March 5, 2015
Working in an under-resourced school for the past two years has forced me to become more thrifty and creative when finding materials to aid my students’ learning. As a high-school English teacher, I spent a considerable amount of time leveraging any and all opportunities for my students to read (and often keep) engaging texts. To date, I have earned more than $2,000 in free books for my students, and I’m excited to share my top resources with you so you can get them, too!
What it is: First Book is a national organization that aims to get new and interesting books directly into the hands of students. They offer an extensive array of texts to choose from, ranging from preschool through high-school reading levels. Books are deeply discounted (I’m talking 80%), and there are often book-grant and book-bank opportunities listed for TFA corps members.
How it works: Create a profile at Firstbook.org. Be sure to check the box that indicates your affiliation with TFA, because there are exclusive free book opportunities for corps members! Book grants are offered every few months, and can award up to $250 a pop! With books as cheap as $1.50, one book grant can go a long way in transforming a classroom library. Book-grant applications are non-intensive (a survey and a paragraph explaining why you need books), and automatically make you eligible for future book grant opportunities without having to reapply.
How I’ve used it: In one year alone, I scored $750 in free books from just this organization. I used the grants to purchase six class sets of contemporary novels and a mixed selection of approximately 50 more novels for the class library. The kids love opening packages of new books and have become more curious about reading by sifting through the deliveries.
World Book Night
What it is: This national initiative celebrates Shakespeare’s birthday (April 23) by putting engaging books into the hands of non-readers and reluctant readers with the hope that a meaningful reading experience will foster a newfound love (or at least openness) to reading. World Book Night is founded on the belief that reading takes people further in life, and that everyone should have a library at home.
How it works: Visit their website, worldbooknight.org, and apply to be a “giver.” Being a giver means that you will be given twenty free copies of an interesting book and that you get to hand out these books to resistant readers. Anyone can be a giver, not just teachers, but teachers have an advantage because we generally have a large pool of potential book receivers.
How I’ve used it: This is my favorite way to access free books because the mission is extremely positive and the experience is always rewarding. I have been a book giver for two years now. Last year, I gave away twenty copies of The House on Mango Street, and this year I gave away 20 copies of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Both times, I was able to make my students feel special, and then leveraged their strengthened interest in English class to drive their success for the rest of the year. For seriously reluctant readers, I have modified book assignments by allowing students to write essays using their World Book Night books, which they love, instead of using a book off of the class list of choices. Sometimes there are arguments because too many students want a book. This year, I suggested that once a student finishes reading the book, he or she passes it on and keeps the culture of book donating alive with their actions. I was surprised to see that many of the students actually did this! I recommend becoming a book giver if only to see your students have positive and powerful reading experiences.
Professional Development Organizations
What it is: We all know what these are, and some of you might be rolling your eyes, but hear me out. There are so many professional development giveaways to take advantage of! I have seen PDs give away anything from Post-Its to books, to tote-bags filled with teacher-related swag.
How it works: There is an art to finding PDs with free giveaways. My suggestions are to search for PDs connected to theater, creative writing, Shakespeare, or the arts. These tend to present the most opportunities for free books. Also, national teacher conventions, such as ones connected to NSTA, NCTE, and more are usually set up like a fair with booths. Bring an empty bag and visit the booths. I have never been, but I have heard there are more giveaways there than at a bar mitzvah!
How I’ve used it: I have gained free books from my PDs at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, my PDs at the Steppenwolf Theatre, and various poetry readings and workshops at The Poetry Foundation.
What it is: Repurposing old and unwanted books for your classroom is eco-friendly, economical, and opens up so many opportunities for your planning and for your students.
How it works: Look for books that aren’t being used. Ransack your school bookroom, the public and school libraries, locked and dusty classroom cabinets, storage rooms, local universities, wealthier schools, flea markets, and used bookstores. Post a status and ask your Facebook friends if they need to get rid of old books. Scrounge up whatever anyone is willing to give, and build a class library! If you strike it rich, donate books to your colleagues or your school library. You’ll see that the best way to a teacher’s heart is through free books for their classroom.
How I’ve used it: My school had books in all sorts of strange places. I found entire class sets in locked filing cabinets that I had the engineers break open, in the dusty corners of the bookroom, and in an out-of-order bathroom that the English department of years past decided to utilize for book storage.