Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

…For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL

How I Organize My Classroom Library


I have a pretty extensive classroom library — our school is committed to having ones in each English teacher’s classroom and spends a fair amount on books. Plus, as regular readers know, my mother-in-law volunteers with our local “Friends of the Library” group, which has contributed thousands of volumes over the years so our students can have libraries of their own at home. Though ninety-five percent of those donated books become owned by the students, I keep a small percentage as permanent loaners.

I’ve been asked a few times to share how I organize the library, and thought I’d make it into a short post. I don’t think there’s any brilliance to it, but it works well for my students and me. I’d love to hear ideas on how I could make it better, though, so please feel free to share your own tips in the comments section.

Thanks to the help provided by my extraordinary wife Jan over the summer, the books are divided into the following categories, with each one in separate sections or shelves. Each category has a colored circle on its spine, except for the largest category, which has no circle. I have a sign in the front with the code. The categories are:

Most Popular Books (I’ve pulled out the 100 or so books that over the years have seemed to be the most popular among students)

ARW Fiction (our ninth grade English classes are called Academic Reading and Writing — ARW, and this is my largest category)

ARW Non-Fiction

Intermediate English Non-Fiction

Intermediate English Fiction

Beginning English Language Learners

Bilingual Books

I also have separate sections for Goosebumps books and American Girls, but they don’t need color-coding. I have a small section of graphic novels, too.

I make it very clear to my ELL’s that the categorization is only to help keep the books organized, and that they should pick any book they want, even if it’s in the ARW sections. I certainly don’t want it to be limiting, which is what I understand often happens in an Accelerated Reader type of program. That message is clearly heard, and ELL’s will often check-out higher-level reading.

All students, including mainstream ones, can get extra credit by checking out the Beginning ELL books and reading them to a younger sibling or cousin. Here’s the form they complete and turn-in after they’ve done it.

Students are also surprisingly respectful about keeping the books in their categories.

Let me know if you have any good tips you’d like to share!

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. I took over for teacher who had been running the reading program at our school for about 25 years with tremendous results. I have been updating the classroom library he passed along (between 2 and 3,000 titles) by making sure I follow this simple rule he had in place: have more than one book of the same title if at all possible – just place it in a different category on the shelf. For example, you can find the Louis Sachaar book “Holes” in the following places: AR (by book level), Male Interest, Popular Fiction, Misc., & Books Made into Movies . Additionally, it will be pulled and displayed as a “Book of the Month” selection. By placing it in multiple places you increase the chances that a student will stumble upon it and decide to give it a try.

  2. I, too, organize my classroom library, but I do it by genre. My middle schoolers tend to focus on only one genre, as in only scifi, or only adventure. I like the color-code idea – gotta try that this summer.

    One thing I do that has been super helpful: While I have kids sign out books, I don’t always get them back. So twice a year (before Christmas and at the end of the school year) I announce kids get a Jolly Rancher candy for every one of my books they bring back. This tiny little incentive brought me back 20 books in just one period last week as kids scrambled to clean books out of their lockers. And I give a candy for each book donated, too. Whatever works!

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *.

Skip to toolbar