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How to Build Your Classroom Library on the Cheap

How to Build Your Classroom Library on the Cheap


A well-stocked classroom library can be a treasure trove for students, but budgets can be tight. Fear not! There are ways for teachers to get free and inexpensive books.

As you know, it’s important to foster a love of reading in your intermediate and middle school students. Having access to books in various genres, topics, and levels helps motivate them to read.

Motivated students read more, which improves their ability to read independently.

Yes, students can go to the school or public library, but the best-case scenario is when they have them at their fingertips in our classrooms. It is there where we can help them daily in choosing good-fit books.

In addition to student motivation, teachers benefit from having a classroom library. We can quickly access mentor texts during instructional time, and we can pull books off the shelves for book talks and First Chapter Fridays to encourage students during sustained silent reading.

Where to Get Books for Your Classroom Library

Thankfully, there are some creative and effective ways to find free and cheap books for your classroom library. Let’s dive in and explore the ways you can fill your shelves without emptying your wallet.

1. Students and Families

Ask students and parents to donate gently used books. Include a blurb about donating books in your letter home to parents and guardians. My students love it when I write on the inside cover that they donated the books with the year they were donated.

2. Local Public Libraries

Many libraries have book sales or free book programs where they give away or sell books at a nominal price. Establish a relationship with your library to stay in the loop about such opportunities.

How to Build Your Classroom Library on the Cheap
Photo by Thomas Eye Design

3. DonorsChoose

DonorsChoose is a platform that allows teachers to request classroom supplies. You can create a project explaining why you need specific books for your classroom library, and donors can contribute to help you fulfill your request. It’s a fantastic way to engage with those who want to support education.

4. Local Companies and Nonprofit Organizations

Look into classroom grants and rewards programs offered by local companies and nonprofit organizations. Check your state department of education website or websites like GrantWatch for opportunities.

5. Book Swaps and Book Drives

Organizing book swaps with other teachers is a great way to freshen up your classroom library. Hosting book drives in your school or community can also be a fruitful way to collect books. This is a great way to involve your local parent-teacher organization.

6. Thrift Stores, Garage Sales, and Secondhand Bookstores

Don’t underestimate the treasures you can find at thrift stores, garage sales, or secondhand bookstores. It does take some work to hunt them down, but you can often score books at a fraction of their original cost.

40 Book Challenge Log, Graph, and Certificates for Independent Reading
40 Book Challenge Log, Graph, and Certificates for Independent Reading (grades 5-7)

7. Scholastic Book Clubs

Scholastic Book Clubs offers affordable catalogs where you and your students can order books at discounted prices. Plus, as the teacher, you can earn bonus points that can be used for free books for your classroom library.

8. Online Communities and Social Media

Join online communities or follow social media accounts dedicated to sharing free and cheap book resources for teachers. Many educators are happy to share their findings and recommendations. Teachers Bargain Basement Original on Facebook is one that I highly recommend.

9. Online Discount Bookstores

My favorite websites for new and used books at discounted prices include ThriftBooks and Book Outlet. Another site that is fantastic for adding diverse books to your classroom library is First Book Marketplace. Many of the books on these sites are up to 80% off the cover price.

10. Online Ebook Resources

Websites like Project Gutenberg and Open Library offer access to thousands of free classic ebooks. Epic! offers a diverse digital library that is free for teachers and students. You can also explore Amazon Kindle’s free ebook section for a variety of titles.

You can provide your students with a wide range of reading materials that meet their interests and abilities on a budget. Remember, a well-curated library can spark a lifelong love for reading and doesn’t have to break the bank. Get creative and watch your classroom library flourish! 

If you need help creating an environment where students can focus while reading, check out 6 Effective Ways to Calm the Classroom.

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Jan's File Cabinet Intermediate and Middle School Language Arts

Hello there!

I’m Jan. I’m a pet mom, an avid reader of fantasy and science fiction, and a MASSIVE book hoarder. My philosophy of teaching is simple… start where students are and build them up with the right interventions at the right time. I enjoy making digital and printable resources for upper intermediate and middle school language arts.

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