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Creating an Engaging Middle School Classroom Library

Learn how to create an engaging middle school classroom library.

One of the best benefits of having a middle school classroom library is its immediate access to books for students during activities like independent reading or DEAR time (Drop Everything And Read). A classroom library also helps to cultivate a reading culture within your classroom and promote a love of reading among your students. 

If you’re looking for everything you need to know about creating a middle school classroom library, then you’ve come to the right place. 

This blog post will explore the essential aspects of creating and maintaining a dynamic classroom library, from book selection to organization and interactive strategies.

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Creating Your Middle School Classroom Library

Curate Your Book Collection

Years ago, I debunked the myth that classroom libraries never go stale. The key lies in curating a collection that evolves and engages students consistently.

Curating books for your middle school classroom library is crucial for creating an inviting space. Consider including books that cater to different interests, reading levels, and lengths. Acknowledge the diversity of reading levels within your class, ensuring your classroom library appeals to both strong and weak readers. It is important that you keep your middle school classroom library book collection relevant. Very few students will select to read a yellowing, damaged book written 20 years ago.

Here are just a few of my recommendations for books perfect for middle and high school readers: 

You also want to ensure you include books in your middle school classroom library by diverse authors who tell their stories. These books will help create empathy and understanding within your students and ensure they learn more than what is in their immediate bubble. 

If you’re looking for even more book recommendations for middle school, high school, and even teachers, check out the blog post, Best Middle School Book Recommendations. New book lists are constantly being added, so there’s something for everyone. 

Middle School Classroom Library Contents

Classroom libraries can contain various materials depending on their purpose and your student’s interests.  

Here is a list of possible middle school classroom library materials:

  • Fiction books and graphic novels at various below-grade, on-grade and above-grade reading levels
  • Non-fiction books that relate to the curriculum
  • High-interest non-fiction books (spies, people, facts)
  • Magazines and newspapers
  • Luxury car brochures (Lexus, BMX, Audi, Jaguar) 

Don’t forget to survey your students and ask them what they want to read (e.g., repair manuals, newspapers, computer code, maps).

Sourcing Books on a Budget

While teachers aren’t made of money, there are budget-friendly ways to build your middle school classroom library:

  • Ask your principal if there is a budget for classroom books. 
  • Ask friends, family, students, and the community if there are any books they can contribute. Make sure your school board permits this. 
  • Visit local libraries to see what books they are discarding. They also might have yearly or quarterly book sales where books are usually priced quite low. 
  • Check out your local dollar store, thrift store, or garage sales. You do not have to pay full price for all the books in your classroom library! 
  • Scholastic Book Clubs provides credits to teachers when students buy books from these flyers.  You can use these credits to buy some books for your classroom library. 
  • Scholastic Warehouse Sales – If your school hosts a Scholastic Book Fair, you can ask for an invitation to their warehouse sales.  
  • Check out online discount stores like Book Outlet Canada, Book Outlet USAThriftBooks, Paperback Swap, and First Book Marketplace.
  • Use the Book Sale Finder website to find out about book sales in your area.  
  • Redeem rewards points for gift cards to bookstores.

Try Alternative Formats

Teach your students about alternate reading formats, such as ebooks and audiobooks. Take class time to show them how to find these formats at your school and local libraries.

Here is a list of online book sources:

Organizing & Maintaining Your Middle School Classroom Library

Deciding how to organize your middle school classroom library can be daunting. While your home library might be organized by colour, author, or even the Dewey Decimal System, we must remember that our classroom is full of diverse readers. Your students might not know the author of a book, or they might like specific genres – make it easy for your students to find what they’re looking for. 

I firmly believe that books in a classroom should not be organized by level but by genre. This helps students find related books they might enjoy. I feel strongly that once you hook students onto a genre, they will be readers for a long time if not life. I loved realistic fiction as a teen, and I still read that genre as an adult. 

Some middle school teachers organize their libraries alphabetically by author, and I see the value of this as it resembles a true library or bookstore; however, if students don’t know the author of the book, then they will need to spend class time searching for the name.

Here is the process I went through to create my middle school classroom library.

  1. I searched my local dollar store for available bin sizes, colours and shapes. Once I found a shape and size I liked, I decided on the colour scheme. 
  2. I wanted new book bin labels that were middle school-appropriate. You can create your own, buy them online or use a vinyl cutter like a Cricut to make them yourself. My husband used the vinyl cutter at our local library’s MakerSpace to make my bin labels.
  3. I attached the labels to the book bins. If you use paper labels, cover them with packing tape to help them last longer.
  4. I examined each book in my middle school classroom library collection to ensure it was in good condition and fit into the genre bins you created.  
  5. I removed extra copies of the same book because I did not have space for them, plus we had a well-stocked school library that would most likely have the book if needed.
  6. Books that no longer fit into my class library but were still in great shape were given to my teaching partners for their libraries. If they were in terrible shape, I recycled them and knew they had had a good life.
  7. Decide where you will keep these genre bins. Do you have built-in shelves in your room, or will you need to buy shelving? I have used the classroom built-in shelves, black plastic utility shelves (reduced in size for safety) and Ikea Kallax shelves. My favourite was the Ikea Kallax shelves because of their size. 

