Everyone should have a classroom library, whether you teach English or another content area. Classroom libraries offer all kinds of benefits: increased student reading achievement, greater access to print material, greater levels of volume of student reading, and more. But starting a classroom library is a daunting task. How do you afford it? Organize it? Maintain it?
In this comprehensive post, I hope to give you everything you need to get started with a classroom library. I’ll also include links to resources where you can find or receive additional information when you’re ready to up your classroom library game.
I’m sharing these tips and strategies from my own experiences. I floundered with my library a lot in the beginning and spent a significant amount of time getting it going.
I’m also including some information I’ve picked up from listening to speakers, attending professional development seminars, and reading professional books around reading achievement.
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links that earn me a small commission, at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products that I personally use and love, or think my readers will find useful.
I hope to save you some of the time, money, and resources, by distilling all that I’ve learned into one comprehensive guide.
In this post, I’ll cover:
- Why You Should Have a Classroom Library
- Where To Get Books for Your Classroom Library
- Selecting Books for Your Classroom Library
- Organizing Your Classroom Library
- Displaying and Spotlighting Books
- Using Your Classroom Library
Why Have A Classroom Library?
This is a legitimate question. Classroom libraries can be expensive. They require maintenance, and they take up valuable classroom space.
And don’t the kids have access to school libraries? Surely the librarian can serve their needs better than classroom teachers.
While creating, building, maintaining, and organizing a classroom library can be additional work, the benefits for students far outweigh the negatives. I would argue that a solid classroom library is one of the most important resources teachers can provide.
The National Council of English Teachers notes many ways that classroom libraries promote literacy, foster community, and encourage an informed citizenry.
The data and research that supports classroom libraries to too widespread and plentiful for me to list every study, article, or key point. I will, however, discuss a few benefits of a classroom library that may be immediately relevant for you.
Not Every School has a Library
Right now, 2.5 million students attend school in a district without school libraries.
Maybe you’re reading this because you’re in one of those schools. Kudos. You recognize what a tragedy this is for our young people.
In these cases, classroom libraries are essential. For many students, your classroom library may be the only place they have access to free reading materials.
In order for students to become adults that are able to fully function in the twenty-first century, they must be able to access, use, and critically think about a variety of sources, perspectives, and texts.
Your classroom library allows reading choice for students. That’s important. Reading choice promotes reading engagement–and that’s what our students need.
Not Every Student is Comfortable in a Library
Even if your school has the best library in the state, odds are that some of your students are not going in there.
Maybe they were raised in a culture–in school, at home, or in society–where reading was not celebrated, but discouraged. The idea of the reading nerd being uncool and being a target of bullying is oftentimes still alive and well.
Whatever the reason, we will have non-readers, and they are not spending their time in the library.
Many of our students don’t even know how to use a library when they go in. Even my seniors often don’t understand how books are categorized and shelves in libraries. They don’t know what the Dewey Decimal system is or that fiction is alphabetical by author’s last name.
And if they do know this, they don’t know how to access the card catalog.
And don’t tell me you’ve never run across an odd or unhelpful librarian.
Even if students want to learn how to access books and explore the library, they may have anxiety around reaching high school (or whatever their age) without knowing. This anxiety can prevent them from asking the librarian. If the librarian has a cold demeanor (or is more focused on policing library rules than helping), this could also turn off students.
Create Positive Associations with Books
While those of us who grew up loving books often think of libraries as magical places (a la Matilda), those that were punished or mocked for reading may find them completely foreign.
By high school, many of our students have begun to identify themselves as non-readers.
Often, this is because of trauma they have associated with reading. Maybe they were bullied while struggling to read aloud. Perhaps a teacher told them they were bad readers and would never be good.
Maybe our non-reading students have just never found a book, genre, or author that “clicked” with them.
We can’t assume that our students have a positive association with books, libraries, or even librarians. We have to create and nurture those associations within our classrooms.
Once students have developed positive associations with books and libraries in the comfort of a trusted classroom, they can spread their wings and explore “real” libraries. For a child, your classroom library could be the needed stepping stone that allows them to access books in the future.
Classroom Libraries Promote Literacy
Unlike the library, students will step foot into your classroom every day. That means that we have the power to shape and redefine students’ relationships with reading.
