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How to Choose the Best Books for Your Class This Year

How to Choose the Best Books for Your Class This Year

I have a short list of about 10 of my all-time favorite books, from my youth until now.  I loved several more books over the years.  But I bet my list is quite different from most everybody else’s list.

So now take that scenario and apply it to 20+ elementary/middle/junior high students and see how varied that list becomes.  Don’t forget the kids that absolutely hate to read.  Or the kids that are embarrassed because their reading skills aren’t on par with the rest of the class.

So I thought back to some of my most successful book classes and researched how to best reach a great variety of students with the best literature.  I came up with  some ideas to grow a list of books that will make all of your students love reading/literature class (even the ones that say they hate books).  There is no way this can be an exhaustive list. With that being said, please feel free to share what has worked well with your students over the years.  Hopefully it will help us all to choose the best books for our class this year.

As always, book titles are links for more information or to purchase.

Avoid Books that Appeal to One Gender in Particular

If you have a book that concentrates on really only one girl who does all kinds of great girl things, you will lose all the boys in your class.  On the flip side, a boy hero that does only boy things with only other boys will lose the girls.  There may be an occasional book that breaks these boundaries. It is a very rare book that succeeds in this manner.  I think that  Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson does this beautifully.  On a side note, this particular book link takes you to a book that amazes kids.  It contains top notch illustrations.

Know Your Students

So I have to admit that home schools take the corner on the market in this category.  Small private schools have the next best ability to do this early on as well.  They may not have had the students for long. But they have generally seen them around the school and/or had their siblings in class and were able to get to know them by association.

With all that being said, it is usually more important to gear the methods of teaching toward the students’ personalities, abilities, and preferences than the book.  The book chosen certainly is important. You just need to gear the activities toward what you need to emphasize. This helps to draw all of the kids into participation mode.  This method works well in cases where you are assigned a book to cover that may not have as much over-arching appeal as you had hoped.  Sometimes it’s not choosing the right book that is as important as what you do with the book that was chosen.

Choose Books that Have a Good Amount of Activity

For this age group, most of your classroom activity is focused on keeping things moving and keeping the kids occupied.  Books that concentrate on how someone is feeling or what they are thinking without any engaging activity tends to lose kids quickly.  Silent Spring by Rachel Carson exemplifies this point well.  It’s a very good book, written about indiscriminate use of pesticides and the harm they were doing to the earth.  She wrote this in 1962, long before it became a worldwide talking point.  But as good as her point is, it would kill most of the kids in class to have to sit through that.

Let the Students Choose the Best Books for Them

This statement does not mean to let all the kids choose whatever they want to read without any guidelines.  What it does mean is find out what the kids are enjoying about the books you are currently working on.  Conversely, find out what they don’t like about the current books.  This doesn’t happen by actually asking 20+ students what they want the next book to be.  That would be disastrous.  You would end up with many vastly different books and a lot of disenchanted kids whose choice was not perceived as good enough.

What you can do is dialog with them regularly in spare moments about what they are/are not liking and then run with what they say.  Generally, kids will have pretty similar likes and dislikes about things they are learning, even if their interests differ.  Once again, success bears out in the methods you teach more so than the books you are using.

The best part of this is that the kids generally get so excited about your book choices.  They have no clue how interactive they were in the process of choosing.  This is a by-product of being engaged with your students.

Engage with Your Students All Day Long

This sounds like it doesn’t even need to be said, but I am talking about more than just interacting during classroom discussion time.  I’m talking about the little snippets of time when you are helping them to clean up their work surfaces, waiting for them to get their coats and homework together at the end of the day.  Another perfect time happens when they are lining up for whatever the next activity is.  It tends to be easier for us to just be herding them from one place to another all day.  But sometimes we can make those few extra minutes between activities the sweetest time of truly connecting with the kids on a personal level.

This kind of interaction forms bonds with the kids that allows them to trust you on much more than a student-teacher level.  They will know that you aren’t just listening to their words. You are listening to their hearts, their ideals, their dreams, their nightmares, their fears. How much more will they trust you with their words?  That is when you truly get to see what is important to them.  And once you know that, the level of instruction that you can give them goes so far beyond books.

Engage in Meaningful Classroom Discussion

This heading also sounds like I am stating the obvious.  Every teacher expects his/her words are meaningful.  They wouldn’t be speaking them otherwise.  But what I am actually saying is much harder for us to do, especially when there are so many kids to listen to.  And some kids dread jumping into conversation more than others.  Some days I know I am listening to the kids, but then I realize, I was only listening to continue in conversation.  I wasn’t actually taking in what they were saying.

