6 Amazing Benefits of Leveling Your Classroom Library

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Check out this quote:

“Struggling readers need to read a lot because it is during the actual reading that they can practice all those complicated strategies and skills they are developing in unison.” (Allington, 2009)

Yes, yes, and yes. I love this quote. I love it because it matches up perfectly with my beliefs about reading. And not just my beliefs about struggling readers, but all readers. Read it again, but this time take out the word “struggling” and replace it with “all”. (Go ‘head, I’ll wait).

This, my friend, is the purpose of reading. To take all of those segments of language arts skills and put them together into a masterpiece. Kind of like putting together a puzzle. Each piece in and of itself isn’t all that powerful. But once you link them together, a beautiful image emerges. If one or even a few pieces are missing from the puzzle, it definitely looks a little off.

The same thinking applies to reading. Giving students quality time in text helps them to practice putting together all the pieces of reading. Stringing together all those pieces of language arts instruction into a beautiful masterpiece of literacy. As the quote stated, the only way for students to do this is to read…A LOT!

Several years ago I was inspired to set out on a journey to get my classroom library leveled. Independent reading time is precious. And I wanted to make the most of this time for my students.

There is great power in getting quality text into the hands of students as often as possible. My reasoning behind leveling my classroom library came from this foundation.  Let’s dig a little deeper into the 6 benefits you can experience when leveling your library. I hope this post inspires you to level your classroom library too.

6 Amazing Benefits of Leveling Your Classroom Library

1. Matching Students with Text? Piece of Cake!

So here it is. The number one, numero uno, absolute most important reason why I leveled my classroom library: to match students with appropriate text for independent reading. Students must spend time not only reading, but reading text on THEIR READING LEVEL. Point blank. End of story. I really cannot say this enough. It is absolutely vital that students have text in their hands that they can read successfully.

It does no good to have your students reading books that are either too easy for them or too hard. Your students must be working in their ZPD (zone of proximal development) in order to reach to the next level.

“In independent, literature-based reading, a ZPD is the range of books that will challenge a student without causing frustration or loss of motivation.” – Renaissance Learning

Having students spend time reading text on their level helps to improve their comprehension, fluency and overall confidence as a reader. A child reading at a third-grade reading level has no business spending their independent reading time reading a book on a 6th-grade reading level.  That same child should also not spend most of their time reading books on a kindergarten reading level.

Matching students with texts that are in their ZPD is vital for reading growth!

Now, this whole ZPD business doesn’t mean that students are mandated to only reading books on their level. They can still have some leeway in what they choose, but this definitely streamlines the process for selecting books for independent reading.

The time at school spent doing independent reading may be the ONLY time some of your students have access to books. I know that was the case for me, working at a high-poverty school. It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary to have several students tell me that they didn’t have any books at home. Since this time is so precious, it needs to be as valuable and efficient as possible. Leveling my classroom library allowed me to do that.

If you’re not leveling your library, then how are you ensuring that your students are reading text on their level?

The 5 finger rule is one method that I’ve seen used a lot. You are probably familiar with the 5 finger rule. Basically, it’s a step by step method for teaching students to pick out a “just right” book.  The gist is that they open up a book, start reading a page, and each time they get to a word they don’t know, they need to put a finger up. Once they get to the end of the page they check to see how many fingers they have up and categorize the book using these rules:

0 or 1 fingers up: Too easy

2 to 3 fingers up: Just right

3 to 4 fingers up: Challenging

5 fingers up: Very Challenging

The 5 finger rule, in essence, isn’t a bad rule to follow.  But…I personally think there are flaws in this method:

  1. Teaching students to do this properly can be quite challenging, especially if they’re young. Asking a first or second grader to independently perform the 5 finger rule might be asking a little much. I had 3rd and 4th graders that struggled with this too.
  2. It wastes precious time! A student might pick up a book that’s too hard for them and it may take them a good 2 minutes to get through a page until they realize it’s too challenging. Only for them to then pick up another book that’s too challenging and spend another 2 minutes trying to get through a page. Ahhhhh! It’s just too much for me. Let’s say you have 15 minutes for your independent reading time, they’ve already wasted 4 minutes just trying to pick out a book!
  3. Kids misread words and think they’ve read them correctly.  When a student is doing the 5 finger rule on their own, they are apt to make mistakes on words and not even realize it. This is more prone to happening if they pick up a book that is in the very challenging category or if they’re a struggling reader. So after they have finished reading the page, they have 2 fingers up, when in reality they may have missed over 10 words.

