Return to overview of Banned Books Week Inquiry Centers


Efforts to remove books from schools are taking place across the country. Curriculum decisions are subjected to polarized politics at the same time as educators are struggling to make up ground lost by the pandemic classroom interruption. Today’s censorship crisis is manifesting in curriculum challenges, book bans, and new laws attacking education. This lesson series is for high school teachers or librarians looking to raise awareness about what is going on in schools today during Banned Books Week. The lessons could be conducted formally in a classroom or informally laid out in a library during Banned Books Week.

Disclaimer: Before conducting the lesson, be sure to gain the necessary lesson plan approvals according to your school’s or district’s policies.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Understand that there has been an increase in book challenges in schools and libraries across the country.
  • Examine the factors involved in the increase in book challenges.


1. Print Placards, Book Pamphlets, and Recommended titles 

2. Print articles:

3. Laptops/iPads (minimum of 12)

4. Student headphones

Teacher Directions 

First of all, thank you for discussing Banned Books Week! Doing this important work takes courage and we commend you on your commitment to raising awareness about this initiative and its relevance to current events. Rather than a discussion of individual books, this lesson is framed as a discussion of current events taking place in schools and libraries all over the country. We recommend that prior to this lesson, you help your students build relevant background knowledge on the topic by going over the key vocabulary and concepts in “Lesson 0.” Once you have scaffolded this information for your students, you are ready to begin inquiry centers.

Inquiry Centers are a great way to engage students in an exploratory-style lesson, designed to help students use multimedia sources to grow knowledge around an important topic. Inquiry centers are lessons derived from inquiry-based learning processes. In this approach to experiential learning, students engage in high level questioning and the teacher/facilitator supports students through the investigative process, helping students consider “how to think” as opposed to “what to think”. During Inquiry Centers, students walk around and engage with different stations to help them shape their understanding of a topic. Students will use a class-established research question to guide their exploration.

Lesson 0 Instructions: (40 minutes)

Before engaging in Inquiry Centers, start by building background knowledge the day before the lesson in order to introduce students to Banned Books Week and the topic they will be studying the following day.

Start by telling students that over the next few days, the class will be participating in Banned Books Week. Inform them that Banned Books Week was created to raise awareness about book censorship taking place in libraries and schools. Let students know that book censorship and book bans are taking place in schools across the country.

Before engaging with this lesson, let students know that efforts to remove books from schools and libraries have increased dramatically over the last year, often resulting in book bans, and that students will form opinions on whether or not these bans are merited based on the facts presented to them. Remember, while students will be forming these opinions, it’s important that you continue to frame this as a current event and remain neutral before and during the lesson. The point is for students to reach their own conclusions based on the facts presented to them.

Introduce Key Vocabulary

*Disclaimer: Before discussing key vocabulary, be sure you have your administrator’s approval to discuss the following terms.

Censorship- the suppression or prohibition of any part of a book, film, news, ect. that someone with the power to suppress considers “offensive” or dislikes for another reason.

Challenges- calls, by one individual or a group, for the  removal or restriction of materials because of objections to its content, Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are calls to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others.

Bans- the removal or restriction materials, based upon the objections of a person or group.

LGBTQ+- An umbrella term referring to people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender. Sometimes the acronym is written as LGBTQ, with the “Q” referring to those who identify as queer and/or questioning. The acronym can also include additional letters, in reference to other identities that do not conform to dominant societal norms around sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

Lesbian- A person who is female-identified and who is emotionally and/or physically attracted to some other females.

Gay- A person who is emotionally and/or physically attracted to some members of the same gender. “Gay” often refers to a male-identified person who is emotionally and/or physically attracted to some other males. “Gay” should not be used as an umbrella term to refer to all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people; the term “LGBT” is more accurate and inclusive.

Transgender- A person whose gender identity and/or expression are not aligned with the gender they were assigned at birth. “Transgender” is often used as an umbrella term encompassing a large number of identities related to gender nonconformity.

Questioning- A person who is in the process of understanding and exploring what their sexual orientation and/or gender identity and gender expression might be.

+(Plus)- The “plus” is used to signify all of the gender identities and sexual orientations that are not specifically covered by the other five initials.

(Definitions sourced from GLSEN and American Library Association)

Make copies of the article, How Prevalent Are Banned Books this Year? Read together as a class, then give students about 5-10 minutes to go back over the text to highlight parts that stand out and write any notes or questions in the margins. Then have a short class discussion using the Class Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some common themes/common characteristics of books that are being banned in schools?
  2. Who is it that usually initiates book bans? Teachers? Students? School administration? Should this group of people be the ones making these decisions? Why or why not?

Once students have completed lesson 0, you are ready to begin inquiry centers.

Setting Up Your Classroom For Inquiry Centers
(Lesson duration 90 minutes; could be split over two days if needed)

Firstly, set up your classroom so that there are six different table groups. If you do not have room, some of these centers could be conducted on the floor or even right outside of the classroom. Place the center instruction placards and materials at each corresponding station prior to the lesson or encourage students to help you set up to increase curiosity and interest.

