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How to Build a Better Classroom Library in Secondary ELA

    how to build a better classroom library in secondary ela

    Are you looking to build a better classroom library? This post has you covered with tips and money saving tricks so you can create a classroom library your students will actually use.

    A classroom library is more than just a collection of books; it’s a gateway to a lifelong love of reading. And if that’s not every ELA teacher’s dream… 

    Yet how often does that collection of classroom books sit in the corner, begging to be read, only to be left untouched and collecting dust? (Far too often.)

    Whether you’re looking to build a classroom library from scratch or give your current library a face lift, you’ve come to the right place. By following a few tips, tricks, and strategies, you can build a better classroom library (without breaking the bank) that students will be eager to borrow from.

    But first thing is first…

    Do You Really Need a Classroom Library?

    A well-curated classroom library helps you foster a classroom culture where reading is welcomed and encouraged, promotes different genres and perspectives, and fosters independent reading.

    Moreover, classroom libraries are a useful tool in helping teachers battle the dreaded drop in students’ reading interest during those teenage years. Students are used to being told what, when, and how to read…. And then tested to make sure they did it “right.” A classroom library invites them to read for the sake of reading, having fun, and enjoying all the wonders literature has to offer. If we want students to read more (and actually enjoy it), accessibility of books they want to read is key.

    So, yes, having a classroom library really is a must.

    What Makes a Good Classroom Library?

    A good classroom library is really about the titles on the shelves. Sure, if you have the time or interest in creating a Bookflix or Red Box themed reading area, go for it.

    Pinterest worth décor or not, strive to create a classroom library that meets the diverse reading interests and preferences of your students. Additionally, include titles to cover a range of reading levels, enabling all students to find texts that suit their abilities.

    Here are some of my best tips for creating a good classroom library:

    • Incorporate a Diverse Selection: Stock your shelves with books that reflect a range of authors, characters, experiences, and voices to create a more inclusive reading environment that serves as a window and door for students.
    • Ensure Appropriateness and Accessibility: Choose books that align with the maturity and reading abilities of your students, ensuring content that is age-appropriate and accessible for all of your students.
    • Include Different Genres and Formats: Incorporate various genres in various formats, including novels, graphic novels, short stories, plays, and poetry to cater to different reading preferences and attention spans.
    • Choose High-Interest Titles: Include books that are known to capture the attention of teens, including popular series, recently released titles, and books that have (or are soon to be) adapted to TV or movies. (Ask your school librarian and fellow teachers for recommendations!)
    • Make Regular Updates: Keep your library fresh, exciting, and relevant by regularly updating the books on your shelf. If your collection is limited, focus on rotating a small selection of featured titles and new releases to pique students’ curiosity.
    • Promote Student Involvement: Keep students engaged and the titles relevant to their interests by asking students to recommend book titles they want to read. You can also encourage students to donate their own books to the classroom library to help build your collection of student-approved titles.

    Have the time and resources to go the extra mile for your reading space? Create a cozy and  comfortable space designated for quiet reading. Use bean bags, oversized pillows, floor cushions and poufs. String up some lights or add a cute floor lamp to create an inviting space where students will want to cozy up and dive into a good book! 

    Getting Students to Engage with a Classroom Library

    So you’ve built a rockin’ classroom library… but your students aren’t biting. What gives?

    Just because your students aren’t rushing to your classroom library doesn’t mean it was a waste of time. For some students, this might be the first time interacting with a classroom library, so make sure you explicitly invite students to borrow your books. Other students might just need a little nudge to explore the titles on your shelves.

    Here are a few tips that can help encourage your students to “check-out” your classroom library. (Pun fully intended.)

    Give Book Recommendations

    There are lots of fun and engaging ways to give book recommendations. You can host a book tasting where students can “take a bite” of various books during one class period. Or you can incorporate first chapter Fridays and read the first chapter of a different high-interest novel to your students each week.

    Have Students Make Recommendations

    If you’re anything like me, you dedicate a boat load of time to staying up to date on high-interest YA titles. But, sometimes, students are more likely to trust the titles their peers recommend. (No offense.) Whether you kick-off the school year with summer reading book talks or have students add to a book review bulletin board all year long, give students plenty of opportunities to spread their book thoughts with one another.

    Create Inviting Visuals

    Your book recommendations don’t always have to be verbal. Hang up book stack recommendation posters around your bookshelf. You can create stack recommendations by author, genre, topic, theme, and more! These visually appealing posters highlight recommended books without taking up a lot of space. They’re cute, efficient, and effective.

    Bonus Teacher Tip: Decorate the “binding” on the poster to resemble the actual binding of the book. This will help students easily find the title they are looking for.

    Explicitly Encourage Browsing

    I know teachers are already squeezed for time. However, I recommend making time at the start of the year to introduce students to the classroom library and go over any rules and processes you have for checking books in and out. Throughout the year, encourage students to browse your classroom bookshelves when they’ve completed a task early. You can also have students pick a book as a bell ringer or a simple redirection task.

    How Do You Build a Classroom Library on a Budget?

    There are a lot of places you can snag books for surprisingly low costs. Therefore, you don’t have to break the bank to build your classroom library and fill the shelf with high interest books.   (Phew!) Though, it can take some time to find the titles you want, so if you’re looking to build your classroom library on a budget, I recommend you plan to build your collection over time—and start looking for titles ASAP!

    Here are some of the best ways to score books on a budget:

    • Donate your old books
    • Library sales
    • Thriftbooks (they even have a teacher reward program)
    • Local used bookstores
    • Yard sales
    • Goodwill, Savers, and local thrift shops
    • Previously used books on Amazon
    • Wishlists and donations
    • Facebook Marketplace
    • Book Outlet
    • Second Sale
    • Half Price Books

    Here’s to Building a Better Classroom Library!

    After reading this post, I hope you see the value of taking the time to build a classroom library filled with a variety of options and plenty of high interest titles. After all, you never know what book will be the one that hooks a student in, laying the foundation for a lifelong love of reading. And when that happens, it is always worth it.

    All it takes is some intentional planning and a little patience. Take your time collecting a variety of diverse, age-appropriate, and high-interest titles and you’ll be good to go! If you make an effort to promote the books on your shelves and regularly remind students they are there, then trust me, those books will be flying off your shelves in no time.

    Have any must-need titles we should all be adding to our shelves? Leave your recommended book lists in the comments below!

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