Building and Maintaining a High-Interest Classroom Library

Building & Maintaining a High-Interest Classroom Library
by Tracee Orman

As English teachers, we all know the benefits of reading. Yet, not every school has a well-stocked library (or a library at all), and not every student is given time to just read for pleasure. Therefore, the burden often falls on us to provide both. The benefits of giving up this class time and furnishing high-interest reading materials have definitely been worth it in my experience.

DAILY READING: I have tried allowing free time in class each day for 10 to 15 minutes. That was fine, but with 46 to 50-minute class periods, it was hard to transition to or from reading to or from whatever we were doing in class and I usually ended up losing more instruction time. If you have longer class periods, I think daily reading can really work well. I worked for one year on a block schedule and silent reading for 20 minutes per day worked very well in the 90-minute class period.

ONCE PER WEEK READING PERIOD: Free-Read Fridays (or any designated day) is a great option if you can’t find time to read daily in class. I would often use early-out or late-start days as free-reading days, as well. It gives students a longer block of time to really get into what they are reading. It’s important to let students know ahead of time, though, so they are prepared. Of course, if they aren’t prepared, that’s when providing reading material is even more important.

My goal for free reading time is for students to READ. I did not care what they were reading, I just really wanted them to read for pleasure. With that in mind, I provided many sources of reading material for a variety of interests and reading levels. Yes, even children’s books. 

Building a high-interest and diverse classroom library

DIVERSITY: It’s also important to provide as much diversity of authors as possible ESPECIALLY if you have white students. White students learn to empathize with characters of color, so the more texts you can provide that feature Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) as protagonists and main characters, the better. It’s also important to provide books featuring LGBTQ+ characters for the same reason.

NOVELS, POETRY, GRAPHIC NOVELS & NONFICTION: Providing a variety of types of books will appeal to more readers. Some students may be intimidated by a novel, but will happily read the Guinness Book of World Records. It’s okay to provide books with pictures. The goal is to get ALL your students to read, so consider image-heavy books the gateway to more text-heavy books. Novels in verse, short stories, and poetry are great for in-class free reading days.

ALTERNATIVES TO BOOKS: Magazines and newspapers are great for shorter reading periods. A student can read an entire article or two in the designated time. Plus, there’s always a variety of topics to choose from. The comic section and sports page were always favorites of my students. You don’t have to go out and subscribe to multiple periodicals. I also asked our librarian for discarded issues of magazines about cars, hunting, entertainment, and fashion. You can ask the local doctor or dentists’ offices if they would be willing to donate any magazines to your classroom. For newspapers, many publishers will donate free copies to schools just by asking.

It’s important to note that you do not have to have a large classroom library. In fact, if students aren’t reading and checking out half your books, why have them? Focus on trying to provide 15-25 high-interest books at first and see how they go over with your students. I’ve provided this free list of titles in case you need help choosing which texts you want to acquire. It also includes a checkout form because you definitely want to try to keep track of them! Please note that some titles may be more appropriate for older students; use your own discretion for your students and school.

Click to download the free form and list of titles.

There are several ways you can build your library: create a Wish List on Amazon, create a Donors Choose project, shop Scholastic Books and use points to purchase new books, ask students/parents if they have any they would donate, shop garage sales, secondhand stores, and Facebook Market, and/or ask your social media followers for donations. It never hurts to ask your administration for budget money for your classroom library. The worst they can say is “No.”

Along with using a checkout form, you will want to add to your collection each year and weed out older copies that aren’t being checked out. 

You can check out my amazing colleagues' resources and blog posts to help you with your classroom library:

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