Nothing promotes literacy like putting good books in front of students. It can’t be plainer: students need easy access to text.
According to the U. S. Department of Education, 61% of low-income families have no books in their home. While that statistic is from 1996, I don’t think much has changed.
At the same time, the most successful way to increase reading achievement of low-income students is to increase their access to print. (Scholastic has compiled a ton of useful information here.)
Classroom libraries help to do that. But even students who aren’t from a low-income family benefit from more readily available books.
Classroom Libraries Enhance Reading Opportunities
Many students aren’t surrounded by readers at home. They don’t have access to books at home. And no one is going to regularly fulfill their Amazon wishlist.
Through poverty, lack of education, or, sadly, sometimes just apathy, a lot of our students’ parents are unable to provide the amount of reading material that students should be consuming.
The NCTE’s official position on classroom libraries states that “classroom libraries offer ongoing opportunities for teachers to work with students as individuals to find books that will ignite their love for learning, calm their fears, answer their questions, and improve their lives in any of the multiple ways that only literature can.” That’s powerful stuff.
Even if students have supportive, reading parents at home, we see over and over again that the greater access to books, the greater to reading success. There are very few things in education that are a sure bet–classroom libraries are one of them.
If you’d like to learn more about the pedagogy around classroom libraries or independent reading, any of these books would be a great place to start:
Where Do You Get Books for Your Classroom Library–for Cheap?
I think the most intimidating part of the classroom library is getting started.
Some experts say that a classroom library should have at least 500 books. Others say that a library needs 20 titles per student. Another formula says seven books per child plus two new books per student a year. (You can see more about some of these numbers here.)
And then you’re responsible for continuing to grow your library indefinitely. Plus, you’ll need to be on top of all the young adult literature trends. Oh, and don’t forget–you’ll need to supply a variety of genres and diverse authors.
No wonder people don’t start classroom libraries. That’s a lot of pressure!
When you have zero books, getting to five hundred is A LOT. (Heck, getting to 50 is a lot!)
If you start thinking about money, it becomes even more intimidating. After all, even if you scored books for $5 each (a deal!) that’s $2,500 to have a bare minimum library.
It’s easy to wonder if it’s even worth it to start.
But it is. It is so worth it. I believe hosting a classroom library is one of the best things we can do for our students.
I don’t, however, want you to go out and start spending your hard-earned money! Teachers already do too much of that. Instead, I’m going to share some tips for figuring out how to acquire books for your classroom library on the cheap.
“There’s no magical formula for the accumulation: you start reading and begging and spending money. With luck you’ll find some sources of funds other than your own checkbook, like school and district monies, but don’t neglect used-book stores, friends, and former students….” –Penny Kittle, Book Love
Ask Your Principal, Building, Administration, District, or Budget Overlord for the Funds
Look, it never hurts to ask.
I was pretty shy my first few years teaching when it came to asking for money or resources for my classroom. Since then, I have since learned to be shameless. (I might be the teacher stealing pencils when the supply closet is left unsupervised….)
Now, I beg for money any chance I get.
You don’t have to be brazen about it, but it’s worth talking to your principal about your mission. There is so much research out there about how classroom libraries positively affect learning. You won’t sound ridiculous, silly, or selfish for asking.
Explain your vision and your “why”. Then ask. The worst that can happen is you’re told no.
Even if you’re told no, you’re only told no for now. Next year means a whole new budget! Put that ask out there every year. Eventually, they’ll cave, if only to get you off of their backs.
One good thing to note is that Title I money is sometimes difficult to spend. I work at a school with a pretty small budget, but there are so many restraints on how Title I money can be spent, that there’s almost always some leftover.
As the school year is wrapping up, our English department will send an ambassador to seek leftover Title I funds. Because books are one thing that are always easy to justify in the budget.
Hey, got some leftover Title I money? Boy, do I have a great way for you to spend it!
Beg for Book Donations from Friends, Family, and Former Students
For once, the commonly accepted truth of teacher poverty may play into your favor here. People know teachers are broke. They know that we provide a lot of supplies for our students.
But people also want to help.
It can feel… awkward, and maybe desperate, to ask people for donations to your library. I struggled with this feeling my first few years of building up my library. Asking people to just give you things does not feel good.
If this is you, let’s change your mindset.
