How I Build My High School Classroom Library

Hi, friends! I am often asked on Instagram how I build my high school classroom library and how I am able to teach new/relevant books. In this post, you'll find some options for how to actually get your hands on the books, but I also wanted to take a moment to talk about book adoption processes and encourage you to get involved with your curriculum.

Every year, my English coordinator sends out a Book Adoption Committee request. Teachers can volunteer to become part of the process and suggest books to be adopted and/or be on the committee who reads the requested books, makes decisions about what grades to approve them for, and determine which units they might go best with.

After that, my coordinator then sends an email out to people who might be interested in writing the actual curriculum for the new books. This usually takes place over the summer, one week in June right after school ends, and one week in late July or early August. I usually sign up for the latter.

Last year, I requested Dear Martin to be added to the 9th grade curriculum, and I was delighted to hear that it had been approved. Just Mercy was also approved for 9th grade, so they have become two very important texts in my curriculum this year.

If you find yourself asking "Why am I still teaching this book?" or "When are we going to get new books that are more culturally representative and relevant?" I encourage you to find out these processes in your own school district.

As far as actually acquiring the books, my district buys copies for classroom use of the books we get adopted, but in building my classroom library of other options for students to borrow and read at their leisure, I supplement in the following ways:

Perhaps my favorite way to add books into the classroom is to have students write their own! In 2015, my students self-published Behind the Door of G115. They each wrote a few pages of their book, inspired by The Freedom Writers Diary, and then we compiled all of their entries. We had a book signing, made it to the local newspaper, and sold over 250 copies! :) For this, we used In 2020, my new class of freshmen are releasing the next novel titled What They Don't See, and we'll be using for publishing. I think I might write an entire blog post about this experience alone. Leave a comment if you'd like to know more!

For the 2019-2020 school year, I applied to become a Project Lit Chapter Leader. If you haven't heard of Project Lit, I implore you to do some research about their mission and recommended books. Working with Project Lit has allowed me to ensure that my classroom library is culturally relevant and has introduced me to phenomenal authors and works that are engaging and thought-provoking. To see their application form and learn more, click here.

FirstBook is a phenomenal resource that has helped me provide hundreds of books to my students. Through their marketplace, you can find tons of great books at deeply discounted prices. Through their book bank, you can buy books buy the cases and only pay shipping. That's right: the books are FREE. To be eligible for FirstBook, you need to be serving students in low-income communities. Sometimes, you will receive emails from them that will provide you with promo codes for free books because another company or organization sponsored a grant of some sort. On the site, you can sort by age-appropriateness, content, genre, topic, and more.

If you're on the "Teachergram" world of Instagram, consider following some book publishers. Often times, they will host book giveaways. In the picture above, you can see a sweepstakes collaboration I did over the summer with @macmillanreads! They post giveaways frequently. I try to host book giveaways as often as I can as well on my Instagram.

Back in the summer of 2019, there was a huge social media wave of #ClearTheList where teachers shared their Amazon wish lists, and tons and tons of Amazon wish lists of books and school supplies were cleared by generous donors. I have created a few lists over the years in which I asked for books, especially to create my Project Lit library. All you have to do is create an Amazon wish list, add your books and quantities, and share share share. Majority of the donations I received were from my Facebook friends including family, friends, colleagues, and people in the community. If you send any communication home, you can include a link to your wish list. I would make a tinyurl to make it more accessible. If you want to see an example of a list I have active right now and see how I created a description for it, click here. People like helping. What I've started to do it add a little sticker inside of donated books that say "Donated by..."

Disclaimer: my home library did NOT look like this for a while. It was a hot mess of disorganized books, many of which I had never read or honestly didn't plan to read. So, I went through them and actually found some duplicates, books that would be more engaging for my students, and some I could donate. I have always been such a sentimental person with materialistic items, but I found my inner Marie Kondo finding joy in taking some of the books out of my personal library and sharing them with my students.

I absolutely love teaching freshmen, but last year, I had my first batch of seniors, and Ayn Rand's Anthem was on the curriculum. Come to find out, you can request an entire brand-new classroom set of books from if you plan on doing the same!

I hope some of these ideas help you in your classroom, and if you have any you'd like to add, please leave a comment!