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A Virtual Peek Into My Classroom Library

By Beth Newingham on October 6, 2009
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5

A library is an essential part of any elementary classroom. To run an effective Reading Workshop, it is necessary to stock your classroom library with books of a variety of genres, topics, and levels. Teachers who use the workshop method know that readers need lots of books in a single year, as they are given time to read self-selected texts independently on a daily basis. For this reason, it's important to organize your classroom library in a way that allows students to easily find "just right" books that they are interested in reading.

Read on to watch a video about how I organize my classroom library and how I use it as a tool to help my students evaluate their own reading progress throughout the year. You will also find ideas for collecting more books for your own classroom library and additional photos of my library.


Take a Virtual Tour of My Classroom Library!


Using Colored Baskets to Organize My Books

Fiction picture books are stored in red baskets.


Chapter book series are kept in blue baskets.


Chapter books that are not part of a series are kept in yellow baskets.


Nonfiction texts are stored in green baskets.


Basket Labels

All baskets have a unique label that tells a reader what type of books they can find inside. The basket labels vary based on the section of the library in which the basket is located.

Nonfiction basket labels reveal the topic students will find inside.


Fiction picture book and chapter book labels reveal the basket's genre.


Chpater books 
Chapter book series baskets reveal the name of the different series a reader will find inside.


Basket labels


How I Level My Books

I do not level my books just so that I can assign students a color code (level) and then make them read only at that level. I make certain that my students are involved in the process in every way. They read books from the classroom library and try to determine what levels seem "just right" for them. I meet with each student individually to decide upon a comfortable "just right" level (JR level) so that students can start choosing appropriate books that they can read independently. (Watch my library video above for more information about how this process works.) Once a student's JR level is determined, he or she can refer to the basket labels as a guide for finding books that are "just right" for them. As the school year progresses, students are constantly reevaluating what levels feel "just right" for them and reading trial books at a higher level before deciding to regularly read books at that level independently.

A color code sticker can be found on the back of every book.


Basket labels also indicate what color codes can be found inside.


Library conversion chart 

The color codes in my library correspond to Fountas and Pinnell's guided reading levels.

I use Scholastic's Book Wizard to level my books. It provides a variety of levels including guided reading level, grade level equivalent, DRA level, lexile level, and interest level. A description of each book is also provided along with its genre, common themes, and topics you will find in the book. The Book Wizard also allows teachers to create, print, and even exchange book lists with other teachers. You can also use Book Wizard to help you find "just right" books for your students using the Book Alike feature.


Collecting More Books for Your Classroom Library

It's common knowledge that an effective classroom library has a large variety of books at many different levels, about many different topics, and of many different genres. That sounds great, but where can you get more books?


One of my favorite ways to collect additional library books is to ask my current students to donate books from home that they have already read. To provide them with an incentive, the donated books are given a special label with the child's name and the date that the book was donated. Students like to know that their book will forever be part of the Newingham library.



Another idea to consider is a read-a-thon. Students can collect pledges from family and friends for each book they read in a month (or a certain period of time). Students can count the books they read in class and at home. Not only are students motivated to read lots of books, but the money raised can go to the purchasing of new books for your classroom library. The kids then get to enjoy reading the books they earned for the class.

Find more ideas about how to collect books for your classroom library without breaking the bank!


Keeping Track of Your Books

Once I began collecting a good number of books, it became important to me that I had some sort of inventory of the books I own. This is helpful when choosing books to read aloud, when suggesting "just right" books for students, and for keeping track of all my books. Since I was using the computer to look up the levels of my books, it made sense to also add the book title, author, level, and library location to an Excel file that I could access when searching for a book.

Class library list 

I chose to print out my Excel library collection file as a sort of "card catalog" for students to use when looking for specific books or books by a specific author.



In the past couple of years, I have been using IntelliScanner with my book collection. An IntelliScanner is a device used to scan the barcodes on your classroom library books. The information is collected and stored on your computer. You can choose to add your own categories to the collected information as well. For example, once a book is added to my collection, I add categories for book level and library location.

Comments (174)


I tried visting the webiste you shared, but it is requiring a password.Do you have any idea what that might be?


Year after year, I love sharing this article with teachers who are ready to take the plunge! Unfortunately, the links to the label templates aren't working this time.Please share a live link where I can find them.
Thanks in advance!

