Starting FVR/SSR with Heritage Classes Part 1: Setting Up Your Room and Getting Books

Hello, my fellow heritage teacher!! I hope this post finds you well and energized for the year ahead, but I know that you may already be tired and settling back into the grind of teaching. I have had a great few weeks starting school, but they have definitely not been without challenges. I’m so excited to get a few minutes to sit down and write this blog about one of the things that has been such a huge game changer for me: FVR (free voluntary reading). FVR is also sometimes referred to as SSR (sustained silent reading). I will use FVR for this post, but please know that I am referring to a quiet period of time during class where students read individually, and they are reading books that they chose, not ones that I assigned. I’m hoping it’s not too far in the year for this post to be helpful to you! I have divided this post into two parts: this one is about getting your library put together, and the second one can be found here, and is about rolling it out to students and my procedures.


Long before I realized the full potential of FVR in all my classes, I knew that it was important for my heritage classes to be reading. I was, however, wary of starting FVR in my 9th grade class of Spanish heritage speakers because I thought my students would balk at it and try to tell me they “didn’t know how to read in Spanish” (which of course, they did). So I settled for whole class novels in that class (which I love) and started FVR with my 10th grade heritage classes. But…I’ve changed my tune. I now believe that FVR is the single most powerful thing I can do in all my Spanish classes (regular Spanish classes and heritage classes) and that it should be started as early as possible, hopefully the first week or two. If you are looking for fantastic resources and blogs about FVR specifically, I highly recommend Bryce Hedstrom and Mike Peto’s blogs.

Why is FVR so powerful for heritage speakers? It opens up a whole new world and broadens their understanding of the world. It gives them exposure to accurate language (spelling, accents, complicated grammatical concepts, register, style) in a variety of contexts and for a variety of audiences. It helps them discover how fun and enjoyable reading can be. It helps set them up to be lifelong readers. It helps them strengthen their reading skills that they will use in all their classes and beyond high school. It increases their odds of success in school. It broadens their vocabulary. It helps them develop empathy. And the list goes on…and on…and on.

Getting your head straight

I think before we jump into FVR, we need to make sure we have a good understanding of what will be the most beneficial to our students. We want to encourage reading in any capacity…this means that kids should be allowed to read comic books, magazines, etc. Any reading counts! And we should remember that easy reading is the most enjoyable reading! Most adults read books way below their actual reading level. The idea is to find books that are INTERESTING and that FEEL EASY for our kids.

Lastly, I think taking a good look in the mirror is important. Are we avid readers ourselves? This one in particular has been a little challenging me for me. I was an avid reader for many years…until graduate school. Honestly, I was reading literature in Spanish, I was reading way too much of it too fast, without context, and I was basically drowning. And the truth is that after I graduated, I read very few books (in Spanish or in English) for fun for a very, very long time. But I’m trying to work on this habit in my own personal life. I want my students to see adults in their life reading…often. I want them to feel the same things that reading did for me, I want them to feel the success of finishing a book, of rushing through chapters because they’re dying to know how something ends, of crying because they empathize so much with a character’s hardship, or of running to the bookstore or library to get the next book in the series.

Setting up your room to be reading-friendly

You’ll need a place to set out books for students to choose from. I would argue that students are much more likely to pick a book that looks interesting if they can SEE the actual covers of all the books. This requires either tables where you can lay all the books out flat to show covers, or shelves with thinner edges where you can lay the books out flat. I would definitely stay away from deep traditional bookshelves where all kids can see are the spines of the book. See an example here of Mike Peto’s classroom setup where he explains how to make shelves yourselves. Also, here are some photos of my bookshelves. You can print off the reading quotes you see free from Bryce Hedstrom’s website.

You’ll also notice that I have photos of book covers…that is because those books are electronic (on Nooks) so that is how I let my kids know they are available. Make sure your shelves or tables are easily accessible and that allow for many students to browse at one time. I know it’s tempting to stack thin shelves one on top of another, but if you can, think about spreading the shelves out across the room so that there is more space to browse.

