I Don’t Know What I Want to Read Next….

It’s the statement I hear everyday.  The signs are obvious- wandering through the classroom library.  Randomly flipping through books.  That disinterested state.  Diagnosis?  A reader without a book.  A floater.  So how do we help middle grade readers  select books?  And how do we select books to share with middle grade readers during read aloud time?  Luckily, we can answer both questions the same way!

Middle graders are famously picky about their reading material.  They have more in common with Goldilocks than they would ever admit- each book they choose has to be “just right”.  Not too long, not too short, not too gross, not to lovey-dovey.  Just right- for that student.  “Just right” is, of course, vastly different for each child.  So how do I help my students choose books?  By being a voracious reader myself.  I read blogs, book reviews, trade magazines, newspaper articles, and every book I can get my hand on.  I read books that interest me and books that I wouldn’t necessarily choose myself, because I have students who might enjoy them.  When a student tells me, “I don’t know what to read next”, I can engage them in a conversation about books they have enjoyed over the past few weeks or months.  

Everyday I have one or two readers advisory sessions, based on what I know about my students as readers and recommendations I think I can make for them.  And this doesn’t have to just happen in the classroom– parents can do it at home, too!  Engage your middle grade reader in conversations about the books they are reading.  Tell them about books you enjoyed.  Have discussions!  Pay attention to what they read and enjoy, and what their friends are reading and enjoying.  Go to the library or bookstore and flip through books together.  When kids see that you take an interest in their reading, they will be more engaged.  Soon enough, they will be making recommendations to you!

When it comes to read-alouds, I approach the decision in a similar way.  Because I will be sharing the book with 50 students, I take into account their various tastes.  Obviously, I know I will not choose something they all love.  But I take the read-aloud as an opportunity to choose a book they wouldn’t normally choose for themselves, yet I know it is a book they can enjoy.  I read voraciously throughout the year and I usually have a few books on the back burner, books I might read next, after the current read-aloud.  Right now, I am making the final decision on our next read-aloud.

Earlier this year, I read Kathi Appelt’s The Underneath, after reading rave reviews on blogs. Immediately after finishing the book, I knew I wanted to share it with my class. Sometimes, a book just hits me that way. The Underneath wasn’t a book my middle schoolers would typically pick up on their own. But the writing was magical, lyrical, and provocative. I knew it was a book we could dig our heels into and have great conversations about. Because I loved the book, I knew my enthusiasm would be contagious.

And boy was it!

We couldn’t put The Underneath down. The students begged to read it.  They made connections, predictions, inferences, and dug into the text.  When we finished the book, I was so immensely proud of them.  Months later, they are still referring back to the novel.  And the same thing has happened with each and every book we have shared as a class.

So far this year, my classes have read a variety of books.

Each book I was chosen because I enjoyed it, I had a connection to it, and I knew I could share that passion and enthusiasm with my students.  While each student has a personal favorite, they enjoyed all of the books.  Reading aloud together has brought us closer as a class.  It’s a tradition I would never give up and one I look forward to sharing with each new class.  If you haven’t tried reading aloud with your middle schooler, I can’t recommend it enough!

What are some of your favorite read-alouds to share with middle schoolers?  Or what books do you suggest parents read with their middle schoolers?

14 Responses

  1. […] Helping Middle Grade Readers – Sarah Mulhern @ The Reading Zone […]

  2. Thanks so much for this terrific article! I will be sharing it with my teachers today!

  3. “Each book I was chosen because I enjoyed it, I had a connection to it, and I knew I could share that passion and enthusiasm with my students.” Thank you for sharing that passion and enthusiasm with us, too!

  4. Thank you, Sarah, for a great post. I taught sixth-grade 36 years or more ago and continue to have a fondness for this middle grade age group; your advice is so “on target”! I mentioned recently in a posting on this tour that I continue to have vivid and fond memories of my sixth-grade teacher reading LORNA DOONE to our class…certainly it was a book few if any of us would have chosen but everyday we – boys and girls alike – hung on her every word. Thank you for reminding us of the importance of continued reading aloud time with our students and our own children at this important time in their literacy development.

