How to Build a Classroom Library

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The classroom library is a concept that is catching on in ELA classrooms across grade levels because it gives students immediacy to books within the classroom. Classroom libraries also facilitate a reading community within the classroom and allow for students to get involved in book chats amongst their peers. Teachers can utilize classroom libraries alongside book clubs and literature circles to target essential literacy skills.

But how does a teacher without a classroom library go about creating one from scratch? Or, likewise, how can a teacher add to his/her classroom library without breaking the bank? I found myself in this position as I moved cross country to a new state and could not bring all of my books with me. I ended up having to start over, so I asked other teachers via instagram for advice on how to build a classroom library— book by book. Here’s what they had to say.

How to Build a Classroom Library

Learn to Ask for Help!

This one does not come easy for me, but when I reached out on Instagram in this post, I found an entire network of teachers right at my fingertips who were willing to give advice. Not only that, but an IG teacher literally mailed me extra books to start my classroom library. So tip number one for starting a classroom library is to ask for help from fellow teacher friends, librarians, parents, the PTA, and even students to see if they have any suggestions or any extra books that they can give you— or if they would be willing to help round up books for your library. I always ask my students for book donations at the end of the school year. There are always a few students who do not want to keep some of their books, and they will give them to me to use in my library or for future class novel units.

Try reaching out through your social media channels or even create an Amazon wish list for students and parents, and you might just be surprised at how many people are willing to help create a reading environment in your classroom. Be open to asking for help, and you might be surprised at how far people will go to help you.

Check Out Used Bookstores, Thrift Shops, & Garage Sales

This one may seem kind of obvious, but I had totally forgotten about Half Price Books. They have tons of top-selling books at deep discounts because they are gently used. Half Price Books even donates books to classrooms and libraries! You can make a request online. They also offer 10% off teacher discounts. Thrift shops such as Goodwill or even Salvation Army are also good places to search for used books. You can also check out local garage sales on the weekends for book deals. At any of these places you can sometimes find entire boxes of books for a low price. It may take some hunting and digging, but stick with it, and you will quickly build a robust classroom library. Also, check out other discount book sellers such as Thrift Books and Books a Million.

Library Sales & Craigslist

Check your local libraries because every now and then they will host book sales in order to reduce book redundancies in the library. Also, be sure to check Craigslist— especially the free section! You will be amazed at how many people give way boxes full of books. Now, not all of the books you get for free will fit your students’ grade levels or interests, but even finding one or two gems in the mix is worth the hunt if you find a book that will engage readers.

Books by the Foot

Ok— so maybe some of us (me!) are a bit vain with our decor and would like for our bookshelves to follow a certain color theme. That’s where Books by the Foot comes into play! Here’s how they describe what they do: “With pricing starting at $4.99 per linear foot and over 30 standard styles, we provide you with shelf-ready books that will display attractively and offer your clients great value. We love working with Interior Designers to get the project just right. We can quote unit pricing should your specifications require. We will gladly stage your order on shelves and send images for your approval. Choose from any styles below or for personal service at no extra charge contact Designer Services.” So basically, they will find books for you that are of a certain color. If you want only white books, you can purchase however many feet of white books you’d like. If you’d like purple books, you can do the same, etc. This is where discounted books can meet your interior design diva self right in the middle!

Get Good at Grant Writing

Several foundations offer books for classrooms and schools through grants. Here are a few grant opportunities to check out:

And many more! Surf the web and search for grants available in your city and state to add more books to your classroom library!

Visit First Book for Teacher Discounts

If you teach at a Title I school, check out First Book where you will find brand new books marked 50%-90% OFF the retail price. You can’t beat that! First Book has a wide variety of books to meet the needs of ESL students with a collection of Spanish books. They also have books on a wide variety of topics, so you are sure to find something to meet the interests of all your students!! Can’t be beat!

If you are looking to build a classroom library or expand an existing library, these tips will help you get started quickly and easily! The main takeaways here are #1) Bargain hunt like crazy and #2) Ask for help! Before you know it, you will have a diverse classroom library that will engage students across levels.

About the Author

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Meredith is the founder and creator of and Bespoke ELA.  She has taught high school English for 10+ years in Dallas, Chicago, and New York City and holds a M.A. in Literature from Northwestern University.  She has always had a connection to the written word-- through songwriting, screenplay writing, and essay writing-- and she enjoys the process of teaching students how to express their ideas.  An avid tea drinker and anglophile, Meredith enjoys life with her husband, daughter, and sweet pups.

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