Best Back-to-School Reading Choices for the Secondary ELA Classroom


When your students come back from summer break, they are going to have to adjust to working all day again rather than relaxing by the pool. This might make your task of getting them involved in class a little more difficult. But with books that are engaging and serve as foundations for future novels in class, they will quickly adapt to your classroom. These six books, or the types of books they represent, will make your students excited for the year to come and get them back into the groove of reading and writing for class.

1. The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and The Olympians #1) by Rick Riordan.
Books that are familiar to your students are a great place to begin. When books are so infused into our popular culture, it is easier for students to grasp reading them at the beginning of the year and not feel too overwhelmed. Books that are filled with adventure will engage your students enough that they will want to continue reading, even if they are not huge readers.

There is also a lot of good that can come from reading The Lightning Thief in particular as you can discuss Greek mythology alongside the novel. In addition, you can discuss the way the characters use what may be seen as weaknesses, as strengths. It is a familiar novel and the adventures found within are very exciting for students to read about.

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2. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang.
While some teachers might be hesitant to incorporate graphic novels at the beginning of the year, there are actually a lot of values associated with reading graphic novels. Reading this story early on in the year will allow your students to get accustomed to reading a full novel, and they will begin to see how reading can be fun. There are also so many educational graphic novels now, so if this one is not what you are looking for, there are so many other options available.

American Born Chinese is important because it tackles a lot of issues, including harmful stereotypes and racial issues. There is a sense of finding one’s identity throughout the novel which can be really helpful in the classroom, as some of your students may be able to relate to the characters in the novel.


3. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green.
Young adult novels are good to share with your class because the subjects are often more relatable for high schoolers than other classic novels. When students read young adult novels, they can find young characters who remind them of themselves who are facing issues related to their own lives while reading stories told in non-complicated ways.

This particular Y.A. novel focuses on a teen girl’s mental health and how it affects her life. John Green writes a lot of Y.A. fiction, and they all cover serious issues pertaining to teens today.

4. Fresh Ink: An Anthology edited by Lamar Giles.
An anthology is another excellent way to get your students engaged and ready to read this school year. You can choose which short stories to have your students read, or have them read the entire thing. Starting off with short stories can help your students begin the processes of analyzing and working through the more substantial novels you’ll be reading as the year continues.

This particular anthology is critical, as it is paired with the organization, We Need Diverse Books, and it has stories from 13 diverse authors sharing stories that need to be told. Students will appreciate feeling like they see themselves in these stories so early in the year.


5. “And Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou.
A book of poetry is another good option for the first month of class. You can pick and choose however many poems you want your class to read and analyze, allowing them to practice the skills they will need for the rest of the year. Poetry will also be appealing to students because poems are generally shorter than prose and students often appreciate not reading a lot. But poetry is really important, and they can use the analyzation skills later in the year with the novels you read.

Maya Angelou is one of the best choices for poetry for your class because she has a beautiful, lyrical way of writing her real-life events, even when the moments are horrible. This collection of poetry is a perfect one to share with your class because there are you mentioned this already. Get rid of it, leaving the fact that these have some famous poems to choose from, and some famous ones that are important historically.

6. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie.
A classic mystery is an excellent choice to share with your class early on in the year. Mysteries are always fun to read as they keep your students engaged and interested in the subject. A classic detective novel is a great way to analyze different techniques and figurative language, similar to other novels they will soon be reading in your class.

And what other great classic detective novelists to choose from than Agatha Christie herself. And Then There Were None is a favorite read of Christie’s and is fun for students, too. With the novel, they will be able to find motifs that are often found in mysteries today, and it will be interesting to discover where they began.

Back to School Resources for the Secondary ELA Classroom:
Back-to-School Activity Packet
Growth Mindset Escape Room
Personal Statement Unit

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