By Kelly Benadi-Dowd and Nicole Buta

Every summer, teachers anxiously enter their school buildings to set up their classrooms. From putting up fresh bulletin board paper to the table tags, everything is carefully planned out. Teachers work hard to create a bright, inviting classroom for their new students to enter.

In my classroom, the meeting area is where students will spend a lot of their time. Surrounded by books, this area is the classroom library—the focal point of the room. In my library, I strive to offer books that balance both the demands of Common Core curriculum and the interests of the students.

Three Things I Consider When Building a Classroom Library

When building a classroom library, here are some of the main things I consider:

Reading Level

When setting up my classroom library, the first thing I do is consider the reading level of my students. The library should be partially leveled to match the readers in the classroom. During the launch, students will need to learn how to select “just right” books. Therefore, it is critical that the leveled section matches their needs.

Book Bins

The Common Core stresses that students should have a balanced reading diet of fiction and nonfiction. How you organize your classroom library should reflect this. Book bins are a great choice! When creating bins for your classroom, consider the sub genres that fall under fiction and nonfiction. Genres such as personal narrative, poetry, legends, folk tales, fables, myths, plays, biographies and autobiographies; books about history, social studies, science, and the arts; technical texts, including directions, forms, and information displayed in graphs, charts, or maps; and digital sources on a range of topics should be reflected in the classroom library.

I also create “theme” bins. These books reflect the big ideas that I introduce to my class. For example, if I am working on a unit that centers on Characters with Courage or Explorers, I pull various mentor texts that help support the major themes and ideas I want to convey.

Student Surveys

My goal is to encourage students to read! Therefore, the remainder of the library should reflect the interests of the students. I want to encourage my students to not only select books that are on their level but books that will excite and intrigue them. Choosing books should be as simple as ordering food from a menu. The ease of selecting books creates a sense of confidence and enthusiasm for reading. At our classroom library launch I give students a reading survey to complete. Using this data, I pull books from the library and create themed bins. I also use the surveys to introduce students to authors and collections that they may not have read before. A customized classroom library will help support the book selection process and deepen your students’ love of reading.

Some questions I may include in the student survey are:

Classroom Library Books

Using information collected from these surveys, I’m able to select specific literature that caters to the interests and needs of my students.

For example, when I’m workinTheres a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom - Louis Sacharg on a Characters with Courage theme, I consider the books my students are reading. I learned from the survey that my students liked realistic fiction. I selected There’s A Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom to support the theme and Common Core Standards. Additionally, I knew that my students would connect to the characters in the book. I later asked the students to write speeches from the main character’s perspective. Classroom library content should vary from year to year. My goal is for my students to fall in love with meaningful literature that they can connect with.

When you head back to set up your classroom library, be sure to keep your students in mind. From reading levels to student interest, focus on your students. If you do this, your library can support your reading and writing curriculum while still appealing to the people who matter most! Happy Reading!


Kelly Benadi-Dowd is the Director of Elementary Instruction at East Ramapo Central School District. When she’s not working, she’s spending quality time with her eight-year-old son, who fortunately shares her love of reading.

Nicole Nuta is a behavior management teacher in the East Ramapo Central School District. Outside of work, she enjoys spending time with her family and two dogs, playing sports and reading in the great outdoors.