It feels like yesterday that I learned to read, though it really was a lifetime ago. I can remember the first few words I learned…”See Dick play, Run Spot Run, See the Apple.” I first read those phrases when I went to Miss Gaylor’s School and was taught from these cute little soft covered books called My Little Red Storybook, My Little Blue Storybook, My Little Green Storybook, once I mastered one, I could go on to the next level. Then there was The White House, The Adventures of Dick and Jane and a whole bunch more, I’ve forgotten the names. But I was so proud of myself as I progressed through all the levels.
When I was 10 or so, I joined a book club and read a wonderful book, Follow My Leader, a story about a young boy, Jimmy, who got hit with a firecracker and lost his sight. He had to re-learn everything. When given the chance to have a guide dog named, “Leader,” Jimmy found out how tough it was to work with him. Through trials and tribulations, he persevered and succeeded. As a child, I loved the book, probably because I’m a dog lover. But more importantly, Jimmy taught me to keep trying, no matter what. I admired him because he never gave up, he was determined to succeed and did.
As Teachers, we want our students to continue in the face of challenges, and not be intimidated by obstacles that stand in their way. We want them to realize they can do anything they set their minds to. Characters in books can help kids face challenges and develop strategies to overcome them, just like Jimmy did for me.
I’d like to share 3 books that are great to use with your middle school students at the beginning of the school year.
THE FIRST is a read aloud,you can use on the first day, called First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg. Though this book is a much loved in the primary grades, my 6th graders loved it too. Before you begin reading, have your kids use prediction and inference skills to write what they think will happen at the end. They’ll be surprised to find out who else, other than Sara Jane Hartwell is nervous about the first day. What a great icebreaker when the children realize that teachers are human and even they experience that sinking feeling in the pit of their stomach before diving into a new situation.
As a follow up assignment, have your class make a short illustrated story of how they felt coming to a new school or grade for the first time.
THE SECOND is called, Middle School, The Worst years of My Life, by James Patterson, it is a wonderful story that you can read together with your class, giving the kids the opportunity to read aloud, and you can get some incite into their reading skills. This novel is not only an entertaining read but it addresses some of the biggest issues that middle schoolers face, such as first crushes, bullies, insecurities, friendships, difficulties at home, and what makes each of us unique and special. Kids will love the main character, Rafe Khatchadorian, and will laugh at the situations he gets himself into. They’ll also enjoy the humorous illustrations that enhance the fun while bringing the point across.
Rafe and his best friend Leonardo the Silent have a plan, Rafe will attempt to break all the rules in the school’s harsh Code of Conduct, ie pulling the fire alarm, chewing gum in class, running in the hall, and vandalism. Leonardo will award him points for every broken rule he gets away with. Can they can pull it off, without getting caught?
Rafe’s plan eventually catches up with him and he’ll soon have to decide whether winning the points is what’s really important, or if he’s ready to face the rules, bullies and truths he’s been avoiding. Sometimes, kids have to learn the hard way, and Rafe is one of one of those kids.
Here are some discussion questions you can use with your students.
Would you like to attend Rafe’s school, why or why not, explain your answer.
Are the rules too harsh, is the school like a prison? Explain.
How do Leonardo’s illustrations add to Rafe’s story?
Rafe has a great imagination, why does he add such drama and adventure to his made up tales?
Does Rafe go against his policy of not hurting anyone? If so who does he hurt.
How do Rafe’s feelings towards his English teacher Mrs. Donatello change by the end of the book?
Were you shocked when Bear hurt Jules? Explain.
Why was Rafe so surprised when he realized that he may fail 6th grade?
If Rafe’s story was told from his sister’s or Jule’s point of view, would it be different, explain your reasoning.
Does Rafe’s breaking of rules cross the line? Do you believe there’s a difference between chewing gum in class and vandalizing school property? Explain your answer.
As a culmination to this novel and to enhance their understanding of what’s right and wrong. Have them act out different scenarios from the book. They can break up into collaborative groups and write a script showing the correct way to handle a situation and the wrong way. They also should include the lesson they learned from Rafe’s mistakes.
THE LAST NOVEL I have for you is called Sticks and Stones, by Abby Cooper. A good one for you to read together with your students. It’s lovely story about a girl named Elyse, who was born with a weird condition, whenever anyone said anything about her, the words would appear on her body. As a baby it was cute, but as Elyse grew older, and kids became meaner, words like “loser,” and “pathetic” would bubble up and itch. You can imagine, that life got painful for her. Finally, when she was 12 and attended middle school, she received an anonymous note saying, I know who you are and what you’re going through, I want to help.” Elyse eventually solves the mystery of who the letter writer is and is more able to accept herself and become the best person she can be. What I love most about this book is that it’s about kindness, empathy and understanding.
As an assignment, you can have your kids put themselves in Elyse’s shoes and write about what they would do if they had her malady.
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