I LOVE your classroom library! I've always wished to organize it like yours but have never known how to start. I have hundreds of books and I spend a lot of money buying all kinds of bins so that I can organize my books, however I give up easily because it gets overwhelming. For ten years I've tried and to date have not done it. How do I begin?

I love your enthusiasm! When I taught 7th grade, I organized my library just the same. Now, that I am a specialist, I don't get the pleasure of having my books used, but I am hopeful for the day when I have a classroom again. Great job!

Hello Beth,

I am a soon to be elementary school teacher looking to purchase book bins. This is to organize my now massive collection. Where do you buy your book bins from, and what is the specific name of the bins? I am having trouble finding bins that will hold larger books, but your bins seem to do that.

Thank you.


Not sure what region you are in, but I buy most of my bins from a store by the name of Dollar Tree. They have a great selection of bins. And for $1 a pop they are extremely sturdy.

Hope I was able to help a bit. :-)

Could you tell me about your system for shopping for books? Do certain students go on certain days of the week? How many books are in their baggies?

Dear Beth,

Love, love, love your library organization! I have a ton of books and love your system - THANK YOU so much for sharing! I was trying to download the blank template, and it said that in order to do that, you need to have Print Shop, (which I purchased and downloaded.) But when I try to open the file,it gives me an error saying that the file is not a supported file type or that the file was damaged. Any idea why it is doing that ? I have windows 7 on my school laptop. I can download you regular labels, just not the blank template. Also - the c.d. holders, can you get them at Office Max or Office Depot?

Thank you again for sharing!

Gay Wilson/2nd grade
Cheyenne WY

this is the correct one:


The label links on both websites, her home and Scholastic, won't link me to the labels, and they did a month ago....??

I am applying for a grant to fund the colored book bins for use in my classroom. I am required to provide a photo and I would like permission to use one from your site that shows your library as the model for my finished project. I would like to show just the books in their bins, organized by genre and reading level. Thank you so much.

Hey all!

I, too, was disappointed to see that the link to the labels wasn't working... but I FOUND them on her website: http://hil.troy.k12.mi.us/staff/bnewingham/myweb3/

I hope that helps. If not, just Google her name, and you'll find it under Teacher Resources.

I love the way you organized your library. I would love to be able to access the link for your basket labels. If you could email them to me that would be great! Thank you so much.

Thank you Beth for all the work you have shared. I would love to print the book labels but not able to access this part of the website. Could you share them through email? Thank you

I am getting an error when I attempt to open the link. Can you e-mail me the file.

Hi Beth and teaching friends! I too am trying to print the book labels and I am getting an error. Could anyone please send me the link or file to print out the labels? Thanks friend! Michelle.

What a fantastic library! Your time and effort developing the library speaks volumes! I, too, would love the labels but the link is broke and doesn't connect. Would you please let me know how to access them. Numerous thanks!

Hey Beth:

I am trying to open your link about library organization andbook labels and the link will not open. I've tried both on Scolastics and on your classroom site and both don't work. It keeps giving me an invalid pathway. How can I access this information and download the basket labels?

Where can I find the self-adhesive floppy disk pockets? They don't have them on the business supply link.

Hi Beth-
Thank you for sharing all of your ideas. Can you give me some pointers on how to download your book bin labels. I click on the link and I get an error message. Any Ideas? Thanks!

I'll have to echo what Erin requested. I thought I couldn't have access to the labels because I'm teaching overseas, but I guess that's not the case. Any ideas? I loved your labels thinking I would be able to get them online no matter where I go. I feel bummed about not being able to get those beautiful labels. Any idea????

In the meantime, Erin, I found some from the following link. But I still want Beth's original ones.


Good luck!

Beth, your information is giving me a wonderful start in getting my books organized for my 3rd grade classroom. Thank you so much for sharing your gift of organization with those less organized, like me!

Could you share information about where you got the bookcases in your room and how expensive they are. They are very simple, while looking sturdy and attractive...just perfect!

Thanks, Beth.

thank you for sharing...everything looks great. i went out and bought the printshop so i could use your labels and it won't work...any advice?

Thanks for your information. Why not just use the Guided Reading Levels on the back of the books? Why do to the trouble of creating the colors and 1234?

Love that you're sharing all of your hard work Beth! Thank you. I am a new Teacher-Librarian this year and am looking for an effective template for kids to recommend books to other kids. I have a "brook" theme I'm working on (frogs, water, water lilies) and was planning on setting up the recommendation template on a water lily background that I can mount onto a lily leaf on a bulletin board.
If you have one that you like, I'd love to see it!