Short on space but want a middle school classroom library?

Check out this blog post, My Classroom Library Makeover: Downsizing & Prioritizing, by Amanda from Mud and Ink Teaching. She uses a 3 tier cart as her classroom library. I love this idea for teachers who do not have the space to devote to an entire bookshelf. 

Middle School Classroom Library Maintenance

You should also make sure that you go through and check the books in your middle school classroom library periodically. This is an excellent task to ask for student volunteers to help with. 

Ask yourself:

  • What books have the kids read so much that they’re falling apart? Should these be replaced with newer copies?
  • Do any of the books smell? 
  • Do any need repairing? 

Setting aside the time to assess the books in your classroom library will be beneficial in the long run.

Addressing Reluctant Readers

For hesitant readers, consider not only genres but also the length of the books. Balance is key; some students may lose interest in lengthy books, while others might get frustrated with shorter ones. Embrace a variety of formats in your middle school classroom library, including graphic novels and picture books, which appeal to a broad audience.

Picture books are especially important during seasons or holidays. For important days or months, such as Black History Month or Remembrance Day, picture books can provide essential background information and real-life stories about the people and events we should acknowledge. 

Here are some blog posts that have fantastic picture book recommendations: 

Graphic Novel Book Lists

Reluctant Reader Book Lists

Reluctant readers need books that capture them immediately and aren’t too lengthy or heavy in topic. At least, not in the beginning. Easing a reluctant reader into reading culture is better than forcing essential books on them. Remember, we want everyone to enjoy reading – not to see it as a chore.

Interactive Library Displays

A fantastic way to attract readers to your middle school classroom library is through exciting and eye-catching book displays. These can showcase seasonal, holiday, student and teacher favourites and new releases. 

Consider adding student artwork to enhance the visual appeal of the reading and library area. You could also find book trailer videos online and create QR codes to put up in the classroom library – this is a fun way to entice students to read a book they may not have heard of. 

Creating a Cozy Reading Nook

Enhance the reading experience by creating a comfortable reading nook in your middle school classroom library using repurposed furniture, cozy pillows, or bean bag chairs. Consider adding decorative elements like fairy lights for an inviting atmosphere.

Encouraging Reading Diversity

Like adults, students can get into reading ruts, or you might find they’re reading the same books repeatedly. Not only do we want to encourage students to read diverse authors, but we also want to ensure they’re reading outside the box or their normal book preferences.  

  • Collaborative recommendations – Create a diverse reading list by seeking recommendations from other teachers. Maintain a binder with suggestions from both teachers and students to help those undecided about what to read.
  • Monthly reading challenges – Keep students engaged with monthly challenges such as book bingo or a reading passport. These initiatives encourage students to explore different genres and expand their reading horizons.

Building a Reading Culture

  • Consider alternatives to traditional reading logs, such as digital bookshelves or creative reading log alternatives. Provide students with visually appealing methods to track their reading progress.
  • Guest readers – Invite guest readers like your school principal, parents, community members, or local authors to share their favourite books. This introduces students to a variety of reading role models.
  • Creating a joyful reading space – Infuse joy into building your middle school classroom library. What do you love about reading when you read at home? Transform your classroom library into an inviting space for readers by emulating the things that inspire reading at home.
  • Student involvement – Encourage students to share their thoughts through book reviews or creative assignments like Book vs. Movie, Book Flatlay, or Book Unboxing Videos. Display these contributions on a bulletin board within the middle school classroom library.
  • For more ways to cultivate a love of reading within your classroom, check out this blog post, 10 Ways to Cultivate a Love of Reading.

Teacher Professional Development

Is reading engagement something your students struggle with?

If you want a step-by-step approach to building a culture of reading in your classroom while meeting your curriculum requirements, check out my Lit Launch online workshop.

Lit Launch is an online workshop that will help teachers transform their reading lessons in just 3 hours. Teachers will learn how to craft engaging lessons that help students develop a love of reading. Teachers can work at their own pace and complete the workshop as time permits. Find out more about Lit Launch Middle School Reading Engagement Workshop.

Workshop Includes:

  • 3 Hours of Professional Development Videos
  • 145 Page Workbook
  • 10 Reading Resources (Including an Independent Reading Journal Assignment & Benefits of Reading Non-Fiction Article)
  • Professional Development Certificate
  • Supporting Resource Links

“Like all 2 peas and a dog resources, this was excellent! This was one of the most helpful PD workshops I have ever purchased. I improved my Language Arts class immensely because of it. Thank-you!” – sandra W.

Filling your middle school classroom library should be a joyous endeavour. If you foster a love for reading and strive to make reading fun, your students are more likely to follow suit. Make your classroom library an enticing space full of a wide collection of books and encourage your students to use that space.

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