One thing that helps me is to remember that the focus is the kids. It’s not like I’m asking for free books for myself. I’m trying to start a free library for underserved youth over here! Noble indeed.
I’ll occasionally put the ask out on Facebook. For many years, my summer gig involved working with a lot of teens. I always shook them down for their spare reads at the end of the summer. I’ve even had former students offer to bring in and drop off their old books.
People want to help. Let them.
I think almost everyone has heard of DonorsChoose.com by now. It’s like a Go Fund Me for teachers and their passion projects.
I kind of hate Donors Choose, to be honest–I’m just lazy and hate typing up project proposals.
But it is a great way to get a bunch of free books for nothing. It’s kind of like writing a letter to Santa Claus and then waiting to see if he decides you’re nice or naughty.
I’ve received a handful of great books thanks to Donors Choose. One of my coworkers has pretty much created her massive classroom library solely on Donors Choose projects. With Donors Choose, you’ll get what you put into it.
You’ll have to create an account first and share some information about your classroom and students. Donors want to know that they’re helping students and teachers with a real need.
Then, you’ll create the project. For a book list, you’ll essentially create a shopping cart on Amazon through the Donor’s Choose website and submit your list.
Betsy Potash has a great Donor’s Choose article with all kinds of tips and tricks. I’m just scratching the surface here.
I do recommend, however, to keep your first list to around $200 (that will be $150 in books, plus a $50 Donor’s Choose donation). Donors like to know that they’re contributing a project that will actually be funded; anything over $200 gets a little hairy.
One thing to note about Donor’s Choose that I didn’t realize is that they expect you to send thank you notes to the donors once your project is fulfilled. I recommend setting time aside in class for a quick letter writing minilesson. Then, have students write thank-you notes.
I printed out blank thank you notes for students to write in and then color. But you will need to find time to get those letters written and sent out to the donors. Otherwise, you may be blacklisted from using Donors Choose in the future.
Hit Local Sales
In my town, there are always book sales going on. You just have to look for them.
Check out your local Goodwill or Salvation Army. You can find great young adult books here for under a dollar, depending on your local thrift shop.
Library sales are also a thing. Many libraries will often sell off their used books quarterly or annually to make room for new books on their shelves. These are a treasure trove of books that were once curated by actual librarians.
Then, of course, there are garage sales, Facebook marketplace, and even charity sales. Our local humane society has a book sale a couple of times a year to raise money. Maybe your church does the same.
When you start to look, you’ll see that there are cheap books everywhere.
Scholastic Book Fairs
I work in a high school, so book fairs are not my area of expertise. I have, however, purchased a handful of books from said book fairs.
Often, there will be a few titles at these events that are specially priced. I only grab titles that are marked down to $1.99 or are buy one get one free.
In my experience, any other titles are usually cheaper on Amazon.
First Book Marketplace
Even with all of these methods for acquiring free or cheap books, you’ll probably be craving some of the newest and freshest titles for your classroom library. And new usually means expensive.
Enter my secret weapon: First Book Marketplace.
First Book is a charity organization that works to supply educators with high-quality texts at reasonable prices. In order to qualify, you’ll have to create an account. You’ll need an educator’s email and potentially your school’s tax-exempt code.
(It’s worth checking to see if your school has its own account. Mine does, but our secretary didn’t even know until I asked!)
Once you have an account, you’ll have access to some of the hottest titles in young adult literature at the lowest prices!
The price discounts are seriously steep. For example, as I’m writing this, a copy of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is retailing for around $13 on Amazon. On First Book Marketplace, it’s less than $6.
When you’re talking about tens or even hundreds of books, that is a huge difference.
I place a First Book order a couple of times a year. This is mostly selfish–they offer so many titles I want to read!
When First Book sells out of a title, it’s gone, and they move on to the next hot title. So don’t expect the deal you’re eyeing to still be there in six months.
And, of course, there’s always Amazon. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Amazon! I am a full-fledged member of the Amazon cult–I have Prime, use their card, and send my readers to them all the time for new books.
Sometimes, Amazon is just the only place to get what you need.
But, it should be your last resort. Funds for us teachers are precious. You should explore every avenue of acquiring a book for free or at a severe discount before paying Amazon prices. Save your money for boxed wine.
