Classroom Library Organization for Upper Grades

If organizing your classroom library has you in a tizzy, here are 5 easy steps to get started. My 4th grade students navigated with ease and they were able to restock books in no time with a library organized by genre.
I don’t know about you, but my classroom library was always a headache until I really sat down and figured out how to make it not such a nightmare to maintain user-friendly for my students.

No matter where you are in your teaching career, setting up your library at the beginning of each year is vital. Here are some tips and tricks to help you navigate setting up and using your class library with students in upper grades. 

Setting the Stage

Your independent readers need a different type of library than they did in the primary grades.  They may be reading two chapter books at the same time, while reading several picture books during the week. They need to be able to navigate your library with ease and with little browsing time.

1. Separate Picture Books from Novels

A problem I always struggled with was how to provide access to picture books for my fourth graders in a way that was easy for them to see so they WANT to read them.  Just having the spine visible was NOT an option.  THEN... One weekend I visited my local library with my pre-schoolers and fell in love with how they displayed their picture books. Well, seeing as though I don’t have hundreds of dollars to spend on one measly shelf, I improvised. And my version has held up for the past three years with very little damage.  I just took a sturdy bookshelf I had and turned it on its side.  The key to the bookshelf was that it had fixed shelves, not the kind that are adjustable.
::The Library Inspiration::

::Bookshelf on its Side for Picture Books::

2. Organize Books by Genre and/or Topic

For upper grades, students typically choose books based on a genre. I found that when I was helping students choose their next book, I’d ask:

"What types of books do you like to read?"
"What was the last book you really liked?"
"What topic/historical event/person interests you?"

This helped me guide them to a particular section of the library.  I had a place for picture books and I organized them by genre as pictured above.  Each part of the shelf was labeled and the books faced forward.  Kids just sifted through the selection until they found a book they wanted to read.
  • Animals (I had enough to make its own section in the library)
  • Science
  • Realistic Fiction
  • Fantasy
  • People
  • History & Places
My novels were categorized and shelved accordingly by genre.
  • Classics/Fables/Folktale
  • Realistic Fiction
  • Historical Fiction
  • Fantasy
  • Science Fiction
  • Mystery
I also had a magazine holder for magazines and a small reference section with a few dictionaries and an atlas.  These were unmarked, as the majority of students could decipher those without needing a sticker.

::Genre Description Posters::
::Organization in Progress::
Once I was finished placing the books, I added labels with the matching colored dot onto each shelf.  

3. Use Color-Coded Labels for Easy Book Return

I went to town and bought every color label I could find.  With every genre, category or topic, I had a colored dot in the upper left corner of each book. The upper left is key because when books are on the shelf, this is the first part students see.  If it's on the right side, students have to pull the whole book out to view it.  It also makes straightening up super quick and returning books was fool-proof.

::Add AR or Lexile to Dot::

Whatever you do, DO NOT COMBINE genres.  Yes, you heard me.  Unless you are planning to retire, your library is only going to get bigGER.  So set your heart on a color for each book-category and keep it.  If you combine genres at the beginning, you'll only be making more work for yourself later.  Here are the colors I used:
  • Animals - Bright Green
  • Science - Blue
  • Realistic Fiction - Red
  • Fantasy - Orange
  • People - Purple
  • History & Places - Yellow
  • Classics/Fables/Folktale - Dark Green
  • Historical Fiction - Brown
  • Science Fiction - Bright Pink
  • Mystery - Black

** BONUS** the sticker is the perfect place to add an AR level or Lexile!!  If you zoom in, you'll see many of mine with the AR level.


4. Separate Books in a Series

As your library grows (or maybe you already have a ton of books), you'll need to keep your books in a series in a different part of the library.  I used these super cheap plastic CD/Media storage crates to hold mine.

::Books in a Series::

5. Label the Shelves & Bins

Once you've placed all of the books, it's time to label the shelves and bins.  This is key to making sure your library doesn't turn into an utter mess. I had labels for each shelf and each bin.  If you cannot match up the color to the labels you chose, simply print in black and save a space to adhere a label after printing.  I also chose to laminate my labels to keep them from tearing.

::Examples of Labels::

➜What to do with Book Clubs & Guided Reading Sets

I kept these book out of reach.  During Book Club sign up time, I would open the cabinet where I had them stored and allowed students to choose - under MY supervision.  Otherwise, you run the risk of having a book checked out when a group wants to read it.  Or worse, a book goes missing.  Read more about Book Clubs.

Text Coding

With the blessing of a new school, I was also lucky enough to have a Curriculum Coach on site who rolled out several strategies.  Many of which were a "tweak" different from what I already was doing in the class but most were certainly worth my while to incorporate into my routine.

Text Coding


This little reading and thinking strategy helped many of my students.  First, we came up with a list of CODES we would all use while reading.  I teach 4th grade so we had many codes.  Younger grades could use less codes.

Here's the anchor chart (don't mind the misspelling - I fixed it after I took the picture 😵

::sorry for the typo!::


Then we put the codes into action.  EVERY passage they could write on - they did.  Without question, it was the expectation.  This expectation led to text-coders on our state test.  Ultimately, the goal is to create metacognition while they are reading ANY piece of text.  The practice was great.

During review time we would discuss and share our text codes either with the whole class or with a partner.  It sparked many good conversations!


Friday Freebie

Today I introduced The Mystery Word to my class. It's the best hour any teacher could ask for. Once you've shown your students how to "play" (Really, it's learning - HA! Tricked'em!), it's great to have on hand for a little break from the norm, add it to your centers rotation, and supply it for your next substitute. 


Here is how I roll it out:

  1. Put students into pairs (or small groups)
  2. Pass out a record sheet and letter strip to each student
  3. Have students use one color (different than their teammate(s) and color their letter strip
  4. Cut out letters
  5. Explain the parameters - this includes telling kids that they can use each letter ONCE per word, they cannot flip letters (they are underlined), they CAN write proper nouns, no inappropriate words, there is one word (sometimes two) that uses ALL of the letters - The Mystery Word, no walking around - we know kids cheat 🤣, and keep your words quiet so teams around you don't steal your words. 
  6. Make words
  7. Record
  8. Tally points
  9. Give prizes!


Q: So why color the letter strip?

A: This strategy helps keep the students from mixing up their letters with their partner(s)


Q: What's the objective?

A: To be the group with the MOST points at the end of the time limit. Even if kids get the Mystery Word, which is worth 20 points, they still have incentive to continue playing. 


Here is one team working together today. 


Download the Freebie!


Happy Friday!

B2S Class Tour

OMG! Book Clubs on Steroids!


::Flashback to 2005::

It was the day of Parent Orientation (the Thursday before school began).  I was a third year teacher on a fourth grade team.  We were departmentalized and I was set to teach Math and Science...my LOVES...until {dun dun dun} one of the Reading/LA teachers accepted a position at another school leaving the team to hire a substitute-turned teacher in her place.  The curriculum coach turns to me and says, "I need you to teach Reading and Writing."  {insert tears}  I was beyond nervous, beyond scared, beyond bummed.  I understood why she "needed" me to teach Reading and Writing to these fourth graders - the state tests!

I had only taught kindergarten before teaching 4th grade Math/Science.  I didn't know WHAT I was doing.  This was before Pinterest, before blogs, before basically Facebook lol

The curriculum coach was so helpful.  I can never thank her enough.  She introduced me to Book Clubs and my kids fell in LOVE.  I still use them to this day...

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