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9 Awesome Classroom Library Ideas to Help Build a Love of Literacy

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Two elementary students reading a book and their teacher organizing classroom library books in the background.

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Setting up your classroom library can be daunting…

Selecting the books, purchasing them, labeling them, and organizing them — it’s a lot of work when your day is already full. 

But a classroom library can provide amazing benefits to your students. It doesn’t just give your students easy access to books, but can help grow their love of reading and improve their literacy skills

Classroom libraries do require time to set up. But once that’s done and a system is in place, students can access the library independently. And you can add or take away from the book collection as you have time. 

Having easy access to age-appropriate books is a win for your classroom and students!

Keep scrolling to discover more benefits and some awesome tips for setting up your own classroom library.

Why are classroom libraries important?

Four students reading books in their classroom library.

Classroom libraries are amazing resources to improve literacy skills, like reading comprehension and language skills.

They’ve also been shown to boost reading levels.

Why are classroom libraries so effective? Students are simply more likely to read if more books are easily available.

Researchers have discovered that students with access to a class library read 50 to 60 percent more than students without that access. This trend occurred across all ages from young readers to experienced readers, and in classrooms from elementary to high school.

Many days, you work hard teaching reading or vocabulary strategies in your lessons.

You can help these lessons stick by encouraging more independent reading with a classroom library. It provides the perfect opportunity for your students to practice their new skills. 

Plus, research shows that allowing students to choose what books to read helps spur a love of reading.

When students are able to pick books that challenge and excite them, they learn that reading isn’t just a school chore — it can actually be a wonderful and enjoyable activity!

9 Classroom library organization ideas and tips

Ready to build your own classroom library? Check out these nine tips to set your class up for success!

1. Label the books

Example of alphabetical order for classroom library labels.

Mark the books in some way so it’s clear that they belong in your classroom library.

You could use a personalized sticker or stamp on the inside cover, or simply write your name and room number somewhere on or inside the books.

2. Set up a classroom library checkout system

Paper version of a classroom library checkout system.

Before the school year starts, determine what your checkout system will be. Good questions to consider are:

  • How long can a book be checked out?
  • What are the steps for checking out a book?
  • Can checked-out books go home with students?
  • Where will students return books — to a basket or back on the shelf?

There’s no right or wrong way to do this. You just need to find what works best for you and your students. You may even need to tweak the process throughout the year and that's okay!

If possible, write up the rules and display them in a visual way so that students can easily refer back to them.

Or, for those of you who prefer a digital solution, use Google Forms and Google Sheets to help manage your classroom library.

3. Discuss how to treat books

Discuss with your students exactly how books should be treated.

Explain how they shouldn’t bend the spine, dog-ear pages or leave books on the floor. Maybe you do have books that can be treated more roughly or written in — be clear about which ones fall into that category.

As a best practice, remind younger readers to turn the pages slowly so they don’t rip. Model these behaviors for your students so they know exactly what and what not to do.  

Books are valuable resources and we ought to treat them that way. Set clear boundaries to ensure this year's students take good care of your books for next year's students.

4. Use flexible seating arrangements

A layout-friendly classroom library seating example.

Flexible seating is a popular way to keep your kids engaged in the classroom, and your classroom library is the perfect place to incorporate fun seating options.

A reading area might include pillows, a soft rug on the floor, cushioned crates, or it might be actual seats, such as bean bag chairs or a cozy couch.

5. Consider the space and layout

A flexible seating arrangement with bean bag chairs and crates that you can use in your classroom library.

As you decide where to put your library, consider the flow of your classroom.

Before you select furniture like bookshelves or seating, determine exactly how much space you have for a reading nook.

You want the reading space to be a little out of the way so students aren’t distracted by other classroom activities while they’re enjoying a favorite book.

6. Organize with classroom library book bins and shelves

Students reading books in class with book bins for classroom library in the background.

There are many ways to organize classroom library books.

If your students are younger, you can organize your books by topic or reading level, or try a more traditional setup and organize by author or genre.

Alternatively, you could include fun sections like teacher’s favorites or student of the week’s favorites.

Try using book baskets, bins, or bookshelves to organize the various sections. Book bins for classroom library setups may be an easier option if you teach first grade or second grade.