That being said, Amazon prices are going to beat prices at big box stores like Barnes and Noble. They just are. Plus, Amazon will get those books into your students’ hands fast.
So if there’s a book that you really, really want, and you can’t find it anywhere else, order it from Amazon.
How do you know if you should just suck it up and order?
Well, your criteria is going to be different from mine, but my personal rule of them is this: would I buy this book for myself to read, even if I didn’t have a classroom library?
If the answer is yes, then I go ahead. I know that I will read it, so the money won’t be wasted. If I would buy a book regardless of my classroom, I’m ok ordering from Amazon and paying Amazon prices for a book I really want to read.
If not, I wait. I can keep an eye for that book at garage sales, First Book, or wait until there is money in the school budget.
If I wouldn’t buy it for myself, however, then I skip it or save it for a future book request. If I’m ordering it just for the classroom library, then I’m spending my hard-earned money on the job I do to earn money. And that’s just backward.
And–I can’t say it enough–don’t be afraid to ask your administrator! Your school has an Amazon account. Maybe they can add a title or two to their next office supply order?
How Do You Choose Books for Your Classroom Library?
Ok, ok. You know how to get books, but which books do you need?
It’s true that just having books isn’t enough. You need a wide variety of high-quality books that will be enjoyed by a wide variety of readers.
While some books are classics, your students are probably also not going to love the same books you love when you went to high school.
(Trust me, you won’t need three copies of Harry Potter and as much as I love The Hunger Games, no one has ever touched my trilogy. They’re old now in the young adult world.)
The idea of having to choose hundreds of books that will be beloved by angsty teens sends a lot of teachers into a tailspin. This is especially terrifying if you yourself are not an avid consumer of young adult literature.
So, how do you choose?
Read Young Adult Literature
You can put a few classics on your shelves if you want, but a classroom library full of them is not going to get used. #sorrynotsorry
You need to have some contemporary teen lit in your classroom library. The only way you’ll be able to talk about the books, recommend them, and connect books to readers is if you yourself have first-hand knowledge of the texts.
So start reading.
You don’t, however, have to have read every book in your classroom library.
I have plenty of books in my room that I haven’t gotten to it. And it’s great! Students can recommend my own books to me, and I always know that I have something new to read at my fingertips.
(Having a classroom library works for you that way, too!)
You should be aware of your school and community. For example, if you work at a religious institution, what you put on your shelves may be more strict than at a public school. If you’re on the fence about including a book in your library, google it.
Beyond examples like that, however, most young adult reads are going to be okay for your library. They’re meant for teens, after all. You can always bring a list of potential purchases to your school librarian to double-check, too.
Back to you.
If you do independent reading in your class (and I highly recommend it!), read with your students. Spend a little bit of time outside of class reading some young adult literature.
You don’t have to consume hundreds of pages every week, but you should find a few books that you genuinely like to put on your shelves. After all, students are going to look to you and your expertise for their next read.
I have always found that the books I talk about are the books that get read.
If you have some time restrictions, maybe now is the time to pursue audiobooks. Audible is a great deal and will allow you to consume young adult novels while driving, working out, buying groceries, or doing whatever else you need to do.
Get My Recommendations
The best way to get recommendations for classroom library books is–and maybe I’m biased here–to subscribe to my newsletter and follow my blog.
Ok, I know this sounds self-serving, but this is also what I’m passionate about.
When you sign up for my newsletter, I’ll send you a few pages with some must-have classroom library books. I categorize them broadly according to reader type to make it a little easier for you to match the book to the reader.
Each title in that downloadable is also linked to a complete classroom library review that I’ve written for that novel. So if you need more information before purchasing, you can see my review, my tips for matching the book to a reader, and book stats like Lexile score.
It’s all free.
Then, once you’re subscribed, you’ll get my regular emails. I blog about a new book once a month, so you’ll get my new recommendations first!
It’s a win-win for you.
Maybe this seems odd, but I have gotten so many great book recommendations from Instagram.
At the time of writing this, I’m Not Dying With You Tonight is next in my To Be Read pile. I saw a review of it by another English teacher on Instagram and purchased it immediately.
Some of my absolute favorites–like Children of Blood and Bone–have been Instagram finds.
There are a ton of book reviewing accounts, but you might find it more helpful to follow teachers who also review books.
