Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

Diverse Leveled Readers on a Budget: Using Donors Choose

By Lyssa Sahadevan, First Grade Teacher, Guest Blogger

Books, books, books! Classrooms need books, but not just any books. We need a wide variety of quality leveled books for our readers. Every child needs a book they can relate to on a personal level. Children need books where they see themselves, where they relate to a character in some way. Every reader also needs books to introduce them to people who might not be just like them. This builds community, empathy, tolerance, a love of reading, and more.

As teachers, we know this, but we also struggle with both the reality of funding and lack of diversity in some text adoptions. Our classroom makeup does not always match what large publishers package together so nicely in leveled book sets. It is left to us, the super teachers, to meet the needs of our rock-star readers. Keep reading to find out how I was able to get high-quality, diverse leveled books for my students and my classroom library.

diverse-leveled-readersWhen evaluating my leveled classroom library, I realized I had picture books on top of picture books with characters from different places and with different experiences. But I did not have many leveled readers with those criteria. I knew this was going to be my goal for the school year. I wanted diverse books for time with small guided reading groups, and I wanted my readers to have these books for independent reading. To have students take books home and celebrate family literacy through our overnight reading program was also a goal of mine. These books could lead to amazing small-group conversations, and that is what I needed. I wanted these books to be a choice for my students, but I knew I did not have enough options.

I reminded myself that I am not able to buy book baskets, supplies, composition books, decorations, AND sets of diverse books for guided reading lesson plans. We just cannot make it all magically happen even though we teachers really want to do so. We have to be creative and think outside of the box a bit. 

I decided to post a Donors Choose project. Donors Choose is a non-profit website that allows educators to make requests and invites donors to help fund their project. I have used Donors Choose before, so I had already earned points. You need points for a special request project like one for classroom libraries.

diverse-leveled-readersTo prepare for my new project, I searched online and visited other classrooms to compile my book wish list. Many of my choices came from Hameray Publishing. Narrative texts included Hot and ColdSpider Sandwich, A Surprise for Mia,  and the Mr. Tang Character Set. I had seen several of these in our intervention teacher’s classroom, and knew that I needed them, too! Once I had around fifteen titles, I was ready to start the Donors Choose project. Setting up a project does not take much time, and projects are often funded solely through the kindness of others.

To set up your own special request project that allows you to ask for diverse leveled readers from Hameray Publishing, follow these steps:

  • After creating your account, start a new project. Leveled guided reading books and other classroom materials are "Standard" projects.

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  • The next step is providing a bit of information about your class. This includes your grade level and the number of students who will benefit your project this school year.

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  • Now for the fun part! Click on "Supplies" and start shopping! 

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  • To choose books from Hameray, scroll down and choose the "Create a special request" button.

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  • Donors Choose makes this process very easy. Since you are making a special request, you will need the URL for each book along with the cost per book.

Now you just copy and paste the URL from the Hameray website for each leveled guided reading book you would like to order. You also add the price for each book and the number of copies you would like to request. Once you have your books in your cart, you are ready to write a paragraph or two about why you need these books and how they will help your students. Try to keep your request around $600. The smaller the project, the easier it will be to fund.

Once you hit submit, your project will be reviewed by a Donors Choose screener. When it is approved, your project will go live and will be ready for donations! Click here to see my actual project, and pick up a few tips on how to phrase your project. Be sure to share your project with friends, family, and your social media accounts. You never know who might want to support your classroom!

diverse-leveled-readersIt can be a bit time consuming to find ways to put quality materials into our classrooms, but it is so worth the time and energy. Every book added this school year was loved by my students. Some readers wrote their own Mr. Tang story while others created their version of Spider Sandwich. By providing students with choice and a diverse group of characters, they are becoming better readers and citizens. 

In A Novel Approach, author and national literacy consultant Kate Roberts says, “When we don’t see ourselves in books, or movies, or video game narratives, when we don’t see ourselves in stories or see ourselves only as sidekicks or victims, then we wonder where we fit into society as a whole.” As you prepare for next school year, take in these powerful words. Reflect on leveled reader sets you'd like for your classroom, and then get ready to be creative and find ways to make it happen for your readers!

Be sure to keep visiting Hameray’s blog for more articles, tips, and contests throughout the school year! 

Lyssa is a first-grade teacher in Georgia and mother of two fun little boys. She loves reader's and writer's workshop, is a former Teacher of the Year, and shares ideas at My Mommy Reads. If you like what you read here, you can enjoy more from Lyssa on our blog.