Some of my most fond childhood memories center around my teacher reading aloud a wonderful novel. Not every teacher of mine did this, but the ones who did, made reading come alive to me. Let’s dive into 5 ways to incorporate read-aloud books in middle school.
Memories of Read-Alouds
I remember fondly my Miss Frizzle-Esque fifth grade teacher reading aloud Boy by Roald Dahl. She had such intensity and drama in her voice as she read the “boil” scene. If you’ve read the book, you know. It was so scary and interesting and I thought to myself, “Wow! A book can tell the craziest stuff!” That same teacher made us laugh hysterically at The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, over the shenanigans of the Herdman siblings by Barbara Robinson.
I remember my third-grade teacher reading aloud a novel every day. I don’t quite remember the particular books, but I remember feeling warm, safe, and relaxed when she read them. It was a welcome break in the busy school day.
I remember my own mom, who worked at my school, being a guest reader one day. She read a scary book for Halloween and the way she made the description of the squeaky floorboards come alive made all of us scared straight.
Teachers are Like Actors Putting on a Show
Teachers have a way of awakening reading in students. They are like actors, putting on a show of the author’s words to make the book jump off the page and play like a movie in a child’s imagination. From varying vocal pitch to emphasizing details with whispers or surprising students with a scream, your class can see how exciting reading is through your voice. By turning off the lights or creating a particular ambiance on your projector, students can see how reading can be enjoyable.
As I entered middle school as a student, the read-aloud time just stopped. Now, as a middle school teacher, I can see why. Fitting writing, grammar, vocabulary, and literature into 45-minute to even 60-minute periods is a challenge.
When I taught elementary school, I read aloud after lunch for 15 to 20 minutes. Sometimes it would stretch into 30-45 minutes if the kids were really into a particular scene or begged for me to keep reading. As an elementary teacher who was in charge of the whole day’s schedule, it was easier to squeeze it in.
Over the years, I noticed the kids’ favorites were book series. The Chronicles of Narnia, A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Mysterious Benedict Society, and Guardians of Ga’Hoole were just some we went through during my seven years in elementary.
The best part was waiting for the collective gasps from my class as they would scream, “Noooo,” after stopping the book at a cliff-hanging moment, or the “Please one more chapter!” begging I would receive.
Reading Aloud Creates Community
Reading aloud creates community in a class as they collectively become attached to characters and their conflicts. It creates camaraderie and awesome conversations as I would hear students ask each other, “What do you think will happen today?” Elementary teachers know the power of a read-aloud. It creates engaged students who learn to love books!
As a middle school teacher, it’s been challenging to find the time for this daily magical read-aloud session. I really wanted middle schoolers, who are just big kids, to also experience that same wonder, safety, and excitement that books read aloud can awaken. I’ve come up with some ways to have this time, even if it’s not the traditional approach..
1. Use the First Few Weeks to Incorporate Read-Alouds
The first few weeks back-to-school are a wonderful time to read aloud a novel or the first chapters of several novels for kids to try out. As we ease into school with teaching procedures, routines, and rules, I found I didn’t want to quite jump into diligent work yet and would use this time to read aloud a shorter novel. Sometimes, I would read excerpts from several novels over those first two weeks. I would then read the backs of the books and display them on my shelf or whiteboard for students to pick up if they liked what they heard.
Reading aloud the first few weeks helps ease students into the new school year without overwhelming them. Utilizing ten to fifteen minutes of classroom instruction to just read helps to not overwhelm students with industrious work. I find this is especially helpful for those sixth graders who are completely new to the ins and outs of middle school.
Some shorter novels I’ve completed for read-aloud those first few weeks are Ghost by Jason Reynolds, Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick, and The Song of a Whale by Lynn Kelly.
2. Listening to Read-Alouds IS Reading
During our English periods, when we are completing a novel study, students read with partners, independently, or as a whole group with me as the guide. Sometimes, I would tell students to not get out their novels at all. I would pass out a coloring sheet, and I would read aloud the chapter that day.