I’m going to do a little more self-promoting here and suggest that you follow me on Instagram (@itslitteaching), where I review even more books than I do on the blog. When I come across a book that’s not great for students or general reading, I mention that too.
I really don’t want you to waste your time or money on mediocre literature.
You can also follow hashtags like #weneeddiversebooks and #projectlit for great recommendations. I hate following broad hashtags, but I follow both of these.
Oh, and if you’d like to combine your students’ love of Instagram with the books in your classroom, try this #Bookstagram activity as a follow-up to some independent reading!
Subscribe to Epic Reads
Epic Reads is a digital community created by Harper Collins. Its goal is to connect readers and HarperTeen young adult authors and books.
They always have up-to-date news on book releases, sequel announcements, author tours, and book-film deals. Their content is entertaining and useful.
I am subscribed to their newsletter and regularly follow their suggestions. They’re also usually the first place I see new releases announced from my favorite authors.
Better yet, they are great for getting diverse books out there. They have great curated lists of authors of color, as well as LGBTQ novels.
How Do You Organize Your Classroom Library?
From what I’ve seen, there are typically two ways to organize your classroom library: alphabetical by author’s last name (the traditional way), and by genre. There are, alternatively, some ways not to organize your libraries. Lastly, there are some tools you can use to help get organized.
Organizing Your Classroom Library Alphabetically
When you’re just starting out, alphabetically might be the easiest method of organizing your shelves.
It doesn’t require any fancy labels or much explanation for students. By secondary, students are probably familiar with this traditional way of finding novels.
This doesn’t, however, help students find new books that might interest them.
You won’t (probably) have a quick and easy to use book catalog in your classroom. With the traditional route, students’ only way of finding books is to know what they’re looking for.
Organizing Your Classroom Library By Genre
More and more, I’m seeing teachers organize their classroom libraries by genre.
This requires some more set up and labor. You’ll need to label each book individually with its genre and label the sections of your library. Suddenly, each new addition requires a few more minutes of work to get it on the shelves.
There is a payoff, however. That student that only reads manga? She’ll know just where to go for her next read! That student that can’t get enough horror? He’ll know where his books live.
Organizing your classroom library by genre helps readers find their next book. As long as they have a vague idea of what they’re in the mood for, they can find something.
In addition to labeling your books and shelves or sections, you’ll have to determine how to classify each book. Some are easier than others. Carry On is easily fantasy. The Hate U Give is realistic fiction.
But what about books that span multiple genres? Is Internment realistic fiction or sci-fi? Do you lump sci-fi and fantasy into one section? What about The Gentlemen’s Guide to Vice and Virtue? Is it historical fiction? Romance? Do you create an LGBTQ section?
These should be questions you think about as you set out to organize your library. Consider how broad and how narrow you want to organize your books. Leave you and your classroom library room to grow.
Classifying a Book’s Genre
And what if you don’t know a book’s genre? What if you haven’t read it?
If you can, ask students who have read the book how they would classify it.
If not, you can look up the book’s genre online.
One way is to look up the book on Amazon. If you scroll down, you can see the categories in which the book is classified. I like this because I can see a few genres and subsections in which the book can be found.
Another way is to use a classroom library management system like BookSource (more on this below!). When you scan the book in, it will tell you how the system categorizes that genre.
What do you do if you already have a large library and decide to switch from the traditional alphabetical to the genre method?
This is the boat I’m in. It can be a daunting task to completely redo and relabel your classroom library.
You can do it a little at a time though. At the end of the day, label a few books. You don’t have to rearrange them until it’s done.
The best way though? Make students do it! Find your book worms and your OCD students, and ask them to help.
If you can, see if you can offer them community service hours. A lot of high schools require a certain amount of community service hours for graduation. An hour or two of community service in exchange for labeling some books sounds like a great trade to me!
DO NOT Organize by Reading Level
I think this is less of an issue at the secondary level, but sometimes people do ask about leveling books.
As much as we’d love for students to incrementally increase the Lexile scores they read and slowly challenge themselves in a nice, linear way, it’s not going to happen. It’s unnatural for readers.
When have you ever looked at a book’s Lexile score before buying it? Never. When have you ever put a book back on a shelf because you noticed the Lexile was too hight? Never.
Readers don’t naturally examine Lexile scores. So why would we train our students to do it?
