Book Selection Strategies: How to Choose Books to Read for Your Classroom

A few common questions I often see in teacher social media spaces are “What books do you read with your students?” or “What’s your favorite book to read with your students and why?”

While these are valid questions, they don’t always help teachers who are just starting out or who are looking to branch out and read different types of books with their students. So here, I want to provide some book selection strategies that can be used when choosing books to read for your classroom.

Book Selection Criteria To Think About

When selecting books for your classroom, there are a few different criteria you can use to help guide your decision-making. Here are some questions to consider when choosing books:

  • Is the book appropriate for the students’ age and reading level?
  • Does the book cover a topic that is relevant to the students’ lives or experiences?
  • Is the book a good fit for the current unit or lesson you are teaching?
  • Does the book offer opportunities for rich discussion and critical thinking?
  • Are there diverse representations within the book?

These are just a few questions to keep in mind when choosing books for your classroom. Depending on your students’ needs, you may also want to consider things like the book’s length, maturity level, and so on.

Book Selection Strategies

Now that we’ve gone over some book selection criteria when choosing books, let’s look at a few different strategies you can keep in mind when selecting books for your classroom:

1. Think of the Learners in Your Classroom

You may have heard of mirrors and windows, but just in case you haven’t, it means that books can offer students the opportunity to see themselves (mirrors) or learn about others who may be different from them (windows).

Think about this “mirrors and windows” analogy when deciding to place books in your classroom. Students should be able to see themselves and others on the pages of books. A lack of diverse books in your classroom can send the message to students that they or their experiences aren’t important.

Make an effort to have a wide range of books available in your classroom, on various topics and with diverse perspectives. Take time to think about the demographic makeup of your classroom.

As Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop noted, “When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read…they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part.”

It’s important that all students are able to see themselves in the books you select for your classroom, which is one of the most thoughtful, if not important, book selection strategies you can do.

Take some time to think about not just the gender and race of your students, but also their interests, experiences, and backgrounds. Choosing books with main characters who share similar experiences as your students can help make these texts relatable

2. Inventory What You Already Have

Take some time to look through the books you already have in your classroom. This can help give you an idea of what types of books you have and which ones might need to be replaced or supplemented.

As you’re looking through your collection, make note of any gaps you see. For example, if you have a lot of fiction books but no non-fiction, or if you have a lot of books about history but none about anime.

Also, consider the diversity of your students:

  • Which students are not represented or underrepresented?
  • How are black and brown students represented?
  • Are the books you have only trauma-filled?

These questions will help you put together a classroom library where all students feel welcomed. 

Inventorying what you currently have will help give you an idea of what types of books you need to add to your collection.

3. Relatability

No one loves the classics as much as I, and I’m talking Shakespeare, Steinbeck, Dickens. But modern books today are just as well written and provide the same literary value. In fact, they may even be easier for some students to relate to.

If you’re looking for books that will engage your students, consider choosing texts that they can relate to. This doesn’t mean that you have to get rid of all the classics, but try to balance them out with more contemporary texts, ensuring your classroom library is filled with both new and old canon.

There is a wealth of wonderful young adult and middle grade novels that are perfect for students today, and I think many teachers are stuck with the typical usual suspects such as The Giver, The Great Gatsby, The American Dream, or The Hero’s Journey. Yet these books, while wonderful, can be just as identifiable in  more modern books, such as The Only Road by Alexandra Diaz or Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds. 

4. Ask Your Students

Don’t Forget to ask the students in your classroom for book genres they are interested in. Don’t just do an “Interest Inventory” at the beginning of the school year and never look at it. Use the details from that to curate a classroom library.

You can also use this as a way to engage with students and get them excited about the books in your classroom. If they help choose the books, they’ll be more likely to want to read them.

Collect additional data about what interests them through one-on-one conferencing or book talks. Collect ideas of books and genres they are interested in and add those to your classroom library or to your list.

Encourage a Love of Reading By Reading More in the Classroom

One of the best gifts we can give our students is time to read in the classroom. As students move into middle and high school, time to read disappears. And with it, so do readers.

In the NCTE Statement on Independent Reading from 2019, it is clear that students need time to build reading stamina. This means that we must give students time to read in the classroom. If we can help students to become “hooked” on a book in the classroom, it is more likely that they will continue to read at home.

To this end, I would suggest two things:

1. Allow opportunities for student choice.

When students have the ability to choose what they read, they tend to read more. Our middle and high school students are a diverse set of readers with different reading taste. Book clubs or lit circles serve as a great opportunity to be able to allow students to choose their own books.

2. Set aside time each day for independent reading.

This can be as little as 10-15 minutes, but it’s important that students have time to choose their own books and read them at their own pace. This is the best way to hook students on reading.

If you can do these two things, you’ll be well on your way to creating a classroom of readers.

Book Selection Strategies: How to Choose Books to Read for Your Classroom

It’s always great to get new books for the classroom, but sometimes it can be tough to know where to start. That’s why we’ve outlined four different selection strategies that will help you choose the right books for your students. Keep in mind who your learners are and what you already have before making any decisions. And don’t forget to continue asking your students what they want to read! They’re a valuable resource and their opinions should always be considered when selecting books.

And continue to ask for books and then more books!

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