Thursday, February 21, 2008

5 Tips for Building a Quality (non-ELA) Classroom Library

If your classroom is like mine, you have a lot of reluctant readers, LEP students, at-risk students, and those who just aren't engaged with school in general. Recently I posted some suggestions for taking control of your advisory period and instituting DEAR time. One way to ensure your success is to build a quality classroom library full of books your students will actually want to read.
  1. Get them doing instead of just reading. I like to have as many how-to, reference and art books on hand as possible. I realized a long time ago that encouraging my students to get involved in some sort of art or hobby instead of merely getting them to read might keep them out of a lot of trouble. As the saying goes, students learn by doing, so there's a lot of non-fiction on my bookshelves. Here are three books that have been big hits:

  2. Think local. Some books in your library should be either be set in or about your region, culturally relevant, or written by a local author. Teachers pay a lot of lip service towards approaching students at their level, but this is that idea in practice. Since we reside in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, I have two of Rene Saldana Jr's books in my classroom:

  3. Having all the books in a popular series or by a popular author is never a bad thing. This year's students have been really into both the Twilight series as well as Ellen Hopkins' books (Impulse, Burned, and Crank). I found out about these by noticing what my students were already reading and by researching lots of recommendations and reviews online. Some students have already been asking about the Uglies series and I've noticed lots of similar teen-focused series popping up at the bookstore, so I know this area is only growing. The best part is that if your students get hooked on one, they'll probably read the entire series, which is why you need to get them all as soon as possible.
  4. High school and middle school students like to read about high school and middle school students. If there's one trait of adolescents you can exploit fully and without guilty, its their shameless self-interest. We have been reading the The Freedom Writers Diary together during advisory and despite the length, my students have been riveted. Earlier selections we've read together were Don't You Dare Read This, Mrs. Dunphrey and Gary Soto's Taking Sides, both of which dealt with students in high school dealing with seemingly insurmountable challenges. When I asked them if they wanted to read something of a different genre, they asked for more of the same, and I happily obliged.
  5. Use lists of high interest/low reading level (Hi-Lo) books as a starting point. This compilation of 10 Hi-Lo reading lists on should give you a lot of books to start with. After testing some out in your classroom, you can search for recommendations for similar books to whatever is getting over well with your students. Similarly, the ALA's yearly list of best books for reluctant readers can provided leads on dozens of titles that will work for your classroom.
How Can I Afford All This?

Besides soliciting donations from family and friends (either directly or by setting up a wish list on or other sites), Barnes & Noble's bargain section is an easy place to start. Ask your school librarian, department chair, and curriculum director if there are funds available for book purchases there or elsewhere. Set up a project on DonorsChoose if you're looking for a huge number of books. I have also drawn many books from my personal collection that otherwise would have gone unused for a long time.

Books Alone Are Not Enough

As I've discussed here before, my classroom library also has free daily newspapers (sponsored by my local paper) from the Newspapers in Education program and several free subscriptions to magazines. These are as essential to my cause as the books, because even those students who have never picked up a book will read one or the other.

Where Do I Put All These Books?

If you can't get any free shelving at school, you're The cheapest route is to buy some small office supply store bookcases. These usually run around $20, are easy to assemble, and don't take up too much space. For my magazines, I bought 3-tier magazine racks from an office supply store and plastic magazine bins from a dollar store for the older issues. My newspapers are generally kept in a repurposed printer paper box and later reused by students and other teachers for various academic endeavors.

How Can I Get Started?

Read my recent post entitled Take Back Advisory: DEAR Time for All for more ideas.