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How to Build a High School Book List

It’s hard to believe that there are only a few months left until this school year wraps up! As things start to wind down, you might already be thinking about next year’s English language arts curriculum. Maybe you want to make some changes to your plans, including the books your students read each semester.

According to a survey we conducted in 2018, high school teachers cover an average of 11 books per year. Depending on your school or district, you may have the flexibility to add or suggest new books to fill that quota. But what are the best ways to choose the books you teach? Read on for tips on how to build a high school book list!

Study Text Complexity

One basic thing to consider when building a high school reading list is to evaluate a book’s complexity. The Common Core State Standards recommend teaching complex texts that challenge students in order to prepare them for readings they’ll encounter in college and beyond.

To that end, the Lexile measure is a great tool for deciding whether a book meets the complexity requirements for your students. A Lexile measure is a numeric representation of a text’s difficulty level, taking into account quantitative factors like word frequency and sentence length. Higher numbers indicate higher levels of difficulty.

However, a Lexile measure is just one facet of text complexity. While it can tell you a book’s technical level, it can’t determine whether the text contains appropriate subject matter. For example, Elie Wiesel’s harrowing memoir Night has a Lexile measure of 570L, a level at which second and third graders are expected to read. When selecting titles by Lexile measure, make sure to thoroughly research each book’s content to keep your choices appropriate for your students’ maturity levels.

Consider the Classics

Beloved titles like Romeo and Juliet, Frankenstein, and The Scarlet Letter remain reading list staples, and for good reason. With enduring stories and universal themes, classic books give students a window into the past, exposing them to diverse writing styles, perspectives, and key points in human history.

You can’t go wrong with choosing classic literature for your book list, especially since most schools and districts usually make certain titles required reading. Some proven choices include Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Of Mice and Men for American literature, Animal Farm and Lord of the Flies for British literature, and Macbeth and Pygmalion for studying plays.

Of course, not all students will enjoy reading classic literature. Some may find the language difficult or have trouble connecting to texts written years ago. To help students get the most out of classic books, consider teaching them alongside relevant modern titles. Not only will this give students a better appreciation for the classics, but it’ll also enforce students’ understanding of modern work, as many contemporary authors draw inspiration from older literature.

Make Books Multitask

To supplement the English language arts material you already teach, try creating a multipurpose book list. By nature, literature is an endless source of material for ELA study, from grammar and writing mechanics to reading comprehension and vocabulary acquisition.

Books provide the opportunity to teach language arts skills in context. This helps students better grasp the lessons presented to them compared to exercises done in isolation. For instance, teaching vocabulary from books gives students the chance to learn words in context, interpret elusive shades of meaning, and develop a greater interest in the book they’re reading.

The subject matter of the books on your list can extend beyond the ELA classroom, too. Check in with your school’s other departments and learn what topics they’ll be covering over the year. Plenty of nonfiction texts offer valuable literary merit while reinforcing students’ knowledge of other school subjects, such as history, science, and the arts.

How do you build your book list? Let us know in the comments below!

This post originally appeared on the Prestwick House blog.

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