If You Build a Classroom Library, They Will Read

I have a plethora of data from my personal classroom that book choice, independent reading time, and the presence of a classroom library create the perfect environment for students to learn to love reading again.

During my first year as a teacher in 2017, I had roughly two hundred books in my classroom library. I was very inconsistent with the amount of time I gave students to read in class. I did not confer with students because I was too scared and unfamiliar with the process. Very few students became readers that year.

Left: Year 1 classroom library
Right: Year 3 classroom library

Now, in my third year of teaching, I have over one thousand books in my class library. They are all labeled and organized into sections based on genre. I have a checkout system for keeping track of the books (though I often remember anyways because I confer with students). I have book displays each month based on the holiday or the heritage celebration of the month. Now, I dedicate at least ten minutes a day to silent, independent reading. Now, I confer with my students formally at least three times a quarter, and I keep detailed data of their responses to my questions (which are based on our standards) and of their progress through the book. That does not even count the informal “drive-by” conversations I have with students about their books on a daily basis.

Students are reigniting their love of reading every single day in my classroom. I attribute these successes to the investment I and others have made to reading. Seventy eight people or organizations have donated to our class library through two online fundraisers I have facilitated, multiple Twitter book giveaways I have entered, and two grants I have applied for and received—including the Classroom Library Grant from NEHS. The time and money that were provided to procure these books has paid off ten-fold.

CLG 2019-RRiggs 2.0
Year 2 classroom library and Shay, who helped Riggs win the Book Love Grant.

For example, I have a student, Shawn (his name has been changed for the purposes of this article), who told me one day during a conference, “Ms. Riggs, I’ll be honest with you. I can’t read.” After I recovered from the shock of hearing a tenth grade student admitting that he can’t read, I decided to give him the first book in the March series—a graphic novel recounting the Civil Rights Movement. He devoured that book in one week, came to my classroom to get the second, and then devoured that book within the next week. I asked Shawn when the last time he read an entire book was. He said the second grade.

Furthermore, Shay (a nickname for the purposes of this article) read her first book since elementary school after I recommended her Everyday by David Levithan. That book very literally turned her life around. She regained her passion for learning, decided she was not going to drop out of school, and is now a college-bound senior who reads for pleasure on a regular basis. She even wrote a recommendation letter that led to me receiving $2,000 from the Book Love Grant to buy books.

Because these students had choice, time to read in class, conferences with me, and a diversity of literature from which to choose, their educations and lives have been turned around for good. They will continue to learn every day outside my classroom door, even after they leave my class, because they have had a passion for reading and learning revived in them. If you build your classroom library and invest time, students can and will become readers once again.

RRiggs-headRebecca Riggs
Classroom Library Grant Recipient, 2019-2020
Dr. T.J. Eckleburg Chapter, Advisor
Klein Cain High School, Klein, TX
Twitter handle: @rebeccalriggs
Instagram handle: @riggsreaders

NEHS Classroom Library Grants

National English Honor Society offers Classroom Library Grants designed to enhance the Society’s goals of

  • promoting interest in literature and language in the surrounding communities;
  • fostering all aspects of the discipline of English, including literature, language, writing, and media; and
  • serving society by fostering literacy.

The Classroom Library Grants are also intended to support English teachers who have recently entered the field of teaching and need texts to provide their students with a library in their own classrooms, especially where access to school or public libraries or to books in the home may be limited.

NEHS will award up to five grants of up to $400 each per year to teachers who have been teaching English for five years or fewer. Applicants may or may not be recent college graduates; the Classroom Library Grant is intended to help new teachers, whether in their first years out of college or in the first years of a second career.

Eligibility Categories

The Classroom Library Grants are broken down into two different eligibility categories.

  • Tier I: Early career English language arts teachers who are also serving as NEHS Advisors of active chapters. Priority for grants is given to this category.
  • Tier II: Early career English language arts teachers who teach in a school with an active NEHS chapter. The required letter of support must come from the NEHS Advisor

Criteria For Selection

In choosing recipients, the Classroom Library Grant Committee will consider criteria such as the following:

  • Lack of economic and geographic access to books at your school, or another demonstrated need;
  • The explanation of how the classroom library envisioned will support your goals in alignment with the Society’s goals; and
  • Supervisory endorsement of your classroom library project; and
  • Tier I or Tier II status.

Deadline and Dates

The deadline for applications is October 3, 2022, 11:59 p.m. CDT. Awards will be made on November 7, 2022 with funds available in January 2023.