On my whiteboard at the front, I always keep three books, one I want to spotlight for each level (Spanish 1, Spanish 3, and 10th grade heritage this year). Each day, after we read, I take time for a quick book chat to tell them about those books. I change them every day. Putting them in the front of the room is strategic: I want kids looking at them all class period. Also, it helps me remember to do it every day!!

Celebrate reading! There is a great blog post here about using sticky notes to track all the books kids read in each class. I love this idea! I chose to have kids put their names and titles on sticky notes, but we put them up as a class, so that kids weren’t bummed out if they’d only read 1 or 2 at the end of the year and other kids had read several. Here are some photos of this in my room last year.

Also, I waited until second semester to roll this out because I wanted the routines to be solid and I wanted kids to be solid in why we read and what types of books are good for them (not just reading short ones to put more sticky notes up). I also required all students to finish at least 1 book during the year, because I wanted all kids to feel what it felt like to finish a book. When they turned in the sticky note, I would put the points in, then staple the post it up. I did not give extra credit for reading more books.

If you have space or the resources to create some comfortable reading spaces in your room, that would be amazing! Old couches or cheap furniture are great, but make sure to check your fire codes. Bean bags, big pillows, all that great stuff can make reading a little more enjoyable for kids who are reluctant readers. In my school, I don’t really have this going on in my room. But I do let kids sit on the floor and also listen to music (you may have a different opinion about that) in an attempt to make the experience as enjoyable as possible.

What to buy beforehand and how to choose book titles

The question of “what books should I get” seems to come up a lot on the online Facebook pages and blogs. For me, the answers to this particular question will vary with the levels and age/grades of the students that you teach. However, remembering that students will most enjoy EASY reading is a great place to start. For heritage learners that may never have read a book in Spanish before, I would start with ordering some of the TPRS or TPRS-style novels that are written for levels 3 and up. I personally would recommend the following titles, many of which can be found on Amazon,,, or the author’s independent publishing website. These titles include:

  • Casa Dividida
  • La Vida y la Muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha
  • La Calaca Alegre
  • Las lágrimas de Xochtil
  • Los sueños de Xochitl
  • Todo lo que brilla
  • Vida y muerte en el Cuzco
  • La chica nueva
  • La lucha de la vida
  • El viaje difícil

In addition, there are LOTS of other titles for all levels of language learners from these publishers and a variety of independent publishers. These books do a great job of being compelling and accessible (easy reading). I would also recommend the following upper level TPRS novels, even though I have not yet read them:

  • El Armario
  • Las apariencias engañan

Another great list of titles for starting your heritage library can be found in here and here, compiled by Mike Peto, and another list of ideas can be found in the 2nd edition of Practical Advice for Teachers of Heritage Learners of Spanish.

In addition, I would highly recommend the Young Adult Spanish titles from Orca Soundings. Personally, I have read:

  • Al límite
  • A reventar
  • A toda velocidad, and
  • Desolación

I can tell you they are super easy reads, short reads that heritage students will be able to complete without too much time, and pretty compelling. You can find them on Amazon, but if you order from the Orca Soundings website, make sure to put that you are a school so you do not have to pay taxes.

Some other books I would highly recommend that have been successful with my heritage kids (10th graders) that would be accessible for 9th graders are:

  • Inquebrantable
  • Una vida robada
  • GOOL El sueño se inicia
  • Pregúntale a Alicia (not for middle school)
  • La Travesía de Enrique.
  • En el país que amamos
  • I also recently read a fantastic blog post by Courtney Nygaard about the book Los americanos desconocidos.

I also recently stopped in Barnes and Noble to look for ideas for building a 9th grade heritage class library, since I’ve had 10th graders for so long. I made the mistake of starting in the “Libros en español” section, and I didn’t have a lot of success. Sure, there were a few books I thought might work, but not many. It wasn’t until I wandered over to the kids section and found like the younger chapter books in Spanish that I had success. Check out all these ideas!