At the start of the lesson, post the following question on the board:

Why has there been an increase in book bans across the United States?

It should stay on the board for the entirety of the lesson so that students can refer back to it as they move through the centers. Throughout this activity, students should continually come back to this question and think about the way their answer expands/changes with each center activity.

We recommend having students visit each center with a partner throughout the assignment to encourage on-going discussion. These centers are designed to be visited in any order and multiple partnerships can work at a center at one time. There should be more than enough spaces for students so that when they finish a center, they can travel to the next open center. As students visit each center, they should be jotting their answers to the questions in their notebooks or on the worksheet provided. Students need not answer all of the questions, and in fact, the focus should be on students expanding their thinking and scaffolding as they interact with each station. They can also write down questions or any thoughts or connections they make as they interact with each center.

Suggested sentence starters:

“I notice …”

“This makes me think …”

“I used to think …, but now I know ….”

Allow for discussion at stations and interact with students often.

Suggested prompts:

“What are you thinking now?”

“How has your thinking changed since you started this assignment?”

Remind them to write these thoughts down.

Statistics Center

*Station Disclaimer: Many book bans (more than 80%) go unreported. Therefore, the numbers are likely much greater than recorded. This is important to share with students because this skews the data included in this center, however the overall message/themes conveyed in this station are important for students to see and understand. (Statistics sourced from the American Library Association.)

At this station, have the placard and corresponding statistical information available. I recommend putting the statistical information in plastic protective sheets as many students will share and interact with the materials.


  1. Write down the statistic you found most surprising. Why did this surprise you?
  2. Which statistic was least surprising? Why?
  3. Who is most likely to initiate a book ban?
  4. Who (students, teachers, school administrators, librarians, parents, etc.) might find this information interesting/insightful? Why?

Paired Text Center

Students will read and scan two articles. The first, “Major Improvement” in Number of Books Written by Authors of Color, discusses how there has recently been an increase in diverse children’s books. The other article, How Banning Books Marginalizes Children, discusses how diverse texts that show representation of marginalized communities are being targeted. Students should be able to understand from reading these two articles together that part of the reason for the increase in book bans is due to the increase in diverse children’s books. Students will read and scan both articles and then answer the placard questions.

Article 1:

“Major Improvement” in Number of Books Written by Authors of Color 

Article 2:

How Banning Books Marginalizes Children


  1. What is the main idea of each article?
  2. What might these two articles tell us about why there is an increase in book bans?

Reading Center

For this center, ideally, you should have at least 7-10 frequently-challenged books available for students to explore. If you are nervous about providing or not able to provide copies of the book, you may consider including the Book Pamphlets at the station as an alternative.

Recommended titles for this station (including guided reading levels and reasons for banning)

*The reading level will help you gauge if the book is appropriate for your classroom. Also, view the Top 10 Most Challenged Book List for ideas.


  1. Try to figure out what a few of these stories are about.
  2. What do some of these books have in common?
  3. What makes them different from each other?
  4. Pick one book to focus on in particular.
    1. Why was it challenged?
    2. Based on what you know about the book so far, do you think it should be available in a school or classroom library for students in your grade? Why or why not?
    3. Do you think other kids in your class might like this book? Why or why not?

Youth Censorship Database Center

Students will explore the Youth Censorship Database from the National Coalition Against Censorship. This map displays student censorship incidents including book challenges in schools and libraries, as well as censorship of student art, journalism, and other types of student expression in schools.

Students can explore this resource to see censorship happening in their own state and/or look at censorship occurring in other states as well.

Podcast Center

For the podcast center, have student laptops or other devices available for students to use internet access to listen to the podcast. It may be helpful for students to have headphones at this station so as not to disturb students at other stations. Website link.


  1. The podcast starts by mentioning book censorship through book burnings in the past. What were some of the reasons books were burned in the past?
  2. What is the difference between a book challenge and a book ban?
  3. What percentage of book bans go unnoticed by the media?
  4. What do you think she means at the end of the podcast when she says, “As long as free speech remains, so will challenges to it”?

Video Center

Students will watch a youtube video of Meet the Brave Students Who Fought Back Against Pennsylvania School District Book Ban. Students will watch this five minute video in which Kelly Clarkson interviews students who fought against a book ban and won in Pennsylvania.

Final Discussion/Debrief

Because students will likely finish these centers at different times, once students finish, they can “quick write” their answers to the question on the board while waiting for other students to finish. The finished writing product can be as formal or as informal as you like depending on your learning goals.

After students have finished the centers, have a class discussion. When engaging in this conversation, be mindful that students may have differing opinions regarding book censorship. Remind them that your job as their teacher isn’t to instill any particular viewpoint, but to offer them information, and allow them the opportunity to analyze it. Be mindful that a lot of these book bans censor books centering around LGBTQ themes and/or characters of color. Start by asking students to start by sharing their observations and/or new information learned. Remember to guide the conversation, by using sentence starters like “Say more about…” or “I’d like to expand on the point ____ made. Do others agree/have anything to add on to that…”