Younger students can struggle with standing books up with their spines facing out. But book baskets eliminate that challenge and encourage more independence.

Using classroom library labels with pictures or colors that match the section they belong to is another option for organization.

If you want your students to be able to return their own books to the proper place, consider their cognitive skills and abilities when creating your system.

Whatever system you choose, remember that the goal is to make the library easy to use and intriguing for students.

7. Include diverse books, both in topic and genre

Young girl choosing a book from a classroom library.

You want your students to be excited about the books in your classroom library. This excitement will translate into better student engagement in the learning process.

To engage more students, include a variety of books in your classroom library — think both fiction and nonfiction that cover a variety of topics.

And for younger readers, include both chapter books and picture books to appeal to all skill levels.

Better yet, get direct input from your students on the kinds of classroom library books they’d like to see so that they're more likely to want to read!

After all, researchers have found that "children who read for pleasure are likely to do significantly better in school than their peers who rarely read."

It’s also great to include books that showcase a diverse range of people. This could look like books about people of many races, with different backgrounds and varied abilities.

Recommendations have been made by experts in literacy to help teachers develop libraries that help students to see representations of themselves in the books they read.

You can even include subjects that children may not typically read about, like books about math. The more topics your library covers, the more likely it is that every student will find a book that they’re excited to read. 

8. Provide books across a range of reading levels

Close-up of the spines of books for youth and adolescents.

There should be books in your library for both your struggling and advanced readers. Providing books in a variety of reading levels will keep each student challenged and learning.

If you find that you have a student with a particularly high or low reading level one year, consider borrowing books from the school library or other classrooms.

Keeping books available in your classroom for that special reader will help them stay engaged and feel included.

9. Rotate featured books to support your curriculum

Four students reading a variety of books in class.

Kids gravitate toward pretty displays, so it’s nice to feature books in an easy-to-access, visually pleasing way.

This is a great method for guiding your students toward books that go along with reading activities and lessons you have planned.

How to get free books for classroom library creators?

Elementary school teacher reading to a group of five students.

Stocking a classroom library doesn’t just take time, it also takes money.

Though it’s best for your wallet to grow your classroom library slowly through the years, first-year or newer teachers may find it challenging to get started.

But don’t worry! If you’re wondering where can I get free and low-cost classroom books?, there are many options for obtaining them.

You may be surprised how many people in your circle of friends and community share your passion for giving kids access to books.

Consider starting an Amazon wishlist with all the new books you’d like to add to your classroom library. 

If you have a specific book that needs to be provided for every student, consider asking your community to sponsor a child in your classroom. The donor provides the exact amount needed to cover the cost of reading materials or purchases the book themselves for their sponsored child.

Second-hand book retailers are a more affordable option if you want specific books in your classroom. Some online options include Half-Price Books or Thriftbooks

Book Bank is an online bookstore with a passion for getting books into classrooms affordably. They have many classroom sets of books available for much cheaper than retail price. 

If you don’t have specific books in mind, here are some more options for filling your classroom library without overspending:

  • Thrift stores — You never know what you’ll find at a thrift store! Someone may have donated their whole Magic School Bus series or stacks of classic literature. It’s a great place to find literary treasures. 
  • Garage sales — Much like thrift stores, there are many literary gems to find at garage sales. Try reading the newspaper or online descriptions of local garage sales to find the best ones that may have books for sale.
  • Library sales — Many libraries will periodically go through their inventory and sell books that are not often checked out. Library sales are a great place to get everything from Pre-K picture books to whole sets of chapter books. 
  • The Library of Congress — The Library of Congress donates unused or surplus books to educational institutions and non-profits. If you’re in the Washington D.C. area, their books are available for free, in-person pickup. 
  • Facebook marketplace or online garage sales —Many people find it easier to list their unwanted books online rather than sell them in person. Keep an eye out for a great deal!

Help your students practice literacy skills with game-based learning

If you’re looking to encourage your students to have interactive fun with specific literacy skills, then check out the Prodigy English curriculum standards coverage.

This free tool for teachers uses an adaptive game-based learning approach to help 1st through 5th grade students practice their reading and language skills.

It’s a fun and engaging platform that differentiates content and automatically grades the work for you. Combine it with your new classroom library and watch your students’ love of reading and language grow!

Create a free teacher account now!