The following classroom library ideas will encourage engagement with your books and build a community of readers.
As a high school ELA teacher, you can have a classroom library—hundreds of books. Those books can look pretty and be well organized. You might even have beautiful classroom library displays!
Still, you must encourage students to interact with the books. Books on the shelves and never in students’ hands? We can brainstorm some classroom library ideas that won’t add extra time to your busy days.
At the heart of all classroom library ideas is engagement—books with students. I write from the experience of owning a high school classroom library, but many of these ideas will work with any age group. With a few twists, these classroom library ideas will work with many grade levels.
Frequently change your displays.
First, when I mention “display,” I mean propping up books on the chalk ledge or in a visible spot and adding a small heading. I am not suggesting you build an entire bulletin board or elaborate display. (I rarely change my bulletin boards throughout the school year myself.)
Second, I typically ask students to switch the displays because I am busy, because this encourages students to take ownership of the books, and because they understand the best displays.
Amazing displays my students have made:
- Coming to Netflix! (Disney, Youtube)
- Book to Movie or Before It Was A Movie
- Mystery and Psychological Thrillers (we normally make such a display during the fall season)
- White Winter
- Sprouting for Spring
- Love Stories
- Month themes—Bullying Prevention Month, Black History Month
- Week themes—Banned Book Week
Of course, show off colors of books, an author, a genre, or covers as well. Encourage students to grab a book from the changing displays. The best classroom library displays are the ones where students interact with the books.
Introduce topics with books.
Of all my classroom library ideas, this one is probably the simplest. Whenever you introduce a topic, showcase books that are related to the topic.
Not that long ago, I introduced Kafka and magical realism to students. I brought up a pile of Neil Gaiman and Gabriel Garcia Márquez books too. My discussion probably involved a “book talk,” but it was very informal. I discussed the authors and books, and one student did read One Hundred Years of Solitude as a result. Still, I think that the additional discussion and perspective helped students understand magical realism.
Another time, I wrapped historical fiction books and organized them chronologically. This activity was a fun mini-research project. Students researched the book’s time period and the author, and then they made graphics in Canva. We had loads of fun with this introduction to historical fiction books.
You can read the conversation with teachers sharing varying options on Instagram.
My best ideas for classroom library come from simply putting books into my students’ hands.
Use books as a writing springboard.
Call books inspiration or mentor texts, but all of those classroom library books can help young writers. Don’t be afraid to put a book on each student’s desk and ask them to look for dialogue, examples of setting, or interesting language. The more students familiarize themselves with the content of your library, the more students will read.
I purposefully have included picture books in my classroom library, and I have found that they are wonderful mentor tools for creative writing students. As an extension activity to any creative endeavor, I will ask students to grab a picture book. Then, I provide students with one pagers for them to explore the language in their book. (Books? We normally switch and exchange books so that everyone can read a few.) Older students are sometimes amazed to realize the powerful language in books for such young audiences!
Then, I asks students to evaluate the language. Finally, students should have mentor texts to build confidence as they work on their writing.
Implement a reading day.
First Chapter Friday, Book Talk Tuesday, Motivational Monday: I’ve seen lots of of fun reading activities centered showing the beauty of reading. Experiment with what works for you and your community of readers. I love First Chapter Friday, but many teachers find students drowsy on Fridays. Book Talks might work better.
Plus, after you have students interested in the material, be sure you give them time to read. Suggest books from your classroom library. Encourage them to experiment with different genres. After all, the purpose of having a classroom library is to use it.
I have been purposefully building my high school classroom library for a few years now. Previously, I have reflected on overall engagement, lit circles, and acquiring books inexpensively. I hope you find some information that will support your classroom library ideas.