When students are in elementary school, they are often surrounded by inviting books that help build their interest in and love of reading. Once students get to middle school, many are interacting only with the assigned texts from their English language arts classes, and they quickly forget the concept of reading for pleasure.
Some students find it difficult to connect with the books they are reading, while others struggle to comprehend the material. In both cases, students can become disengaged from reading entirely. To help students rediscover the joy in reading, teachers can create classroom libraries that recognize students’ reading levels and interests to spark lifelong reading.
5 Things to Add to Your Classroom Library to Boost Engagement
1. Options for low readers. By middle school, some students have developed themselves into voracious readers, ready to tackle anything from a nine-book fantasy series to young adult (YA) novels addressing topics like police brutality and gender identity. Other students, however, are still struggling to find entry points into books. Whether they are reading slightly below or significantly below grade level, it’s crucial that classroom libraries include options that these students can engage with.
When I had students reading significantly below grade level, I relied heavily on graphic novels to provide options for all students. I specifically tried to find graphic novel versions of other books in my classroom library when possible, so that students could participate in discussions with one another about the books regardless of level. A favorite among my students was The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander, which is available as both a novel and a graphic novel.
2. High-interest series. Where possible, look to include a full series of books. Not only does this help individual students when they get invested in the first book, as they don’t need to worry about finding their next book, but also it helps students build community around books as more and more students begin the process of reading the series. I saw some of my most reluctant readers suddenly begin to devour book after book once they found a series they loved.
A few favorites in my room were Amulet, The Baby-Sitters Club, Shadow and Bone, and Uglies. By the end of the school year, every single one of my students had read all eight graphic novels in the Amulet series.
3. Genre labels. As more of my students began to develop their love of reading, they had a better sense of the type of book they liked. In my classroom library, I organized by genre with as much specificity as possible to help students easily find interesting options.
Additionally, the classroom library should help students become lifelong lovers of reading, and organizing clearly by genre helps students build more independence in selecting books and understanding their own preferences for reading. Some of the class favorites under the realistic fiction section of the library are included below.
4. Topical options. One way I tried to keep my library fresh for students was by highlighting topical book options. Whether that was Hispanic Heritage Month in September and October, Black History Month in February, or Women’s History Month in March, I would select three to five books that aligned with the topic and highlight them as top picks for that time.
Sometimes this meant buying new books to align with a given topic or theme, but often I could use books I already had and just bring them additional attention at a specific time. Many of my students were eager to read these specially selected titles.
5. Visible recommendations. Finally, visible book recommendations are probably my favorite part of a classroom library, as they not only encourage students to read but help build community in the classroom and spark conversations about books. At the beginning of the year, I created a list of YA book recommendations from all the teachers on my grade level, and throughout the year I had students add their recommendations to the list.
The physical list was posted on the side of the bookshelf, so students could see what others had recommended before taking their pick. After reading a recommended book, I often saw students talking with the person who had recommended it in the first place.
As educators, we have the potential to generate an incredibly positive impact on students’ daily experiences with learning. When we make these small shifts to help students fall in love with reading, we can extend that positive impact far beyond the reaches of a classroom or the length of a school year.