Focus on Five: Setting Up a Classroom Library

I have never had a great classroom library as a special education teacher- it often consisted of books that were leftover or didn’t match my students’ reading levels.  Schools have been encouraging teachers to set-up classroom libraries and there are so many great reasons to have one.  Classroom libraries promote independent reading, foster a love of books and provide access to on-level reading materials. Here are five steps I am taking to set up my classroom library…

1. Get Books

The obvious first step is getting books-it’s difficult to have a classroom library without them! Often, special education can be overlooked in ordering curriculum or books, but there are a variety of different ways to obtain high interest and on-level books for students. Here are some ways I obtained books for our classroom library: 

  • First Book– First Book did an event at our teachers’ union headquarters and has affordable books online (sometimes $3 or under). 
  • Buy Nothing– This site/app allows you to post items that you no longer need or to request needed items at no cost- you just need to arrange picking it up from the individual offering. 
  • Other Teachers– I obtained a lot of books from the kindergarten teacher at my school, which worked out well because the majority of my students are reading at the primary reading level. Our school also did a “flea market” at the beginning of the school year where we put items that we no longer needed the multipurpose room.  
  • Scholastic Ready-To-Go Classroom Library– If you are able to request items for your classroom or there is money in your school’s special education budget, I recommend requesting ordering a Scholastic Ready-To-Go Classroom Library. It already includes a variety of books on a given reading level, which saves you time in choosing books and making sure that they are the correct level for your students.
  • Adapted Books– Putting adapted books in a self-contained or special education classroom library is a great way to include students of all reading levels and teach students how to independently read. Check out the very extensive collection of adapted books that The Autism Helper has to offer.


2. Find Space & Materials

I started setting up the space with a large rug as the perimeter of our classroom library.  Then, I put the shelving and furniture around it.  I found all the book bins I am using at school at the “flea market” from teachers who no longer needed them. Getting bins at the Dollar Tree, Buy Nothing or ordering from your school (if there is an opportunity to do so) are all also options. I also like having individual book boxes (plastic magazine storage bins) for my students to keep the books they are currently reading. The book boxes that I use were in my classroom when I started my position and I got more from the Target Dollar Spot.

3. Organize

I was reassured by our school’s reading specialist that setting up a classroom library actually takes years and is an ongoing process, which makes me feel better because it is taking a little longer than I thought.  One of the easiest ways to get your classroom library up and running is organizing books by genre. Check out Teacher’s Pay Teachers for labels and ideas for geres for your classroom library. 

If you want to go a step further you can level some of your classroom library books for quick access to books that you know individual students will be able to read.  Check out Kinder Craze’s post, Tools to Help You Level Your Classroom Library for more information on leveling books. I started the leveling process and it will take some time, so in the meantime, I am selecting choices of leveled books for students and allowing them to choose the books organized by genre.

4. Create Systems

I wanted the classroom library to be an area of the classroom we utilized everyday, not just an area to store books. Creating systems is essential for a classroom library to be used as effectively as possible. I have curtains that attach to the classroom library shelves and it has been really helpful in giving me more time to set-up the classroom library. Additionally, it has made it easier for students to only be able to access their individual book boxes and be able to get reading right away, instead of taking reading time to pick out a book. I have a scheduled day of the week where students have time to choose new books for their book boxes. I have students keep up to five books in their book box at a time, which includes their classroom library books and their school library book. In addition, I have them keep their Reading A-to-Z books that we have previously read in reading groups so they can continue to work on their reading fluency.

5. Teach

Teaching students and staff how to use the classroom library is important to keeping an organized library.  I have started doing mini-lessons where I gather students in the library and teach independent reading skills, how to choose books, the location of their individual book boxes, the labeling system and how to put books away.  As my library gets more organized and students obtain more reading skills, I will continue the mini-lessons and have students check-out library books.

I hope you are inspired to start a classroom library in your room. For more ideas to promote student literacy and independence in reading, check out Ultimate Guided Reading Resource for Special Education, Easy Set Up Independent Centers and Work Tasks {Reading & Spelling}. Stay healthy and safe!

Holly Bueb
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