Color Coded Workbooks: The Ultimate Classroom Management Tool

By Justin Lim on October 4, 2009
  • Grades: 9–12

If you've been following my blog, then you've probably noticed that I place a special premium on good classroom management. If you're an effective teacher, then I'm sure that you do too. This post explains how I've managed to increase my personal classroom quality of life and get more work out of my students at the same time. But before you continue, let me give you a disclaimer, there was A LOT of work that went into what we're about to get into...

In the past, I would plan what handouts and worksheets to give my students for every activity and assignment. Every time I made copies, I made an extra class set and filed it for the following year. After two years, I realized that it was a feat just to maintain all of my files. What made is worse was that sometimes I would end up with stacks of handouts that I didn't use because I had run out of class time. Also, I noticed that most of my management issues began during transitional periods, many of which came from passing out and collecting papers. Especially with my intervention students, simple tasks such as taking out a handout from the previous day's lesson could take upwards of a minute. To make matters worse, it seemed as though there was always someone who had lost the assignment.

To save myself from future stress, I began the slow process of compiling all of the year's handouts and worksheets into color-coded workbooks. Before I go on, I know what you're thinking. It's probably something like, "That would take forever..." So let me begin with why I think that it's worth it.

Why students love the workbooks:

  1. Students are never lost - All my kids have to do is look at what color pages everybody has out and they know what the class is working on. SP and EL students benefit the most.
  2. Students do not lose any handouts - I've noticed that the grades of my students have increased because they stopped losing assignments.
  3. They always have their make up work - Most of the time they already have the assignment because it is in their workbooks.
  4. Clear progress - Students can look at how they used to write at the beginning of the year and compare their progress to the quality of the work that they currently produce.

Why I love the workbooks:

  1. No transitions - Transitioning between activities is simply a matter of turning to different colored pages. Instead of students passing up papers, I simply stamp pages and collect workbooks at the end of the week to grade.
  2. Dramatically reduced prep time - Instead of printing out copies ahead of time and planning what day to use them, I work linearly out of our class customized workbooks. There is no more drawing from different sources for every lesson because I've already done it ahead of time and added the necessary handouts into the workbook. All I have to do to prep is to go over the pages in the workbook.
  3. Students work more - The fact that transitions are much shorter and students rarely lose their work allows us to get through way more content.
  4. Prepping for a sub is easy - On days when I am out for a professional development workshop (which seems to be many this year), all of my students already have everything they need to keep on working.
  5. No Guesswork - Checking to see if students are following along is as easy as making sure that the correct color pages are out. I can easily tell, with just a glance, from any spot in the classroom.
  6. No more repeated filing - I simply organize electronic files on my laptop. If I do not have electronic copies of a worksheet that I want to incorporate, then I just scan it.
  7. Save paper - Yes, I actually use less paper in the long run because I can print 2 pages per side/double sided. This means that I can generally fit four pages of material on a single physical paper.
  8. Parents are always impressed during Back to School Night.
  9. No more re-planning - It's much easier for me to adjust the pace of the class if I need to skip something or if I have time for a supplemental activity. My teaching has become much more dynamic because the students already have what they need for each lesson.
  10. Planning year to year is easy - This is the second year that I'm using the color-coded workbook system and last Summer all I had to do was make a few changes and start making copies.
  11. Less stress - I have the security of knowing that I always have a lesson ready to go. Essentially, it's preparing all of the materials for the year and putting it in a customized book.

So for those of you who might actually be considering doing something similar, let me explain how I did it.

Step 1: I saved electronic copies of all of the worksheets that I use throughout the year. Most of the time, publishers have electronic copies of worksheets that go with their texts. For example, my district uses the Holt Literature and Language Arts series, which comes with a CD planner. I added anything extra that I personally like to use and scanned anything that I did not have an electronic copy of. I purchased Adobe 9.0 Pro, which is not required (the software is over $100), but it's definitely helpful. When I first started to do this, I used free .pdf merging software that I googled.

Step 2: I divided up the sections according to the main activities that we practice in class and printed them on different color paper. You can download them here:

    * Section 1 (White Pages) - Pair-Share Activities
    * Section 2 (Blue Pages) - Scaffolded Writing Assignments
    * Section 3 (Green Pages) - Vocabulary Activities
    * Section 4 (Yellow Pages) - Quickwrite Activities
    * Section 5 (Pink Pages) - Reading Logs

For those of you who may have attended my workshop at the Scholastic Read 180 National Summer Institute, these are the materials that were presented.

Step 3: I used a comb binder and had my student TA's comb bind class sets at the end of last year.

Luckily for me, this year my district decided to reproduce the workbooks for all of my Read 180 students. I've had so much success with them that I use a similar system with my regular English classes as well. To be perfectly honest it is a lot of work in the beginning, but it's definitely worth it.

If you teach Stage C Read 180 then you're in luck, because you can simply download everything that I've put together from the links above. For the rest of you, I hope that I've at least given you some ideas of how intense preparation now can pay huge dividends for years to come!

Warm regards,

Justin Lim

Rosemead High School

El Monte Union High School District





How would you insert additional sheets if the book is already complete?

What many students struggle with the most is classroom management. Thank you for all the advice. We can really use it.

I LOVE IT! I LOVE IT! I LOVE IT! What a great idea & most importantly time saver!! Thanks for sharing your ideas!

[Edit: Response]

Hi Becky,

I'm glad that this helped! It's definitely a time saver in the long run.

Thanks for the encouragement!



Hi Justin. I just want to say... WOW! I will definitely try to incorporate that into my class next year, maybe next semester if possible. It is really hard as a new teacher fresh out of college to find things that work well for students. I've read your blog and also use (a networking site for teachers). Based on all your advice and the advice and resources from teachers on Applebatch I think next semester will start off much more smoothly. Thank you for all the help.

[Edit: Response]

Hi Devin,

I'm glad that the tips are useful! I hope that I can continue to spread some helpful ideas!

Thanks for encouragement!



Hi Justin,

Your strategies makes so much sense - they're concrete operational and they bridge that gap for EL students by giving them more access to this important information. I love your blog and all your classroom management tips!

Natalie Holmes

[Edit: Response]

Hi Natalie!


I'm glad that the blog has helped! I feel that EL students are always getting left behind.

Thanks for the encouragement!

Warm regards,


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