This Classroom Library Rocks.

This Classroom Library Rocks via Wonder Teacher We have been visiting with “Wonder Teacher,” Cassie Norvell this week. Today we are going to learn how she organizes and manages her extensive classroom library. In my previous post on engaging reluctant readers, I mentioned the critical importance of a robust classroom library. Cassie’s is a fabulous example!

When I was interviewing her, I asked her to complete this sentence: If I was in charge of the teaching world, I would…

Her answer inspired a whole separate post! Cassie said:

I would make sure that every teacher had loads and loads of books for their children to read and dream about and get interested in and explore! All the experts and educational journals say that the only way for children to become proficient readers is to have access to lots of quality books and spend time reading them!

So Cassie and I spent some time talking about her library.

Where did you get your books?

Most of these are my personal books, collected over time. Book clubs are an excellent source of inexpensive books for building a classroom library. You can also find titles at yard sales, library sales, etc. If you let your families know that you are working to build your classroom library, parents will often donate books from home or will “gift” you with books for holidays or other special occasions.

Many of my books were bought at professional conferences over the years. My favorite thing to do at conferences is visit the book vendors. They always have the newest picture books by my favorite authors.

Where did you get your shelves?

My son, Austin, built the wooden ones for me. It’s nice to have them but any shelves would work OK. They just need to be deep enough and tall enough to hold the bins. Trying to find the right bins is a difficult task. I have used many different ones. Teachers laugh at my addiction to plastic. Right now I like the clear tubs, but I really like the ones that have smooth sides to stick the labels on. These are not so easy to find.

Is this your whole collection? Do you put out all your titles at the beginning of the year?

Yes, for the most part, but my unit books only come out during the weeks we are working on that unit topic.

Bringing out new books is always an exciting time for the children. We look at the collection together and I point out my favorites. The children laugh when I say, “This is my favorite book!” They reply, “Every book is your favorite!” It is so important for me to share my love of books with the children. When the children leave me after three years, I want them to love books as much as I do.

I display those books in a separate “unit books” display.  Then, when we finish the unit they get put away unless a child requests that a title remain out. Of course, some of the more general topics that we teach, like rocks or animals, stay out all year because those topics interest a lot of my children.

Classroom Library Book Display

How do you organize your library?

I organize the books by tubs so that children can flip through and see the covers of the books. Each one is labeled with a topical title- it might be a genre (fairy tales), an author (Jan Brett), a series (Cam Jansen) or a topic (cats.) Within each tub I have a variety of non-fiction and fiction titles as well as a variety of levels. I want my students to learn how to pick out a book that is “just right.” I do have some leveled books in the corner for my youngest readers to take home and read.

How to Organize a Classroom Library via Wonder Teacher

(Leveled Book shelves below:)

Leveled Books in Classroom Library via Wonder Teacher

Each morning they have time to browse in the library and “book shop.” Their selections go into their personal book bag. I used to write down which books each child was borrowing and then I quit. I simply didn’t have time to keep track of that. I just hope that they all come back and for the most part, they do! If not, I’ll never know! 😉

I tell them every morning, “Think about what’s in your bag- look and see! Have you read those books a couple of times? Are you ready for some new ones? This is the time to go change them.” After they are finished “shopping” they sit and read quietly until we start our day. Part of the “shopping” time is also a time to put their “old” books away.

Each book bin has a number on the label. Each book from that bin has that same number on the back of the book. That way, it is really easy for the children to put their books back in the proper place. For example, if they have “Peter’s Chair” by Ezra Jack Keats, his author bin has number 34 on the label that matches the number sticker on the back of the book. (Also 34.) It’s simple and easy.

Book Bin Labels via Wonder Teacher

How do you separate books they can borrow for home from “read-to-self” choices for school?

I don’t! My children have one reading bag. I used to keep them separate but then I decided that was crazy! It makes no sense for them to start reading a book in class and be forced to read something different at home. That’s not a normal reading behavior. If they start a story at school, I want them to be able to take it home and keep reading- that’s a healthy reading habit! Otherwise it makes no sense. They just need to have one bag and transport it back and forth from school to home. They handle it fine and the parents help the children keep up with the books and the bag. As a teacher, you might lose a few books each year but you just have to get over that. It’s worth it.

Later in the day we have our “read to self” time and they read books from their bags. That is my time to conference with individual students. Then they take the bag home and use it for home reading.

The exception is my hardcover picture books. They don’t have access to those! Those are my favorites and they live on my “special shelves”. I teach mini-lessons from those and they are set aside. Of course, if a child asks for one, I let them read it, but they know they have to take extra care with my hardcover books.

Where did you get the labels for your bins?

I made them myself on the computer using Print Shop. I found a template online.

(Note from Susan: You can also purchase labels online through Teachers Pay Teachers. Here is an example. Just search for “book bin labels” or “library labels.”)

Include Student-Published Books in Class Library via Wonder Teacher

Final thoughts?

I’ve had people say, “Cassie- you have too many books out! It’s overwhelming for the children.” And I say, “Oh well! I’d rather have too many than not enough!” It works for me.

Also, I am always talking to the children about their interests. You should see their faces when I bring in a new book on a topic they love. You never know what will trigger the reluctant reader you may have!

Many thanks to Cassie for sharing her classroom library system with us!

Note: If while examining the above photos you find an untidy shelf or a book that has been misplaced, please forgive us. I snapped the photos in Cassie’s room (without giving her any “I’m taking pictures of your library” warning) immediately after school two days before Christmas break in the midst of her “shoe store” project. Whew! Isn’t she a good sport!? Considering the circumstances, her library looks amazing! 

Other posts in this series:

Authentic Learning: The Shoe Store (Learn more about Cassie’s fantastic shoe store unit!)

Cassie Norvell on Multiage Education (Read this interesting interview with Cassie and learn more about multiage.)

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  1. Hi, I am just wondering if Cassie allows students from other classes to borrow her books? If so,how does she manage that?

    • My understanding is that Cassie lets students in her own classroom borrow her books, and they transport them back and forth in their “book bags.” Students from other classes are not invited to check out her books- they go to the school media center for that. As she mentioned in her interview, she used to try and keep track of which books were borrowed by each student. Now, she says that she has decided it wasn’t worth the work. For the most part, the children and families are responsible and return her books. She loses a few each year but is OK with that.
      Hope that helps!

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