By Connie Colvin
I love books! For us as English teachers, books are probably a huge part of why we do what we do. This summer I tore through more than 20 books and enjoyed every page: everything from great thrillers like The Girl on the Train, YA books like 13 Reasons Why, fun mysteries like the Flavia de Luce series, and even a few professional books like Notice and Note. This summer my 11th-grade son tore through exactly one book and only because he was forced to for AP Summer Reading. I’m sure he isn’t alone. With school starting back for most of us any day, this is our chance to get good books back in the hands of our students, many of them reluctant readers. That’s where our classroom libraries come in.
Whether it’s just a small collection of high interest novels you’ve gathered for SSR or an entire wall filled with exciting fiction and non-fiction organized by genre, classroom libraries are so important for offering kids easy, instant, daily access to quality books. Yes, most of our schools have a library, but the school library can be intimidating, inconvenient, or inaccessible for kids for a multitude of reasons. We love to read. We want them to love to read. Share your love by sharing books!
When I started my job at the end of the 2014-15 school year, I inherited a tall tan bookshelf full of a very odd collection of male action hero novels and non-fiction coffee table books like The Making of Thriller. I took what I had and over the summer started building a collection that has become my favorite feature in my classroom. I love to add to it, I love to share what’s in it. These are some tips I’ve learned along the way.
I had this huge, ugly shelf to fill, only a few salvageable books, a few months, and a budget. How to find cheap and free books my kids would be interested in reading? The first thing I did was put a plea out on Facebook asking for donations from friends with teenage kids. I had two high school girls clean out their rooms and quickly scored two big boxes of books! One of those girls, now in college, recently contacted me and told me she’s bringing me another box! Once my students found out I will put a sticker inside the book telling them who donated it to my library, I had several current students donate as well. One student gave me a complete, barely touched set of the Chronicles of Narnia last year he didn’t want anymore!
Next I kept an eye out for church and library book sales, which happen several times a year in my town. Get there early for the best selection and enjoy! I do love book sales. Goodwill and the Salvation Army thrift stores sell books cheaply, as well. I hit my local Goodwill every couple of months and always find popular paper and hardbacks that are always wearing out like Harry Potter, the Twilight Series, The Hunger Games, Nicholas Sparks books and more. At $1.50 for hardbacks and $1 for paperbacks, it’s a goldmine. For SSR time during our homeroom advisory period, I like to have comic books on hand, as well. Our local comic shop will donate boxes of old comics to teachers for their classrooms, yours may well do the same or at least give them to you very cheaply.
Finally, when I know what I want to buy (and I’ve usually always got a list going!), I go to ThriftBooks.com. Thrift Books sells used paper and hardback books starting at $3.79. You get free shipping with a $10 purchase, and every $50 you spend earns you $5 off your next order. They carry such a volume of most books, my colleagues and I have bought classroom sets of used novels at a great price.
I quickly learned that 9th and 10th graders are hard on paperback books. They get dropped, shoved, crammed, and mauled in every which way. I’ve even had kids find them in the school bathroom. This is where putting your last name on the bottom edge of the book (and inside the front cover!) comes in great handy. I also found an online tutorial on how to cover paperbacks with clear contact paper, and I put my student assistant to work. If you want to save wear and tear on your books and not have to keep buying new copies, it’s definitely worth the effort. Read here how you can cover a book with clear plastic film, or if you prefer video, check this one out.
Now you’ve got some great books and you’ve got them protected. How do you keep track of them? I have been happy doing it the old-fashioned way using a checkout binder that sits in a magnetic file organizer stuck to the side of my shelf. When my students want to check out a book, they write down the title, their name, the date, and their class period. I give students three weeks or so before I start checking up on them. While students are working independently in class, I will go around and ask about their progress in their books and chat with them about it. It’s a great chance for one on one conversations and sharing the book love. As long as they’re making progress, I let them keep the book out. Checking in with them also helps remind them to bring books back when they’re done, when they just enter the date they brought it back. Because I’m not militant about my book checkout, I find I do lose some books at the end of the year, especially the most popular titles. But I’m okay with that. Many of my students have very little access to books at home. I will happily donate a cheap book or five and I like to think someone is out there enjoying them.
If you want to be more tech savvy, however, my colleague started using an online classroom library circulation app last year called Book Retriever and she has been very happy with it. She scanned all of her book barcodes in with her phone, then uses her phone during class to check out and receive returned books. The free app also allows her to track student reading habits and offers book leveling information. Because of the volume of books I have on my shelves and extras stashed in my closet, I haven’t taken the techno plunge yet. Something new I just discovered that I might add this year, however: color-coded genre stickers.
Once you’re ready to circulate your books, you need to get your students interested in checking them out. We talk about books a lot in my classroom. When kids hear what other kids are enjoying reading and the book is right in front of them, chances are good they are going to pick it up. I use book passes, book talks (both formal and informal), student-made book posters and interactive bulletin boards to drum up interest in my library. When I get new books, I show them off before I put them on the shelves. If we’re reading survival themed stories, I grab a stack of related novels and give impromptu book reviews. I’ll never forget the year-long argument one of my classes had over whether The Alchemist was a decent read or not. Every time a student finished it, those who had read it would ambush the newbie and demand answers. I’ve never had more book buzz than when I posted my 10th grade Honors students’ posters for the banned books they had chosen for their 3rd term independent reading novels. My 9th graders were fascinated with the concept of a banned book. It makes me excited just thinking about students getting excited about books!
As I get back to work next week, I know my reading rate is going to plummet, but I’m hoping the opposite will be true for my students. I’m hoping I can excite a new group this year and hear them ask each other “what are you reading?” However you choose to get (and keep) good books back in front of your kids this fall, remember how you feel about reading and remember to share the book love.
WVCTE is wondering what your classroom library looks like!
What tips do you have for teachers just beginning to build their libraries? Which books fly off your classroom library shelves? How does independent reading play a role in your classroom?
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After being a stay-at-home mom for 14 years, Connie Colvin finally fulfilled her dream of becoming a high school English teacher in 2015 at the age of 40. She is beginning her third full year of teaching 9th and 10th grade English at Parkersburg High School. When she’s not teaching, Connie can be found long distance walking (while listening to an audiobook!) or knitting, crocheting, or sewing. She is thrilled to say having her eldest son in class (or, as he called it, Mom World) last year was a wonderful experience for both of them, and she hopes to have her youngest in class in 2018. She is working to gather a Wood County group of WVCTE’ers this fall.