This kind of listening cannot be done 100% of the time. But with conscientious practice you will accomplish it more and more often.  The difference it makes with how you relate to the kids is dramatic.  And as the year goes on, choosing the best books for the learning styles and personalities of your kids will be that much easier.

Choosing the Best Books for Fun

I have chosen books based on the best content.  I have also chosen the best books for grabbing the kids’ attention.  And I have chosen the best books I could find for the purpose of teaching them how to be better citizens as they grow up.  I have used all of these criteria while still trying to keep the choices exciting and fresh for them.

But sometimes, teachers need to just make school fun!  Everybody needs to attend most of the day on most days.  So if we all have to be there, shouldn’t we make the most of it in every way?

So choose the best books that will make them laugh.  Choose books that make them satisfied with where they are at in their life.  Choose books that allow them to still be kids.  Books that allow them to continue to develop their dreams and ideals are amazing.  And you can classify that as fun for them because it is what they are really interested in–themselves and making their way in the world in a very tough time in life.  One book that comes to mind in this category is I Funny by James Patterson.

In Conclusion

These pointers saved my classroom dynamic. They helped me to make classroom time enjoyable and exciting for the children. they went home feeling good about their school day.

I loved watching them talk about how excited they were to come to class.  Most of them would run up to me as soon as they got to class.  The first question they asked was, “What are we doing today?”  They got excited to discover how the activities would relate to what they were learning.

I can’t even tell you how heartwarming it is when at the end of most classes, the kids don’t want to leave to move on the the next part of their day.

If only we could be so excited about all of life.

For a great list of books to consider for your class this year, check out my link here.

This Post Has 85 Comments

  1. Scott Gombar

    My kids are either out of school or still to young to read most of these books but my son does love to read so I am sure at some point he will read some of these.

  2. Cristina Petrini

    I am not a teacher but I like education and I like to read about it.

  3. Lukas

    A really important thing to keep up peoples connection with literature! great to see how deep your thoughts are about that

  4. Cristina Pop

    These are some great tips. It’s very important for kids to know which books they like. Otherwise, they can easily end up hating to read.

  5. Amber Myers

    I always loved when my classroom had great books in it. I always loved to read, so I always hoped for a fabulous collection.

    1. Marie

      I was always lucky enough that most of my teachers would let me go to the library at will when my work was finished to go pick out better books once I had gone through the good ones in the classroom. 🙂

  6. Laura G

    I love the idea of letting students have a say in what they want to read. It will be hard to make everyone happy and be heard, but throughout the year, switching out the genres and trying to appeal to most students would be amazing!

    1. Marie

      Yes, Laura, it would be impossible to just let everyone choose on their own. As the year progresses, it is easier to just pick a few books based on how you have gotten to know the students. Then the majority wins. And I do try to make sure that by the end of the year, all of the kids got to win at least one of the choices.

  7. ohmummymia

    It’s so important to make a kids bring interested in books and literature! so many good tips here for teachers

  8. Nyxinked

    I always loved being in a class full of people who actually loved to read and wanted to discuss the books. Sadly that didn’t happen until I began English Lit in 5th year of school.

    1. Marie

      I’m glad that at least you did get to enjoy that experience, Nyxie, even if it was later than you wished.

  9. leah

    oh man I never had any input in our books in school. these are great options

    1. Marie

      I never did either, Leah. I’m glad that my kids get to!

  10. Passion Piece

    I’m a teacher and I know how difficult it is to make some of them read. They seem to be very discouraged even though sometimes they haven’t even tried checking any of them, Maybe letting them choose something on their onw will change this situation. 🙂

    1. Marie

      Yes, letting them have a say helped as well as finding out what some of their favorite activities were and adding them to the lesson plans! The change in attitude and willingness was amazing!

  11. Chad

    it is great that you can influence the class reading material, that is awesome! I wish I had a say in it.

  12. Rose A (@mail4rosey)

    I think the material you use matters a lot. I let someone in our planning talk me into using something I knew was too advanced for my students, and it didn’t go that well. I did my best and didn’t let them know I felt it was too hard, but they spent more time trying to figure out what things meant than learning, and eventually checked out. Content matters.

    1. Marie

      The same thing has happened to me before as well, Rose. Live and learn became my theme for some time.

  13. Adaleta Avdić

    This is such a great guide for teachers especially. So helpful.

