Classroom Libraries are not just for Elementary School
BY BETSY POTASH
In an era when a walk down an airplane aisle reveals dozens of people playing games on their phones or hooked into Hulu , and one person reading a book (maybe), it’s clear that our students aren’t going to fall into books by themselves. They’ve got a hundred choices for how to spend their free time, and most of them glow colorfully on a screen, beckoning at all hours of the day and night with updates, notifications, and promises of the new, social and entertaining.
But what if a student had a gripping novel in her bag, right next to her phone? A novel she noticed in English class, displayed on a bright shelf of student favorites? What if she could identify with the main character and loved the writing? And she had already started it in class and wanted to know what happened?
Then that book would have a chance in the battle against her phone.
More and more secondary English teachers are discovering the power of choice reading. For many students, it’s the book they choose themselves that will ignite their connection to literature, not the book the whole class is reading. And when it comes to choice reading, a classroom library can make all the difference.
Whether it’s a collection of favorite books you check out from the school library, or a selection you build yourself over years in the classroom, it makes a huge difference to have the books students love right before their eyes.
When you have a classroom library, it’s easy for you to recommend the best of the book world to your students. It’s easy to solve the problem of “I forgot my book” during choice reading time, or to sub in a new and better novel for a student whose eyes have glazed over.
When you have a classroom library, you can create eye-catching displays that’ll keep students hanging out by your books. Simply stand favorites up along the top of your shelves to draw your kids over.
Consider Popular Display Options like these:
Celebrate Banned Books Week with a collection of previously-banned books
Follow the Instagram trends and try “Starbooks” or “Bookflix” displays (feature great books to read at the coffee shop or popular books made into films)
Nod to the holidays with displays like “Ghostly Mysteries for Halloween” or “Romantic Classics for Valentine’s Day.”
Feature #ownvoices stories during the months of the year that honor African-American history, LGBT History, National Hispanic History, etc. Also, feature these stories all the time!
You’ll find you also draw more students to your books if you can set your library up as a warm and inviting space. Keep an eye out for a thrift store couch or old bean bags in your friends’ basements. Adding a little flexible seating, a coffee table, and some Christmas lights can also go a long way towards making your classroom library appealing.
But, you might be wondering, who will pay for all this? The bookshelves? The books themselves? The Christmas lights and coffee table?
Well, there are lots of ways to get started. You can apply for a grant or donorschoose.org money if your school has no department budget for books and you’re eligible for this type of program. Then it’s time to hit rummage sales, library book sales, and odd corners of the internet. If you’ve got no budget and you can’t get one, you can still gather books. Dust off some of your own teenage favorites from your shelves and your childhood room and bring them in. Put the word out to your friends and students that you’re building a library and see what happens.
Just a quick word to the wise: more isn’t always better. Take care to put the kind of books on your shelves your students will want to read. They’re a lot more likely to return for more books when they pick up something amazing on one of their first tries. It’s better if they really can’t go wrong. So don’t worry about filling up every inch on your “new” thrift-store bookcase. Better to have a select few student favorites than a hundred dusty old tomes.
I hope you’ll agree with me that reading doesn’t matter any less to our students’ joy, personal growth, and academic success in high school than it does when they’re little. So let’s get great books out into the open where they can be seen. Building a classroom library is the perfect way to get started.
If you’d like more help building your independent reading library, you might want to sign up for my free email course, “5 Days to Build a Better Reading Program.” You can find more information here.
BETSY POTASH Betsy’s passion is helping English teachers build innovative and creative lessons. Get inspired and follow along with her at Spark Creativity.
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