Walk into an English teacher’s classroom, and you might be able to guess how long they’ve been there. Take a look at the classroom library. It takes time to collect hundreds of books for your kids to read, and veteran teachers have worked for years to amass those giant collections.
Luckily, modern technology gives us an alternative: extend your classroom library with free eBooks. There are literally thousands of free eBooks available for your students to read, and with free apps your students can turn their smartphones or tablets into eReaders.
The biggest logistical problem is turning that vast digital catalog into something more personal. You need to use a tool to collect a small number of books that you think your students will be interested in, and then put those books in front of them.
Today, we’ll look at three methods for creating and sharing a digital classroom library with your students. In all three cases, I’m going to assume that you have a source of free eBooks (Amazon’s Free Popular Classics, Google’s Play Store Top Free Books, or Project Gutenberg) and an app to read those books (Amazon’s Kindle app, Google’s Play Books app, Aldiko for Android, or iBooks for iOS).
Option 1: Create a Simple List with Linkli.st
There are a number of websites that allow you to create and share lists of URLs. Many of them could be appropriate, but I like Linkli.st for it’s simplicity.
You can create a list right from the homepage. Give it a title, and then find a free Kindle book on Amazon. Copy the URL of the book into the form on Linkli.st and click “Add.”
Presto! Instant list. Your list will be created with a shortlink that you can write on the board, put on a handout, or e-mail to your students. Of course, you’ll want to add a few more books to the list before you do that.
This isn’t going to give you much organizational power, so you’ll want to keep your list short – a few dozen books at most. This might be a good way to share a short reading list, like the options for an independent project or for summer reading.
Option 2: Create a Library with Springpad
Springpad is a web clipping app, similar to Diigo and Evernote. I found it in the Chrome Web Store, and I love it. You create a “notebook,” and then you can make entries into it called “springs.” The visuals are strong and appealing, but there’s a flexible tagging structure to help you organize things, and there’s awesome integration with Amazon.
First, you’ll need to create an account and create a new notebook. Make sure that you leave the “Public” option selected, so that other people can view your notebook. Then add a new link, and copy and paste the URL of a free kindle eBook.
Springpad will recognize it’s a book, grab the thumbnail image, and grab the description. It’ll also create a “Buy on Amazon” link that takes you right back to the book’s listing. Of course, “Buy” is a loose term. You’re “Buy”ing that free eBook for $0.00.
After you add a book, you should tag it in some way. These tags will allow your students to sort and filter the books. For example, you could tag each book by genre (Fantasy, Science Fiction, Romance). Or, you could tag it by mood (Happy, Funny, Tragic). It’s up to you; just make it intuitive.
Since the tags will help you keep organized, this is a much better choice for creating a larger library. The only thing I don’t like is that Springpad doesn’t seem to recognize the Gutenberg or Play Store books very well. This works great with Amazon, but not with other sources of free eBooks.
Option 3: Integrate It Into Your Classroom Blog
Let’s say you already had a classroom blog with a service like WordPress. You could create a digital library and integrate it there.
Maybe you wanted to create a complete library with a hundred or two hundred books. I would create a set of pages, titled by genre. On each page, create a bullet list with the title of the book, the author, a description, and a link back to the source.
For example, you might create a “Science Fiction Books” page and add The Time Machine by H. G. Wells as your first book.
This is going to be your most time consuming option, and it requires a larger skill set than either the simple list or the Springpad notebook. However, you’ll be rewarded with greater flexibility in how you include and display the books. This makes the most sense if you already have a classroom blog, because you won’t need to go through the added hassle of sharing another external link or service.
Choose an Option and Build a Library
At the end of the day, all three options are viable choices. They fulfill our main objective: creating a list of links to free eBooks and sharing that list with our students.
So choose the option that best fits your needs, and go make your own classroom library. I’d be interested to hear what books you include, so let me know in the comments!
Brian Rock is a high school social teacher in New Jersey and a graduate student at Rutgers University. He publishes Tech and Teaching, a blog about educational technology. He is currently researching the relative merits of tablets and Chromebooks in a one to one school setting. You can connect with him on Google Plus.