Leveling your classroom library takes the guesswork out of choosing the appropriate text for your students. Your students can select books on their level with ease. Time is precious. I’m all about spending less time choosing books and more time actually reading the books.

If you need helping promoting a love of reading in your students, I have heard excellent reviews about this book.

2. You Know Exactly What Levels and Genres You Have

Without leveling my classroom library I never knew exactly what range of book levels I had available. Once I finally got it all leveled I was able to see which levels were lacking and which ones were in abundance. It’s important to have a wide range of books in your room for your students to access.

Let’s say you have a good amount of kids who are reading on a second-grade reading level, but you only have a small selection of books on this level. Leveling your library would allow you to see that you need more second-grade level books.

All of my books were leveled, but I also split them into genres as well. Once I had all the books broken down into genres, I could see what genres I needed more of.  I might notice that I need more poetry books on a third-grade level or more animal books on a fifth-grade level, for example. Shopping for new books became a more focused process instead of just getting whatever caught my eye.

3. Organization Becomes a Breeze

Leveling my classroom library was a HUGE help in the area of organization. I rarely ever had problems with my students failing to put books in their proper location.  It was also easier and quicker for me to locate particular books that I was looking for. In addition, the kids knew exactly where to go to find books they were looking for too.

I’m all for making things easier and more manageable, and once my classroom library was organized it did just that. In my book, organization = calmness. I don’t know about you, but When my home is organized I just feel calmer.  An organized classroom library helps to create an atmosphere of calmness.  I loved looking over at my classroom library and instead of seeing a disheveled array of books thrown about here and there, my library was neat and organized.

Leveling a library in a kindergarten room might not be ideal. Most students in a kindergarten room will probably be reading at similar reading levels. But even if you don’t level your library, I would definitely recommend organizing it in some fashion. Before I leveled my library, I organized it by genre and author.

4. Quickly Identify Students with Mismatched Text

Once you level your classroom library, you can quickly tell if a student was matched with a text that’s too challenging or too easy. I want to reiterate, leveling your library does NOT mean you mandate that your students only read texts on their level. But the majority of the time students should be reading on their level.

You can run your independent reading time lots of different ways. I would have my students select several books that they would keep in their independent reading bags. I also labeled my books with colored dots to signify their level. So at a glance, I would know the level of a book. If I saw a student with several books in their bag that were at a “too easy” level, I could pull that student to the side and have a conversation with them during their reading conference with me.

There is just no way to keep track of every level of every book in your classroom. Leveling your library takes the guesswork out of figuring out book levels. 

5. Students Gain Ownership

Leveling my classroom library and labeling my books gave my students more ownership with their reading achievement. It’s not enough for the teacher to know the student’s reading level, the student needs to know it too! After I leveled and labeled my books, I took time to conference with my students about their reading level (which was determined through assessments).

Through conferencing with students, they were able to really understand where they were at in their reading. From these conversations, I was able to help the students come up with individualized reading goals. And we all know goal setting is huge!

6. Minimizes Off-Task Behavior

What should students be doing during independent reading time?


What might students ACTUALLY do during independent reading time?

Playing around, doing “fake reading”, looking at pictures, having sidebar conversation, etc.

Once students know where they are and where they need to go in with their reading goals, it creates that “buy-in” that we all want from our students. Creating that “buy-in” can in-turn, cause students to have more focus during independent reading time. They know that if they want to reach those goals, they have to focus and READ. So off-task behavior can be little to none.

Not only that but when students are matched with texts that they can read successfully, they actually WANT to read! They find joy in reading. Who wants to sit and read a book where you have to sound out every other word? Not me. Not you. And your students don’t either.

I will add that classroom management also plays a huge role in minimizing off-task behavior. But it’s even better when the students are reading, not because you told them to, but because they want to. 

So there you have it. These are 6 benefits that you can experience with leveling your classroom library:

  1. It’s easier to match students with on-level text
  2. You know exactly what levels and genres you have in your library
  3. Organization
  4. You can easily identify students who have mismatched text
  5. Your students will take on ownership of their reading achievement
  6. Maximizes your independent reading time by minimizing off-task behavior

I hope you are inspired to think about your classroom library and how to make it more functional for your students. Remember, your students need to spend as much time as possible reading text that is on their reading level. I’d love to know…is your classroom library leveled? What method do you use to level and organize your books?


‐Allington, R. A. (2009). What Really Matters in Response to Intervention: Research‐based
Designs. Boston, MA: Pearson Pearson Education Education.

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