How I Do It: Leveling Your Classroom Library

Hi, friends!  Today I’m going to start a new series I’m calling “How I Do It”.  The first post in the series is Leveling Your Classroom Library.

Way back when I was first starting out in Pre-K I printed tons of tiny pictures and taped them to the front of all of the books.  Then, I put a matching picture on the front of a bin and had the pre-kinders match the picture on the front of the book to the bin that it went in.  This system worked great for my sweet little guys and gals.

But the next year, I moved to first grade.  Guided Reading was the way to go, but I worked in a little parochial school in Baltimore.  How would I ever organize all of these books that I hauled up two flights of steps to my new classroom?  Where did all of the books come from you ask?  Let me give you a little tidbit for the new teachers out there:  used books are your friend.  I scoured goodwill and thrift stores and participated in Scholastic Book Club where I ordered books of high interest for the kids.  Also, check your retiring teacher’s supplies!  We had a friend of the school who retired and gave away her massive collection (organized by theme, might I add).  I scooted upstairs and took loads of the books to my little Pre-K room to be used the following year.

So.  Here I was.  2nd year teacher in a new grade with boxes upon boxes of books, no curriculum (thank you, Catholic schools) and the freedom to teach however I’d like.  #nopressure

I started reading.  And researching.  And professionally developing my butt off.  I joined the Fountas & Pinnell online community.  I read The Daily Five and The Cafe Book.  I absorbed all of the information I could get from our reading specialist.  I plunged into the world of Guided Reading Leveling.

The first thing I did was collect tons of these Really Good Stuff bins:

RGS Bins


Don’t want to spend $23.99 on six bins?  No worries!  At this time of the year, Target and Walmart sell bins in their Back to School/Dollar Spots.  You can also find them at Lakeshore Learning.

Then I whipped up these labels which I printed on white Cardstock.  Then I laminated them in my handy dandy personal laminator.  I cut them (post-lamination) to similarly sized rectangles and affixed a velcro dot to the back of each letter.  I then put the partner velcro dot on the colored bins.  But Lauren – what about the fancy labels that come with my bins?  Oh, those things?  Toss them.  Yes, that’s right – TOSS THEM.  Here’s why:  You can print my labels on colored cardstock to color code your bins for your groups.  For example, if your lower guys and gals are red you can print A, B, C, on Red to indicate that they should choose from those bins if they struggle with remembering which book bin to choose from.  Or, if you need several of one letter, you can print several copies.  I tend to have duplicates for M (my Junie B. and Magic Tree House collections eat up some space).  My homemade labels have lasted for six years and I’ve never had to replace them.  But, if you’re interested in some other awesome labels, I highly recommend Maria Gavin at Kindercraze‘s colorful library labels which come in either black or white.  I’ve linked the white ones which are my personal ink-saving favorite.  🙂

Next, comes the hard part.  I recommend tackling the library in small pieces.  I downloaded the following apps to help me with scanning the backs of my books for levels:

Leveling Apps

The left app is called Lit Leveler and the right one is called Level It.  Both are life savers, although I’ve come to rely a little more on Lit Leveler recently.  Another great resource is Scholastic Book Wizard.  There you enter the title of the book and search Scholastic’s database for GRL.

I write the GRL right on the labels I made (usually over the book) with a Sharpie and stick them right on the front or back of the book.  This way I can be sure that 1) the kids know where to return them and 2) if they are borrowed they are easily returned.

Maintaining The Library

Once your library has been leveled you should print extra library labels and keep them near your desk.  When your Scholastic book box (or as we like to call it the Big Red Box) comes with your new additions, level and label them as soon as you take them out of the box.

That’s how I do it!

Thanks for reading along!  I’d love to hear how you do it and if you have any suggestions in the comments section.


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