  5. A Great new book I’d recommend for middle schoolers is John H. Ritter’s book coming out in May – The Desperado Who Stole Baseball. All his others are great too. Baseball themes in books that are bigger than baseball.

  6. I have read I Am Jack by Susanne Gervay to my group of 11-year-olds; and Broken Glass by Sally Grindley and I Am a Taxi by Deborah Ellis are next up! Thank you foryour suggestions – I’m going to have to look out The Underneath…

    • Hi Marjorie

      Hope you loved I AM JACK which was inspired by my son when he was bullied at school. If you look at my website you can see the wodnerful trailer my friend created and a snapshot of the adaptation of I AM JACK into a play. It will have its second season touring in 2011.


      I really do write to give kids a voice

      Thankyou for supporting youth literature

      Susanne Gervay.

  7. […] Baartz at The Almost Librarian How to Help Emerging Readers – Anastasia Suen at 5 Great Books I Don’t Know What to Read Next: Helping Middle Grade Readers – Sarah Mulhern at The Reading Zone Booklists and Read Alikes – Sarah Mulhern at The Reading Zone […]

  8. Your post underlines such an important point – that it is essential that the adults (teachers, librarians, parents) in a child’s life are reading so that they can pass on the books they feel passionate about. That’s always my message to our new children’s librarians -read read read! Then read some more. Thanks for a great post.

  9. One thing I’ve encountered with my sons as they’ve gotten older is that they can’t wait to find out what happens in a book until our next read-aloud session. I have had to get used to starting a book and getting a few chapters in and then releasing it to one of them to finish. Often I continue the read alouds for the one or ones who haven’t had the chance to read ahead. This is especially true in the summertime when I read everyday at least once, but they have time to closet themselves for hours with a book. This happened with The Secret Benedict Society and The Penderwicks. My eighth grader can hardly sit still for me reading to him because he’s so much faster on his own, but we still read the same things back and forth. This happened with LIttle Brother and now he’s trying to interest me in Orson Scott Card’s Enders books. By the way, I am not much a fan of sci fi and fantasy for myself, but the Orson Scott Card books prompted my eighth grader to ask for a copy of Plato’s Republic. He’s working away at it — and it was even assigned.

  10. ” When kids see that you take an interest in their reading, they will be more engaged. Soon enough, they will be making recommendations to you!” This is so true (and so rewarding). I have a young cousin who sends me book recommendations (one point about that is that it’s important to find the time to read the books that kids recommend, or risk cutting off the discussion). Anyway, great posts today, Sarah!

  11. As a teacher, my students were usually years below level in their reading skills and years beyond their age in life experience. They did best when they could connect the fictional world with their own and when each short chapter left them wanting to know what would happen next.

  12. I have also read ‘The Underneath’ to my 5/6 grade students this year. We followed the reading with a discussion of what made it award-winning literature and then read ‘The Graveyard Book’ and did the same thing. Great discussions! I am currently reading ‘Walk Two Moons’ – one of my favorites to read to students – especially in regard to figurative language as it is rich in similes, metaphors, idioms, and dialect. Other books I have read this year include ‘Wednesday Wars’ and ‘The Watsons go to Birmingham’. I read books kids wouldn’t normally select themselves, and that push students to think at a deeper level.
    Thanks for the great post!

  13. I am reading Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelson to my 5th grade students. They love this book and beg me to read it daily. Even though most of them haven’t experienced anything like what is happening to the main character, Cole, they have connected to him in an amazing way. I am learning with them about anger, healing, and the vicious cycle of power. Plus, it’s a book that I know none of my girls (and many of my boys) would have never picked off the shelf. However, they have been quite surprised in how much they are enjoying this book about a boy living on his own in the wilderness of Alaska. It’s a wonderful read aloud.

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