Tuesday, August 22, 2017

#road2reading Challenge - setting up classroom libraries without levels 8.22.17

All journeys have a starting place.
This is a weekly place to find books and tools 
that you may use with readers at the start of their reading journey.
Join in the conversation at #road2reading.

When I look at my twitter feed, instead of it being filled up with #opportunity2read photos or #amreading discussions, I now see pictures of classrooms, of classroom libraries, or even pictures of the first days of school.  It's that time of year where are all of our minds are turned back to our classrooms and not as much as our own reading.

One of my favorite areas to set up in my classroom is my library.  It's the heart of my class and the area I am most proud of.  It's an area that ebbs and flows as my readers change and grow.

It has also changed over the years as I have learned new information and reflected on practices.  If you had walked into my classroom ten years ago, you would have seen books pulled together in bins that were sorted by series and authors.  And you would have seen lots and lots of picture books.  Pictures books sorted by series and authors... and into levels.

Yup.  The L-word.  Levels.  Always a controversial topic.  Well over a decade ago I first learned about levels and guided reading.  I learned about both and thought levels were the way to organize.  But even then I knew that I didn't want a child to pick from a lettered bin.  I knew enough to see that levels were fluid.  They built upon each other.  I clumped letters together that had similar enough characteristics.  Instead of putting the letter on the outside of the book, I grouped them by color dots.  But students knew what color was their "bin of choice".  I remember telling students to pick a few from the color bin they were reading at and the rest could be any other books.

But as time has gone by, as we've learned more about the intention of letters, my library has changed.  I got rid of the levels.  I grouped by genre.  Series go into genres.  Formats go into genres.

My library is for independent reading, not for instruction.  I may choose books to use from my library for instruction and then I will pay more attention to a level.  But when students come in for book shopping, we don't talk about levels.  

So how does this look for my young readers?  How do you organize picture books and chapter books?  

First, I organize my books by genre.  I find that an easy place to start when students come book shopping - what kind of book are you looking for today?  Some of the genres I have include:

  • realistic fiction
  • fantasy that have people as characters
  • fantasy that has animals as characters
  • sports books
  • adventure
  • mysteries
  • nonfiction about the world around us
  • nonfiction about animals
  • biographies
  • historical fiction

Next, each genre is further organized by format.  I start with picture books at the top of my shelves, followed by early readers/chapter books, transitional chapter books, graphic novels, to middle grade.  Take a look at these two photos from my realistic fiction genre shelves. 

  • the top shelf holds all of my realistic fiction picture books.  None of them are leveled.  I have a wide range of levels within each bin that I can easily book talk to readers.
  • the next shelf holds early reading chapter books to beginning transitional chapter books.
  • the second photo is a continuation of the realistic fiction shelves.  The next shelf holds more transitional chapter books to some middle grade.
  • the bottom shelf are my middle grade and more advanced middle grade
Some points to note:
  • notice the variety of formats all together - picture books, chapter books, graphic novels.
  • notice the variety of formats available - there are similar numbers of books in picture books, transitional chapter books and middle grade.
  • notice series are placed within their genre
  • I still use stickers, but this time it's to organize into the proper genre bin, not by level.  For example, all of the realistic fiction picture books have yellow dots on them, fantasy books with animals have an orange sticker with an A, fantasy books with people have an orange sticker with a P....
Here are some more visuals:

Fantasy with people (notice the progression)

Fantasy with animals and poetry bin

Here are nonfiction animals - they are divided by
series and habitats

I hope this gives you some new thinking about classroom library organization or the motivation to de-level your library!

Be sure to stop by Alyson's blog KidLitFrenzy and check out a new series.

Want to talk about books for readers who are on the #road2reading?  Link up here!


  1. This looks like such a great set up, Michele!! Enjoy school!

  2. Hi Michele - I am away on holiday and just remembered that you were going to post this. So pleased I stopped by! I think your point about your library's purpose is an important one - that it is for independent reading not instruction. Your library looks like a place many students would love to spend time in! Thanks for the thoughtful post.

  3. Love your library! I wish I had the space to place the picture books in boxes with the novels. I am using coded genre color labels instead so they'll be easy to find.