Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Free Magazines for your Classroom Library

I have always kept at least a small bookshelf in my classroom. I hope to inspire students to read and discover new things, even though in my various teaching experiences I have never taught an English class. Besides the obvious benefits of encouraging independent reading, all of the content area standardized tests are, by my estimation, one billion times easier if students have excellent reading skills.

I learned from my time teaching at an alternative school that it is possible to inspire even the most reluctant student to read, provided that you offered a wide enough range of topics and formats. So what was in my first years of teaching just a modest collection of books expanded to include more books, sponsored newspapers, and the most criminally underused resource of all: magazines. I started with the titles I already subscribed to, and then laid out a plan to amass as many as possible:
  1. Bring in magazines you subscribe to (or buy) as soon as you're done with them. I started by bringing in my favorite magazine, Wired, a very intelligent and accessible title that covers technology and its interaction with everything else. It's been a huge hit with my 9th graders. Like most people, once I'm done reading the magazine, I have no more use for it. This also goes for any single issues you pick up along the way. Even if they don't find the magazine of interest for reading, they can be used for projects (in your class or others).
  2. Request free trial issues. I used to treat these solicitations as junk mail, but I realized that this is an easy opportunity to get more free reading material for my students. These often come bundled with your current subscriptions. For example, I got two free issues of Dwell, a beautifully illustrated architecture and design magazine, by just sending in a postcard that came with Wired.
  3. Ask your local public library. Most public libraries sell older magazines for ridiculous prices like ten issues for a $1. When I reached out for donations for my classroom library earlier this year, I was invited to visit one local library and take what I wanted for free. These magazines were old and had already been discounted greatly, but since it was for a school all I had to do was ask. It helps to know people who work at or volunteer for the library, but again don't be shy about asking for donations.
  4. Search the classifieds. Especially for those of you in or near big cities, newspapers and Craigslist will often have listings for free magazines. Most people are willing to give things away that they'd otherwise discard as long as you're willing to go pick it up. You might even find a windfall of books if you're lucky.
  5. Ask for donations from friends, family and your community. My classroom received subscriptions to Discover and Mental Floss thanks to the generosity of several people. I was genuinely surprised at how much my students love Discover, which inspires me to keep this project going.
  6. Grab a stack of free local magazines. In the Rio Grande Valley, local favorite RGV Magazine is pretty much the only game in town--and most of it is filled with ads. However, nothing's better for relating to your students than a local production. Think of the Improper Bostonian.
Take advantage of legitimately FREE magazine subscriptions

This is the greatest coup of all. Shortly after starting my plan, I remembered that DVD enthusiast website DVD Talk had a constantly updated list of free magazine subscriptions (click on the first thread). More recently I found an entire forum devoted to free magazines on SlickDeals.net, an online community that aggressively seeks out the best deals on everything. Through these two lists I got free subscriptions for my classroom to: Hispanic, Batanga Latin Music, Siempre Mujer, Spin, EGM, and Latina. There is enough variety on the two lists to ensure you'll find something that will pique the interest of your students. Did I mention they are updated daily? They also offer leads on cheap subscriptions and can hook you up with somebody who wants to "trade" a subscription they have for one they want, if you're willing to spend a little money.

Things to Avoid

To avoid spam and additional solicitations, you should not use your primary email address to sign up for anything online (this included). In other words, set up an email address to use just for signing up for things. If you want to avoid junk mail in your real mailbox, have the magazines shipped directly to school. This also eliminates the need to remove your home address before bringing it to school.

Obviously you have be careful with which magazines you choose to bring in. Even Wired, which I wouldn't hesitate to recommend, sometimes has questionable content for students. For example, every issue of Men's Health is full of information I wish all of my male students would read, but there's a whole lot of sex in there too. It's not worth the time it would take to rip out the stuff that might get me in trouble just to have one more title. The same goes for a lot of otherwise quality publications.