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?