5 Tips for Organizing an ESOL Classroom Library

I love having my classroom library.  As an ESOL teacher I see students in all different settings, both in my office and in their classrooms. Having a well organized library allows me to quickly grab books to use for read alouds and help guide them towards independent reading books they will find interesting and are close to their reading levels.

I find it helpful to know the reading levels of books especially when I am looking for books to use with older ESOL students that are reading below grade level.  This allows me to show them high interest books or find books connected to topics that they are studying. I like to record the books level on the back of the book. This way students do not focus on the levels.

I put the book level on labels on the back of the books. This also helps me ID my books.

This information is meant as a tool that I use when quickly browsing for books.  A post on the Fontus and Pinnell blog does a good job of explaining how to use book levels. A Level is a Teacher’s Tool, NOT a Child’s Label

1. Find Book Levels
I find it helpful to use more than one leveling site since they have different databases of books that they include.

Classroom Booksource
The primary way I leveled books was through the Classroom Booksource webpage (they also have an app that can scan books). You type in the ISB code and the book information comes up including book level.  The site saves the books you enter so you can keep track of them.

Scholastic Book Wizard
This site also gives book level information. You can also use it to keep track of the books you have in your library.

2. Sort By Category
The primary way that I organize my library is by category.  Some of the categories are purposeful such as math, history, or fairy tales. Others are because I have a large number of books that go together such as dinosaurs. Books go into baskets which makes it easier for students to quickly flip through them.

3. Label with Pictures
Each basket is labeled with the category and has a picture. This is helpful for my ESOL students to know what the topic is about.

Get your own set on Teachers Pay Teachers

4. Use Baskets to Store Books
Having book baskets helps students to find books. It also make it easy to make suggestions based on a student’s interest. Many of my baskets are from the dollar store. Those are nice because of the price. I also used student book boxes for smaller for categories that I didn’t have as many books in.

Student book boxes help save space

5. Have a Checkout System

Writing down books: I give each student an index card. They write down the book title and then put a checkmark on it when they return it. I organized them by group in library pocket cards.

Library pocket cards to organize student checkout cards.

Online Book checkout Classroom Book Source and Scholastic Book Wizard both have online systems where you can input student names and have them use the computer or an app to electronically check out books.


5 Ways to Get Free Books for a Classroom Library…Plus Book Labels

A well organized classroom library is at the heart of most literacy programs. Sorting books into categories help children find a book that they are looking for and also helps them to discover one that they did not think they wanted to read.

In my ESOL room I have a fairly large classroom library. It doesn’t always fit into the daily lessons since I would typically only see students for 30 minutes and they have independent reading time in their classroom. It was great for students that finished an activity early and I allowed student to borrow books.  Classroom teachers would tell me how excited students were to bring back a book with them.  Especially in upper grades some teachers didn’t always have high interest low level books so I tried to stock a large supply of those kinds of books (graphic novels were in constant demand.)

book lables blog

Where to find books?

  1. Donors Choose: My favorite place to get new books was through Donors Choose. I received a number of graphic novels and other new high interest, easy to read books. Keep an eye out for partner matches, they are a great way to fund projects at 50% off.  Here is an example of a funded book project. If you have never used the sight give it a try!
  2. Thrift Store: Books are typically very reasonably priced at thrift stores. Whenever I go into one I peek in the book section. Sometimes there is nothing but other times you hit the jackpot!
  3. Yard Sales: Same as thrift stores, sometimes you can get lucky.
  4. Other Teachers: Keep your eyes and ears open, especially near the end of the school year. Teachers moving
  5. Scholastic Book Points: When students place orders through scholastic you can earn points that can be used to get free books. As a non classroom teacher I have never been able to take advantage of this program but have good things from classroom teachers that do so.

I use book lables on each of the book baskets in my classroom library. This helps my non readers find books that they are interested in.  This is especially important for ESOL students where visual support is key.

Building a Classroom Library


I love reading and hope to pass on this love to my students.  One way I try and do this is by having a large classroom library with a variety of books.  Currently I have over 500 titles.  I know this because my books are organized using Classroom Book Organizer

It may seem daunting if you are just starting out, but it is possible to build up an engaging classroom library for relatively little money.


  1. Donors Choose:  I have had great success getting materials from this site.  Be on the lookout for funding matches to help fund a project even faster.  Start out small.  Low cost projects have the best chance of success. I got a few sets of Graphic Novels by also asking for a series of easy to read mystery books when there was a funding match going on.
  2. Yard Sales & Thrift Stores: Be on the lookout for used books that fill a need in your classroom library.  You can often find new, or almost new books for much less than they cost new.
  3. Free Books:  If you live in the DC/Baltimore area check out The Book Thing.  This is a warehouse of donated, free books.  Most of the children’s books are stored in big tubs.  It is often a free for all to get books as they are brought out, but I have gotten many almost new books here, all for FREE.
  4. If you are a classroom teacher, I have read about success getting free books when students order Scholastic book orders.