The trouble is that books aren’t free, and they take up space. Having a few books probably isn’t a problem, but in order to have enough volume and variety to keep your kids busy you will need more than a few books.
A free solution may be closer than you think – your students’ smartphone or tablet.
What Books Can You Get For Free?
If you try Googling “free ebooks,” or something similar, you might come across some shady websites. But there are some legitimate places to get free ebooks, and if you understand copyright law, you’ll know which ones are legitimately free.
In the United States, any book published prior to the 1920’s is considered to be in the public domain. It’s no longer under copyright, and anyone is free to publish and distribute that work. In the last decade or two, there have been a few websites that have worked to digitize these old, available books.
This means that a lot of your traditional classics are free. You might pay $4.95 for a Penguin Classics version of Romeo and Juliet, but you can read it online for free. The same goes for the other plays of William Shakespeare, the catalog of Jane Austen, the writings of Charlotte Bronte, and the books of James Joyce.
Got a hankering for American lit? Try some Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allen Poe, or Emerson. For science fiction, you’ve got H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Mary Shelley Wollstonecraft, and Jonathan Swift. And there are some other cool classics, like Sherlock Holmes, Alice in Wonderland, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
I think you get the idea…
So Where Do I Get These Free eBooks?
You’ve got a few choices for legitimate free eBooks.
Protect Gutenberg is the original name in free books. They’re mission, for the past few decades, has been to digitize and share as many books as they can. Years ago, they were available in plain text on the Internet, and these books weren’t pretty. Now, you can download Kindle or ePub versions from Project Gutenberg.
Amazon also offers free versions of classic books in Kindle versions. These don’t always show up as the first or second option in a search, but if you know a book is old enough to be in the open domain you should check if there’s a free kindle version. Most popular classic authors are available, including most of the authors mentioned above.
Google’s Play Store also has a collection of free eBooks. While many of these will overlap with Project Gutenberg and Amazon, there may be some additional titles on Google that you won’t find elsewhere. Google has digitized a vast quantity of books in a partnership with research libraries around the country, and so there are likely some rarer books in the Google collection that Amazon and Gutenberg didn’t want to spend the resources digitizing.
And What If a Student Doesn’t Have a Kindle?
Well that’s the best part. You don’t need a Kindle, Nook, or any kind of eReader. All you need is a smart phone. Both Android and iPhones can download an Amazon Kindle app that essentially turns your smartphone into a Kindle. There are other eReader apps, as well, like Aldiko. Download the app, download the eBook, and start reading.
So all you need to do, as a teacher, is create a list. It’s up to you to make some recommendations and find books that your students will actually enjoy. Understand that you’re kids aren’t going to be able to download the latest Twilight or Harry Potter book for free. But they can download hundreds of classics as eBooks and read them in an extremely convenient way.
Brian Rock is a high school social studies teacher in New Jersey and a graduate student at Rutgers University. He publishes Tech and Teaching, a blog about educational technology. He is currently working on a research project comparing the relative usefulness of Chromebooks and tablets in one to one settings, and his dissertation will explore the ways in which classroom blogs can help promote discussion of current events. You can connect with him on Google Plus.