Listening to reading IS reading and students love it. The first time I do this during the year, students frequently ask for it afterward. This is a wonderful time to hear words being read fluidly and with lots of expressions. I find the times after I read aloud a chapter, the students gain even more interest and excitement in our novel as we continue through the rest of the book.
3. First-Chapter Friday Doesn’t Work, Try Wordy Wednesday
First-chapter Friday is a huge buzzword in education right now. The teacher reads the first chapter of a different book every Friday to end the week. Students respond to that chapter with writing or by filling out an organizer. It’s an awesome way for students to try out novels that they may want to read independently. I found that Friday was always a hard day for me to implement First-chapter reading as we had vocabulary and spelling quizzes on those days.
So, I came up with Wordy Wednesday in which I would read an excerpt from a book or a first chapter aloud. Sometimes the excerpts would even correlate to what we were reading in class. For instance, while reading The Diary of Anne Frank, our Wordy Wednesdays would consist of me reading aloud excerpts from Night by Elie Wiesel. During Hispanic Heritage Month in October, I read aloud excerpts from House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. Wordy Wednesday or First-Chapter Friday can correspond to a Heritage month of some sort, be related to what you’re already reading, or even have nothing to do with what you’re reading in class already. The power is in the magic of words being read aloud.
4. Begin Class by Utilizing a Read-Aloud
At the beginning of class, some teachers have students complete bell-ringers, grammar work, or a writing assignment. I’ve done all three! Another neat way to start class is by utilizing a read-aloud, even for five minutes. The times I have done this make for a peaceful class. They are actively listening (or at least I hope they are!) during that time and they quiet themselves before class begins. It’s an excellent calming strategy. Sometimes this doesn’t work for particular class dynamics. Maybe you have a class that loves to chat and needs to do that for those first five minutes, but try completing a read-aloud once a week to start class. It would be something different and interesting for your students.
In the same way, you can end class with five minutes of reading aloud. It’s a great way to wrap up English class and send your students out who even may be discussing that book as they exit your room and bombard the hallways.
5. Teaches Students How to Read for Deeper Understanding
Here is a “novel” idea. (See what I did there?) Reading aloud a book can be a whole class period. Wait…what? Yes. Reading aloud hits so many standards for students. From fluency to stopping for metacognition moments such as having the teacher say aloud what they’re thinking as they read, guides students on how to question and interact with their reading. As you’re reading aloud to students, taking the time to pause to discuss unknown vocabulary, hard moments, and model questioning, wonderings, and clarifications can teach students how to read for deeper understanding.
Even More Activities for Read-Aloud Books in Middle School
Purposely engaging with the reading
Print off a page from your read-aloud novel. Then show your students how to annotate along with you. This helps to teach reading for understanding. Pausing to discuss alliteration or similes, or even the teacher writing on the board the particular sensory words used can enforce literary devices and writing techniques. Purposely engaging with the reading creates a whole class devoted to a read-aloud.
Complete black-out poetry
Students can complete black-out poetry on a printed-out page of the read-aloud novel. Students can also journal about what they’ve read that day.
The awesome part about devoting more time to reading aloud is having those deep discussions that maybe would not have happened. Middle schoolers go through a lot of changes in their lives and are exposed to so much that they need time and space to process these issues.
Read-aloud novels are a safe way to elicit tough conversations
Read-aloud novels are a safe way to elicit tough conversations about topics our students are struggling with. Such topics range from bullying to divorce, from being offered drugs to academic and social pressures. Read-aloud books create the climate for these conversions. Students feel more connected to each other as they experience books together. This connectedness creates safety for these types of discussions.
A read-aloud can take up a whole class period. There are numerous gains and so much enjoyment to come from it.
There is power in utilizing read-aloud books in middle school. Creating community, connection, and safety benefits students, as well as teaching them important ELA standards. Finding ways to incorporate read-aloud time in your classroom will aid in so much. Read-aloud books hold power, magic, and excitement. It teaches students that books can be enjoyable and reading can be remarkable.
If you would like to read more about books for middle school, please visit our blog post, 5 Picture Books to Read and Use in the Middle School Classroom.