I also checked out the “home run hits” in English in the same section to get some ideas. That day, I did buy “Cuentos de buenas noches para niñas rebeldes”, “Gracias a Winn Dixie”, “Me llamo Maria Isabel”, “Nacer bailando” and “Lecciones de August” because of what I found at Barnes and Noble (although I bought them all off of Amazon because they were cheaper). So far so good! I love them! There were lots of great comments on Facebook from teachers that had had success with some of these titles.

Another teacher in our Facebook group (Teachers of Spanish Heritage Speakers), Beth Carlson Drew, recently returned from Spain, where she visited a huge bookstore and took lots of photos of what look like great, interesting series for teens. Check out her blog posts here and here.

Another fantastic resource for heritage libraries is Scholastic. I’ve had the privilege of sending my kids to a dual immersion school, and it’s been so fun to see the book orders come home every month, in English and Spanish. It’s really opened my eyes up to some of the fantastic options in Spanish from Scholastic. As long as you are a teacher, you just need to open a Scholastic account and you can order from them, and they will deliver to your school with no shipping charges. For my regular Spanish kiddos I ordered sets of National Geographic books about different non-fiction topics, and the books about which animal would win (lion vs tiger, t-rex vs stegosaurus, etc.). But for my heritage kids I’ve ordered a lot of graphic novels and some easier chapter books. Here is the book order my kindergartener just came home with.

I’d like to order tons! Sometimes it’s hard to find the exact thing I see on paper on the website, but there’s usually a similar option. Specifically from this order, I’d be interested in ordering:

  • The Hombre Perro series
  • Frida, pavo real, y yo
  • Querido perro
  • Luciana
  • Stella Díaz tiene algo que decir
  • Un sol de tortilla
  • Lola Levine y una vacaciones de ensueño
  • Saraí, and Saraí y el significado de lo genial
  • Los Tipos Malos series
  • Emma está en el aire series
  • La decisión de Ricardo (or the young adult package)
  • Holgazán
  • The Hombre Mosca series
  • The Capitán Calzoncillos series
  • The Escuela de Espanto series
  • The Junie B Jones series, both Kindergarten and 1st grade, depending on the title and if it is not too kiddish
  • Carrera Salvaje
  • The Maximillian / lucha libre series
  • Diario de una Lechuza series
  • Most books from Raina Telgemeier (the new one Drama, also Hermanas, Sonríe, although I would avoid Fantasmas)
  • The Presiona empezar series
  • The Star Wars series
  • La Segunda Guerra Mundial
  • La Guerra Vietnam and all the other books like these two
  • El autobús mágico vuelve a despegar series (chapter books, not kids picture books)

Last but not least you can find a list of pretty much ALL the books in my libraries in the following links. The first link has the print books I have in my FVR library, separated into categories for Spanish 1, Spanish 2, Spanish 3 and up, and heritage. Of course, many of the Spanish 3 books would probably be perfect for a 9th grade heritage student. The National Geographic and “Who would win” series I mentioned earlier are not on this list. You can check out the books on my wishlist for my regular Spanish class students here. And you can find a list of all the e-books I have available for my 10th grade heritage students here – they are also visually represented in the little pictures on a big bulletin board in the back of the room for the kids to see.


What to do if you have little (or no) funds

Ok, now onto the next most common question. What are you supposed to do if you don’t have any books yet? I say YET because I think it helps to think long term. If you don’t have books, start working on it…with the plan to start daily FVR next year. Until then, you can work your butt off and find materials and make it work with what you have. But for the long term goal, I’d say first start by simply asking your administration for the funds to build your FVR. I would start by thinking about how much money they are already putting toward your heritage class…for many schools, that number might be zero. Do they buy curriculum for you? If not, then you should be able to spend that money somewhere else. Did they buy curriculum for the class that’s not being used? Are you up for new materials sometime soon? Can you put it towards books? I would also think about the equity piece. If there is money and funding going towards the other Spanish classes, but not heritage, that’s not ok. And if there is money going towards the English Language Arts classes, but not yours (a Spanish Language Arts class), that’s not ok. Even if they can’t give you money right now, can you make a plan to get some funding to have it rolling out next year? Ballpark how much you would need to get it off the ground. Worst case scenario is you have 1 book per kid. Best case scenario is you have 10 books per kid 🙂 Somewhere in the middle is probably ideal and won’t break your school’s bank.

