right! I don’t know about you, but every time I have tried to print on label paper I manage to mess them up. No matter how many times I try, I just can’t figure out the spacing and it seems like the farther down the paper the spacing changes. When I saw this trick from my friend, Jonelle, at A Place Called Kindergarten I knew I had to try it. She used full pages labels and just cut them. GENIUS, right?!
I used these and they were perfect!
Full disclosure, some of them are a little harder to peel than others. I found if I licked one thumb, it was easier to hold the label still while I pulled the sticker side off. The paper is scored in several places but with so many labels, they aren’t all scored. You can see I just printed them like any other paper! Then I cut them using my paper cutter. I have 2 of these and I like them! It’s gotten a little crooked over the years but has been well worth the money.
Like I mentioned above, we pulled some books for her to use as read-alouds. We sorted her teacher books, as well, so she could easily find what she needed! Her student cubbies were the perfect spots for her read-alouds. We bought these bins from Target and from Facebook Marketplace!
We sorted her teacher books into:
- favorite authors
Even though we could only truly transform one library, I wanted to make sure all of my readers got a little something for their classroom. You can grab all of the book and bin labels for free with just your email!
Now that you understand how we got there, we can show you the finished project!
I made these fun little character “polaroids” to hang on the wall. We tried to leave lots of space for anchor charts on the back wall, but wanted to throw in a few decorative touches around it. To respect the illustrators work, I can’t make these available but you can find photos of the characters online! Good news though…those beautiful posters?! Those are for FREE over on Bryce’s blog post!
It was such a great experience and we can’t wait to do it again! A HUGE thank you to Bryce…my sweet, hard-working, determined friend who helped make this dream a reality! Thank you to Lakeshore for all the amazing bins…we couldn’t have created this space with you! To my beautiful friends who donated books and to every single teacher around the world working hard to build her classroom library…you’re the heroes in this story. 🙂
All of the links in this blog post are affiliate links. That means Amazon gives me a tiny little percentage that I use to keep this blog running.