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Independent Reading in High School English: Setting Up a Classroom Library

written by: Jessica Cook • edited by: Donna Cosmato • updated: 9/11/2012

If you want to use independent reading in your high school English classes, the first step is to set up a classroom library. This article will outline how you can get books your students want to read and bring them into your class when setting up your classroom library.

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    As high school English teachers, I believe part of our job is to encourage a lifelong love of reading. I know that for some students this is a major stretch; in that case, I try to get a kid to find one book they didn't absolutely hate. (This goes under the "aim small, miss small" theory I suppose.) While it can be fun to force our students to read our favorite books, sometimes it's nice to let them choose their own as well. That's where a classroom library comes into play.

    Setting up a classroom library is the first step in starting an independent reading program in your class. Read on to figure out how to do this.

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    Choose Good Books

    A classroom library is useless if the kids never use it. When you're setting up a classroom library, you need to choose books that your students will want to read; books that will call out to them from the shelves, begging to be read. Here are some ideas on how to choose books when you're setting up a classroom library:

    1. Look online. Several resources exist that are full of lists of books that kids like to read. Check out the Bookspot web site to find several of these lists. When I taught in Florida, I always used books from the Florida Teens Read list; I enjoyed reading them all myself, too.

    2. Ask your media specialist. Your school media specialist makes it his job to find out about books kids want to read. Ask him for advice on books the kids in your school seem to like.

    3. Consult the Future English Teachers (aka the "book nerds" - hey, I was one, so I can say it). Ask the kids who like to read what it is that they enjoy reading. Get copies of those books.

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    Stock the Shelves

    Now that you have a huge list of books your students (and hopefully you) will really want to read, it's time to get your hands on the books. Unless you're some kind of superstar teacher with an unlimited budget, chances are the funds for this project are small (or possibly even nonexistent). So how can you get free or cheap books for setting up your classroom library? Keep reading ...

    1. Check out local thrift stores and libraries. They usually sell used books super-cheaply, and you may be able to find copies of books that would fit the mold you're looking to fill. You may even stumble across some cool finds that weren't on your list.

    2. Go online. Search sites like Craigslist or Freecycle to find books people are willing to part with cheaply or for free.

    3. Check out the library. You can sometimes get an extended check-out time for books from your school's library; however, if you try this, make sure you take extra care to make sure the books don't sprout legs and walk out of your classroom. Since you're the one checking them out, you'll be the one paying to replace them if they get lost or damaged.

    4. Find community resources. When I taught in Baltimore, we had an awesome program in town called the "Book Thing." It was literally a place stocked with books that you could take for free. People would just donate their unwanted books and book lovers could get as many as they wanted, absolutely free of charge. Something similar could exist in your area, too.

    5. Ask students for donations. Kids who read might be willing to donate books they've already finished reading.

    Once your shelves are stocked, you're on your way to using your classroom library!