Once you’ve tried administration and curriculum sources, I would encourage looking for grant funding and also trying a Donors Choose project. I was able to get $5000 for my 36 e-readers and buy 130 titles, as well as covers for the devices and some shelving, with that money. If my grant request can be helpful to you, please reach out to me with your email address. I think it’s important when asking for money for heritage classrooms to be really clear about the real need your kids have and also about how reading will play a part in leveling the playing field for them in their other academic classes. Make sure to really paint a picture for the readers of WHO these books will serve and HOW it will help them.

Besides these more long-term solutions, there are lots of short-term solutions. I would encourage you to buy the current events articles from Martina Bex and The Comprehensible Classroom. They are called “El Mundo en tus Manos.” You can print out the advanced version and put them in binders, and you can make as many copies as you need. She does a great job of making non-fiction reading compelling and very accessible, and if you buy the versions that came out last year (as opposed to the ones coming out right now), it’s even more reasonable. You can buy a few or you can buy the whole year’s worth. She also edits and produces a “Revista literal” for learners of Spanish, and it’s free. Heritage learners are not the intended audience, of course, but I think they’d find it super interesting. Again, you could print out several copies and put them in binders or those clear cover report covers. Another great option is creating an account with; you can change the news articles to Spanish and change the reading level as well. Again, you could print off several and put them in your FVR library.

Last but not least, do not discount the libraries. My first year I took kids to the school library to check out free reading books in Spanish. There were barely enough. I also was able to request, from the school librarian, several new books because we didn’t have enough. My colleague Mary Beth went to the public library and checked out like 40 books in Spanish and let her kids use them for several months. The only downside of this is if the books get lost, you will have to replace them (and they are expensive).

Lastly, I would also recommend spending a little personal money on books for your classroom. If you just buy one a month, every year you’ll be adding 12 books to your classroom. If you ever change schools, they will follow you and you won’t have to start from scratch. You can find super reasonable prices on Amazon, and I just saw that someone recommended the website Better World Books for extra cheap books. My colleague Mary Beth also highly recommends ebay, where she fills her cart with books that only cost a penny. When you add in the $3.99 for shipping, it makes the books about $4 each. And Scholastic has some of the best prices you can find anywhere. I think the point is don’t let no books and no funds mean that your kids won’t get daily reading time. See what other options you might be able to make work until funds do come in.

Whew! I hope some of these ideas are helpful for you! Obviously, my FVR library is ever-evolving and I like to add new titles as I find them. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, find the followup blog post HERE about how I roll out FVR to my heritage classes as soon as humanly possibly, and the routines I use all year to keep it in place. In the meantime, happy book-buying or book-dreaming!


11 thoughts on “Starting FVR/SSR with Heritage Classes Part 1: Setting Up Your Room and Getting Books

Add yours

  1. This post was really helpful, actually– especially the book titles. I’m sure that you’ve seen in the Facebook group that my mission / passion is to find books that aren’t translated from English. Looks like there is a lot included on this list- and I did see Bethany’s post too. So we’re all getting there!


  2. Can I ask why you avoid Fantasmas? All three of the heritage speakers I have this year have already borrowed it and finished it in one day, and I loved it. Just too sad?

    Thanks for the great post!


    1. I avoid it because of the issues of stereotypes/false narrative about native peoples…the missions in CA are supposedly haunted by “friendly” native ghosts, who died there, and of course speak Spanish… There is a post about it perpetuating a white savior theme. I’ll see if I can find it.


  3. I know that some of the titles listed here were suggestions, recommendations, or titles just seen. Has anyone else read them and/or had your heritage students read them?


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