Hi, I love your ideas. Thanks for sharing. Where can I purchase the round primary sticker dots for leveling the books? Thanks

You can purchase the round dots at any office supply store.

Hi, I love your ideas. Thanks for sharing. Where can I purchase the round primary sticker dots for leveling the books? Thanks

Hi Beth,
Thank you for sharing your wealth of information. I appreciate your willingness to share with others. Can you please tell me if the classroom library poster with the arrow (green, red, blue, yellow)indicating the book levels was purchased at Really Good Stuff? I contacted the company, and they could not find one. Perhaps you made this?

Thank you for your time & expertise!

Happy summer,


Where do I stsrt and not feel overwhelmed! I have been teaching for 17 years and I have alot of books. They are in bins now, but haven't been leveled. What website or system should I use?

How do you determine into what bin a book goes?

I see you have Judy Blume's Freckle Juice in a Favorite Authors bin. It could just as easily be placed in Realistic Fiction.

Likewise a book like Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing could be in Realistic Fiction, Series, or a Favorite Author bin.

What are the criteria you use to determine those specifics?

Hi Beth! I love your website and appreciate your willingness to share your ideas with fellow teachers. I was wondering where you bought your magazine rack for your classroom library. Thank you!

I appreciate that you have shared your labels and how you organized your library. It will save me a lot of time this summer, since I am changing teaching positions!!! I used the link you had posted to reallygoodstuff.com, but it is no longer available. They have many bins/baskets to choose from. If you could tell me which baskets you use, it would be helpful so the labels will fit. Thanks for your generosity in sharing your hard work. (:

Hi Beth! I was curious on how you check out the books in your library? How do you keep track of which books are being used? My school bought some books for our libraries, but they have to be accounted for if ever needed. Thanks!

On your site the link to make your own labels doesn't allow you to open unless you have print. Could you possibly make this a word doc so people who don't have print can make their own labels?


Kate Welsh
I liked your idea of making thick vs thin. I printed lots of stuff out of that thank you for your idea's
P.s Thank you for puting out your book baskets I rely needed them

Amazing ideas!!! I'm a first year teacher and was so inspired by your library tour. I wasn't able to purchase the same baskets following your link, but purchased what I thought were similar ones through the same company (Really Good Stuff). The plastic is thinner than I thought and the baskets bend slightly when full of books. I was wondering how your baskets have held up over the past few years. Would you recommend investing in something sturdier, or have you found that they hold their shape well enough? Thank you!!

I wanted to let you know that your link on this website http://hill.troy.k12.mi.us/staff/bnewingham/myweb3/ to the suggested book baskets is no longer working. Thanks for always sharing :):)

I noticed this as well.

Maybe this has been answered somewhere, but how do you attach labels to the baskets? My labels keep falling off. I used tape.

I don't have a question, I just want to say thank you for sharing! I love it!

Can I have a copy of your guided reading basket labels? They are perfect for what I need in my classroom.

Last week I was able to view your classroom library tour but unable this week. I am hosting a Classroom Library PD for our district and wanted to show your video. Would you be willing to email the link? dedavis@peoriaud.k12.az.us
You are my idol! Thanks, Denise

Hi Beth, I can't get your video to play either and I really want to show it to some Australian teachers. It's very inspiring. Please help.

I can't get your Virtual Library tour to play! It redirects to the article only! I have seen it before and want to see it again. Please help!

Hi Beth,
I'm a newly credentialed teacher and currently working S. Korea teaching English. I've been assigned to organize the English Library and came across your site! Wonderful! I like the idea of your book inventory on the Exel program. The the program automatically alphabetize the titles or did you have to manually do it? That would be a lot of work!!

I would like to read a mystery to my third grade class--I am looking for something that is entertaining for both boys and girls--do you have any suggestions???? THANKS TONS!

Love your library. I have a question about your Inventory in Excel. How do you sort the titles excluding "The" and "A" and "An"?

I teach grade 4-8. I can see benefits of using a classroom library but how would you change the structure or label system to accommodate the higher grades? I think the 4,5,6 grades could benefit from this system.

Hi Beth,

I noticed beside your genre of books in your library that there are binders. The picture was a bit blurry so I am assuming those are students names. I just wondered what contents are in the actual binders?

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