Why I Have a Library in My High School Classroom

When I got my first classroom, one of the things I was most excited about was putting together my classroom library.  Just because it’s a high school classroom doesn’t mean it can’t have a library like elementary ones.  I make a point of keeping a variety of books in terms of reading level, historical topic, and style (infographic type Barnes and Noble books, fiction, non-fiction, etc).  I usually have about 200 books in the bookcase for my kids.

Some of my students in the first two months of school are always “too cool” to check out one of my books (I have a sign out sheet to keep track), but slowly I almost always win them all over.  For other kids, I realized they almost don’t know how to appreciate a good book because they don’t have books at home and they don’t have older siblings or parents reading as models.  Others aren’t comfortable reading around their peers because they may use their finger to track words, or read more slowly than the person sitting next to them.

Some students love the library from the beginning and I frequently hear, “oh I’ve always wanted to learn more about xyz” so a lot of my kids can deepen their knowledge of a topic or broaden their horizons and learn about something new.  I keep my shelves organized by topic.  I have a whole shelf for WW2, another for the Holocaust (my MA is in the Holocaust so it’s a personal favorite subject), a shelf for Ancient History, etc.  It makes it as easy as possible for students to browse the books if they know where to even start looking.

I don’t ever want my students to be bored and think they’ve learned everything there is to learn.  Every once in a while, especially when I can tell the kids getting burned out, we put the curriculum on hold for a day and they can read anything they want in the library for the whole class period, but I always suggest they pick a book about a topic they’re not too familiar with.  It gives them a recharge, it possibly sparks excitement for something new in them, and it gives me a whole class period to talk to some of the kids one on one.

I also have a whole shelf in my bookcase dedicated to about 75 issues of National Geographic.  I have gotten SO much mileage out of these magazines!  I periodically offer whole class extra credit opportunities where the students can pick out an article out of any of the magazines, write a GREAT summary on it, and submit it for up to 15 points.  I know there’s a lot of debate in the value of extra credit, but I figure if the student is willing to read and write I’m not going to deny them that opportunity.  Additionally, if I have a sub and the activity I had planned doesn’t last as long as anticipated, I leave a note for the sub telling him/her to put the students in pairs, each pair reads an article, and instead of writing an academic summary, they create a series of social media posts (using words and images) to explain the topic to their peers.  They are more willing to stay on task with a sub if they  are doing a fun activity, and really, what teenager doesn’t want to come up with “cool” hashtags for Instagram or Facebook status’ for a mummy, a gladiator, a shark, a president, etc.

These are some of my favorite books to have available to my students:
–Children of the Flames
–The Rape of Nanking
–The Years of Extermination
–Plagues and People
–Guns, Germs, and Steel
–The Children of Henry VIII
–The Constant Princess
–The Other Boleyn Girl
–See No Evil
–The Way of the Gladiator
–Life in Year One
–Freedom’s Daughters
–The Early History of Surgery
–Riding the Rails
–First Ladies
–A Guide to the Salem Witchcraft Hysteria of 1692
–First Family: Abigail and John Adams
–The Private Lives of Roman Emperors
–The Things They Carried
–Letters from Rifka
–Do They Hear You When You Cry?

What is a “must have” in your classroom library?

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