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Organizing a Classroom Library

I inherited a very tidy classroom, and for this I am incredibly grateful. Many teachers are not

so lucky to have this.

Teacher sitting in an organized, elementary classroom library with illustrated book bin labels.

At first, organizing a classroom library was not high on my priority list when starting the year. I had more pressing issues to get through.

But halfway through the school year I finally got in there and sifted through the hundreds of books that were organized in plastic tubs once upon a time (before I arrived). Now I wonder why I waited so long. It went from a chaotic place I avoided to one of our favorite spaces in the classroom. Here's a glimpse of my journey in organizng a classroom library.

Sorting and Organizing a Classroom Library:

After sifting out the books missing pages or those which shouldn't have been printed after the 1970's, I arranged and rearranged and rearranged again piles of books. I conferred with other teachers, checked all the lower primary classrooms and visited the librarian. Based on the collection I had, here's the categories that made the most sense:

Fiction | Non Fiction | Traditional Tales | Books about School
Books about Friendship & Emotions | Books about Math | Books about Plants & Forests
Reference | Books about Animals | Books about People of the World

One unexpected take away from working through my classroom's library was noticing which books we didn't have. There's a huge push for texts that serve as windows and mirrors - and I honestly wouldn't have known what to order without those hours of really exploring the texts we had. I also know that so many of my students always go for animal books first - and there were so few compared so the others in the collection! It was also clear that I didn't have many biographies or autobiographies and decided to include them in Books about People of the World.


With the books sorted and an order form started, the ugly yellow sticky notes used to label and relabel the piles were staring at me. My default thought was to use the Bright Rainbow Labels I have all around which matches our classroom theme. However I realized that they didn't do justice to the texts and surely wouldn't inspire these magical young learners that I spend my days with.

Using artworks from other projects I have done, I created some labels that fit our classroom perfectly! You can get your own set of these Illustrated Classroom Library Labels here.

Each books needs to have a label or colored sticker still so that my students can be responsible and independent in putting them back in the right places.

Classroom Arrangement:

Not to boast or anything, but I've had a few compliments on my classroom library. There are two reasons it stands out to other teachers (and students too).

  1. It's Cozy! the classroom library is absolutely a space 6 and 7 year old children want to read in. They want to hang out, turn on the table lamp and hang out with friends over books. There's a sofa, pillows, a low table and photos of our class members in frames on the books shelf and side table. It's so real. They are readers in role.

  2. The "Library" is actually around the classroom. Mentor texts are by the circle time carpet, levelled readers are near the coat racks, books about people of the world (diversity, identity and social justice) are central and accessible. Then there's the collection of students made books... those of course are in the writing center.

In addition to our classroom library collection, there are independent, leveled readers for the children to choose and take home. These books were not included in sorting the library as they are organized only by F&P reading levels. Here's a peek at what that looks like in my first grade, international classroom.

Organized Independent Readers for student choice. Independent choosing and returning books, neat and clean workspace, inexpensive ikea drawer units 😉
Simple organization for Independent Readers in Grade 1

It has taken me half the school year and many failed attempts, but our books are organized and create a flow through our learning space. But I'm sure that by this time next year, I'll have thought up a new way to arrange our classroom library with a whole new focus... so watch this space!

Classroom library before and after photo. Before: messy piles of books on the floor and carpet, sticky notes on the bookshelf and student portfolio binders. After: Organized library with book bins in an Ikea Kallax shelf with illustrated labels for fiction, nonfiction, books about math, traditional tales, books about school, emotions and friendship, books about animals, nature.

Comment below with your best recommendations for books on diversity, identity and social justice or animal books for first grade! I'm always looking to expand our book collection with texts that serve as mirrors and windows for all of us who read them.

I hope this has given you some insight and motivation when it's your time for organizing a classroom library.

With love from my classroom to yours,

💛 Sativa

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