We want them to become lifelong readers. We want them to be confident in libraries and book stores. No adult reader judges a book on reading level. Training our students to do so is a disservice.
More importantly, it can discourage reading. Think about it.
A student may gravitate towards books that are below his or her reading level, but if he or she loves them, he or she will read more. That helps to increase their fluency and general volume of reading. Those numbers matter.
If, however, a student really wants to read a book that’s a little above his or her reading level, that student will rise to the occasion. If a student is determined, he or she will use all those reading skills to devour that story they love. Readers challenge themselves naturally.
Either way, as long as a student is reading a book that he or she enjoys, skills are being practiced. It’s when we limit students’ access to books that reading plummets.
Utilize BookSource for Managing Your Classroom Library’s Organization
As you’re adding books to your classroom library, you’ll begin to realize that you’ll need a way of keeping track of these books. You’ll want to know what titles you own, how many of each you own, and who has each checked out.
I have managed with a simple Google spreadsheet for years, but my students rarely take books home. (I have a special shelf in my room where students can put their independent reading books if they don’t want anyone else to take them.)
This becomes difficult to manage after a few hundred books, however. And it relies on you, the teacher, to manage every book check out and check-in. There’s a better way.
A colleague though has recently introduced me to BookSource. It is an online platform and mobile app for keeping track of your classroom library. Plus, it’s free!
My coworker has a little scanner (I think you can get one for free, but she bought a cutesy one for her room). When she gets a new book, she scans it into her free BookSource account.
BookSource logs the book’s information (including the genre, which is helpful if that’s how you’re organizing your library) and adds it to your catalog.
When a student wants to check out a book, you can scan it out to him or her. When they bring it back, scan the novel in. For free, you can manage your classroom library just like a real one.
If you can get an extra iPad for your classroom, you can even set it up so that it’s entirely student-run. Students will be able to use the scanner to check books out and then back in themselves!
Regardless of whether you’re just starting your classroom library or your hundreds of books deep, I recommend looking into BookSource as a free management platform for your library.
Displaying and Spotlighting Books In and Around Your Classroom Library
Just having the books in your room isn’t enough. You have to get students to actually pick them up and read them.
Students are going to be a lot more willing to grab a book if the shelves are appealing. Your classroom library should be easy-to-use, easy-to-access, and–maybe I’m vain–should look attractive.
Here are some of my tips for keeping your classroom library updated and refreshed regularly.
Utilize Face Outs
Fun fact: I worked at Waldenbooks in college. Waldenbooks was a bookstore chain owned by the now out-of-business book chain Borders. (I hope I’m not aging myself here.) So, alas, Waldenbooks is no more.
While I worked there, I learned a few things about displaying books. The most hand and relevant to me today is the “face out.”
While most books are shelved in such a way that only their spines are visible to the browser, every now and then a book would be “faced out,” revealing the front cover to the viewer. When a book is faced out, it naturally commands more attention.
Adding a few face outs to your classroom library is a super easy and free way to promote or spotlight a book. Every week or two, switch your face outs. A book can sit on the shelf all year and suddenly, by making it face outward, it’s suddenly alluring.
You can even do face outs seasonally. If you have a few horror novels, face them out during the Halloween season. Maybe your teens are a little dreamy in the spring, and a few romance titles can be more prominently displayed.
If you’re doing a dystopian unit, perhaps you can face out other books in that genre to command some attention.
Another benefit of the face out? Books facing out usually take up more space, so you can play with them to fill up awkwardly half-empty shelves if you have any.
Picture Frame Displays
Ok, I’m pretty proud of myself for this #teachinghack! You can create simple and cheap displays using picture frame holders from the dollar store.
I found some at my local dollar store and bought a few in a variety of sizes. (You could get something like this, but check your dollar store first!)
I place them on top of my bookshelves and put books in each one. This creates a fast, simple, and, most importantly, cheap display for spotlighting books.
I try to rotate the books out every week or two. When I book talk a couple of titles, I make sure that they are displayed and easily accessible.
These displays can be placed anywhere in your room–shelves, windowsills, etc. They’re versatile for getting books in the faces of your students, which is ultimately the goal.
Make What You’re Reading Obvious
My students can always see what I’m reading.