  14. Candace Hampton

    Great post for teachers! This is really useful for planning. A friend of mine is a teacher. I’m going to share this with her.

    1. Marie

      Thank you, Candace!

  15. Lyosha Varezhkina

    Great list for books. I agree; book not only should teach, make you thing but also be interesting enough to make class actually genuinely want to read it

  16. Hannah Marie

    I think what you mentioned here are super important. You don’t want your kids finally getting into books then suddenly lose interest because it isn’t a good one. Tremendous tips.

  17. Susan1375

    Great points. I remember my English teacher always selected books the boys would enjoy so they would read them – it dint matter if the girls or some of the boys didn’t like them!

    1. Marie

      I’m sorry, Susan. It would have been nice if throughout the course of the year she had been able to reach all of the students. Thank you for sharing.

  18. Journey Among Pines

    It is awesome you take reading and connect it to not only the students, but the studies throughout the day. I think that is amazing! I wish I had that influence in my younger days.

  19. Rebecca Lerner

    I’m not a teacher but I’m a big reader! And in a book club so these tips will be useful there. Thanks!

  20. CA

    I bet that you’re a teacher that I’d love if I was in your class. I believe that I would look forward to it everyday. You make ways to make it interesting for everyone! 🖤

  21. I’m not a teacher, but I have used this logic with my kids. I do wish that the teachers would open the reading lists to subjects that the kids are interested in. In this day and age with technology kids don’t pick up books like they used to. If they found a book that interest them, they are more likely to read more.

  22. Joanna

    It is very nice when a teacher can choose the books children will learn over the course of the year. When I was in school the curriculum would come from the Ministry of Education and we would have to study whatever books they consider suitable, 100% national literature.

    1. Marie

      That is really strict, Joanna. I hope that those books were at least good for teaching!

  23. angela k church

    great tips thanks for sharing one can never be sure how to arrange and lots of tips always welcome

  24. Tara Pittman

    My boys love reading so it is good to hear that teachers choose lots of books. I like that you put a lot of though in the selection of the books

  25. SO IMPORTANT. There are some books that I read so long ago in school but they stuck with me. Thank you so much for sharing this with all of us!

  26. Tessa

    These are awesome tips! I know I was always much more engaged in reading when I was able to choose something I was interested in. It really allows kids to feel they are making a choice to read versus doing it because they have to. Thanks for sharing what works for you!

  27. Great tips. I think it is SO important to encourage open discussion when it comes to topics like this. Children may not realize that they even have as many opinions as they do about what they’re reading until they start talking about it!

    1. Marie

      Very true. And I love what happens once the kids start talking. I think we are just as amazed as the kids when we start hearing them put their thoughts together. Kids are often too misunderstood!

  28. A R

    Thanks for sharing these tips for book selection. I’m not a teacher but still find these helpful and will share with my teacher friends.

  29. littlemisadvencha

    It’s really important to keep the students engaged to maximize learning. 🙂 Great tips!

  30. Wow, I took a look at your list and my daughter and I have read every single book on the list! Most we read together but some she read on her own.

    1. Marie

      That is awesome! Now I need to make another list, lol.

  31. Tia J McKinzie

    I do not teach anymore, but I used to. When I was teaching I used to provide all of the books for my classroom! this would have been handy to have when i was buying all those books.

  32. Sarah m

    Thanks for sharing I m find your post very informative and useful

    1. Sarah m

      Thanks for sharing. I find your post very informative and helpful.

  33. Steph

    Amazing tips.
    If only all teachers could read this
    I’ve hidden a lot of books for my son to read when he is old enough to,and I know he’ll love it.

    1. Marie

      I bet he will, Steph, especially when you read them to him.

  34. successunscrambled

    This reminds me of my two children and their reading habits. One of them reads books so fast that it can be considered drinking the book. Haha! While the other is more of an artist so she spends most of her time playing instruments or drawing. I am glad that both of them don’t have issues reading and that they do enjoy researching topics of interest.

    1. Marie

      It’s fun to see how our kids do the same things so differently. 🙂

  35. World In Eyes

    These are amazing tips! these are useful for teachers for activity based teaching and student centered teaching methods also let student students choose the best books for them is wonderful idea….

  36. Benita

    As a kid who didnt like to read, this article brings up a lot of good points. These tips are very useful for when I start homeschooling my children.

