Read-Alouds in Middle School: How (and Why) to Use Them When You're Short on Time
When I taught 5th grade, I had the same students all day. At the end of the day, I had a 30 minute Advisory period in which I could really do anything I wanted. Typically, I'd do a read-aloud during this time.
Well, when I moved to 6th grade I had 3 different classes and no time to spare. So, what did I do? I ditched the read-aloud. I regretted it. I did a random read-aloud one day and my students were enthralled. I realized that I had to find a way to incorporate it into my days.
I really don't have a lot of research or facts to throw out at you here; I can just speak from experience. (But there is lots of research if you look it up).
As E.L.A. teachers, we clearly know the benefits of reading, right? Well being read TO has a lot of benefits, too. I will start with the younger kiddos. My son is 5 years old. I started reading to him when he was a baby. It was such a wonderful bonding experience (still is) and I feel it exposed him to so much that he wouldn't have been exposed to if it wasn't for the books. He's so knowledgeable about the world now because of all the books we've read with him. Now, he loves to sit and read and it's one of our go-to things to do when he needs to be calmed down. I also feel all of these books have made him more aware of people's emotions, feelings, and body language.
The things that students learn from books change as they grow older, but I do find all of the above to be true even with middle schoolers. For one, it is a great way to calm them down and is bonding, as well. Read-alouds also for SURE expose them to different experiences, especially when you choose a really good one.
Fluency-wise, read-alouds help students hear how a reader should sound. Again, this is great for all ages. As the reader, you can depict emotions, which is something kids really need to see nowadays!
Another reason why I like doing this is because it gives me an opportunity to use some heavy-duty complex texts students wouldn't normally read or understand on their own. I LOVE YA novels, but many are not appropriate for them to read on their own, so I often use them as my read-alouds.
I'd say reading an entire book is not feasible in a normal middle school schedule. Many of you have block periods, like me, and that certainly helps. Some have even less.
I'd suggest doing short stories or reading book excerpts. Pick something you can use with whatever work you are doing with your students. Read more about that below!
I also like to use picture books to teach specific skills, especially for Writing Workshop.
Reading aloud with no connection to what the students are working on doesn't quite work for middle school, in my opinion. Whatever book or story you want to read should connect directly to the work you are doing with your students.
This text should be used as a mentor text. If you are doing reading workshop, you can use this text during a mini-lesson and refer back to it numerous times. During a mini-lesson at the start of class read aloud a chosen excerpt you've already determined. This should not take longer than 10 minutes to read...if it does, you will have to keep your lesson real short after.
Once you are done reading aloud, your lesson should focus on a skill using that text. For example, perhaps you want to focus on mood in setting. Do a lesson using the read aloud text, focusing on mood. Students would then do the same work with their own texts.
The above would work if you read straight through then teach the lesson. Sometimes, I do stopping points. So, I will read a bit, stop and discuss, do a lesson, then they work, then we come back at the end to do a bit more reading.
You should also use these read-alouds to show students what good writing looks like! I will often go back to an excerpt read to show specific writing style.
I did a unit on Social Issues and used the book Faceless by Alyssa Sheinmel. This is a large YA novel. I got my teaching points from the Unit of Study by Lucy Calkins. I read the entire book myself first and went back to see what scenes and moments would jive well with her teaching points. For almost every single lesson, I'd do a short read-aloud from the novel. The kids absolutely loved it.
The excerpts I chose were key points in the story, too. I'd also take a moment or two to fill in the blanks between scenes. So, I did leave out a lot, but they got the general idea of the entire story. Lots of students actually read the book after to get all the missing information.
Another unit I did in Writing Workshop focused on writing continuation and point-of-view stories of short stories they read. You can read about those units here. So, they'd have to write one story continuing a short story they read and another story from the point-of-view of another character in the story they read.
For both of these stories, I read picture books as examples. I read After the Fall as an example of a continuation story (this is the story of Humpty Dumpty after he fell off the wall). For a point-of-view story, I read The Tale of Two Beasts. This book told the same story from the perspective of two characters.
You CAN find time to read aloud. It doesn't have to be everyday. Even if it's once a week, it has so many benefits!