I LOVE being a middle school language arts teacher! I can also tell you that my enthusiasm for teaching middle school is often a cause for debate. “Middle School?! Really??”
My response is always, “When you love to teach, you can teach any grade, especially middle school!”
While I have had the amazing fortune of teaching in two different middle schools, this year I get to experience middle school as both a parent and a teacher. I see the behind the scenes of the classroom as well as what is taking place at home. It is fascinating, to say the least.
If you have ever wondered what is going on inside the minds of middle school readers, here goes…
#1: Reading is hard for many middle school readers.
I get to teach a variety of readers. Some students read a book a day, while I have others that struggle to tackle a book per quarter without some gentle
prodding encouragement. In all honesty, not all kids come to our classrooms enthusiastic about the learning that we are planning to implement. I find that it is vital to meet our students where they are as readers, and do everything in our power to motivate and inspire them to “want” to read the selections we share, books we read aloud, and texts we utilize for novel studies.
#2: Middle school readers need help finding “good fit” books!
My work in the first weeks of the year is to get to know my students as human beings, so I can do my best to match them up with books they won’t want to abandon. By getting to know as much about my students personalities and interests as possible, I can help match them with books they will be eager to read cover to cover.
#3: They need time everyday to read!
I am lucky to have block scheduling. This means that I teach 94 minute classes. Having this schedule allows me time to teach, reading, writing, grammar, and vocabulary. I KNOW every teacher does not have the luxury of block classes, but we all have the opportunity to plan and best utilize the instructional minutes that we do have with students.
Here is a breakdown of my 94 minutes:
15-minutes: Vocabulary/Grammar Instruction. I teach grammar one week and then vocab the next. Alternating weeks really works well with my students to make sure that I am getting all of my content taught.
15-minutes: Reading Mini-Lesson
20-minutes: Student Reading Time(Reading Conferences/Check-Ins)
10-minutes: Writing Mini-Lesson
20-25-minutes: Writing Time
This is my plan of attack each day. However, some days grammar/vocabulary requires more time, or writing requires more of my students’ focus due to a deadline.
#4: Novel studies are essential for middle school readers.
While I love offering my students the opportunity for choice and self-selected reading books, novel studies are essential for my students. Middle school readers REQUIRE reading instruction. It may not come in the form of phonics, but we need to teach our students how to identify and make sense of literary and informational texts. Reading instruction in middle school is explicitly pointing out the varying elements that we want students to be able to identify within the texts they are reading.
My students NEED reading instruction so that they are prepared to identify:
- point of view-how different the novel might be if it were told from another character’s perspective
- character development-how the main character progresses/digresses over time
- tone-the word choices the writer uses
- mood-the overall feeling a reader obtains from the text
- setting-how does where and when the story takes place impact the character(s) within the text
- theme-the message the author wants the reader to take away from the story
I also love the feeling of community that a novel study generates because my students are all absorbed in the same text and the conversations that take place are so rich. In addition, novel studies allow me to integrate my grammar, vocab, and writing instruction.
#5: Middle school students still LOVE a good read-aloud!
I read aloud to my students for a variety of reasons…
- so many skills can be presented in my 10-minutes of read aloud time that I can incorporate into my reading mini-lessons
- reading aloud promotes classroom discussion
- reading aloud to my students sharpens their listening skills and focus
The read alouds we have focused on this year are: Freak the Mighty, Max the Mighty, and Downsiders. I allow my students to vote to determine which book we read, and away we go!
#6: They encourage each other to read books.
#7: They love to talk about books.
Just as I recommend books to my students, they are experts in recommending books to one another. When I give my students time to read books, it also encourages them to want to recommend books to one another. I love overhearing the sweet book chats that take place after a student has finished a book, and can’t wait to have a friend read it, so they can talk about it.
#8: Middle school readers LOVE comfy places to read.
I can confirm that middle school readers love to sit in comfy spots to enjoy their books. In my classroom I have two carpeted areas, benches, and bungee chairs. My students will curl up with pillows and read.
To avoid battling it out for chairs, I put student names on wooden sticks. Each class period I choose 4-sticks, and the students that are picked get the opportunity to sit in the “comfy” chairs. Some love it while some opt out and allow someone to have their spot. I will even give up my teacher desk and chair when kids ask.
If you have ever wondered about adding flexible seating to your middle school language arts classroom, you should because they love it!
#9: They still enjoy Scholastic Book Orders.
I only do an order each quarter, but I inevitably have students order books. I love Scholastic because they offer a variety of books for reasonable prices. “Good deals” means that I can continue to stock my classroom bookshelves with great books. I also love that Scholastic promotes diverse books. I want my students to be able to see themselves in the characters within the books they are reading, so I appreciate the more diverse selections that Scholastic has available.
#10: If the book has a movie, of course they want to see it!
We have watched a few movies this year based on the texts we have read:
- Freak the Mighty
- A Christmas Carol
- Hunger Games
Fortunately, one of our state standards focuses on comparing and contrasting the book and the movie.
Compare and contrast a written story, drama, or poem to its audio, filmed, staged, or multimedia version, analyzing the effects of techniques unique to each medium (e.g., lighting, sound, color, or camera focus and angles in a film).
Generate a graphic organizer that allows your students to compare and contrast the book and movie version, let students bring in a snack, and enjoy analyzing the similarities and differences between the two versions of text. It is music to my ears when my students share that they “liked the book” version better.
Our middle school readers are pretty cool human beings. While it might not be an easy feat, do everything in your power to get them and keep them enthusiastic about the texts they are reading. It is no simple task to generate and be persistent in encouraging life-long readers.
All the best,