  37. Jessica Joachim

    While I am not a teacher, this is great for helping pick out books for my kids. I am an avid reader, but stick with mainly sci-fi/fantasy. My daughter is starting to learn to love to read as well so it is really fun for me!

  38. Shruti

    Choosing the correct book can allow you to win half the battle. your tips are pretty amazing. However here, the books are primarily decided by the study board (for schools), not by the teachers unfortunately.

    1. Marie

      I do know there are some schools that don’t allow the teachers to select the books. In that case, it is definitely more challenging, but hopefully the teacher can plan activities around those books that will make up for that. Thanks for sharing, Shruti. ♥

  39. Amber

    I like when you said avoiding books that appeal to one gender.

  40. Colleen

    I think gender-neutral books are an excellent idea. You don’t want a book that only appeals to one sex or another. That excludes an entire portion of the class.

  41. Thanks a lot for sharing this topic! Honestly I have never had an idea about this. I even read book very slowly

  42. Bright snow Loveland

    It’s so important to make a kids bring interested in books and literature! so many good tips here for teachers. Thanks for sharing

  43. Ben

    These are all excellent tips. Knowing your students is key. If you’ve been teaching for a while, you’ll probably know what your students are most interested in, in general. Interaction is a great point, as well.

  44. Charis | Choose Frugal

    I think having engaging conversation is the most important. I remember reading books in school that I didn’t like when we’d have to write papers, but I appreciated it when I got older.

  45. paolo

    Letting the students choose what books to read is very important. This is to let them enjoy reading the types of book they want without forcing them to read what they dont

  46. catherine santiago jose

    These are great tips and I found it very helpful not only for all the teachers but also for the parents like me who is going to be the teacher of my kids at home. I agree that we should let our kids or students to choose the book the like and an engagement from the teachers and the parents to their students are so important too.

  47. the joyous living

    very interesting. i was especially intrigued by your discussion of letting kids choose the books.

  48. Kileen

    These are so many awesome tips here! Making reading decisions that pertain to both genders is really important!

    cute & little

  49. thehappymommie

    wonderful guide for all teachers! tanks for the lovely post going to share it with my teacher friends

  50. chei

    Classroom are awesome when they have great books. Students will enjoy more the classroom.

  51. Lucy Clarke

    This is very informative. I love how you highlighted the importance of allowing the children to choose the books they like as this also helps you engage better with the kids and with how you curate you book selection as well.

  52. Melanie williams

    I need to choose some books just for home reading, I have neglected reading at late x

    1. Marie

      These days I am having a hard time finding time for leisure reading. It seems I always have work and reading related to work, but no free time. I hope you are more successful than I have been at getting back to it!

  53. tweenselmom

    Choosing books which appeal to your students are important for them to get engaged more in reading! I’m not a teacher but this is a really helpful post for them, thanks for sharing these tips with us!

  54. Toni Dash

    This is really informative! Thank you so much for the tips!

  55. Nkem

    It’s not always an easy task, to choose the right books that students would be engaged in but that also challenge them.

  56. Ntensibe Edgar Michael

    I love suggestion 1! For any material that is to be read in the classroom, it ought to be as neutral as possible!

  57. Lyosha

    Great tips! I am not a teacher but I would definitely use your tips to create my own reading list

  58. Emily Fata

    The books I read in school growing up really had a way of shaping me (particularly in high school), including the stories that I enjoy reading as an adult.

  59. Emman Damian

    Since everything is digital now, I would choose e-books that is latest versions and can be used by different levels. Also, I will pick books from reputable authors with good track record.

  60. Bruce Schinkel

    Really great tips for choosing the right books. I especially loved the common thread of including and engaging the students throughout the process.

    1. Marie

      Thank you, Bruce!

  61. Matt Taylor

    Great ideas for finding the best books for school. Picking one that would appeal to everyone is such a great idea.

    1. Marie

      It definitely helps with student interaction! Thank you for your thoughts, Matt!

  62. Kevin Brotac

    Great tips! I am saving this for when my kids are a little big older. Right now ewe are reading one or two different short stories before bed and they are loving it.

    1. Marie

      Some of my best memories are of reading books with my kids. Enjoy!!!

  63. Lyanna Soria

    Those are some wonderful and helpful tips to keep in mind. It’s important to know which to pick and thanks for sharing such informative post.

  64. Rosey

    Intentional listening is an art. Once we learn to do it with our students, relationships improve exponentially.

    1. Marie

      You are absolutely right, Rosey. And they also improve in a very natural way when you are tuned into your students.

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