A love of books will take your students far! But middle grades students can present special challenges when it comes to getting the books in the hands. Lovin Lit’s Erin Cobb shares her creative — and fun — approaches to getting middle grades students excited about reading.

1. Mix interactive elements into your reading program.

I taught reading for years before I finally realized what was missing: dimension! Reading is so two-dimensional. It’s easy to incorporate manipulatives into a math lesson. Likewise, making science a hands-on subject is a breeze! But what about reading? How do we make reading hands-on? Where can you find manipulatives for teaching reading?

The very first time I made an interactive notebook page with my middle schoolers, it clicked. This was it! It changed everything about the way I taught reading, and suddenly my students and I were enjoying the lessons together. I’m thrilled that so many other teachers have also found success with this method using activities from my Interactive Reading Literature Notebooks.

Student using an interactive notebook


2. Provide your students with nontraditional opportunities to demonstrate their comprehension.

The worst thing that you can do with your reading program is get stuck in a rut. Vocabulary on Monday. Story on Tuesday. Discussion on Wednesday. Study guide on Thursday. Test on Friday. Eeekkk! Be careful, or you might find yourself dreading your weekly reading lessons even more than your students do.

Change it up weekly. Sure, comprehension tests an aspect of the testing culture we’re all a part of, and we’ve got to do them. But you don’t have to do this every time you read a story, article, or novel! Teachers Pay Teachers is full of fun and creative activities that can be used with whatever you’re reading. I love these Fiction Frames from ELA Everyday. They’re so easy to print ahead of time and have on- hand to breathe life into any story! Instead of simply looking for character traits, try these Book Character Awards from Joanne Miller. My students will be using this activity in a few weeks as we flash back over the characters we’ve gotten to know this school year!


3. Plan lessons around your favorite books, stories, and topics instead of sticking to the basal.

I organize a lot of my reading and English lessons by topic. For example, one of the first units I do is a football unit in the fall around the start of football season. We read one of my favorite short stories about football while we study plot basics. Then, we read a few nonfiction articles about concussions and injuries in youth sports. Why football? Because I love it! We also complete units around Alcatraz, September 11th, Rudolph during Christmastime, and civil rights in late winter. Are you looking for simple ways to move away from the basal or textbook and branch out into stories students love? Try some ideas from jivey’s Better Than Basal: Complete NO PREP Reading & Writing Units for 40 Mentor Texts.


4. Implement literature circles or book clubs.

My students will study several novels throughout the year. Every student isn’t going to love every novel I choose, no matter how dazzling my lessons are! Springtime is the ideal time for literature circles. My students get to choose from a list of novels, and I group them accordingly. These are the best weeks of the year for me since my students are in charge and running the show while I simply float from group to group and oversee the learning. It’s a great way to rock differentiation! If you want to try literature circles for the first time or revamp what you’re doing now, try my Interactive Literature Circles.

Here’s a photo of literature circles in my classroom. This year, my students used iPod shuffles to listen to the audio books as they read!


Literature Circle


5. Maintain a classroom library. Quality is more important than quantity.Classroom Library 2

I’ve spent years building up my own personal classroom library, and I’m quite proud of it! It’s important to have a wide variety of popular novels on hand so that you can constantly expose your students to the vast world of reading. To find out how I’ve built my quality library on a shoestring budget, check out this blog post. I’ve also found several cute ways to help me organize my classroom library, such as this Library Organization System from ELA Everyday.

Here are a couple photos of my prized classroom library!


Classroom Library


6. Use audio books and encourage your students to use them, too.

I’m an audio book NUT. It’s the only reason I have time to “read” books these days! Sometimes, I find a book with narration so amazing that I have to share it! I felt this way about The One and Only Ivan, so I created a listening comprehension exercise for my students to complete as we listen to the audio book. And it’s so much more meaningful than those canned listening test prep lessons we’ve all suffered through. It’s currently a free download.

Aside from using them to make stories interesting, I often recommend audio books to parents of struggling readers during conferences. I encourage parents to install an audio book app on any device so that students can listen while they read. Once they’ve reached upper elementary and middle school, I believe that this is by far the BEST method for turning struggling readers into independent novel readers!


7. Watch movies in class.

Yes, you read that right! I can’t think of an activity that your students would rather do during the weeks before Christmas or Spring Break. We teachers love showing movies, too! Justify it to your principal by analyzing plot, characters, theme, symbolism, figurative language, and so much more. After all, a movie is just a story, and it follows the same structure as most of what we read in class, doesn’t it? Since we’re taking it easy this week while we finish up state testing, my students are studying one of my favorite movies, WALL-E, as part of our Earth Day unit. The literary analysis will review virtually every literature concept I’ve taught this year!

Literary analysis below, part of Earth Day Unit:

Literary Analysis

Did you know that you can close-read a movie scene? Read more about why and how we watch movies.


8. Be a book pusher!

I’ve saved the most important for last. You’ve got to model a love of reading for your students. If you don’t love books, why should they? On my side board I have written, “Mrs. Cobb is currently reading _______.” I update this regularly so that my students can see my reading habits and ask me about books. I purposefully read middle grades and young adult fiction so that I can match books to readers. The number one way to get me off topic during class is to ask me about a book that I’ve read!

Once you start pushing books into your students’ hands, encourage them to branch out more by rewarding them for reading in various genres. Fifth in the Middle’s Genre Brag Tags are a fun way to do just that!


Sensational ideas! Reading should be a pleasure and Erin suggests great ways to get middle grades students there. Be sure to catch up on Erin’s big news — and find out more about her in her 5 Questions post.