I display my last read, my current read, and my next read on a whiteboard shelf. You’ve probably seen something similar on Instagram.
Every now and then a student will remark about my reading list, ask me a question about a book I’ve just finished, or suggest books for me to add to my reading list. This has made my reading list interactive and gives students an easy “in” for discussing books with me.
I think they also love to see their recommendations end up on my whiteboard #TBR.
I also have a sign outside of my room that displays what I’m currently reading. Every teacher in my school has one. These signs were created by our school librarian, but you don’t need someone else to make one.
You can print a sign yourself and then laminate it to make a dry erase marker friendly sign. I read faster than I can update that sign, so I started printing a taping up pictures of the cover. If I know the next few titles on my To Be Read list, I can batch print them so they’re ready to go.
How to Use Your Classroom Library to Promote Reading
Ok, your library has some books in it. It’s beautifully organized. Now what?
I highly recommend incorporating independent reading into your classroom regularly. It’s important for students to have choice when it comes to reading.
Most secondary students, especially high school, are not going home and reading for fun. If they don’t learn how fun and stress-relieving independent reading can be at school, where will they?
I do independent reading once a week for thirty minutes. Some teachers do ten to fifteen minutes every class period. Do what works for you and your students. You can tweak the schedule later, but starting is what’s important.
“Students will read if we give them the books, the time, and the enthusiastic encouragement to do so. If we make them wait for the one unit a year in which they are allowed to choose their own books and become readers, they may never read at all. To keep our students reading, we have to let them.”― Donalyn Miller, The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child
Now that there are books in your room, you need to get them into the hands of students. While some may gravitate towards the library readily, many are going to need a little push.
Decide how often you’re going to give a book talk. I do this once a week, right before we independently read, and I talk about two books.
Other teachers do it every class.
I think start where you can and work to improve and add.
In a book talk, you should include the basics–title, author, basic premise. I like to add why I personally liked the book. This could be anything from the setting, a character I connected with, or an interesting storytelling technique that was used throughout.
In her book Book Love, Penny Kittle breaks down the book talk into a few must-haves. If you want more information on book talks, getting kids to read, or maintaining a classroom library, Book Love is a great place to start.
According to Penny Kittle, for a successful book talk you must:
- Hold the book
- Know the book
- Read a short passage
- Keep Records (know what you’ve book talked and what passages you’ve read)
- Accept Help (invite others to book talk)
I hope it goes without saying, but you don’t want to give away the ending.
First Chapter Fridays
Another fun way to introduce students to books is First Chapter Fridays. This idea has been making the rounds on social media lately.
The idea is exactly what it sounds like: every Friday, you read the first chapter (or a few pages of the beginning) of a book. You could think of it as a very-extended book talk.
This is a great way to hook students into a book, especially students who may not identify themselves as readers.
It may sound baby-ish at first to read out loud to high school students, but don’t we all love hearing stories at every age? Really, if you choose the right books, even your teenage students will beg you to keep going.
If you implement First Chapter Fridays, make sure you pick title with compelling beginnings. You want to leave students on a cliff hanger. They should be begging for more.
It is not the time to pick up a long-winded book that takes a while to get good. Pick books that start in the middle of an action scene or conflict.
Involve Your Classroom Library in Your Lesson Plans
Make your classroom library an interactive part of your lesson.
During the first week of school, I have my students create a To Be Read list and explore the library. This is one station of my back to school station activity. I like knowing that exploring the classroom library is part of every class’s list of lessons.
You could also try an activity like spine poetry. Students can create poems out of the book titles on the spine. This gets them touching, looking at, and interacting with books without doing something intimidating like, I don’t know, actually reading them.
If you do something like an author study project or a book club, you might pull resources and titles from your library.
A Final Word on Creating Your Classroom Library
I hope that this has been helpful in getting your classroom library off the ground. Adding to and nurturing my collection is fulfilling for me. Adding each new book is weirdly satisfying.
My library makes my classroom welcoming and cozy. It’s inviting. Visitors always remark on it.
My colleagues have begun to send students my way for books and adults my way for recommendations. A classroom library can become a focal point, a hub, and a place for community for you as well.
Classroom libraries are always a work in progress. Don’t let the lack of a finish line stop you from starting. If you need support in your journey, make sure to sign up for my newsletter, so I can send some your way.