Six years ago, I was at a new school and I was struggling to make a connection with a student in one of my classes. I was trying multiple different things and I simply couldn’t break through. Then, I saw her with a book, and I knew exactly what I needed to do. Fast forward a few months and I had started my classroom Little Free Library, with her (and her friends’) help.
The idea is simple, I have several health-related books in my classroom and students can come visit anytime to grab a book. Even when I’m in the middle of teaching, I may have a student sneak in and start spinning my bookcase to find a new book to read. I’ve been able to connect with even more students over conversations about books. I promote more students to read as most of my books are different from what they’ve seen in their English classes. It’s a conversation starter and students even share their book selections with me and recommend books. Plus, my administration loves it!
So, hopefully I’ve convinced you that it’s a great idea, but now what?
Start your book collection.
Two questions to ask yourself (and my answers):
(1) How will you obtain your books? This can be the hardest part, but start slow. My amazing Education Foundation had sent out a “Literacy Grant” opportunity so I put together the most unplanned, unprepared grant request I’ve ever made; I simply stated that I would use any funds provided to me to purchase leisure reading books for my classroom. Only five teachers in my school applied for the grant, the four English teachers and myself. I was awarded $100, I met with my frequent readers, they made me a list, and I started my collection. Since then, students have donated books, I have several titles on my classroom wish list that families donate from, and I attend my local library Friends of the Library book sale to purchase used books. Here are some other ideas: 18 Free (or Cheap) Ways to Stock Your Classroom Library.
(2) Where will you display your books? I was able to find a turnstyle, tabletop bookshelf in an old storage room in my school. My fantastic custodian noticed my book collection was outgrowing the small holder and informed me that our elementary school (adjacent from my high school) had one that was not being used in their staff lounge. I asked if I could have it, he called over, and the next day I had two students moving the very large, turnstyle bookshelf into my classroom.
Spread the word.
When I give my “classroom tour” at the beginning of each semester, I make sure to include my book share so students immediately know about it. At each break (fall, Thanksgiving, winter, spring, etc…), I remind students they can grab a book or two to bring home to read over the non-school days. But the best way I spread the word is by word of mouth from my frequent readers to their friends.
Utilize and reference the books in your classroom teaching.
One of my favorite parts of having leisure read books in my classroom is that since I’ve read most of the books, I can then give recommendations within my teaching. All books in my Little Free Library are related to a health topic we cover, so, when I’m teaching about mental disorders, I can say, “and if this interests you, I recommend you read Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone” or when we’re talking about identity, I can recommend my students read Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley. In addition, I will use books in my lessons; I use Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give to introduce a lesson on stereotypes and discrimination.
One of my most favorite things about my bookshare program is that I have students sign the inside cover of my books once they’ve read it. If my students would stop stealing The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith, the amount of signatures in that book would be at least 15-20. (Yes, this is one of my favorites and I struggle to get it returned. I swear I’m on my 5th copy of her book and it’s also currently missing.)
For more information on implementing a Little Free Library in schools, go to: Start a Book-Sharing Program at Your School or Library.
If you’re interested, here’s the books I have in my classroom: Mrs. Matheson’s Little Free Library Book List.
“I read a book one day and my whole life was changed.”Orhan Pamuk
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